Conservative Political Commentary

[Under the Radar?] Anti-socialist, anti-communist, anti-globalist, pro-Constitution, and usually with an attempt at historical and economic context (This blog was given its name before I decided it was going to be a political blog.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This Leftist Tactic Has Been Used Before: Classifying Opponents as “Seditious”

“I did a little bit of research just before this show - it's on this little napkin here. I looked up the definition of sedition which is conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of the state. And a lot of these statements, especially the ones coming from people like Glenn Beck and to a certain extent Sarah Palin, rub right up close to being seditious.” – Joe Klein of Time [1] See video here.

This theme has been taken up by some liberal websites, such as Sara Robinson writes,

Openly advocating acts of sedition has become the conservatives' main political stock in trade over the past year… You hear it everywhere from Rush to Glenn to Michelle Malkin to Michelle Bachman. Everybody on the right is now roundly convinced that the fairly-elected President of the United States isn't even a citizen. He's a Muslim, and thus in treasonous league with terrorists. The main goal of his administration is to turn the country over to the One World Government. He's a socialist. He's a fascist. All of these are direct attacks on Obama's fundamental legitimacy and authority to lead the country -- and thus a deliberate incitement to revolt against his administration. [2]
Robinson leads her piece with a paragraph about the Hutaree militia group, [3] but this is not really part of the issue at hand, because this group is not right-wing, and certainly not Christian. They are a lunatic-fringe group accused of a truly seditious murder plot.

Accusing President Obama of not being a citizen and being a Muslim? I don’t think we’re hearing that from the most popular conservative commentators. Although the President has refused to produce a birth certificate, the issue is hardly worth pursuing at this point. Yes, he is a socialist, and yes he is a fascist. If you like socialism and fascism, he’s your guy. He daily demonstrates his disdain for and willingness to severely violate the U.S. Constitution. If there’s any problem with his ability to govern, it’s not because of conservative critics, it’s because of his own lack of knowledge and skill, or else a lack of desire to govern by the Constitution.

This new twist is in addition to the Administration’s constant whining and blaming George W. Bush for everything. If they’re going to be such cry-babies, they shouldn’t be too shocked if people criticize them for it.

Robinson goes on to note that some protesters have carried guns with them to protests, in places where that is legal. [4] They are within their legal rights. If the liberals want to read something into that, it’s their problem. It should be noted, that while we hear of a few fringe incidents of threats against liberals, the actual political violence in America comes mainly from the left, such as the attack on the Jindal aide Allee Bautsch and her boyfriend Joseph Brown. Barack knows something of political violence from his close association with his friend Bill Ayers. He knows a good bit about racism and anti-Semitism from his good friend and mentor Pastor Jeremiah Wright, the white-hating, Jew-hating so-called Christian preacher. It is not surprising that he is distancing himself from our traditional strong ally Israel to curry favor with Muslim leaders.

As our title suggests, this tactic of using accusations of sedition against opponents by the party in power is nothing new. The Federalist Party did it in the late 1790’s with the Alien and Sedition Acts. The law virtually prohibited any criticism of the government or the President (Federalist John Adams). Thomas Jefferson’s response was, among other things, to write the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, affirming the states’ ability to nullify federal laws considered unconstitutional. Madison’s Virginia Resolutions did much the same thing.

As Woodrow Wilson got America into World War I, there was another crackdown on “sedition,” which, in the government’s view, was saying, or printing, anything the government might not like. In addition to valid laws against espionage and treason, the new laws made it a crime to criticize the government or the war effort. (How well would that have gone over in the Vietnam War era?)

