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‘So to Speak’ podcast transcript: The state of free speech

Ep 200: The state of free speech

Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.

Nico Perrino: That's where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. As I teased on previous episodes, this is our 200th episode. And as we did during our 100th episode, back in December of 2019, we're going to be talking about the state of free expression. Not just here in America, but across the globe.

We're going to be having kind of a freewheeling conversation. Talking about the efforts to police hate speech. The efforts to police speech on social media and the internet. The new categories of speech that we didn't really hear a lot about in 2019. Although I think they were around to some extent. This idea of misinformation, disinformation, and this other category called malinformation, which is true but insidious information. That is the kind of new rage for those looking to police or censor speech on the internet.

I want to talk, of course, a little bit about everything that's happening surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict. And the implications from that for free expression. Want to talk about cancel culture. This podcast started in April of 2016. And I'm not sure that phrase had really come into the public lexicon yet.

So, back in 2015, FIRE released a documentary called Can We Take a Joke, which was about free expression and stand-up comedy. And, at least in 2015, I don't remember cancel culture being a phrase because we called it, when we were doing promotion for that film, outrage culture. And this kind of concept had been popularized by Jon Ronson in his book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

So, maybe publicly shamed was the phrase that was used previously. But cancel culture has become a topic in free expression circles. Sometimes implicates the First Amendment, but more broadly, implicates principles of free speech. And what it means to have a culture of free speech. So, we can debate that a little bit on the show. We're gonna debate whatever else happens to strike our fancy. As both being important and relevant.

When this show was founded in April 2016, there was no TikTok. This was pre-the Brexit referendum. This was preemie to pre-Donald Trump. The no George Floyd. FIRE hadn't expanded our mission off campus. Milo Yiannopoulos hadn’t been firebombed at UC Berkeley. Charles Murray hadn't been attacked at Middlebury. Brett Weinstein hadn't been run off Evergreen State College's campus. I think it's Brett Weinstein. Excuse me, Brett, for that. Brett is a past guest on this podcast. So, I hope he’ll forgive me.

But joining me to have this kind of conversation on where things have gone and been since April of 2016 when we started this show, is a past So to Speak guest, Brendan O'Neill. Brendan last appeared on this podcast on October 20th, 2016. You might remember that he is a British author and journalist. He was the editor of Spiked from 2007 to September of 2021. And he is currently Spiked's chief political writer. And, as he was telling me before the show, the host of a popular podcast, as well, which I encourage you all to check out. And I'll put in the show notes. His latest book is Heretic’s Manifesto. I think it's also your only book, right Brendan?

Brendan O’Neill: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Came out in June of this year. I encourage folks to also check that out. Brendan, welcome back.

Brendan O’Neill: Hey, Nico. How’s it going?

Nico Perrino: It's going, it's going.

And joining us for the first time on the show is Marc Randazza. Marc is a First Amendment attorney and the managing partner at Randazza Legal Group. Marc, interestingly, has represented many controversial figures in First Amendment cases spanning the political spectrum. These folks include Alex Jones, Mike Cernovich, Chuck Johnson, and the founder of the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin.

And Marc, I actually want to start with you, because my producer prepared that bio, I hope he got it all right.

Marc Randazza: I mean, I represent some nice people, too.

Nico Perrino: But when we started the show, one of the reasons I started the show is because I wanted to get some of these old school free speech First Amendment attorneys on the podcast. Talking about why they do what they do. And why they defend who they defend. So, the first series we ran when we started So to Speak in April of 2016, was called the Defending My Enemy series. It featured Aryeh Neier, who was the former Executive Director of the ACLU. The Executive Director of the ACLU during the Skokie case.

Marc Randazza: The old ACLU?

Nico Perrino: The old ACLU, yes. And he wrote a book called Defending My Enemy. I mean, he was a refugee of the Holocaust. A Jewish man himself. And he was explaining in long form why he thought it was important that the ACLU take the case. And that he defend the rights of his enemies. Although he was not an attorney. David Goldberger was the lead attorney on that case at Illinois, affiliate.

We also talked in that series with David Baugh. Who is a Black Criminal Defense Attorney. Who volunteered to defend the Klansmen Barry Elton Black’s right to burn a cross at a Klan rally during the trial stage of that case. That would then go on to become the Supreme Court case of Virginia v. Black. And then, we also spoke with Glenn Greenwald. Who, before he was popular as a journalist, he was once a lawyer. And as a gay man of Jewish descent, defended the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, as well.

