Ben Weingarten, editor at large at RealClearInvestigations and Senior Contributor to The Federalist, joins the podcast to run through his reporting on revelations about January 6th, the Twitter Files, and Covid origin hearings. Together, these three stories, with smoking guns revealed through public documents and testimony, represent three different bases – domestic terrorism, foreign interference, and public health, respectively – to turn law enforcement and a public-private censorship apparatus against Americans expressing their views as citizens on domestic politics. It’s the new structure of governance we live under, and if not dismantled, it’s likely to extend to silencing crimethink on any number of other topics. Ben and Inez go through what has been revealed in the last two weeks about each topic, and then discuss the impact to rule of law and freedom of speech, as well as what ought to be done about it.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And this week I’m really pleased to have on my fellow on the NatCon Squad podcast, but more importantly, Ben Weingarten is editor at large over at RealClearInvestigations. He’s a senior contributor to The Federalist. You may have seen his work over at Newsweek or The Epoch Times, but he is really good at doing these deep dives into, it seems like there’s just been a series of stories that require an enormous amount of specific knowledge to even start to understand what the important themes are to pull out of it. And here, I mean, I think this all kind of started with Russiagate in terms of having to know and having a very, very high barrier to actually understand what’s going on with these stories. But just in the last week and a half, there have been a series of both hearings and information released on topics that might seem slightly unrelated at first, but I want you to go through them.

And then I think we’ll see how they really tie together a picture of how our government, how our society, how the regime actually works today as opposed to a kind of bill on Capitol Hill constitutional republic sort of fantasy that many still cling to. So those stories, let’s start with January 6th and the tapes that were released to Tucker Carlson. And then we’ll talk about the Twitter files hearings and the Covid origin hearings in Congress, and we’ll move on from there. But it just seems like so much about the actual functioning of our government and our society has come out just in the last couple weeks. So let’s start with January 6th. What is shown on the tapes that were released and what are the implications?

Ben Weingarten:

Yeah, well a few of the points that Tucker Carlson highlighted… And first of all I should say thanks for that introduction, and I think you’re right by the way, at a point to Russian interference in elections and Trump-Russia as certainly an accelerant at very minimum to this overarching effort that will hopefully elucidate here. But what Tucker Carlson has basically charged is, “Look, here’s the narrative that’s been put forth about January 6th, literally stage managed by corporate media executives via the Jan 6 committee and those who want to use January 6th to claim that roughly up to half the country constitutes the ultimate threat to the homeland.” And you see that with the rhetoric immediately following January 6th from top Democrats about how January 6th was on the level of a 9/11 or the depths of the Civil War or Pearl Harbor or the like, which is an euphemistic way of saying MAGA equals Al-Qaeda or could equal Al-Qaeda or the Nazis or the Confederates, and thus we ought to consider pursuing them accordingly.

This notion that this was an insurrection where democracy or really the republic hung in the balance was already challenged factually when you look at the fact that there have been no insurrection charges imposed. Ultimately they did file charges for seditious conspiracy about a year into the prosecutions or the persecutions, depending on your perspective, of many of the defendants associated with January 6th. But there are a few kind of core narratives. One is that this was an armed insurrection that got officers killed. Another is that essentially this was massively violent and there were huge swaths of assaults and there were over a hundred people charged with assault to be clear. But out of a thousand plus people who have been charged out of tens of thousands of people who were actually in Washington DC that day. Another point is Ray Epps, who is this Ray Epps?

The only person on video basically calling the storm of the capitol the day before January 6th, and then who did storm the capitol on January 6th, was at basically the front of the barricades when they were originally breached, and why is this guy feted and treated as a hero by Democrats when he seems like the ultimate insurrectionist and you can’t dismiss the tape. So there are all these sort of points, insurrectionists armed, engaged in a massive assault on the capitol and that this was one of the darkest days in American history. Consequently, the takeaway is we now have to engage in a domestic war on terror to root out these elements with some really beyond over the top rhetoric and policies to match it. Subsequently, what Tucker showed in these videos were a few things. One, QAnon Shaman who was sort of the face of the insurrection is depicted in these videos, basically being walked around different parts of the capitol by the police. Seemingly acting courteously and respectfully, not destroying anything and clearly not being thrown out or handcuffed or anything like that.

And yet this is a person who was sentenced to, I believe around four years in prison and who served for many months in pretrial detention. And he’s one of many people, dozens of individuals who have served in pretrial detention in some instances for many, many months, if not over a year in horrific conditions. Punitively because of Covid related restrictions and their mistreatment has been exposed in certain cases and in some cases defendants have even been pulled out of prison. So QAnon Shaman is sort of the face of the insurrection, being treated as the literal personification of the insurrectionism in this country. And what we see is that this guy got basically four years in prison for what looks like walking through the capitol, escorted by Capitol Police. And that raises significantly more questions about the most vigorous investigative and prosecutorial effort according to Merrick Garland that there’s ever been in US history and the methods and means used to pursue these now over a thousand defendants and there have been rumors that there are going to be a thousand more charged ultimately. So we’re talking now multiple years after the events that occurred.

