Donald Trump

Which Major Party Presidential Candidate Blamed Free Speech for Terrorism Today?

Trick question-it was both of them.


Hillary Clinton
Ricky Fitchett / ZUMA Press / Splash News/Newscom

It is fortunate that nobody was killed in the weekend terror attempts in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, other than the suspect in the mall stabbings.

Since this is an election revolving around blaming and punishing people, of course that's where the political discussion went. Reminding us that they are both terrible on issues of free speech, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both had awful things to say about everybody's civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.

Trump, this morning, on Fox & Friends, blamed the freedom of the press because of the publishing of magazines that instruct people on how to make bombs. He insisted that he believes in the freedom of the press (doubtful), but also called for anybody who provides instructions on how to build bombs to be arrested because they're "participating in crime." He also said some people who operate websites should also be arrested for "inciting violence. … They're making violence possible. They should be arrested immediately" for operating websites that give instructions on making bombs. (You can watch the segment cued up to the comments here)

In typical Trump (and Fox & Friends) fashion, everything discussed is so vague as to be unclear what he means. Does he believe it's a prosecutable offense to simply publish information that can be used to make bombs? It's absolutely not, but it's often worth trying to tease out the bigger issue Trump is trying to get at. I want to maybe guess that what he really wants to do is go after sites that are actively attempting to stir up terrorism on behalf of the Islamic State, but maybe that's giving him too much credit. If he thinks that the providing of information is what makes the violence possible, then he's got a problem because—even if it were legal for the United States to prosecute people simply for providing information that could be used for violent means—the ability to access information on the Internet doesn't end at the U.S. borders. Who is he going to arrest?

Trump's response is awful, but represents a commonly held attitude: Quite a few people want to censor information that can be used for violent means without actually thinking through the unintended consequences (maybe remind them of the court ruling that a school could ban patriotic apparel if it offended students and potentially stirred up violence).

Trust Clinton to match Trump with her own broadside against free speech in response to the attacks and to make it all about Trump himself. Clinton said that the things Trump says is being used as a recruitment tool for ISIS and flat out essentially accused him of treason (without actually using the word).

From New York Magazine:

"We know that a lot of the rhetoric that we've heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS," Clinton said "They are looking to make this into a war against Islam, rather than a war against jihadists, violent terrorists — people who number in the, maybe, tens of thousands, not the tens of millions. They want to use that to recruit more fighters to their cause, by turning it into a religious conflict."

Clinton went on to note that Trump's comments have been used for the recruitment of terrorists online, according to former CIA director Michael Hayden.

"We also know from the former head of our counter-terrorism center Matt Olsen that the kinds of rhetoric and language Mr. Trump has used is giving aid and comfort to our adversaries," Clinton continued. [emphasis added]

Not entirely sure how social signaling is going to help with the war on terror. Also not entirely sure it's going to help with the election. When you're accusing Trump of treasonous language, what are you saying about his supporters? Frankly, this statement is probably much nastier than the "deplorables" comment, but it's probably too subtle to register to a lot of people. (David Harsanyi noticed over at The Federalist.)

And Clinton may not want to prosecute people for posting information that authorities deem dangerous, but she most certainly wants to fight terrorism by censoring the Internet, and she wants Silicon Valley to help. She endorses a very technocratic approach that assumes the right people and the right technology and the right algorithms will somehow make sure only the bad people get censored. But tell that to anybody who has had to suffer the abusive enforcement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Related reading: Donald Trump is awful on the First Amendment. Hillary Clinton is also awful on the First Amendment.