So, that's my setup to ask you, Marc, whether there's still an interest among young attorneys coming up through the bar to take these sorts of cases, in the same way you do? And why is it important in your opinion?

Marc Randazza: I mean, I like getting old because now I can dump on young people like old people have done for generations. I will say, it seems less. But that spirit is not extinct. You know, I work for another organization. I do work for them that they are extremely anti-gay rights. And my associate insisted on working for them, on his wedding day, to his husband. And I was like, “Man, I just, I love you.” Seeing somebody in their 20s, insist that he works on that file on this day.

Nico Perrino: And why did he insist on it though?

Marc Randazza: Because that's what the real deal is. You know, when we first got a call from Anglin, for example, Andrew Anglin. I guess you'd call him a notorious international Nazi.

Nico Perrino: The founder of The Daily Stormer, right?

Marc Randazza: Right, yeah. I was very excited to get that call. So, I said, “Yeah, man.” That's when I feel like I'm doing my best work. Is when I can really sit there and say, “God, I wish my client would shut up,” but I refuse to let the government or the court process do that. And I called my partner before we took the client on. I called my partner, Jay Wolman, who's a very observant, I don’t think he’s Orthodox. But he's just prior to Orthodox Jewish. And I asked him, I said, “Hey, is it alright if we take this client?” He says, “Well, why the fuck you asking me?” And I said, “Look, Jay, I just feel like it's just good manners, right? I'm not asking you any – ” And he says, “Don't you ever challenge my commitment to the First Amendment to get?” He says, “Yes, we’re taking the client, and I insist on having my name on every filing in that case.”

And then, one day he's on the front page of the Jerusalem Post that says, “Meet the Jewish Lawyer Defending the Nazi”. That made him pretty popular at the synagogue the next Saturday. But it's, I think it's so easy to defend free speech when you drink the client's Kool-Aid. I have defended clients who I just love their speech.

Steve Novella at Science-Based Medicine, for example. I did a case for him. And you always wonder, do I have a blind spot here because I want his speech to continue? When you really don't want someone's speech to continue, when you wish you could talk them out of talking voluntarily, I think that's when you're more of a priest of free speech.

Nico Perrino: Do judges get this?

Marc Randazza: Some of them do.

Nico Perrino: That's always been the case. Right? I mean, I guess it's a question of whether it's gotten better or worse.

Marc Randazza: You know, I find that I've had judges that get it. But remember, especially in federal court, you've also got to get by the clerks. And that's one of the biggest –

Nico Perrino: In what way though? In what way, for us non-lawyers out there?

Marc Randazza: I mean, when you're a clerk to a judge, you have a lot of power. Because when I clerked for a judge – and it was sometimes the judge would say, “Go find me a case that says this,” and you'd go find it. But sometimes they just ask you, “What is the law on this?” And your memo will be very influential. It doesn't mean the judge won't think for themselves sometimes. But people are busy. It's like, someone hands you a memo. And that can be where you go with it.

Or even if the judge is sitting there, in a room with two or three clerks. And is listening to them pepper him, or her, with reasons that this party cannot possibly be allowed to prevail. That's going to have some influence. And I definitely will say that the young lawyers that are being cranked out of the law schools now, while there are still a population of them that thinks this way. It definitely is a diminishing population that feels that way.

Nico Perrino: Well, it feels like this kind of neutral principles approach was the old school, some might call it neo-liberal consensus. I was just was reading an article in First Things, which is a kind of, new conservative publication. I think Helen Andrews, which was reporting on the ACLU and talking about her perception at the ACLU has abandoned these neutral principles. But not arguing that they should return to the neutral principles. But rather they should return to principles – legal frameworks surrounding the common good. So, it's like there's not even a constituent to see on the right – or maybe there is, but it's waning – that's in favor of these sorts of neutral principles, which would animate then, the reason that we defend people that we disagree with.

Marc Randazza: Yeah –

Nico Perrino: Brendan – Go ahead, Marc.

Marc Randazza: No, no. I want to hear from Brendan.

Nico Perrino: No. I was going to ask Brendan because eight years ago, you spoke at the Oxford Union. And you argued in favor of the motion, The House believes the right to free speech always includes the right to offend. And you made this point that I haven't really heard before. That you said, “That intolerance to those who give offense is one of the oldest, foulest forms of intolerance. Intolerance to those who give offense is one of the oldest, foulest forms of intolerance.”

