The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act: From Propaganda to Censorship to Tyranny

by | May 18, 2022

The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act: From Propaganda to Censorship to Tyranny

by | May 18, 2022

jankowicz stephen king greenwald 02

Nina Jankowicz tweet Credit: twitter

Spectacle and theater have come to dominate the political arena today, even more so than ever before. Politicians are now celebrity oligarchs, who use tax revenues to promote their pet projects, and to enhance their personal investment portfolios, while pretending in scrupulously orchestrated performances to care about the populace from whom all of the money they squander is siphoned. Congresspersons who issue dire warnings about global warming jet across the world for photo ops with President Zelensky in Ukraine. The provision by the federal government of Peloton bicycle memberships to the house of representatives and their staff, all on the taxpayers’ dime, will begin on May 18, 2022. Meanwhile, more than 550K Americans are currently homeless. The absurdity of all of this has reached the point where we now seem to inhabit something akin to a sequel to the Hunger Games.

Consider the person recently selected by the Biden administration to head up its new Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), the self-styled “Mary Poppins of Disinformation,” Nina Jankowicz, whose melodramatic mode of “correcting” what she takes to be falsehoods is disturbing to behold, to put it mildly. The DGB is being championed needless to say by spokespersons for President Biden, including former press secretary Jen Psaki, who not only defended Jankowicz as “an expert on online disinformation” and “a person with extensive qualifications” but also expressed perplexity that anyone should take issue with the mounting of the DGB: “I’m not sure who opposes that effort.” This type of gaslighting should be recognized for what it is by now, for it has gone on throughout the Biden presidency, with officials responding with unbridled snark to anyone who raises perfectly valid questions about what they are doing. How dare you?!

“Our patience is wearing thin,” President Biden himself soberly warned the populace in denouncing the reluctance of some of his compatriots to volunteer as pro-bono subjects in a Pfizer experimental medication trial. We were furthermore “informed” in December 2021 by the White House that, for our disobedience, we could look forward to “a winter of severe illness and death.” Given the volume of such nonstop, and frankly surreal, psyops perpetrated on the populace since 2020, and before that as well—albeit usually more subtly—perhaps no one should have been surprised when a figure who could have been plucked directly from either Hunger Games or Brazil arrived on the scene to lead the charge against disinformation and “help” us to determine what we ought and ought not to believe. As if to further test the credulity and compliance of the populace (both of which were largely confirmed throughout the Coronapocalypse), the Biden administration selected to head up its dubious new board a person who has served as the functional equivalent of a Democratic Party operative for years.

Revulsion is a natural reaction to Jankowicz’s appointment, but this particular piece of political theater strikes me as too “on the nose.” The outcry on social media about “Mary Poppins” (whose performances have gone viral) is unlikely to subside anytime soon, which is why I surmise that the selection of Jankowicz may have been intended by the DGB masterminds as a red herring, to distract attention from the profound problems with the very idea of a Disinformation Governance Board. Perhaps the histrionic Jankowicz will be furloughed in response to a barrage of criticism from lawmakers on the right, to be replaced by a more staid and sober character, someone skilled at persuading television viewers that he speaks the truth. In that event, the U.S. populace and their ostensible representatives will have been duped.

Unfortunately, the victims of government-produced propaganda throughout the Coronapocalypse, which judging by its effects amounted to the psychological equivalent of a blunt-force head injury, have become more receptive than ever before to the latest propaganda lines and scams. “I got vaccinated” profile picture frames have been replaced with a beautiful Ukrainian flag, and some people are even donning t-shirts and displaying blue-and-yellow banners in their front yards alongside their “In this house we believe” rainbow placards. While lamenting inflation, caused directly by the profligate printing of currency by the government to fund COVID-19 “rescue” packages, those who support the latest print run of $40 billion for Ukraine appear to have been convinced by the government-vetted pundits on television (who else?) that although Putin is incorrigibly evil and beyond the reach of reason, he would never, ever, even when repeatedly threatened with regime change and his personal demise, resort to the use of nuclear weapons, thus causing World War III and the end of human civilization.

