Phil Williams: The thought police are coming

By Phil Williams, 1819 News


Ok, so we’ve all heard about the epic novel by George Orwell titled “1984”. It’s a part of pop culture and has morphed into one of those rare writings that has become bigger than itself. There are phrases that we use every day that many people don’t even realize were derived directly from the impact that “1984” has had on society.

Phil Williams is Policy Director for the Alabama Policy Institute.

The funny thing is that the book was written in 1949, at a time when the year 1984 seemed like the distant future. We are now over 70 years after the book’s publication and nearly 40 years past the date for which it is titled, but we are living in an age when the matters contemplated in the book don’t seem so far away. All of a sudden Orwell’s writings seem very prescient, and the phraseology from “1984” is embedded in our daily lexicon. It is not uncommon for someone to say that something from big government is “Orwellian,” or that “Big Brother is watching you,” or to claim that the “thought police” are afoot.

But what about the concepts themselves?

In the novel “1984,” the thought police are the secret police of the superstate that rules the dystopian world. The job of the thought police is to discover and punish thoughtcrime, defined as the personal and political thoughts unapproved by the regime. The thought police use criminal psychology and omnipresent surveillance via informers, telescreens, cameras and microphones to monitor the citizens and arrest all those who have committed thoughtcrime in challenge to the status quo authority of the Party and the regime of Big Brother.

Sounds farfetched right? It’s just fiction – right?

Well, you know what they say: sometimes reality is stranger than fiction and sometimes fiction is based in reality.

Earlier this week, in an ill-conceived and poorly constructed manner, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a Congressional hearing that he had recently directed the creation of his new DHS Disinformation Governance Board. What fresh hell is this?

According to a story on Fox News, Mayorkas said a Disinformation Governance Board had recently been created and will be led by Undersecretary for Policy Rob Silvers and co-chaired by principal Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Gaskill. According to Secretary Mayorkas “The goal is to bring the resources of (DHS) together to address this threat.” Hours later, Politico reported that Nina Jankowicz, who previously served as a Disinformation Fellow at the Wilson Center, will head the board as Executive Director.

Let’s dissect that a bit. First of all, the Department of Homeland Security is forming a so-called “disinformation board” as opposed to the CIA, the NSA or any other intelligence agency whose mission involves countering threats from abroad. This is the Department of HOMELAND Security, meaning ostensibly that they will be monitoring the communications, opinions and reporting of domestic citizens and businesses right here in the United States. When did that become okay? Short answer: It’s not.

In forming this office for countering disinformation, Mayorkas, who is also in charge of our southern border, has appointed an actual Undersecretary for Policy and a senior legal counsel to head it up. This is not a fly-by-night idea or a purely notional don’t-give-it-another-thought organization. This is designed as both a policy-making and legal arm of the Department of Homeland Security, likely with a whole staff of wonks and lawyers. We don’t yet know what their authority will be. Will the Disinformation Board have the power of search and seizure? The ability to determine? Or just write white papers and submit them to federal agencies to do the bidding? Given that DHS is a department with significant and broad-ranging enforcement capabilities, it is reasonable to assume an active role as opposed to a passive role.

Dissect it all a step further and consider that the new Executive Director has already been chosen. This is not just coming into the planning stages here. The hiring, the appointments and likely the phone lines and the office space are already there. I would not be surprised to find that the business cards and letterhead are already in from the printers. They’ve been working on this for quite some time it appears. And the new boss for disinformation is Nina Janowicz.

Jankowicz is a former employee at the Wilson Center, a highly ranked think tank inside the beltway which lists as being center-left in its advocacy and writings. The Wilson Center is all in for environmental causes, relaxed immigration laws, climate change, and yes, they have had an Office of Disinformation for which Nina Jankowicz worked. Projects to her name include such titles as “Comparative Approaches to Countering Disinformation and Regulating Social Media in the Digital Age” and “Malign Creativity: How Gender, Sex and Lies are Weaponized Against Women Online.‘ Recent reviews of her social media have already indicated a left-leaning doctrine from Ms. Jankowicz, with a highly questionable understanding of what it means to make a professional presentation, such as the joy she took in singing a song on disinformation to the tune of a Mary Poppins classic. So maybe that’s fine for a neophyte bureaucrat from a left-leaning think tank, but I don’t want her anywhere near my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Let’s be clear: it is not the role of government to determine truth and to censor thought.

Is it true that there are those who wish to confuse the public discourse? Or to skew or sway public opinion by offering half-truths and lies? Certainly. I’m a firm believer in truth in advertising, and I believe that public figures should have just as strong a right to seek damages for defamation as a private figure. But do I trust for one minute that a Biden administration – or any administration for that matter – is well suited to set itself up as the arbiter of truth? No, not a bit! Not by a stretch! Not for a single minute.

These cautionary and somewhat angry sentiments are widely held, especially given that this is an organization whose mission is not to protect the nation from outside bad actors but rather appears to be set to monitor the nation from within and govern, regulate and perhaps enforce the concepts that they have assumed in their ivory tower wisdom to be the truth that is allowed versus the truth that is not allowed.

This is not normal. This is not acceptable. This is one of those galvanizing moments in which every citizen of these United States should be calling their official, writing to the local paper and calling in to the radio show. We need to be heard now, or we may lack the capacity to be heard in the future.

Organizations like the new DHS Disinformation Board run with our tax dollars, are where truth goes to die and would serve to push freedom of speech to become nothing more than a historical narrative relegated to the dusty halls of a library. It is bureaucratic nightmares like the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Board that caused Ronald Reagan to say:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Do not remain idle on this issue. Speak now, or forever know no peace.

Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts Rightside Radio MF 2-5 pm on WVNN. His column appears every Monday in 1819 News. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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