I want you to break that down for me because part of what you think is you should be intolerant to intolerance. You kind of meet the bad speech or speech you perceived to be bad with more speech. But you should do the kind of neutral principled thing that Marc does. Of defending the rights of that speaker. Sort of the, “I might disagree with what you say, but I'll defend that, your death, the right to say it.” So, unpack that for us. And if you want to extrapolate a little bit on the conversation we've been having.

Brendan O’Neill: Yeah. Well, firstly, listening to Marc talk about how willing he is to defend the speech of people he doesn't like very much. And how willing other attorneys and lawyers are to do so, as well. It's really remarkable to hear stuff like that. It's really enlivening to hear it because we don't have that tradition in Britain. We just don't have it. Of course, there are some voices here that defend freedom of speech. There have been over the years. But they're usually quite timid and quite quiet. And they're increasingly reluctant to defend the speech rights of people they oppose. People they hate.

And in fact, censorship in Britain is now very, very ideological. You're expected to want to crush the speech of the people you oppose. That is taken as a normal thing to do. Whereas, I've always gone by the opposite idea, which is that if you are serious about freedom of speech, your chief task is to defend it for people who you hate. And whose ideas you hate. And if you don't do that, then you're falling at the very first hurdle. And this is not even an original observation. Going back, even long before the Skokie case. Back with the old ACLU. The good ACLU.

You go back centuries before that to Thomas Paine. Of course, one of the great Britians who contributed so much to the American Revolution. And then later to the French Revolution. He made the point that, “He who would guard his own liberty must do so for his enemy first because if he doesn't, he will set a precedent that will one day reach to him.” That is the foundation stone of freedom more broadly. And freedom of speech specifically. So, it's really good to hear Marc. And, of course, you Nico, and other people in the US who are still willing to defend the speech rights of people whose speech they disagree with. It's so important to do that.

In relation to the intolerance question. I've never liked the idea that we should be intolerant of the intolerant because, to me, intolerance doesn't just mean being sniffy. Or being critical. Or being fiercely critical. All of which are central parts of public debate and public life. Intolerance suggests a kind of brimming desire, I think, to stop something from being said. Intolerance, I think, suggests a crossing of the line from criticism, and rebuke, and ridicule, which are legitimate things to do. It crosses a line into a desire to shut someone down. Or to treat them as so beyond the pale that they can't possibly have any kind of platform in public life. So, I don't like the idea of intolerance.

And one of the points I made in that Oxford Union talk a few years ago is that Oxford University now has cancel culture running riot. I was canceled from speaking at Oxford in 2014. I was due to speak on a debate about abortion. Me versus another man. Another male journalist. But it was shut down by a mob of feminists who said that men don't have the right to talk about abortion.

And one of the points I made in my Oxford Union speech about freedom of speech a couple of years after that incident was just to say, “Look, you students think you're so radical and original with your cancel culture. But in fact, people have been canceled at Oxford for hundreds of years. People who dare to translate the Bible into English, for example, which is once an offense punishable by death. They were hounded out of Oxford University in the 13 and 14 hundreds. Shelley was hounded out of Oxford for writing a defense of atheism. Lord Alfred Douglas, who is better known as Bosie, who was the boyfriend of Oscar Wilde. He was persecuted at Oxford for publishing a magazine there called The Chameleon, which was an openly homosexual magazine in the late 1890s. He was hounded out of Oxford for publishing that.”

So, cancel culture on campus. is not original. There have always been intolerant people at places like Oxford. It's just that their targets change over time. And I think learning the lessons of intolerance from the past can often help to guard us against it in the present.

Nico Perrino: Since we've gone to cancel culture already. I want to ask kind of the obvious question related to cancel culture at this moment, which is surrounding the kind of Israel-Hamas conflict. Now, Brendan, I broadly agree with you when we talk about – in the distinction to draw between vigorous response and intolerance. I think, which what you define is kind of like trying to shut people down. Or deny them access to an education. Or employment. Or whatever, otherwise punish them for their speech.

And I think a culture that has an instinct, where our first response in response to speech we don't like isn't to find a way to censor it. Or cancel. Or punish the speaker. But to meet it with more speech is a healthy free speech culture. It's a culture that sees value –

Marc Randazza: Where can I find this?

Nico Perrino: What's that?

Marc Randazza: Where can I find this mythical place?

Nico Perrino: Oh, no. You just have to come over to FIRE’s office here in DC. We mix the Kool-Aid every day at lunch. And all you have to do is drink it and then you hallucinate this mythical place.