Another aspect of this is was Officer Brian Sicknick bludgeoned to death by insurrectionists, and we’ve known that to be false for many months. But the video shows that essentially even after the initial point of contact with protestors that he was still operating freely around the capitol and there continues to be essentially this blood libel around a January 6th defendant that these people murdered capitol cops and kind of this over the top hysterical responses defending Brian Sicknick, which is just a sick and twisted way of exploiting a person’s death, by the way, sickening in and of itself. When in reality of course, as we know that the only people to die that day were January 6th participants, namely Ashley Babbitt shot by a capitol cop, whose record shows that he had engaged in misconduct or violated policies previously. And he essentially got off without even a slap on the wrist with respect to his shot on January 6th.

Another question that raised is if he was acting appropriately, why was Ashley Babbitt the only person shot? There were lots of other people there, marauding in the capitol. Go back briefly to QAnon Shaman and also the notion of the charges associated with these individuals, which the tapes kind of inadvertently get at. Most people were charged with essentially glorified trespassing or in some instances, obstruction of an official proceeding. And obstruction of an official proceeding, as Julie Kelly has noted, is a Sarbanes Oxley related law. Never applied in an analogous circumstance like this. All of these points raise questions. The last one, also, Ray Epps apparently it seems may have perjured himself because he claimed he, I think was not within the capitol at a certain time, the tapes show he was.

These are a few of the takeaways from the Tucker Carlson tapes, we’ll see if we end up getting access to the 40,000 plus hours of January 6th footage, which Kevin McCarthy has kind of promised are going to be let out over time. Defendants and their lawyers apparently are now going to be able to access this footage. And it’s remarkable by the way that they have not had access to all this footage when you’ve had so many cases already disposed of and was there exculpatory evidence within those videos that defendants never were able to avail themselves of and make their cases? So all of these questions are raised and they strike at core contentions about the size, scope, and nature of what transpired on January 6th, whether it justifies the heavy-handed tactics and then the ballooning, the inflation of the domestic terrorism threat purportedly by ethnically motivated violent extremists. Which is euphemism for essentially anyone who holds views that kind of flout the overarching ruling class sort of narrative.

And January 6th is the linchpin, is sort of the jumping off point. As I put it in an article a week after January 6th occurred, this would be the accelerant for a massive war on wrong think on this country. And it’s proven out in a whole slew of institutions purging anyone and any ideas that conflict with established narratives with respect to January 6th, most importantly on questions about election integrity in this country, which by the way is what the members of Congress were going to be discussing that day. And they were subverted by the “insurrectionists” in making that case to the public.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, so it’s interesting. So our colleague Emily Jashinsky was doing reporting outside of the Capitol and as far as I can tell… which is difficult because as you say, many of the hours of the video are not shown. And what we had known up to this point of the release of the video were videos from one side for the most part of the capitol. And there were these confusing or contradictory videos are seemingly so from the other side of the capitol. So on the one hand we have these videos of, so let’s call it the Ashley Babbitt side of the capitol, where it’s very clear there are videos of people smashing windows and they’re actively breaking into the capitol as part of a riot. And then on the other hand, we have videos from other parts of the capitol where the police apparently did open up the barriers and essentially, I don’t even want to use the word escort so much as just they just let people in and then walked around next to them to keep trying to keep an eye on them.

Trying to gently talk them out of doing what they were trying to do, but by no means actively, aggressively stopping them. That definitely presents a different picture of what happened in different sides of the capitol. But I want to pull out a few sort of larger questions out of this. One, there is the question of the rule of law. Obviously this happened after an entire summer of rioting in various other places all across America, cities across America. I mean, I remember standing in DC and literally seeing a whole series of fires from my roof just lit across the city. And that was before this. This was during the summer of 2020. And there were many cities, most notably Kenosha, but many cities experienced the same thing. So this is after an entire summer of rioting that produced very little in the way of law enforcement. Most recently the two, I think they were attorneys who threw Molotov cocktails at cop cars, they got a slap on the wrist, they got a very light sentence for something that could be classified as domestic terrorism. Throwing Molotov cocktails at the police.

So there was this very low and light prosecution for rioting all through the summer. And then there was January 6th. And we not only have prosecution, we have very long, unusually long pretrial detention for a lot of these folks that the process has become its own punishment, before guilt or innocence is even adjudicated. And now we have this sense or we have this information that’s come out that their defense was not allowed access to the tapes that presumably the prosecution had. I mean that raises constitutional questions about their prosecution and whether their defense should have had access to some of these tapes that seem, if not to completely destroy any case against them at least ameliorate the case and perhaps would’ve been able to be used by their attorneys to negotiate for a lower sentence and so on. All of this calls into question something that’s extremely fundamental, which is the rule of law in America blind to your politics?

