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MacIntyre: Douglass Mackey and the death of the First Amendment
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MacIntyre: Douglass Mackey and the death of the First Amendment

Douglass Mackey was sentenced to seven months in prison on Wednesday for the crime of insulting Hillary Clinton.

Sending political opponents who mock the ruling class to the gulag is the kind of behavior one usually associates with China, North Korea, or some despotic Middle Eastern regime. Not any more. Now it’s the standard operating procedure of the United States government.

While the West has prided itself on open discourse and liberal democracy, it has become increasingly common to see individuals in European countries go to prison for “hate speech” violations such as using the wrong pronoun or speaking ill of Muslims on social media.

Many of my European friends have told me how envious they are of the First Amendment, an explicit constitutional bulwark meant to protect the right of citizens to speak their mind without fear of state reprisal. It is now clear that this central pillar of American liberty has failed, and the U.S. government has become simply another totalitarian leviathan with the ability to crush dissent by force.

Mackey, who went by the Twitter handle Ricky Vaughn, was put on trial for election interference by the Biden Justice Department after posting a meme he created during the 2016 presidential election. The meme jokingly suggested that Clinton supporters avoid long lines at the polls and cast their votes by text message.

Prosecutors could not produce any evidence that even a single individual had lost the ability to vote by attempting to use the number featured in Mackey’s meme. Nevertheless, the judge decided this totally victimless crime of meme-making warranted seven months in federal prison. Never mind that multiple Clinton supporters produced social media posts or videos making similar jokes, with one going so far as to tell Trump supporters to skip the lines and text their vote on Election Day. But none of them were charged. The charges are fallacious and motivated solely by political vengeance.

The government knows what it is doing is an affront to the rule of law. That’s the point. This is about sending a message, a flex of power meant for all to see.

It is easy for mainstream conservatives to turn a blind eye to Mackey, an edgy internet poster who swam in the meme culture of a bygone election cycle. That’s a mistake. While the seven-month sentence seems light compared to the 10 years Mackey could have faced for his “crime,” the precedent set is absolutely devastating. Mackey missed the birth of his first child due to the sentencing hearing, and the judge refused to issue a stay during the appeals process, so the meme-making satirist will be separated from his family as he fights this incredible injustice.

Knowing that the regime will look for any minor legal justification to incarcerate anyone who mocks it will have a chilling effect on those who would use humor to push back on the absurdity of our ruling class. Comedy is far more threatening than rational argumentation to our contemptable elite, and memes have proven one of the most effective ways to communicate how farcical the clown world we inhabit has now become.

They are not just going after Mackey because they are vengeful or petty; they are going after Mackey because he represents the pseudonymous internet gadflies who humiliate the regime and its grotesque caricature of piety on a daily basis.

There is nothing Western leaders love more than proclaiming their moral superiority. Freedom, tolerance, and democracy are held out as beacons of light with which to shame the despotic leaders of less progressive nations around the world. Amazingly, leaders like Canada’s Justin Trudeau manage to keep a straight face while denouncing the human rights violations of Vladimir Putin, even as he throws Canadian citizens in jail and seizes their bank accounts for protesting COVID lockdowns. The United States has joined these ranks, making itself a self-righteous laughingstock as its leaders mouth empty platitudes about the critical nature of openness and liberty while imprisoning a citizen who makes jokes on the internet.

Although Mackey’s case may seem like a relatively minor news story, if it is allowed to stand, it would effectively mean the death of the First Amendment. Laws limiting “hate speech” or other woke nonsense are already dangerous, but the prosecution of an individual for political jokes strikes directly at the heart of the Constitution.

Some forms of censorship, such as restricting the sale of pornography to minors, have always been allowed by the courts. But one form of speech that the First Amendment has held as absolute is the right to disagree with the government. It is unlikely that the government will suddenly start arresting everyone who mocks it on the internet, but the inconsistent application of the precedent is a feature of anarcho-tyranny, not a bug.

By abusing the wording of obscure laws and manipulating the judicial process, the regime can pretend that Mackey is a radical outlier, and the rule of law remains in place. The illusion of neutral process makes the masses far less likely to push back against tyranny, but the arbitrary nature of that process allows the regime to make it clear that enemies will be punished. Now we walk on eggshells, hoping we’re not indicted next.

Mackey’s conviction is just one of the recent events that do not bode well for the future of our constitutional order. Donald Trump, the leading political opponent of the sitting president, faces a slew of partisan legal charges brought with the obvious intent of influencing the 2024 presidential election. Dozens of Trump supporters face life-ruining charges for being involved in the events of January 6, 2021, despite the fact that leftist protesters regularly rioted, looted, and burned cities around the country in 2020 with little or no legal consequence. The FBI has designated MAGA supporters as the most serious domestic terror threat that America faces.

And all of this comes in the wake of a 2020 presidential election fraught with direct government interference by intelligence and police agencies, as revealed by the Twitter files. If these events were unfolding in any other nation, we would recognize them as the consolidation of hard power against all domestic political rivals, because that is what they are. The Bill of Rights might hold a sacred place in the American civic religion, but if our rulers can throw their opponents into jail on a flimsy pretext, then the document is simply an artifact of a constitutional order that is already dead.

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Auron MacIntyre

Auron MacIntyre

BlazeTV Host

Auron MacIntyre is the host of “The Auron MacIntyre Show” and a columnist for Blaze News.
@AuronMacintyre →