Marc Randazza: Excellent.

Nico Perrino: But no. It's a culture that sees value in curiosity. To send devil's advocacy, thought, and experimentation. My boss, Greg Lukianoff, likes to talk about how you can kind of see a healthy free-speech culture and the idioms that you use. Right? In America, I grew up hearing all the time, “It's a free country.” “To each his own.” “Sticks and stones.” These sorts of things that say, “Okay, you have the right to say that. You have the right to believe that. But I also have the right to respond. And words aren't violence,” right? They might be hurtful. But they're not the same thing as violence.

But with the Israel-Hamas stuff right now. You see kind of shifting definitions surrounding cancel culture in response to some of the students on campus. In particular, who had come out and said Israel was entirely to blame for the attacks on October 7th. And you had law firms, I think, was it Winston or Wilson Strong, revoked an employment opportunity for a student at NYU who said Israel was entirely to blame.

You had those 30-some-odd student groups at Harvard sign on to a letter that made, more-or-less, the same argument. You had a bus driving around campus, flashing their photos and their names and all that. With a purpose to try to kind of chill their speech. Or get them fired. Or had them brought up on charges against campus.

So it's like, how do we think about that in the context of cancel culture? You see now, some argument has been made that cancel culture is when you mobilize a mob. Online or elsewhere. To try and get someone punished for something that they say, that falls within like, the scope of Overton Window. Like acceptable public opinion.

Like we're having a debate right now about whether biological males should be able to participate in female sports. And you've seen people canceled for making that argument. And it's an argument that is very much part of the public debate. Part of public policy debate. A plurality, if not a majority of Americans might be on either side of it. But the argument in the Israel-Hamas context is like but raping and murdering and then plundering. Such as, what you saw on October 7th, that's beyond the pale.

So, we shouldn't criticize employers for then moving to kind of fire or revoke job offers to those students. So, I'd love to hear both of your perspectives and how you kind of think through.

Marc Randazza: I'm very impressed with how college campuses seem to have all of a sudden found room for multiple sides of a debate that could be quite offensive. I have to ask, will it stick? The fact that we are allowing people to protest in favor of… I was just shocked when I woke up on October 8th. And saw there are actually people in the streets protesting against the victims of a massive crime. It's, like going out there and protesting in favor of the Hutu Genocide in Rwanda. It's like, let's just do that. But the campuses are tolerating that. If I saw this as a change in philosophy, I'd be really, really optimistic about the future of free speech right now. But it doesn't seem to be that that's what it is.

Nico Perrino: When you say a change of philosophy if you think this means that campuses have found Jesus. And from here on forward, they won't be exercising double standards in the policing of speech.

Marc Randazza: Yeah. I would love to believe that that's what's happening. I'm too pessimistic. And probably just, too, I'm not all that bright. But maybe I'm just barely over the intelligence quotient it takes to know that that's not what's happening at all.

Nico Perrino: It reminds me of two cases that FIRE dealt with in recent years. 1.) University of San Diego, I believe. Or San Diego State? Professor Thomas Smith wrote on his own personal blog, the argument in favor of the lab leak theory of the Coronavirus. And he said anyone who believes that it didn't come out from a lab is swallowing “Chinese cock swaddle”. Essentially, Chinese propaganda. He was brought up and investigated for discrimination charges for making this argument.

And then, at Emerson College, on the other coast, Boston. You had a student group. A turning point, USA group. That handed out stickers, that say, “China kinda Sus” on them. Clearly a critique of the Chinese government. But the president of that university sent out a campus-wide communication accusing them of anti-Asian hate and bias. Despite the fact that the Vice President of that group, KJ Lynum, was herself, Asian.

Marc Randazza: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Right? And so you do have to wonder about these double standards. Right? Like all speech that offends can be argued to be violent. But then when there's actual speech supporting actual violence, it gets a pass. And that's not me saying that these pro-Hamas or pro-Palestinian protesters should be investigated and punished and expelled. It's me saying you can wonder why donors and alumni are saying, “What the fuck?” Right?

Marc Randazza: Yeah. It's maybe time to stop donating. I mean, look, if there hadn't been – I mean, we're on two to three generations of complete capture of the academic institutions. Look, I used to think of myself as a leftist. I've read Gramsci. I used to think, “Oh, that'll never happen.” And I'm like, “Holy shit. Gramsci totally called it.” Take over the institutions and you take over everything. And if there was a little more balance, I think, among academics politically, and administrators at the academic institutions politically. Perhaps you would see a little more balance and how speech is tolerated on campuses.