Ben Weingarten:

I think the answer is the blindfold’s long gone and that’s illustrated, as you raise very starkly I think. And obviously you can go to the Washington Post and they’ve read in articles trying to make the opposite case that actually in fact BLM, Antifa summer 2020 rioters were actually treated in a more heavy-handed fashion or an equally heavy-handed fashion to the J sixers. But it strains credulity when you look at the numbers and kind of analogous cases. You mentioned the two Molotov cocktail throwers in New York. There have been other instances. There was an arsonist in Minneapolis who destroyed a building and I believe may have killed several individuals as well. He got a reduced sentence relative to what the guidelines would’ve said, and the judge essentially acknowledged he was engaging in an violent effort but associated with a just one in the social justice anti-racism riots of the summer of 2020. It’s explicit that there is a belief that J sixers were domestic terrorists effectively, because they may have rioted or engaged in illegal activities and associated with protests for what is perceived to be an unjust cause in the eyes of the law.

And conversely, the cause of the summer of 2020 is perceived as the just one by the powers that be. And you see that in the mass of cases that were dismissed for anything that would even resemble like the low level offenses that many J sixers have been hit with, the glorified parading charges picketing around the capitol. All those charges were dismissed en masse in basically every city across America. You do not have the dozens upon dozens of people, sometimes with no criminal records in the past and sometimes accused of non-violent crimes being held in pretrial detention. And then you look at also just the size and scope and the level of violence associated with those summer 2020 riots. And it’s a staggering comparison and actually in RealClearInvestigations, to talk our book here shamelessly for a second, we did this comparison, January 6th versus 2020 riots, also versus 2017 inauguration riots in DC, which people forget about and looked at the size, scope of nature –

Inez Stepman:

Living there, sorry.

Ben Weingarten:

Yeah, the size, scope and nature, the offenses and then the relative prosecutorial and investigative vigor or lack thereof associated with them. And then the claimed abuses of law enforcement or the prosecutors. And I think that we let the data speak for itself, but people can draw their own conclusions. I think that from my perspective, the conclusion has to be that people are treated differently based upon their political beliefs. And then you don’t have a rule of law in a country if it’s selective, if it’s conditional. And this built on, by the way, I think the treatment of Trump-Russia collusion, these sorts of parallels we can see this, are staggering. The Mar-a-Lago raid versus the Biden papers, Trump-Russia, collusion versus Biden, Russia, Ukraine, China, and probably beyond collusion with his family. Many such examples just like these and the people who claim to be the greatest defenders of the institutions are actually the ones eviscerating those institutions. When they support this double standard, which is to say a no-standard, two-tier justice system.

Inez Stepman:

What about the standard going forward? Because regardless of how serious the riots are, and I’ve always resisted calling it an insurrection, I know you have as well. I mean three guys with zip ties does not make an insurrection or a coup. But these riots provided an impetus for our intelligence services and law enforcement agencies on the federal level to focus on what they called domestic extremism, domestic terrorism. There was that famous FBI memo about parents going to school board meetings, trying to democratically show their views about what their children were being taught in public schools. They were branded potential domestic terrorists. What has the apparatus of law enforcement done beyond the actual defendants of January 6th with the categories and the focus that January 6th provided to them?

Ben Weingarten:

Yeah, I think, let me just frame this up a little bit. I think that there’s one core document and then one statement from an official that I think really captures kind of where we’ve gone with January 6th in large part used as a pretext for what they already wanted to do by the way, because remember the apparatus could cherry-pick certain points if they wanted to before January 6th. They would’ve said that Gretchen Whitmer attempted kidnapping so-called, which we learned at least and in one court has been determined to be essentially an entrapment scheme. But there’s been of course, a steady drumbeat of efforts during the Trump years and then subsequent to, portrayed MAGA as violent and a threat to democracy and our core principles and values and the like. First it was that they’re all Russian traitors and dupes, and then it became more Naziesque and then it became more domestic terrorists.

Subsequent to January 6th, the Biden administration very quickly started talking about maybe we need more domestic terror laws on the books. And they didn’t end up going there. But what they did do, was they created a national strategy for countering domestic terrorism. Which to me is the key underappreciated document that kind of underlies all of the efforts that can be traced to January 6th, but subsequently to use various levers of the administrative state oftentimes hand in hand with private sector actors to pursue wrong think. Whether that’s in censorship, whether that’s in deplatforming, debanking, the targeting of individuals using the DOJ, and beyond. And what that national strategy for countering domestic terrorism says, it’s worth reading in its entirety, but one of the parts of it is it pledges that there be a whole of government plus, and that means private sector institutions as well, to go about confronting the long-term roots of domestic violent extremism.

And it puts at the pinnacle of domestic violence extremism, racially motivated violent extremists with a focus on essentially white nationalists so called, even though they’re very loose and never define these terms clearly. And we know that of course this administration has compared people who believe that you need to show ID to vote to Bull Connor and we can go through all the litany of perspectives that are easily twisted to be evil and potentially with a nexus to violence and stochastic terrorism, I guess. But that document calls for confronting long-term contributors to domestic violent extremism. And among them are those who are undermining our democratic institutions and it calls for, again, this whole society effort to pursue those individuals. Obviously that can mean a whole litany of issues potentially constitute threats. If I raise the idea that the Justice Department and the FBI are operating under a two-tier, no-standard justice system favoring some Americans over others, we know the FBI and DOJ has come out and said that conspiracy theorists are trying to undermine their efforts and actually ginning up potential violence against authorities, which requires a response.