Harvard Law Professor Zechariah Chafee, Jr. published his Freedom of Speech in 1920 and gave accounts of states’ sedition laws, such as :

These statutes and regulations are, for the most part, different from the normal criminal law in three ways: (1) They label opinions as objectionable and punish them for their own sake because of supposedly bad tendencies without any consideration of the probability of criminal acts; (2) they impose severe penalties for the advocacy of small offenses as much as for serious crimes; (3) they establish a practical censorship of the press ex post facto. [5]

Chafee states that such laws are constitutional insofar as they are used to meet a “clear and present danger,” but in general, the cases in which they were used fell short of that standard, such as criminalizing ipso facto a person’s membership in certain organizations. [6]

Chafee, in an appendix, gives the text of the federal law of 1918, and lists cases involving freedom of speech. Numerous cases, with punishments up to 20 years are listed. Through 1919, there had been cases involving “language intended to defame the flag,” “language urging curtailment of production of war materials,” “language intended to defame form of government,” etc. [7]

After noting that the longest term for sedition in England under George III was four years, the severity of punishment under the law is described by Chafee as follows:

Our judges have condemned at least eleven persons to prison for ten years, six for fifteen years, and twenty-four for twenty years. Judge Van Valkenburgh summed up the facts with appalling correctness in view of the virtual life terms imposed under the Espionage Act, when he said that freedom of speech means the protection of “criticism which is made friendly to the government, friendly to the war, friendly to the policies of the government. [8]

Chafee risked losing his job at Harvard, being criticized for his free-speech views. recognizes him as “the father of modern free speech law in the United States.” [9]

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who used Chafee’s work in his Supreme Court opinions regarding free speech, said to him “You did a man’s job. The persecution will make it more productive. By such follies is liberty made to grow; for the love of it is re-awakened.” [10]

Perhaps the Obama Administration will use Mr. Klein’s and similar statements as a trial balloon for possible legislation to limit free speech in opposing government policies. There have been some voices in favor of a return to the “Fairness Doctrine” in some form, which would limit freedom of speech. The laws struck down in the Citizens United Supreme Court case were unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of speech, and Obama wants legislation to counteract that decision. So restricting freedom of speech is not exactly out of the question in recent government thinking. The current Administration has the least respect for the Constitution of any since Wilson. They prove this day in and day out.

The Democrats’ typical response to effective opposition is: rather than engage on the issues, try to silence the opponent, try to destroy him or her in the court of public opinion, and, if possible, criminalize him or her.

Klein, Matthews, and other hypocrites of their ilk probably think no one remembers the G. W. Bush Administration and the abuse that was heaped upon the President, or the often-violent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960’s. The Tea Party rallies have been energetic but not violent, unlike many leftist demonstrations.

Mr. Obama said he was “amused” by the tax day Tea Party rallies. What the left doesn’t seem to care about is that the Tea Party speaks for the majority of Americans, and at least 70 percent of Americans don’t trust the government and in fact are angry about government policies. The problem is not critics, the problem is a government that stubbornly governs against the clearly-expressed will of the people, and is bringing about destructive results both as to freedom and the economy. I hope the Republican Party will be the “Party of Hell, No!” and stop Obama’s socialist-fascist agenda to the greatest extent possible under the rules of Congress. I doubt that Obama will be amused by the election results in 2010 and 2012. Perhaps that’s why he has to push his widely and deeply disliked policies so urgently.

[1] Jeff Poor, “Time’s Klein: Beck, Palin Potentially Committing Sedition against U.S. Government; Heilemann Adds Limbaugh,” 04/18/2010,, quoting from
NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show” of 04/18/2010. (Emphasis his)

[2] Sara Robinson, “Guilty of Sedition? How the Right Is Undermining Our Government's Authority and Capability to Run the Country,” 04/06/10,

[3] and [4] Ibid.

[5] Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Freedom of Speech, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1920, p.191. Book scanned by Google, found at

[6] Ibid., p.192.     [7] Ibid., p.896.     [8] Ibid., p. 87.

[9] “U.S. Supreme Court: Zechariah Chafee, Jr.,” at

[10] Quoted by John Anderson, “Louis Brandeis: Free Speech Champion: A Supreme Court Justice Committed to Facts and Fairness,” 03/24/2010, at

Photo: Portrait of Zechariah Chafee, Jr, 1907 (Brown Archives),, via


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