But you don't. You have to pass a political litmus test to get anywhere near a college campus. Or a law school now. And you wouldn't have the slightest chance in Hell. Hell, I'm too far right wing. I mean, I guess I'm right-wing now because everything moved. And here I am, sitting in the same spot. Wow, I'm sitting around here with a lot of people with MAGA hats on. But they won't stick around long because they already are calling for people to be censored who say things they don't like. So, you’re no friend of mine because you have a MAGA hat on. You're a friend of mine because you believe in freedom of expression.

Nico Perrino: Brendan?

Brendan O’Neill: Yeah. I think the double standards on campus are – they're actually mind-blowing. I mean, it boggles the mind when you see these people who don't even recognize their own hypocrisy. So, we're talking about campuses where people have said it's racist to ask someone, “Where are you from?” They used to have a list of microaggressions at some campuses, including the UCLA.

And those racist microaggressions included questions like, “Where are you from?” Or even saying, “I don't see race. I only see character,” which if that sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty much word for word what Martin Luther King said. He would be disinvited from many campuses these days. Very stubborn belief in character over color. We've had such bizarre controversies.

Do you remember Oberlin College? There was a big controversy about sushi being served in the cafeteria, which apparently was cultural appropriation. We've seen students saying that going to yoga classes is racist because unless you're Indian, you shouldn't do it.

It's just as bad in Britain. Student unions here have banned the wearing of sombreros because apparently, that is cultural appropriation of Mexican culture or something. They've banned Eminem’s music because it's homophobic. They've banned that Robin Thicke song, Blurred Lines because it's misogynistic. I mean, they really have banned almost everything on the basis that it's racist or bigoted in some way.

And yet, then when we have a genuinely racist pogrom of the kind that we haven't seen since the 1940s. A racist onslaught against the Jewish people. Then they stop talking about racism. And they call it resistance. Then they go on to the campus quad – the campus square – and they cheer on her mass, essentially. And they hound anyone who has the opposite view.

So, these are the kind of people for whom starting a conversation by asking where you're from is a racist crime. But an actual pogrom that slaughters more than 1,000 Jewish people is something worth supporting. So, the moral decay on our campuses cannot be underestimated.

But I'm also slightly torn because I think what we've also recognized over the past six or seven weeks is firstly, that many students are completely morally lost. But also, that the right cannot be trusted on freedom of speech because some people on the right are relishing the cancellation of these assholes. Let's call them what they are. They're relishing their cancellation. Their job losses, and so on.

Now, I understand the temptation to laugh at these people. And say, “You're now getting a taste of your own medicine.” But it's a temptation we have to resist with every fiber of our being because if we don't defend their right to say, “I love Hamas.” Or their right to say, “Israel is a terrorist state. And it deserves to be attacked.” Both of which I consider to be grotesque statements. If we don't defend their right to do that, then we're giving up on freedom of speech as well. So, it's important I think, to call out how profound the moral rot in the university has become. But also to defend people's freedom to express those disgusting ideas.

Nico Perrino: Marc, I see you over there nodding your head.

Marc Randazza: Yeah. I just want him to call me and remind me to stick with that moral every day because, yeah, you're right. Because I have seen I'm guilty of this. Of looking at and going, “How does it feel now you assholes?” You're right. Would I defend somebody's right to say, “Israel got what it asked for on October 7th”? Yeah, I would. Now, after we left the courthouse, I'd probably spit at them. But I would absolutely stand there and defend that. But it is difficult.

I have people who have cheered the work I've done. A large number of them happen to be Jewish. And who have reached out to me and said, “What can we do about this on campuses?” I'm like, “Do about what?” Be careful what you're saying. Like this is a weapon. I've been saying, “Don't touch that. It's the Ring of Power. Don't pick it up. Don't touch it. Don't wear it, even when it feels most tempting to do so.”

I mean, I still have to sometimes – but I always try to challenge what I believe, though. And I think about, what is a good argument against what I believe. It's really easy for that. I think the three of us, probably, could just – one of us could go to sleep. And give the other one a piece of their brain and say, “Hey, you handle this talk.” Aside from my New England accent, your British accent, and your newscaster one, they wouldn't know who's different.

But then I think about Rwanda in 1994. Right? When you go on the air and say, “Cut down the tall trees.” Was Radio Mille Collines – if I could go back to 1994 and suppress the free speech rights of Radio Mille Collines, would I do it? And I have to answer I don't know. I need to have that level of humility because what I see now is more akin to, I don't think we were on the verge of Nazi Germany. But we might be on the verge of Rwanda.

