Republicans announced legislation Tuesday to defund the Homeland Security Department’s new disinformation board, calling it an “un-American” attempt to police what people are allowed to say.
Biden administration officials have rejected those characterizations as overheated. They said the board is an in-house working group to coordinate Homeland Security’s online monitoring.
Those assurances have failed to quell the furor among Republicans, who see more nefarious intentions of the administration, and they are taking their case to the public.
“This is communism,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, told voters, drawing nods of approval as she campaigned in her district this week. “They don’t want you to have it because they don’t want you to be able to say what you think and feel or sort out the truth yourself.”
The Disinformation Governance Board was revealed by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in congressional testimony last week, though it apparently has been operating for several months.
Mr. Mayorkas portrayed the board as an election information watchdog. He said the board will communicate directly with communities, particularly minorities, that his department thinks are being misled.
The department has described a somewhat different vision. It insists the board will help harmonize existing efforts and share best practices internally. Officials said the board’s first targets are disinformation surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and information that smuggling cartels use to recruit migrants making the journey to the U.S.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, introduced a bill Tuesday using Congress’ power of the purse to defund the panel.
“The Biden administration wants a government agency dedicated to cracking down on what its subjects can say, an idea popular with Orwellian governments everywhere,” Mr. Cotton said. “This board is unconstitutional and un-American. My bill puts a stop to it.”
He has enlisted several other Republicans in his effort.
“This government censorship bureau needs to be shut down before it even gets off the ground,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who has signed on to Mr. Cotton’s bill.
House Republicans announced their companion bill Tuesday afternoon, with more than five dozen lawmakers signed on.
“Following in the steps of Mao and Stalin, Biden’s unconstitutional, dystopian ‘Department of Propaganda’ is trampling on the First Amendment and trying to control what people can and can’t say,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Colorado Republican leading the effort.
Adding to the furor is the board’s director, Nina Jankowicz, who has spread questionable information about hot news topics such as the anti-Trump Steele dossier. She also has expressed skepticism about the idea that more speech is better.
Mr. Mayorkas said last week that he wasn’t familiar with Ms. Jankowicz’s remarks.
In interviews on the Sunday political talk shows, he called Ms. Jankowicz “extremely qualified.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki cited Ms. Jankowicz’s “extensive work addressing disinformation,” particularly in the context of Russian meddling in Ukraine.
Ms. Psaki said Monday that the board will “consider” playing a public role if it feels a pronouncement has to be made about the government’s view on “disinformation-related matters” but the chief focus will be internal organizing.
“The mandate is not to adjudicate what is true or false online or otherwise,” she said. “It will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner.”
Mrs. Greene, campaigning in Georgia, didn’t see it that way.
“Now we have the ‘ministry of truth,’ and then there’s a bill, guess what, that we’re probably going to be voting on, maybe next week when I go back to Washington, that could potentially add a prosecution arm to the ministry of truth through the Department of Justice,” she said, drawing gasps from her audience.
The bill in question, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, would create a specific office at the Justice Department responsible for investigating and prosecuting domestic terrorism. It is charged with working with the Civil Rights Division in cases with a hate crimes nexus.
“You see, hate speech can be considered misinformation when you look through four different codes of law that are listed in the bill,” Mrs. Greene said. “That’s scary. That’s really scary.”
The Washington Times has reached out to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bradley Schneider, Illinois Democrat, for comment.
The fight over the Homeland Security board adds to an already tense conversation over online voices and censorship. A growing segment of the political left argues that some viewpoints are too offensive to be tolerated on public platforms.
Twitter shuttered Mrs. Greene’s personal account this year for what the company said were repeated violations of its rules on COVID-19 misinformation. Her congressional account remained active.
President Trump was ousted after his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, forcing members of Congress to flee as they tried to count the electoral votes that confirmed his defeat.
• Seth McLaughlin, reporting from Georgia, contributed to this article.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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