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Hollywood legends challenge 'Censorship-Industrial Complex' as right seeks Musk money for lawsuits

John Cleese, Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins join wide coalition against censorship, "visibility filtering" and self-styled "disinformation experts." Musk called on to fund litigation against "state-driven censorship."

Published: October 27, 2023 11:00pm

Academics, activists, journalists and entertainers from around the globe and across the ideological spectrum are joining together to challenge the "Censorship-Industrial Complex" in geopolitical contexts as different as the U.S., Brazil and Turkey.

They signed the Westminster Declaration, a full-throated attack on public-private efforts to define "protected speech as 'misinformation, 'disinformation,' and other ill-defined terms," label and bury it, undermining "centuries-old democratic norms" and "foundational principles of representative democracy."

A narrower ideological range of signatories is going further with regard to Elon Musk. They asked the owner of X, formerly Twitter, to fund legal challenges to "state-driven censorship," given that Musk promised to pay legal bills for X users whose employers "unfairly treated" them because of their posts.

"If X is to be a free marketplace of ideas, everyone must be able to peacefully debate the issues of our time without fear of government punishment," they wrote, citing the court-ordered "public humiliation" of Mexican lawmakers for posts that elevate biological sex over gender identity.

The Westminster Declaration was spearheaded by Twitter Files journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, whose house was visited by an IRS agent while Taibbi was testifying before Congress about government-tinged censorship – three weeks after the Twitter Files' debut. 

The House Judiciary Committee and its Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee released an interim staff report Friday on the Taibbi incident among other "abusive unannounced field visits" with allegedly political motivations, as well as IRS "targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status."

The declaration is unusual for the presence of household-name Hollywood figures and entertainers: "JFK" filmmaker Oliver Stone, "Shawshank Redemption" actor Tim Robbins and comedian and "acrobat" John Cleese of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." 

It has about 140 signatories as of Friday, including other household names: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and Somali-born human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female genital mutilation and critic of Islam's treatment of women.

"Across the globe, government actors, social media companies, universities, and NGOs are increasingly working to monitor citizens and rob them of their voices," the declaration reads. It cites government policies that censor, criminalize and chill speech, and private "visibility filtering, labelling, and manipulation of search engine results," often in tandem with governments.

Signatories called out self-styled "disinformation experts" and "fact-checkers" in mainstream media for jettisoning "journalistic values of debate and intellectual inquiry," as well as the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency as one of many agencies worldwide turning ostensibly foreign-directed actions "inward against the public."

Public records requests revealed that CISA appeared to care far more about Russian and QAnon interest in New York Post reporting ahead of the 2020 election about Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop than verifying its authenticity and integrity, as the FBI had done nearly a year earlier.

Other signatories: musician Winston Marshall, who left the popular band Mumford & Sons after facing cancelation for recommending a book critical of Antifa, and physicist Alan Sokal, the namesake of a style of academic hoax that seeks to expose the allegedly low standards of primarily humanities journals. 

Two others, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, pulled off their own "Sokal hoax" 22 years later in what they called a "grievance studies" project, whose fallout prompted Boghossian to leave Portland State University and join the nascent University of Austin as founding faculty.

The Alliance Defending Freedom U.K., whose U.S. counterpart frequently argues cases before the Supreme Court, threw a spotlight on another direct government action Thursday. 

It posted video of a Birmingham police officer issuing a ticket to Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for standing silently near an abortion clinic, after asking if she was "praying for the lives of unborn children." 

The city council has warned her and another silent supplicant, Patrick Parkes, that it would collect the fines if they silently prayed again, while a third person was warned for recording Parkes' interaction, ADFUK said.

ADF International spearheaded the #DearElon public plea to Musk, "a global champion of free speech," for the one-year anniversary of his purchase of X. Its original signatories lean further to the right, including former Kansas senator and U.S. ambassador for religious freedom Sam Brownback and Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon.

"Free speech is broadly protected by every major human rights treaty" but compromised by "hate speech" laws in the West and blasphemy laws elsewhere that target minority groups, according to the letter, which had over 1,600 signatures as of Friday.

It cites the "gender-based political violence" convictions of former and current Mexican congressmen Rodrigo Iván Cortés and Gabriel Quadri for calling a transgender colleague a man and objecting to men who identify as women taking congressional seats reserved for women

The courts ordered each to "publish a court-written apology on X every day for 30 days, 3 times a day," said ADF International, which represented both. Cortés and Quadri also signed the letter.

The greatest threat may be the European Commission's efforts to make hate speech a crime "on the same legal level as trafficking and terrorism," the letter states. It points to the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, from which Musk withdrew X, and EC Vice President Věra Jourová singling out X last month for "the largest ratio of mis/disinformation posts" among platforms.

Musk should set aside funds to support legal actions, create an "intake mechanism on X" to accept applications for support, and host X Spaces to "bring worldwide attention to censorship cases involving both governments and the workplace," the letter reads. 

He does not appear to have responded to the letter on X despite often responding to others' posts, including two from signatory Dillon on Thursday and Friday. The company's press team auto-replies to emailed queries "Busy now, please check back later."

The statements share just two signatories, both in the U.K. 

Political scientist Eric Kaufmann recently left the University of London Birkbeck, his academic home of 20 years, due to a "five-year campaign by radical activists" to get him fired that spawned three "formal investigations," Kaufmann wrote in the U.K. Express. They were upset that he participated in a debate titled "Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?"

He's setting up the Centre for Heterodox Social Science at the University of Buckingham, "an oasis of free speech," to pursue what Kaufmann calls "countercultural" research while offering a public course on the origins and implications of "woke" ideology.

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