I do think, I'm not trying to say like any day now. But, it does seem almost as if it's… our freedom of expression is rotting our freedom of expression. And I don't know what to do about it. When you talk about what’s happened at Emerson College. Don't tell me that there wasn't a couple phone calls made from some Chinese donors that said to do that. That wasn't just – because college campuses, if there's one group they care about less than Jews, it's Asians. So, let's not think that all of a sudden they were ready to defend the honor of Asian Americans. I believe that the Chinese know, as well as the Soviets did. Let's infiltrate and use their freedom of expression against them.

I think back to even my own activities. I got a hilarious picture of myself from 1988 when I went to the Stop the Klan rally in Philadelphia. And a friend of mine saw it about a year ago and said, “So, you were working for the Soviets, huh?” “What are you talking about?” And I described the scene. I said, “Wow, yeah, we went to this squat house in this burned-out neighborhood in West Philly. And we had printers and photocopiers and screen-printing machines and satellite phones. And I just figured I don't know where the chicks at?”

And so, to the extent, they infiltrate us to create dissent among us. And to weaken us. What can we do about that? Yet still maintain our principles? And I have the humility to say, “I have no idea.”

Nico Perrino: Well, yeah. So, you frame it as our free expression is rotting our free expression. And I want to ask Brendan about what's happening in Ireland right now. Where I think the folks who are proposing this new kind of hate speech law.

Brendan O’Neill: Oh, God, yeah.

Nico Perrino: Department of Justice, bill of 2022. And then there's a parenthesis that says, “Incitement to violence or hatred and hate.” So, context here. A couple of days ago, there were protests that turned into, in some cases, violent riots in Dublin. And of course, the politicians in Ireland were aghast at this. This was the result of a man stabbing, I think a woman and some children outside of school. Turns out this was a, I believe, a 50-year-old Algerian man. So, an immigrant.

And so, these protests were widely reported as being in response to the increase in migration and immigration into Ireland. And so, in response to this, which they see having been animated, in part by conversations on social media. You have the Irish Prime Minister vowing to modernize pause and hatred in the coming weeks.

The bill that was proposed said that racism and xenophobia are direct violations of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. And then, one of the punishable crimes relates to xenophobia is merely the commission of an act referred to in point A by public dissemination or distribution of tracks, pictures, or other material which can roughly apply to political pamphlets, memes.

As [inaudible] [00:34:04] said, language being proposed as law in Ireland means this could literally happen to you for having a meme on your phone. He was responding to another user who posted a GIF of a police raid. And then, when you say freedom expression might be rotting our freedom expression. I think some of the folks in Ireland would be making the same argument. And I want to play a clip from, it's going around social media right now, from Ireland's Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly. In which she says this,

Video: “When you think about it, all law, all legislation is about the restriction of freedom. That's exactly what we're doing here. Is we are restricting freedom. But we're doing it for the common good. You will see throughout our Constitution, yes, you have rights, but they are restricted for the common good. Everything needs to be balanced. And if your views on other people's identities go to make their lives unsafe, insecure, and cause them such deep discomfort that they cannot live in peace, then I believe that it is our job, as legislators, to restrict those freedoms for the common good.”

Marc Randazza: We must have freedom from freedom, comrade.

Nico Perrino: Brendan, I follow you on Instagram. You spend some time in Ireland. You write and reach these markets. You take controversial stances on controversial issues. In your last book, your collection assays, Heretic’s Manifesto. I mean, I think you're self-describing yourself as a heretic. Theoretically, if these sorts of laws are passed, because you take controversial positions on trans issues, for example. You could be put in the sensor scope. So, I mean, how do you think about all of this? And as someone living in the UK, and Britain has its own – I mean, how do you think about all this?

Brendan O’Neill: It's very worrying what is happening in Ireland. I love Ireland. My parents are from Ireland. Every single person – I did 23andMe recently. Where you test your DNA. And 98% of my DNA is from Ireland, which is unusually high. So, I'm about as Irish as it gets.

Nico Perrino: I have to ask, where the other 2% though comes from?

Brendan O’Neill: It was a little bit of Middle Eastern, I think, which is from my haplogroup great, great, great, great grandmother, or something like that. But yeah, mostly Ireland. And a tiny dash of Scotland. So, I love Ireland. I go there all the time. I have family and friends there.