You can see how easily that can be twisted. So this document calls on coordinating with private sector actors, including the big tech companies by the way, to go about targeting wrong think in this country because they will make the claim that it’s relevant to the idea of it undermines our institutions. And if you question those institutions, I put that in air quotes, then you may be threatening them, you may be a threat to the republic. Now the other quote that I would raise in connection with this, and I’ll paraphrase it, is that the head of CISA, which was a little known agency housed within the DHS really prior to the Twitter files for I think most Americans CISA’s job punitively, is to protect critical infrastructure. It counts under that mandate protecting election infrastructure. And it’s basically used that as a pretext to say that the social media companies are part of what needs to be regulated to protect election infrastructure, because people use that to challenge the integrity of elections.

And that was sort of one of the wedges that was used to go into targeting domestic wrong think going into the 2020 election, Trump-Russia collusion and foreign interference was used as a pretext to target domestic actors prior to that. But the head of CISA said something that should chill every American and that I think so perfectly captures kind of the ethos that undergirds these efforts. And that is she said that of all infrastructure, our cognitive infrastructure is the most critical. That requires essentially combating “mis, dis, and malinformation.” And that gets into, that is basically the ethos, the perspective that has been used to justify mass censorship and suppression of ideas and individuals who hold up views on a whole slew of issues, some of which we’ll probably talk about. Including election integrity, including anything around January 6th, gender to “gender-affirming care,” mutilation of minors and a whole slew of other issues as well. But the pretext is those who hold views that challenge our favored narrative present a threat to our democracy so-called, and thus we can use the tools of the global war on terror and turn them on domestic dissenters.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I got a lot of flak on Twitter and elsewhere for saying it was actually a bad thing that they disbanded that disinformation governance board that was going to be headed up by Nina Jankowicz. And the reason is I thought that none of these functions are actually going away. They’re just not going to be in one place where we can track them and try to see what’s going on. And you’re very much confirming this, but I want to go to the second half of that dichotomy that you put up that before January 6th, the nexus was foreign. Foreign interference into elections, foreign interference into US policy was cast as essentially in order to use tactics that are usually used at America’s foreign enemies on domestic Americans expressing political views that were deemed “disinformation” or connected to in some way into Russia or America’s other enemies.

On that front, let’s move a little bit into these Twitter file hearings. These are of course a series of stories and documents that were doled out to journalists by Elon Musk when he took over Twitter. From the political perspective, I feel like this was the, to use that horrible DEI, dean’s language from the Stanford University Law School blowup, the juice was worth the squeeze just for the Twitter files for the right. I think in terms of the takeover, I don’t know how Elon Musk feels about his 44 billion dollars, but I think it’s worth it. Since it’s not my money. Anyways, so Elon Musk doled out a series of documents, two different reporters, and he chose mostly reporters who were in the center or coming over from the sort of IDW left. He gave something to Barry Weiss, he gave to Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, a few others. He specifically picked journalists who were not part of mainstream news outlets.

So in other words, he didn’t give them to the Washington Post or the New York Times, but also not the conservative media. So he picked independent journalists who have some still credibility on the left. I think that turned out to be a pretty good decision. But then two of those journalists were called in front of this hearing in Congress and it was pretty eye-opening. So what did we learn from the hearings? How did the social media companies fit into this narrative, whether it’s built into the sort of external foes of America and disinformation from external foes, or whether it’s domestic insurrection or domestic terrorism. The social media companies and censorship of Americans expressing political views about our own government and society have been caught up in this. So what did we learn from the Twitter files? And again, what additional do we learn about how censorship actually functions in 2023, in America?

Ben Weingarten:

Yeah. Well first of all, to your point on the tactical and strategic benefit of using what used to be, I guess traitors to their party now as perceived by the left and by Democrats, one of the things that was really striking within these hearings was that the ranking… Well, first of all, let me level set here. Within, this was number two of the weaponization committee, which is a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. Second hearing associated with this subcommittee and the Democrat Modus apperendi within these hearings has been to essentially try to attack the witnesses, attempt to undermine their credibility and then use that to say that this is kind of a joke from Republicans. So the first hearing, they were questioning Jonathan Turley’s expertise in talking about fundamental issues pertaining to the law, despite the fact he’s well-respected, liberal law professor, and one of the attacks on him was, “Well, you’re talking about the administrative state, but have you ever worked in the administrative state? Oh, you haven’t? You’re not allowed to comment on this, Jonathan Turley.”

In this one, it was even more galling and brazen, the attacks on Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, the ranking member Representative Plaskett referred to the two journalists as so-called journalist, and Matt Taibbi took it in stride and shot back perfectly talking about his bonafides being a 10 time published author, four-Time New York Times is bestselling author, winner of a whole slew of establishment journalistic awards and the like. And he basically was having none of it. And I think, so to your point, which is worth underlining, it was an inspired choice picking these individuals because Taibbi, and I’m sure Shellenberger as well, as former members of the really liberal left, knew exactly how they would be attacked and they knew how to handle those attacks. And they put on, I think a masterclass in dealing with them. That maybe those on the conservatives would not have been as shrewd at knowing how the left would attack them.

