Enemies of free speech apparently feel right at home in the country’s largest “dark money” lobbying empire. Case-in-point, the Dangerous Speech Project aims to “inoculate” Americans against right-wing “hate” and Republican “misinformation” by using the legal system to punish “influential liars,” while spreading its own lies and conspiracy theories.
While obscure, the project is backed by Arabella Advisors’ $1.6 billion “dark money” network and funded by a host of center-left funders, including George Soros and the Ford Foundation. This suggests a major push by professional activists. That means it takes advantage of constitutional protections to fundraise and operate in anonymity while tearing down the rights of its political opponents.
The project assures us that these Soviet-style tactics won’t “imping[e]” on anyone’s “freedom of expression,” worthless promises that recall the Soviet and Chinese constitutions’ empty guarantees of “freedom of speech” to their oppressed citizens. Controlled speech can never be “free.”
Not long ago it was understood that gutting free speech rights is the most un-American act imaginable. Yet now the Democratic Party and authoritarian activists are pushing speech restrictions to new extremes. How far will they go?
The Dangerous Speech Project was spawned in 2010 as a project of NEO Philanthropy, one of the oldest pass-through nonprofits on the Left. It specializes in incubation of new activist groups, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation. Ironically, NEO Philanthropy itself was founded by a longtime ally of the liberal organizer and free speech advocate Ralph Nader, who said in his 2000 acceptance speech as Green Party presidential candidate, “As with the right of free speech, we may not agree with others, but we will defend their right to free speech as strongly as we do for ourselves.”
The project was transferred in 2019 to the New Venture Fund, the largest 501(c)(3) in Arabella’s network. New Venture and its four nonprofit siblings specialize in sponsoring new activist groups that operate as front groups, or “pop-ups,” able to rapidly disappear after wrapping up their campaign.
We’ve traced five- and six-figure grants from the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society, and Wellspring Philanthropic Fund to New Venture Fund for the Dangerous Speech Project between 2019 and 2021.
In essence, a handful of the world’s largest philanthropies are using a $964 million tax-exempt charity to subvert the First Amendment, but that’s par for the course in modern America.
Susan Benesch, an outspoken partisan, heads the Dangerous Speech Project. Benesch has no shortage of hateful words for Elon Musk, Donald Trump, and the Republican Party at large, even comparing Trump voters in late 2016 with the Hutus responsible for Rwanda’s genocide in 1994.
Benesch has criticized Musk’s purchase of Twitter as potentially “lethal” for undoing “hate speech” restrictions and accused the former president of siccing white supremacist groups on the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021, riot.
“Banning Trump from Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms will help to stop him from spilling more gasoline,” she blasted, “but it won’t clean up what is already there in the minds of millions of his followers.”
In September, she accused Tucker Carlson of “deliberately inciting his audience to commit violence” against doctors after the FOX television host aired a segment criticizing hospitals for performing transgender surgeries. “Carlson has made it clear that protest will not stop him from inciting murder and other crimes,” she huffed.
Pushing Dangerous Ideas
More ludicrous—and dangerous—are the project’s conspiracy theories meant to smear conservatives as violent offenders. In November, Benesch absurdly claimed that Paul Pelosi attacker David DePape was converted from an “innocuous loner” to dangerous fanatic by right-wing commentators Glenn Beck and Tim Pool, proof that violent speech has “ballooned” in America and “overwhelmingly on the Right.” Frustration with election fraud and mischief, according to Benesch, is really cover for Republican voters itching to gun down their political opponents.
Never mind that the delusional DePape, an illegal alien from Canada and known nudist, flew LGBTQ, pro-marijuana, and Black Lives Matter flags at his San Francisco home. Then there was Bernie Sanders-supporting leftist James Hodgkinson, who shot and critically wounded Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) and wounded four others at the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity on June 14, 2017.
Truth is not the project’s objective; scoring political points is. Painting peaceful conservatives as murderous bigots is the surest way to dehumanize the Left’s political foes and push far-left legislation.
That includes government-enforced censorship of social media content—including criminalizing supposedly dangerous speech. As the Dangerous Speech Project puts it:
If companies wait to respond to dangerous content until violence is imminent, it is usually too late to prevent it. For example, if social media companies had banned Trump on January 5 or 6, when hundreds of his supporters had already travelled to Washington, DC, with weapons and plans to attack the Capitol, it would have been too late to prevent the riot.
It also means adopting a federal “code of conduct” for elections designed to prevent Trump from running for president in 2024 under the guise of regulating campaign speech.
One wonders if the hundreds of shadowy political campaigns run by Arabella network over the years qualify as “dangerous.” Take Arabella’s most infamous spin-off, Demand Justice, whose far-left leader told Vanity Fair in July that he supported intimidation protests outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices “as long as they’re peaceful.” Is that a dog whistle for dangerous speech?
One Demand Justice ad in 2020 attacked Justice Amy Coney Barrett, claiming that she and other “far-right Supreme Court” justices would help Trump “steal” the 2020 presidential election. Where are the project’s warnings about the threat to democracy posed by Demand Justice election deniers?
Leftists have made it clear that they loathe uncontrolled speech, especially when it threatens their power. But the First Amendment works only when both sides agree to respect it. If the authoritarians get their way, they may come to hate a post–free speech America even more.