But Ireland is increasingly a lost cause. I'm sorry to say. One of the other things we saw in Ireland over the past week – couple of weeks, was a debate at University College Dublin about the Israel-Hamas War. Where a Muslim man – a Muslim student in the audience stands up and says to a Jewish student, “We are going to do 7th of October again and again and again. We're going to get all of you.” And what was most shocking about that video was everyone else in the audience just sitting around saying nothing.

These are the future leaders of Ireland. These are the bright, young things at University College Dublin. And they just sat there. And it reminded me of an experience I had speaking at Trinity College Dublin, which is their Oxford. It's like the highest seed of learning in Ireland. I spoke there in 2015 about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

And I was against someone from a Muslim organization. Who, in his speech, he essentially defended the killing as an expression of fury with Islamophobia and racism. And he got cheers from the audience. And I was so horrified by this that I completely broke University speaking protocol. I stood up and I shouted, “You are defending murder. You're defending race. You're defending mass murder. You're defending the execution of journalists.” And I was booed. I was jeered. And I was forced to sit down.

So, it's been clear to me for some time, that there is a moral rot in the Irish Academy. Just as there is in American campuses. And British ones as well.

But I think what Ireland demonstrates quite clearly, to my mind, is that censorship is a more likely cause of violence than freedom of speech. Because one of the things we hear all the time these days is that freedom of speech is a risky business, which it is, of course. That’s part of the reason we love it. And if we have too much freedom of speech, it will incite hatred. It will incite violence. It will license people to behave in a terrible bigoted way.

I actually think that's far truer of censorship. Because what censorship does, it gives people the idea that their views, and their beliefs, and their religions are so wonderful, and perfect, and sacrosanct, that no one can criticize them. No one can blaspheme against them. No one can call them into question. And if they do, they are an evil person deserving of some form of punishment.

Now the classic example of this is the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Those two killers grew up in France. They were born in France. They were not foreigners. And they grew up in a country in which it is against the law, potentially. They have hate speech laws in France, which makes it potentially illegal to defame Islam. Or to be mean about Islam.

The celebrated French novelist, Michel Houellebecq, has been dragged to court for insulting Islam. Brigitte Bardot has been fined. The actress turned animal rights campaigner. She's been fined in a court of law in France for insulting Muslims. Particularly, the way they treat their animals.

So, these killers grew up in a country which says that it is problematic and potentially punishable to criticize Islam. All they did was take it a step further and change the punishment from finding someone to killing them. But the logic of it was already set in motion by the political correctness of the French state.

And I think, what is clear to me, from the Irish riot a few days ago in Dublin – huge riot. The worst civil disturbances they've had for many years. That, too, was a product of censorship. Because numerous people in Dublin, particularly working-class people, have been trying for the past few years to raise concerns about mass immigration. To raise their concerns about how many people are coming into the country. How many state resources are being given to them? And at every turn, they’re either prevented from marching. Or they're demonized as racists and bigots. They're shunned from polite society. They're attacked by the President of Ireland. And the government of Ireland.

And it seems to me, that riot, in response to an immigrant stabbing three kids and a teacher. That was an outburst of fury when every other avenue of expression was shut down to these people. That's really, fundamentally, what happened here.

And Ireland's immigration numbers are extraordinary. One in five people in Ireland was born overseas. That's 20% of people living in Ireland. Give you a sense, during America’s great melting pot era in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Around between 14 and 16% of people in America were born outside of America. Today in Ireland it’s 20%. And Ireland is a small country. And it's not a rich country.

It's causing tensions. But people are not allowed to speak on it. And therefore, there was that explosion of violence. So, I think again, and again across Europe, we see a situation. Where I refer to the Irish right as the fury of the canceled. If you cancel people, shut them down. Prevent them from expressing legitimate views. You create a situation where they blow up. So, to respond to that by intensifying hate speech laws, which will potentially see people being arrested. And fined for expressing their views. It's worse than useless. It's throwing petrol onto the fire.

Marc Randazza: Of course, it'll only be used to arrest and silence one side of the debate. Because when the Prime Minister of Ireland stands up – or was it Ireland? Or Scotland? Or both that was – when he stood up and said, “These institutions are far too white.” Well, it’s fucking Ireland, isn't it? What I expect. I don't really have a problem with that. If somebody wants to say that in America, I have wildly different views on how I vote depending on which country I'm voting in.

