When the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s, they had numerous ways to suppress any dissent. One was to assign Blockleiters to spy on their neighbors. They were to report anything ant-Nazi at all to the local Gestapo office. People who were denounced in this way more often than not wound up in prison or concentration camps. No due process, no defense, no chance. It was remarkably effective in controlling the population because you never had any idea who you could trust, so it was better to keep any “unpopular” opinions to one’s self. It didn’t eliminate resistance to the Reich, but it did make such defiance much more isolated and dangerous.
Red Flag laws such as those proposed in Virginia are a step in this direction. I can hear you now, “You’re Crazy,” “You’re an alarmist,” “You’re a Conspiracy Nut,” and all kinds of other things that will help you convince yourself not to listen to unpleasant ideas. I know, because I don’t want to think about these things either. I prefer to believe we are living in a free society where everyone has a right to express themselves in a frank and open exchange of ideas. But the Blockleiters are already among us, and most of us do not even know it. Or worse, we willingly participate in this growing and festering cancer eating away at our right to free speech.
What am I talking about? Look at social media. When anyone can post on the internet, anyone does. But this brought about areas of speech not protected by the First Amendment. Threatening, stalking, defamation, bullying, and a whole lot of other things were becoming a problem. So mechanisms were set up to try to prevent some of this activity. The catchword that became popular was hate speech. But the criteria for judging what “hate speech” entailed was so vague that it rapidly became an instrument to remove from social media those with firmly held and powerfully expressed opinions offended some group or other. There have been numerous instances of people being removed from the major social media platforms of Twitter and Facebook because they were too passionate in making their case. James Woods is a case in point. There have been many others.
Indeed, today’s Cyber Blockleiters do not report to a government Gestapo and no one being dragged away to a concentration or re-education camp. Yet. But repression in a free society begins as a mustard seed. It is up to us to determine whether that seed germinates and strangles the freedoms we hold so dear.