Yes, after two years of government-inflicted trauma about a virus with a 99.5% survival rate, the cloth mask, mandatory vaxx crowd appear to have lost all critical bearings and stand ready to accept just about anything the government asks of them. Remarkably, the “Print $ for Ukraine” bill includes massive allocations to the U.S. State Department ($14 billion), USAID ($4.4 billion), and the Department of Defense ($20 billion) to dispense at their discretion, despite the government’s pathetic record of failing to predict and thwart the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and its instigation since then of a variety of scandalous and immoral initiatives ranging from extraordinary rendition and torture to summary execution by lethal drones of suspects neither tried nor even indicted for crimes.

All of this mayhem got underway in the early twenty-first century with the government “apprising” citizens that Saddam Hussein had WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden. Through such “intelligence community findings,” citizens were deceived by “the experts” into believing that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and therefore was fair game for attack in 2003. There can be little doubt that in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, politicians’ and the populace’s critical faculties were compromised by the shock of what happened on that day, which best explains why they were so receptive to propaganda at the time.

Two decades later, George W. Bush, despite having wrecked much of the Middle East, now consults with and expresses enthusiastic support for Ukraine’s President Zelensky, who is, according to Bush, “the Winston Churchill of our time.” This farcical scenario serves above all to distract the discombobulated citizenry’s attention from the fact that Bush’s own invasion of Iraq bore similarities, not only to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but also, yes, to Hitler’s various military escapades. All of these leaders’ campaigns were aggressive attacks on sovereign nations during peacetime.

How did we come to inhabit a society in which the government itself continually carries out psyops against the populace? There is a general sense in which the use of propaganda to manipulate the citizenry has always gone on—above all, during wartime—despite the fact that it undermines democracy by compromising the ability to ascertain the truth and freely to support policies, rather than being coerced through deception. A close examination of history (between the lines of textbooks written by spokespersons for the victors) reveals that the same sorts of mendacious tactics have been used by government officials and military leaders in their promotion and prolongation of most, if not all, wars. Fear is a powerful molder of minds, making citizens more, not less, receptive to leaders’ lies.

When President Harry Truman spoke directly to U.S. citizens after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, he “informed” them that the target had been a military base. In reality, Hiroshima was a pristine site, never subjected to the firebombing suffered by dozens of other Japanese cities. That neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki was bombed prior to being razed by Little Boy and Fat Man is best and indeed only explained by the fact that they were civilian, not military sites. But the horror of what was done to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is so shocking that, to this day, war supporters will go to extreme lengths to defend Truman’s decision to destroy those cities. Bush administration officials went even so far as to contort the U.S. government’s own use of atomic bombs into a rallying cry for war in 2003: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud!” We now know that Saddam Hussein had no WMD, just as U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reported to the world before the Bush cabal waged war on Iraq anyway. Such examples illustrate that the distinction between “information” and “disinformation” purveyed by the government itself has always been difficult to discern in the moment of its utterance.

It is also true, however, that in 2013 President Barack Obama signed into law the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act (H.R. 5736), making it legal for government-produced media—such as was broadcast overseas by Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other outlets throughout the Cold War—to be directed toward U.S. citizens themselves. Needless to say, such government-penned narratives spin the news so as to reflect favorably upon the United States. To understand the sheer power of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, it suffices to do a quick Google of the name of this piece of legislation to see how it has generated a logical quandary befitting of Orwell’s Nineteen Eigthy-Four. For if it is true that the American people are being propagandized by the U.S. government through its control of the major media outlets and tech giants, then any assertion to that effect will be countered—and ultimately defeated—by yet more government propaganda.

The fact that the complete negation of the original Smith-Mundt Act was deceptively labeled the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act marked the first stage in what might be termed the Orwellian turn. Unsurprisingly, a lengthy list of articles calling out the alleged piece of “disinformation” that “Barack Obama legalized government propaganda against citizens” appears at the top of the Google search results. Among the critics who warned about the new Act was now-deceased investigative journalist Michael Hastings, who also, it is worth mentioning, expressed concern about the dangerous influence of the Pentagon’s “public relations” wing, which already by 2009 employed 27,000 persons full-time as war marketeers. A number of other notable figures who sounded alarms about the dangers of government propaganda and overreach are now dead, imprisoned, or living in exile.

