Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has admitted that he fared poorly in communicating the purpose of the department’s newly created Disinformation Governance Board, which critics have lambasted as a threat to free speech.
The board has been created to address disinformation which poses a “security threat to the homeland,” Mayorkas said in a recent interview with Fox News. Such disinformation comes from countries like China, Iran, and Russia and also from the cartels. The board’s work will not infringe on free speech, civil liberties, or civil rights, he stressed.
“It’s not about speech, it’s about the connectivity to violence. That is what we need to address. You know, an individual has the free speech right to spew anti-Semitic rhetoric. What they don’t have the right to do is take hostages in a synagogue, and that’s where we get involved,” Mayorkas said.
The Disinformation Governance Board was announced by Mayorkas on April 27, stating that it is aimed at preventing the spread of online misinformation among minority communities, especially during the upcoming midterm elections.
Several lawmakers and experts had criticized the creation of the board, with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) warning that the board’s sole purpose might be to “marshal the power of the federal government to censor conservative and dissenting speech.”
Mayorkas also called the controversial head of the Disinformation Board Nina Jankowicz a “renowned expert” and someone who is “eminently qualified” to lead the board. He also claimed that the disinformation head was ”neutral.” In his Fox interview, the DHS secretary said that he does not question her objectivity.
“There are people in the department who have a diverse range of views, and they’re incredibly dedicated to the mission. We’re not the opinion police. She has testified before Congress a number of times, she’s recognized as a tremendous authority, and we’re very fortunate to have her.”
However, Jankowicz has been shown to take a clear political stance, for instance, when she publically went against former President Donald Trump several times. In the past, she has praised the British spy who was behind the now-debunked Russia dossier which alleged that the Trump campaign had ties with Moscow.
Jankowicz also claimed Trump’s presidency would embolden ISIS. She has also insisted that the Hunter Biden laptop story was a Russian disinformation plot.
“Back on the ‘laptop from hell’, apparently- Biden notes 50 former natsec officials and 5 former CIA heads that believe the laptop is a Russian influence op. Trump says ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’,” Jankowicz said in an Oct. 23, 2020, tweet.
According to Hawley, Jankowicz has criticized the First Amendment and free speech rights in the past, making her a suspect choice for heading Washington’s disinformation board. She has called people who opposed speech codes on social media as “first amendment zealots.”
In an interview with NPR last month, Jankowicz said that she shudders while thinking about “free speech absolutists” taking over more platforms. This might be harmful to “marginalized communities all around the world” who she said were already shouldering “so much” online abuse.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also defended Jankowicz during an April 29 press briefing. She insisted that Jankowicz is an “expert” on online disinformation. “Any hiring decisions are up to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but this is a person with extensive qualifications,” Psaki said.