But that’s all way of saying there’s been a politics of personal destruction that Democrats have been engaged in against the Republican aligned, I guess, witnesses of the weaponization committee because they don’t want to grapple with the substance. They tried to attack Taibbi and Shellenberger basically asking them, “Did Russia interfere with the 2016 election?” As if it’s a cut and dry, a simple yes or no when it actually requires a little bit more of a nuanced answer precisely because that was used as a pretext to justify the censorship regime that Taibbi and Schellenberger laid out. And their focus, and Michael Shellenberger put out a very lengthy report on this is on what they call a censorship industrial complex. And I would argue that one component of that is the kind of disinformation industrial complex. Basically what they show is that there’s a mass public-private censorship regime that has existed, most notably in the 2020 election, we saw the apparatus put into play, but it existed even before then where you had public sector actors, namely the national security apparatus.

This includes state department entities, entities within DHS including CISA, like I mentioned, and others, working hand in glove in some cases directly with social media companies to flag accounts and content that they found objectionable for whatever reason. I put that that again in air quotes. And then also that they worked with putatively private sector research or academic linked organizations who were used as cutouts. And essentially the government fed those organizations’ accounts or content worth flagging. And those organizations fed it into the likes of Twitter and other social media companies as well. And basically the social media companies had the pressure, if they weren’t already inclined to do it. And many of them were, of course, to censor and suppress individuals and accounts in a whole slew of ways. Obviously not just completely de platforming or suspending people over specific tweets or censoring specific tweets like the Hunter Biden laptop story, but in a million different ways, algorithmically suppressing wrong think on a whole slew of issues. And we have smoking guns now associated with that mass public-private censorship effort.

And it indicates that there was a First Amendment violation, a rampant mass First Amendment violations at play. With respect around the 2020 election with respect to the Chinese coronavirus and any number of elements associated with it, on a whole slew of other issues as well. The Twitter files have exposed that for all to see. I’ve argued that there also need to be Facebook files and YouTube files and Microsoft files and AT&T files and every single other, essentially not just social media but tech companies because the government agencies were having meetings with all of these major enterprises in the run-up to the 2020 election. Associated with essentially “protecting our critical infrastructure.” You can see obviously like every good tyranny, it’s a tyranny for the benefit of its victims. This is about protecting and preserving democracy and a liberal America, but in reality it’s using the most authoritarian and autocratic measures to ensure that one narrative be allowed to be propagated and that’s the favored narrative of our ruling regime. Again, it’s manifested itself in the censorship and suppression of any narrative so-called that conflict with the favored ones of our ruling elites.

Inez Stepman:

So I think you put it very well in a piece for RealClearInvestigations. You called it a quote, “Largely successful bid by US national security apparatus to manipulate public opinion.” And I think that that gets right to the point. I think that’s a very good description of not only this, but then our third detailed subject and then we’ll pull out again and see what if anything can be done about this, what ought to be done about this. Because this is at the most fundamental level, completely contradictory to the way that any kind of, let alone a constitutional republic, but even any kind of small “d” democratic society can operate. That essentially very powerful private actors and very powerful government regulatory actors got together on Zoom calls and email chains and decided what the American people can and cannot say with regard to their own political future.

The third plank of this that I wanted to talk to you about was the Covid hearings on the origins of COVID-19, which I thought also had quite a few revelations. Again, just confirming a lot of this stuff is just confirming what was called wild conspiracy theory just a year ago, and that’s both on the subject of Covid origins, but also more generally all of this stuff. Suggesting that the US government and private companies are colluding behind closed doors to censor particular Twitter accounts was the sort of thing that sounded really wild-eyed even two or three years ago. And now we have the documentation and testimony to confirm that indeed it was happening. And that’s in fact largely how we’re being governed.

There were these Covid hearings on the origin, what did we learn from those hearings and what does it say about, again, forgetting for a moment the actual truth of what happened with Covid, which we may never be able to tell now, the origin of it. What does it say about this entire sort of milieu that we’ve been talking about with regard to January 6th and with regard to the Twitter files about what information is allowed out? What kind of discussions are allowed in the public square today? And then how does government in fact collude with private actors to make sure that those discussions go one way and not the other?

Ben Weingarten:

Well, let me make two points at the outset. First, with respect to the many layers of issues surrounding the Chinese coronavirus. Whether it’s the origins, natural immunity, the efficacy of the vaccines, who was most likely to get seriously infected, alternative therapeutic measures to the vaccines, and on a whole slew of other issues. In so many different instances, what was treated as dangerous mis, dis, and malformation, and we should define what dangerous is, and they never did. They claim dangerous to public health, but oftentimes it was dangerous to their favored policy prescriptions or their power. In so many instances, what was cast as mis, dis, and malformation ended up becoming accepted, settled science of our public health establishment. Things that were oftentimes known within the first few months associated with the spread of the virus domestically and across the globe as well.