The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (signed into law as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013) arguably set the United States on the path toward the erection of a full-fledged Ministry of Truth and the consequent shrinking of citizens’ liberty. Only time will tell whether this piece of legislation alone will suffice, as deployed by the new Disinformation Governance Board, to strip citizens of their First Amendment right to free speech when they attempt to reject the first premises of the DGB itself. If so, then Barack Obama will bear primary responsibility for the totalitarian system to ensue, whatever his intentions may have been.

For with the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act already in place, there are only two short steps to the complete squelching of dissent. First, the government controls the media through injecting many pro-government texts into the marketplace of ideas. This is obviously already being done, and has been unabashedly pursued since the ratification of the Act. (To dispel any doubts that this is happening, it suffices to turn on the mainstream network news.) Second, among the government-promoted ideas will now be the claim that the newly established Disinformation Governance Board does not violate the Constitution of the United States. Once lawmakers have been persuaded to believe this, then the DGB will have the power to eliminate what they themselves have identified as disinformation, including the very claim that the DGB is illegitimate. After that will follow the censorship of the texts of anyone who disagrees with the government and, ultimately, the criminalization of those who “persist” in promulgating ideas deemed “threatening” by the powers that be. The danger of all of this to free people is very real, as the plight of whistleblowers in recent years has already revealed.

The very claim that any human being is “qualified” to serve as the Czar of Truth illustrates how ignorant the supporters of this frightening initiative are of the history of censorship used by dictators to eliminate inconvenient opinions—that is, those which conflict with the current group of administrators’ policies and beliefs. It also helps to explain what happened from 2020 to 2022, when a single man, Anthony Fauci, was decreed by the U.S. government the final authority on “The Science” and transformed into the darling of the mainstream media.

The first generation of pandemic propagandists (and given the impressive profits reaped by Pfizer, there will be more…) studied and deployed the fear-based post-9/11 playbook. In 2020, when citizens were “informed” by public health guru Anthony Fauci and vaccine entrepreneur Bill Gates that they were facing something akin to the Black Plague, necessitating that they cease all social activity and refuse to leave their homes, nearly everyone fell in line. Lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations, schoolchildren forced to wear masks and either Zoom from home or work at desks enclosed by Plexiglas—all of this was just part of “the new normal” to which many citizens were willing to comply, in heartfelt efforts to save their own and their loved ones’ lives.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, government officials and their associated mainstream media pundits “informed us” that citizens are not capable of doing their own research. That doctors who disagreed with public health officials were quacks. That nonpatented treatments were so ineffective (and poisonous!) that the government needed to ban them. Looking back over all that has transpired, it seems difficult to deny that the notion that only pro-Big Pharma supporters are qualified to give sound medical advice was just another Pfizer-sponsored marketing line. Not at all unlike the FDA-approved propaganda used to persuade, and indeed pressure, doctors to prescribe and patients to ingest powerful narcotics marketed as nonaddictive, when in fact they directly generated the opioid crisis raging on still today.

Among other recently debunked disinformation disseminated by the government, we know that the Hunter Biden laptop was neither planted by the Russians nor a “Trump campaign product,” as Ms. Jankowicz herself so confidently (and cleverly!) characterized it in October 2020. The supposed appointment by the Russian government of Donald Trump as president also never took place, pace Hillary Clinton, who it seems safe to say will go to her grave championing that now debunked tale. Holding a master’s degree in “disinformation studies” from Georgetown University makes Jankowicz as qualified as anyone else to be the Czar of Truth. But that’s only because no human being is or ever could be qualified to hold such a position.

Any head of the DGB (whether Jankowicz or her Republican Party–approved replacement) will represent an administration which vociferously promoted the use of cloth masks and the need for mandatory vaccinations, ignored the reality of natural immunity, and claimed that the Hunter Biden laptop was planted by the Russians. The path forward, therefore, seems clear. All we need to do, given the government’s easily documented record of promoting manifest falsehoods, is to adopt a simple heuristic device. We should conclude not-p whenever the head of the DGB asserts that p is the truth. When the claim is made (as it will continue to be) that “The Deep State does not exist,” we should conclude that it does. When the Czar of Truth asserts that (2 + 2 = 5), we should obviously conclude that it is not the case that (2 + 2 = 5).

