In January 2021, after the attack on the Capitol, the Justice Department established a new domestic terrorism unit. As our colleagues Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explained at the time, DOJ said it was making the move because “the number of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremists — those accused of planning or committing crimes in the name of domestic political goals — had more than doubled since the spring of 2020.”
On Tuesday, Republican House members sent a letter to PayPal asking for information about a controversial policy the company considered enacting that would essentially punish users for engaging in speech the company disagrees with:
The letter demanded that PayPal send House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee and Financial Services Committee written answers to 15 questions about the circumstances surrounding the “Acceptable Use Policy,” which was published by PayPal on Oct. 8. The questions demand PayPal to name those who drafted the policy, who had the authority to approve it, and whether PayPal had coordinated with the Biden administration regarding it. . .
PayPal’s initially published policy specified that users may not send or receive transactions that “promote misinformation,” “present a risk to user safety,” “are objectionable,” or “are otherwise unfit for publication” – with users being fined $2,500 for violations that may be directly debited from their accounts. The policy stated that activities could be judged as violative of the policy “based on PayPal’s sole discretion.”
The policy was later retracted on the same day after public outcry over its alleged punishment of users for free speech, with PayPal’s former president, David Marcus, calling it “insanity” on Twitter. Elon Musk, one of the co-founders of PayPal, later said that he “agreed” with the decision.
The goal of stopping the spread of "disinformation" may seem benign to some, but it can easily be used as cover for suppressing dissent:
It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of a payment processing giant instituting such a policy, making it the arbitrator of “truth” and giving it a stranglehold over a person’s livelihood when it disagrees with that individual. The chilling impact on speech was evident, for example, when the Canadian government froze the bank accounts of protesting truck drivers during the pandemic. Did PayPal observe the effect that Canada’s policy had, essentially eliminating the protests overnight, and decide to introduce a similar rule to establish themselves as influential speech moderators?
Misinformation is harmful to society and should not be tolerated. However, creating rules that permit a single body to determine what constitutes “information” and what constitutes “truth” is inappropriate. Frequently, misinformation is just an unproven theory or a disputed viewpoint that causes dissidents to consider the opposition as the enemy.
Another group of House Republicans announced earlier this week that it has scheduled an interview with a former FBI official as part of its ongoing investigation into how the FBI is handling domestic terrorism cases.
The official, Jill Sanborn, allegedly played a central role in how the Biden administration has handled these cases:
- Sanborn testified before the Senate in 2021 that the FBI “has prioritized anti-government or anti-authority violent extremism,” noting “domestic violent extremists also plotted to conduct attacks due to personalized grievances, including anger at government responses to covid-19, immigration policies, and perceived election fraud.”
Jordan and other Republicans say whistleblowers have told them they were under pressure to classify cases as domestic violent extremism to pad the stats as part of the Biden administration's focus on domestic terrorism. Jordan alleges the whistleblowers have singled out Sanborn.
Unsurprisingly, the supposed focus on domestic terrorism doesn't seem to extend to violent and extreme acts committed against conservative causes.
House Republicans should be applauded for their commitment to holding the Biden administration accountable. Their investigations are laying the important groundwork for meaningful oversight of the Biden administration as Republicans are likely to take back Congress.