Another point that I would make is, so with respect to lab leak, and why was it that the likes of Anthony Fauci and others in the public health establishment and then Democrats and then the media were so quick to cast anyone who portrayed lab leak as a legitimate and plausible, if not highly probable cause of the spread of the virus, and why was the attack so swift? And obviously the first immediate answer is, well, Donald Trump endorsed it and Tom Cotton endorsed it. So consequently we need to oppose it. That’s kind of a simplistic aspect of it, but there are more layers to it than that. So the second kind of argument that was largely put forth was that that’s a xenophobic attack, which by the way, I do wonder among those who said that, is it xenophobic even if it’s true? And are you not allowed to say it even if it’s true? And the answer is, yeah, probably not. You’re probably not allowed to say it if it’s true, because there are many things that are true that you’re simply not allowed to say because they slay sacred cows.

And with respect to the xenophobic part of it, that was also a political associated effort, because it was about portraying Trump and Republicans as being anti-Asian. And that fueled, that the coronavirus response and rhetoric around it fueled, anti-Asian hate in this country. Which obviously there’s a political reason to try to inject that narrative into the bloodstream in the run-up to the election. But let’s note the irony here. The greatest propagandists and protectors of the Chinese Communist Party here were those who said it was xenophobic and saw to delink the virus from the Chinese Communist Party via the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where of course the PLA was operating, and of course, CCP controlled scientists were operating. So for those who wanted to censor foreign mis, dis, and malinformation, well, in this case, the idea was to censor likely plausible information that actually would’ve undermined the Chinese Communist Party and the mis, dis and, malinformation they were putting out in association with the Chinese coronavirus.

So we should point out that hypocrisy at the outset, but to kind of lab leak and the treatment of lab leak, it was known very early on that this was potentially a legitimate cause. We know now through emails that have been exposed that Anthony Fauci and others at the top of the public health establishment and outside of it were entertaining that theory. But then for some reason, they immediately came down on the side of we need to suppress this and we need to beat it down. And obviously Nicholas Wade has done some exceptional reporting on lab leak and the Trump administration itself, via the intelligence community had put out some public open source information that we can see pointing to that as a plausible explanation. But why did they want to tamp it down? I would say in part is because obviously US dollars flowed into the WIV, associated with gain of function research, and that obviously could have been a cause or a contributor to what transpired, or at least it’s in the ballpark.

And that means essentially I believe that the public health establishment felt a need to cover it up, as did others in our government because there is some egg on our face probably associated with it or possibly associated with it. There’s a conspiracy of silence and an attempt to protect the WIV essentially, which is incredibly perverse, if for no other reason than you need to know what happened to prevent it from ever happening again. Period, full stop. So the censorship more broadly around the Chinese coronavirus, COVID-19 was an accelerant to the public-private censorship regime as well because you had public authorities essentially saying that instead of the national security argument of, “Well, these people who are challenging, questioning election integrity have a nexus to insurrection, so they pose a national security threat,” in this case, it was the public health threat. “If you put forth unauthorized views that conflict with the ‘experts’ with respect to the Chinese coronavirus, you’re going to get people killed.” And Joe Biden essentially said that, by the way, when it came to Facebook, and I think other entities as well.

Essentially saying by allowing people to engage in unauthorized thought, you’re killing people, so you got to do something about it. And the public health establishment, several bureaucrats within the government called for the social media platforms to engage in censorship, the White House called for platforms to engage in censorship, all in a bid to point the public towards its favored outcomes with respect to lab leak in part, but then also with respect to, essentially vaccination is the panacea and the answer, and everyone needs to get vaccinated and anything, even if it’s true information, based upon what we’ve seen in some of these revelations, even if the information is true, if it might cause someone to question whether or not they want to get vaccinated, that’s a problem. And that wrong think has to be purged. So as always with these kinds of tyrannical efforts, it’s the guise of national security or public safety or public health are used as the pretext to justify protecting people from themselves.

Inez Stepman:

So we have three different bases for this so far. We have the foreign interference basis, that’s the Russian, Russian misinformation propaganda. We have domestic terrorism and we have public health, all three very stretchable in themselves and very loose definitions, but it also suggests that nearly anything can be used. It’s easy to imagine slotting climate change, for example, into this framework and saying that any discussion of defending the coal industry is threatening the health and the future of the United States, because we’re all going to die as the clock in Union Square in New York City as we have just over seven years to live. It’s a countdown doomsday clock. So you could imagine very easily any pet sort of liberal cause or narrative being slotted in to this kind of apparatus that is essentially a very fluid and direct, in some ways relationship between government agencies and law enforcement and intelligence services and private companies, tech companies, et cetera.

So one, now that we have a lot of information in the public square about this, which is something we didn’t really have a year and a half ago. What we’ve been talking about is just the last week and a half. You said there are several smoking guns with regard to the Twitter files. It seems like there are several smoking guns with regard to all of these things. We have the documentation, we have the testimony under oath in these hearings and so on and so on. We now have the case that this is how the government actually operates. So if that’s the case, what is to be done about that? What should people who are concerned about this be advocating that our representatives in the government do? And what is the solution to what seems like a very well-oiled machine that can be geared up on nearly any topic that seems to be important to keep Americans on track or as you said, to manipulate public opinion on?

Ben Weingarten:

And also, I was remiss in noting that there’s a revolving door between all of these entities because-

Inez Stepman:

It’s an important point.