To take the most pressing of current examples, we have good grounds for believing that the government’s position on the Ukraine-Russia conflict is precisely the opposite of the truth. Indeed, the very fact that confirmed war criminal George W. Bush has taken time out of his portrait painting schedule to promote the proxy war against Russia should bolster our belief. Yes, the same George W. Bush who triumphantly announced the end of the Iraq war on May 1, 2003, during a superlative theatrical performance on the deck/stage of an aircraft carrier where he wore as costume a fighter pilot’s jacket and stood before a huge banner proclaiming Mission Accomplished!

Through concerted campaigns of fear-mongering, citizens have been reduced over the course of the twenty-first century to the intellectual equivalent of small children who helplessly accept whatever “the adults” decree and parrot precepts such as that we must leave all weighty matters to “the experts”—as though the persons in appointed positions were not specially selected by politicians with agendas to promote and stock portfolios to enrich. Those who wave their Ukrainian flags continue to labor under a barrage of government-generated propaganda and seem already to have forgotten that the wealthiest military on the planet was unable even to prevail against the rag-tag Taliban in Afghanistan. The bulk of voters derive all of their information about foreign policy from the government-captured mainstream media and tech giants. (Yemen? Where’s Yemen? Who cares?) As a result, most people appear to be altogether oblivious to the magnitude of corruption uncovered by audits of the taxpayer funds dispensed throughout the Global War on Terror.

Supporters of the proxy war in Ukraine express moral indignation that Senator Rand Paul should have delayed the doling out of billions of freshly printed money “for Ukraine” by insisting that an Inspector General report back on how the funds are spent. But the truth is the truth, no matter what the government’s propaganda ministry may say: After spending trillions of dollars on the Global War on Terror, enriching mercenaries and war profiteers all along the way, while slaying hundreds of thousands of innocent people and wrecking the lives of many more, Afghanistan was left to the Taliban, who naturally inherited all of the wartime matériel left behind by the invaders of their land.

As anyone familiar with intellectual history is well aware, the problem posed by the DGB is not peculiar to the current crop of corrupt and coopted hypocrites holding positions in the U.S. government. In order for any committee headed up by anyone anywhere to be able to pronounce authoritatively whether a given utterance is a piece of disinformation or not, they would need to have some means for distinguishing truth from mere opinion, and knowledge from mere belief. The perennial philosophical problem, addressed by thinkers at least as far back as Socrates and Plato, is that human beings are inextricably mired in opinion and belief. In creating democratic societies, modern people rejected Plato’s notion of Philosopher Kings, who, having made their way out of The Cave, supposedly have privileged access to The Truth. In recognition of the fallibility and limited perspectives of all human beings, Western liberal states have affirmed, through their constitutions, the importance of John Stuart Mill’s marketplace of ideas, and devised mechanisms, courts of law, by which to resolve disagreements over the facts.

That the newly created Disinformation Governance Board should have been announced at about the same time as the leak of what looks to be the impending Roe v. Wade reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not be coincidental. But the peril of permitting government appointees to decree from their position what is and is not disinformation, while simultaneously undermining the legitimacy of the court system, cannot be exaggerated. Without the court system, as flawed as it is and can only be, since all parties involved are fallible human beings, we would find ourselves in the sorry system of not just our current corrupt oligarchy but a full-fledged tyranny disguised as a democracy.

The danger before us is not, however, merely domestic. Despite all that we have been through and learned about the sheer incompetence of public health and other government officials over the course of the twenty-first century, the World Health Organization (WHO) is now maneuvering to establish a global governance scheme which will strip all citizens of participating nations of their civil rights in the event of the arrival of another pandemic on the scene. Because pandemic has been redefined by “the experts” to include viruses such as COVID-19 with a 99.5% survival rate (similar to that of the seasonal flu), such a treaty would spell the end of personal liberty and bodily autonomy, with citizens criminalized for not accepting injections of whatever the WHO deems necessary in the name of public health. If this initiative succeeds, it will be because politicians, who are no less vulnerable to propaganda than anyone else, have been persuaded to accede to a treaty which effectively enslaves their constituents.

About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the Senior Fellow for The Libertarian Institute. She is the author of Questioning the COVID Company Line: Critical Thinking in Hysterical Times,We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, Theodicy: A Metaphilosophical Investigation, You Can Leave, Laminated Souls, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic's Critique. In 2015, she began traveling around the world while writing. In 2020, she returned to the United States, where she remained until 2023 as a result of the COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by governments nearly everywhere.

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