From The Rachel Maddow Show

As Homeland Security tackles disinformation, the right balks

What does it say about those on the right who hear about efforts to combat misinformation and immediately take offense?


At face value, this Associated Press report seems rather anodyne. The Department of Homeland Security has identified a problem, and officials are moving forward with plans to address that problem.

The Department of Homeland Security is stepping up an effort to counter disinformation coming from Russia as well as misleading information that human smugglers circulate to target migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. “The spread of disinformation can affect border security, Americans’ safety during disasters, and public trust in our democratic institutions,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.

As the AP’s article explained, the cabinet agency has formed a Disinformation Governance Board — to be led by disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz, who has researched Russian misinformation tactics and online harassment — which will initially focus on misinformation aimed at migrants. That makes sense: Among those most eager to use disinformation are human smugglers south of the border.

With another election season effectively underway in the United States, the Homeland Security board will also reportedly “monitor and prepare for Russian disinformation threats.”

This doesn’t seem especially remarkable, either. In fact, there’s ample precedent for this: The Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security created the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in 2018, and part of CISA’s purview was (and is) to combat misinformation and disinformation.

(Donald Trump, incidentally, fired CISA’s director for telling the truth about the 2020 election results.)

In other words, Homeland Security officials have recognized these informational threats before. It’s hardly shocking that they’re eager to counter false information being weaponized by smugglers and the Kremlin.

But some on the right apparently don’t quite see it this way.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, for example, said DHS will be “policing Americans’ speech.” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was even more outraged, releasing a video via social media in which the Floridian insisted that Homeland Security officials will be “focused on policing speech.”

Rubio, whose home state allies have focused of late on banning books, restricting protests, and making it harder to vote, added that “people on the Marxist left are coming after your most basic constitutional rights.”

Evidently, Elon Musk isn’t pleased, either.

This reminds me of a story from 13 years ago. As long time readers may recall, in early 2009, the Department of Homeland Security prepared a document alerting law enforcement to potential threats from ideological extremists and their interest in politically motivated violence. The report had been commissioned by the Bush/Cheney administration, but congressional Republicans and conservative media freaked out anyway, suggesting that the Obama administration was preparing to target political opponents on the right.

Some GOP members of Congress even called for then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s resignation.

The message from the right was a bit more revealing than Republicans probably intended. When Homeland Security officials raised concerns about potentially violent radicals, and their possible impact on public safety, quite a few conservatives quickly assumed that this described them. It didn’t — DHS was focused on groups like neo-Nazi gangs, not random folks showing up at Tea Party rallies — but the freakout was caused by those who assumed they might be considered “dangerous extremists.”

More than a decade later, Homeland Security officials are concerned about those weaponizing misinformation to advance their interests, which apparently led some Republicans to balk.

What does it say about those on the right who hear about efforts to combat misinformation and immediately take offense?