Ben Weingarten:

… You have many folks who staff the “trust and safety” “content matter moderation,” i.e., censorship teams within a whole slew of firms that deal in the dissemination of information. Who themselves worked at the CIA, the FBI, DHS, et cetera. And that’s at the top ranks of virtually every major social media company at a minimum. Let me go what the long term deeper issue is that has to be combated and then the more narrow one. So longer term, these are all symptoms of what I think is a root cause of a death in the belief in free speech, in actual flourishing dynamic discourse, challenging one’s views, actually getting exposure to a whole slew of them. Because we’ve said that certain views are so odious that they actually constitute violence themselves. And so thus, the only proper response in the civil society is to silence people.

Again, obviously this is, you and I know and the audience knows this is ludicrous, but this is actually the ethos that prevails. So the campus notion of this speech is harmful, it constitutes violence, and actually literal physical violence is justifiable in response to it. That ethos has now pervaded, matriculated and graduated into virtually every single institution, and it makes all of our institutions sound a lot like Chinese Communist Party institutions. Where under the Hong Kong national security law, wrong think there is to be combated using public and private sector power, analogous system that’s essentially being implemented here, a social credit system with American characteristics in no small part. Because those that staff all of these institutions do not believe in free speech or, and or cynically, they believe that this is the path to power and perpetuating that power and privilege.

So long term, there’s the education and assimilating people into a civil society that actually values truly free and open discourse and that’s gone. And consequently, you see what we have today. But more narrowly, the first step is obviously exposing the abuses. And frankly, I have been a proponent of this church style weaponization committee since long before it was actually convened. I’m very glad that Republicans did it. But I’ve essentially tried to be very cautiously optimistic and keep my expectations in check about what to expect from it. Precisely because the powers that are implicated in this are so strong that it really requires intestinal fortitude if you are a lowly member of the House to be taking on the FBI or the CIA or the DHS, let alone the major companies, by the way, that are implicated in this mass public-private censorship regime and beyond the censorship regime in the weaponization of all of these agencies, sometimes hand in glove with outside actors against tens of millions of Americans.

I mean obviously the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and beyond all have dirt on all the individuals who are going to be pursuing them and probing them. That’s why obviously oftentimes Congressmen become captured entities of those industries or sectors or agencies that they’re tasked with overseeing. So what is the first point, the first point is you have to expose the size, scope, and nature of the corruption in all of its manifestations, or at least its most important and salient ones that strike most deeply at our laws and at the core values and principles those laws are rooted in. And then the next part is people have to be held accountable. And being held accountable is not just holding hearings and raking people over the coals in a public setting. I think at the end of the day, it has to mean that when you violate the law, and this is… And the more senior you are, even the more grave it is, you have to go to jail.

Or if you don’t go to jail, there have to be massive, massive penalties imposed on individuals who abuse their powers in ways such as violating en masse, the First Amendment rights of thousands if not hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans. And obviously you have to put laws in place beyond those establishing massive penalties that serve as a deterrent. You have to put laws in place to prevent such conduct from ever occurring, even though obviously the First Amendment’s pretty strong, that should control. But at the end of the day, there needs to be legislative action, heads need to not just roll in the way of people being fired, but there have to be criminal penalties associated with such grave and massive abuses of power. And then beyond that, there ought to be a massive lawfare brought from outside the legislative branch to make actors pay who go about eroding the foundations of our entire system.

And obviously that erosion has manifested itself in a number of ways. It’s not just the mass public-private censorship regime, it’s also harassment, particularly for the FBI and DOJ of those who hold the wrong views. We could look at the attempts to go after any lawyers who dared to litigate election integrity related cases in 2020, and there’s a whole mass concerted effort that I’ve written about, whose name escapes me. But there’s a whole effort out there to actually go out and disbar all of these individuals, literally ruin them in their communities and make it so that they’re unemployable. And I think we should expect that from Donald Trump down to the lowliest, most indefensible actor in January 6th riot, the worst treatment that those individuals face, any of us could face that treatment. And if you’re operating with that understanding, then that requires a massive response in kind commensurate with the assaults that we’re seeing.

Inez Stepman:

So one of the problems here that you’re pointing to is there is no real accountability. For a lot of these agencies, they’re supposed to be directed by the president and then overseen by Congress, and neither of those functions is really happening. So they’re not really controlled by the president because [inaudible 00:51:17] and for the rest. And that’s hard enough for all kinds of reasons because the right doesn’t have, this has really showed up in the Donald Trump administration, that all of the people with the appropriate expertise to work in these various bureaucracies are hostile or nearly all of them to the political project of somebody like Donald Trump. It was very difficult even to get the right political appointees in place. Partially, I think a good critique of Trump. This is in part, the buck stops with him in terms of political appointees, the fact that he did hire a lot of these establishment folks who were very, very hostile to anything that he wanted to get done.

And the latest example of this that I heard about, and I can’t believe it is that, and I won’t repeat the names involved, but that there was an effort to scuttle a program. I don’t want to put too much detail into this because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but basically even within the Trump administration, there are political appointees stopping political projects because “disparate impact on single black mothers.” Which is obviously very contrary ideology to the one that Donald Trump ran on and tried to implement as president, but even within his own administration and appointees, this was the rationale.

