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Liars, shysters, log-rollers, and crooks are not the biggest threat to America’s free and democratic culture. The greater danger comes from establishment politicians in the Democratic party.

Last month, Peggy Noonan penned a passionate column calling for Republicans to do everything they can to usher recently elected Congressman George Santos out of his seat. There’s little to recommend the representative for New York’s Third Congressional District. Noonan correctly describes him as a “professional hustler” and “a total, not partial, fraud.”

Count me among those who hope the worst for George Santos. But Noonan also calls him “a menace,” which in my estimation misjudges his role in our political culture. This congenital liar poses no more threat to the central norms of a free, democratic society than have other bizarre, duplicitous, and prevaricating figures in our political history. We can expose and defeat liars and crooks thanks to the institutions and traditions of our democracy; the real menace comes from establishment Democrats who want to abolish those traditions.

Compare the hapless George Santos with Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Texas’s Eighteenth Congressional District. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law, she is a veteran politician, having served 14 terms in Congress and having occupied elective office for nearly 40 years. Currently serving on the House Judiciary Committee and the Budget Committee, Lee is a powerful figure fully networked into our political and cultural establishment.

Which makes it all the more astounding that Lee put forward a bill in January that directly attacks our traditions of free speech and freedom of the press.

H.R. 61 proposes to expand hate crime law to prosecute “white supremacy inspired hate crime and conspiracy to commit white supremacy.” Leave aside the fact that this legislation does not use the neutral term “racial supremacy,” which means that the bill does not cover Black Nationalist-inspired crimes. What’s truly shocking is H.R. 61’s description of what constitutes “conspiracy to engage in white supremacy inspired hate crime.”

A conventional definition is given: A conspiracy exists when “two or more persons [engage] in the planning, development, preparation, or perpetration of a white supremacy inspired hate crime.” Then, a new and innovative definition is put forward, one that implicates an author, newscaster, columnist, blogger, or any other writer or speaker in “conspiracy.” Here is the definition.

Conspiracy exists between two or more persons if: 

(A) at least one of [them] engaged in the planning, development, preparation, or perpetration of a white supremacy inspired hate crime; and

(B) at least one of [them] published material advancing white supremacy, white supremacist ideology, antagonism based on “replacement theory”, or hate speech that vilifies or is otherwise directed against any non-White person or group, and such published material—

          (i) was published on a social media platform or by other means of publication with the likelihood that it would be viewed by persons who are predisposed to engaging in any action in furtherance of a white supremacy inspired hate crime, or who are susceptible to being encouraged to engage in actions in furtherance of a white supremacy inspired hate crime;

          (ii) could, as determined by a reasonable person, motivate actions by a person predisposed to engaging in a white supremacy inspired hate crime or by a person who is susceptible to being encouraged to engage in actions relating to a white supremacy inspired hate crime; and

          (iii) was read, heard, or viewed by a person who engaged in the planning, development, preparation, or perpetration of a white supremacy inspired hate crime.

I am not a lawyer, but the language is plain enough. Section (B) implicates a wide swath of conservative commentators, any one of whom could be indicted as a co-conspirator when someone commits a hate crime.

Here is an example. Last year, Payton Gendron set out to kill blacks. He claimed ten lives in Buffalo. In advance of this crime, he posted a 180-page manifesto that linked to and misused data from a 2013 essay by Notre Dame business school professor John Gaski. The piece, published in Investor Business Daily, was titled “A Discussion on Race, Crime And The Inconvenient Facts.” It was a short and pithy statement of the kind of analysis that has been elaborated many times by Heather Mac Donald and others in subsequent years.

The only protection afforded a person like John Gaski (or any other writer) is section (ii), the “reasonable person” test. This is small comfort. Our universities have been overtaken by an extremism that defines any expression of dissent from progressive orthodoxies on race as hate speech. Our sitting president describes those who disagree with his policies as racists angling to impose “Jim Crow 2.0.” A module in a standard-issue diversity training program warns about “the historical use of color-blindness as a rhetorical tool to prop up white supremacist ideals.”

We are living in a time when lynch mobs form on social media to punish the slightest violation of progressive taboos. This phenomenon has created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that is inimical to our American traditions of freedom. It is shocking that a senior member of Congress has proposed to import this method of censorship into the rule of law.

George Santos is an embarrassment. Sheila Jackson Lee is a menace. 

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things

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Image by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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