So that’s just the tiny percentage of appointees, below them is the entire iceberg of the administrative state. Millions of people who work in the civilian administrative state, and that’s leaving aside even the Pentagon and so on. There’s very little control over them. And I think the lack of accountability that you’re talking about and the message that it sends when nothing happens to these people, even when these smoking guns come out, even when these documents come out. I mean, I think the first person I can think of that that was Lois Lerner back during the Tea Party, where the documents came out that groups associated with the Tea Party had been targeted by the IRS for auditing and had not been given their certification, rightful certification that they deserved under law as nonprofits. They had been targeted for all kinds of harassment by the IRS. And Lois Lerner testified to this and basically answered very few questions in Congress and then was able to leave and live her life and was never prosecuted for any of it. And furthermore, didn’t suffer any consequences short of prosecution.

I mean, some of this stuff, it seems to me that it’s very, very difficult to prosecute because especially with regard to the FBI for example, a lot of it depends on judgment. And it’s very, very difficult to argue in a legal sense that somebody use their prosecutorial discretion to prosecute case A versus case B. Even if you can show that there are massive disparities based on political affiliation, it just strikes me as something that’s very, very difficult to actually prosecute. So what kind of laws would you suggest get put in place for, at least let’s think about something that’s slightly easier going forward. What kind of laws do you think should be in place to re-provide some kind of accountability? Because I think backward looking, it’s going to be really, really difficult to prosecute these people. In part because the institutions themselves are corrupt.

So whatever the prosecutorial standard or the best practices standard will be, a lot of these people are smart enough not to put their toe all the way across the line, and a lot of what they do is a judgment call, and it’s very, very difficult to prosecute somebody for that. So how do we change that entire apparatus or now that it’s so clearly become malignant and political?

Ben Weingarten:

Yeah, it doesn’t lend itself to a simple answer, and it’s obviously challenging for all of the reasons you mentioned, in no small part because every single one of these institutions has a vested interest in perpetuating its power. When it comes to Congress, does Congress want to take control over the administrative state? I would argue at least, obviously 50% of it would say no. And then what large swaths of Republicans, probably in their heart of hearts would say no also, because it’s much easier to not really have to make tough decisions and instead punt everything to an administrative state to actually serve as effectively a legislative branch. Not to mention to the extent you try to go about taking on the administrative state like Chuck Schumer said about the intelligence community when it came to Donald Trump. They get you six ways from Sunday and they’re hugely powerful and organized.

So look, I think that in part, the backward looking aspect to your point is incredibly challenging. We are going to see tested, by the way of the limits of this. Again, I don’t have high expectations, but we’ll see how it plays out. General Mike Flynn is taking on a whole slew of the people who sought to take him down corruptly in a court case pending right now. We’ll see if it goes anywhere. But to your point, obviously those in the government have kind of law precedent and the politics in many instances on their side. Now, in his case, it’s interesting because there doesn’t really need to be all that much discovery because they’re corrupt acts and targeting him are all out there already. So that’ll be a fascinating case study on the lawfare side of things. But obviously there needs to be massive civil service reform where a president can actually clean house within the administrative state.

The legislative branch obviously ought to try to cut the administrative state down to size and defang it. Maybe there are creative ways that an executive can go about taking control of these agencies. He can create alternative bureaus within the bureaucracy where work is actually done to mitigate the ill effects of those who would try to subvert his policies in kind of olds co, the original part of an agency. So in a new co, essentially, you actually operate. Look, if you want to get really creative and out of the box, maybe we have a one-time massive payout offered to those in the administrative state and say, “We’re going to pay you X to leave.” Look, in the trade-off of all the problems that we have, would I be willing to increase the national debt maybe to do away with large swaths of the administrative state? Yeah, probably.

I think probably many Americans would be too if they knew what the administrative state was doing. I think there are creative ways that you can get at this, but I also think part of it comes down to executive control over the executive branch. Another part of it comes down to the legislative branch, reasserting control over its proper powers and not delegating them to agencies. That frankly, I think in many instances, Philip Hamburger’s argument is pretty much right. These are unconstitutional agencies that have no business existing, and obviously we’re not going to be able to get rid of them, but we have to think about creative ways to mitigate their effects and/or harness them towards our favored ends, which includes rolling back the detrimental ones they’ve been serving. So that may not be a satisfactory answer. It’s certainly not a simple question and it certainly demands a much more thoughtful and rigorous response, but I think what you’ve kind of pointed to is legislative and executive branch both have to reassert their power and prerogative and defang and deconstruct the administrative state.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I think Andrew Jackson suggestion of rotation in office, he made everybody submit the resignations every four years and the president would choose which resignations to keep and which to dismiss. So there’s a lot to recommend that approach, I think. But thanks so much Ben Weingarten for coming on High Noon. You can find Ben’s work at RealClearInvestigations where he is editor at large. He’s also a columnist for the Federalist and Newsweek, as well as Epoch Times. So you can find his work at all of those places. He’s also the author of a book called “American Ingrate” about Ilhan Omar, which you should check out, and he’s on with me every week on NatCon Squad. So if you want to check out that podcast, highly recommend. So Ben, thanks so much for being here.

Ben Weingarten:

Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast,  Google Play, YouTube, or Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.