In Italy, I vote very hardline anti-immigrant. In the United States, I love immigration. If I went into a coma and woke up a year later, and everybody was speaking, Uzbek, and they were Buddhists, or whatever. Hey, that's how the current of an immigrant nation works. I like that diversity. Although, I hate that word. But nobody likes diversity when it's – why don’t we maintain the source of that diversity? You know what? You can't have an Irish community if there is no Irish fountain, right? I'm shocked to hear that 20% of Ireland is foreign-born.

Meanwhile, you don't have anybody in the UAE saying, “Maybe we should take a bunch of immigrants from the Middle East.” And why do they always travel west? They never travel east. And it's funny that my only criticism of Islam, I really don't know a whole lot about it. But seems just as reasonable as my religious beliefs. So, it seems okay. But the only problem with it is, it seems to be the most thin-skinned belief system in the world that we've ever had.

When the guys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, made The Book of Mormon, just making fun of Mormons incessantly on the Broadway stage. The Mormons responded by taking out an ad in the playbill that said, “Okay, you've seen the play. Now see, what we’re about.”

Nico Perrino: I didn’t know that.

Marc Randazza: I respected Mormons because of that. Whatever else you can say about Mormonism, you got to respect that. You've got to really look up to that. And Islam, can't deal with cartoons? What is wrong with you people?

Nico Perrino: Jacob Mchangama who’s a senior fellow at FIRE. Head of the future free speech project at Vanderbilt. And founder of Justitia, out in Denmark. He wrote the book, Free Speech. It's a history of free speech from Socrates and social media. And he does explore the history of Islam. And there was kind of a golden age for free thought, relatively. Way back when. And so I urge people –

Marc Randazza: I gotta admit, when they rolled Sicily, we had a pretty good as Sicilians. Maybe want to bring them back for a little bit.

Nico Perrino: It's good to get another Italian. Although, you're far more Italian than I am. My grandfather's family came from Bari, Italy, which is southeastern –

Marc Randazza: We had mentioned Andrew Anglin before. When I first took him on as a client, I did tell him I said, “Look, you're gonna have to accept something.” I said, “Your legal team is going to be a Sicilian, an Orthodox Jew, and a gay guy who's married to a Puerto Rican guy. And they have a ginger sex slave that lives with them.” And the line goes quiet for about five seconds. And he says – now every word in the sentence is doing work. “Sir, technically, Sicilians are White now.” So, in your face to my in-laws. But…

Nico Perrino: I did want to piggyback on something Brendan was saying. FIRE, when we expanded in 2002. And leading up to that, we had some work with ad agencies. One great agency, DeVito/Verdi, had this brilliant idea of doing an ad about a tea kettle. Right? You know when you're heating up the water for your tea, got the kettle? And you have all this pressure that builds up as the water heats, steam. Before it sort of blows and makes the noise to alert you that the tea is ready.

That's kind of how free speech functions. Right? It's like that release valve that makes the noise that doesn't let the pressure boil over into violence. And I was watching this documentary, it came out last year, called This Place Rules. I don't know if you saw it. It's about Andrew Callaghan. It's made by this director, Andrew Callaghan. It culminates with January 6th here in the United States. But follows kind of extreme political movements. Mostly focused on the right leading up to it.

And there's this telling moment in the documentary. Where he kind of gets into editorial mode. And is talking about the subjects he's interviewing. He's saying, “What is the effect when a bunch of people believe there's a conspiracy to shut them up? And then you have evidence that there actually is a conspiracy to shut them up?” Talking about the efforts and coordination between the government and social media companies. Right? Yeah, that's gonna radicalize people.

And one of the most valuable things about freedom of speech, I think, to me, is that it's a way to trust the system. It's a way to trust what comes out of the system. So, we were drawing parallels between the kind of neutral principles that animate the defense of offensive speakers in the court of law. And I think one of the reasons it's so important to have, for example, criminal defense attorneys who will take on every client. Or state-appointed defense attorneys for those who can't afford one. Or criminal defense, civil attorneys, like you Marc. Is because in order for folks to trust the justice, or the outcome of any civil or criminal proceeding, they need to trust the process was fair.

And I think that applies to our knowledge producing process as well, within society. In order for us to trust that the decisions that go into our public policy. When you live in a democratic republic like we have in the United States, you need to trust that every voice had a say. And if every voice feels like it has a say, I think it's more likely that all those disparate voices will get aboard whatever outcome comes from it. But if you have a situation, for example, like you had in 19 –

Marc Randazza: It'll at least be some buy-in, yes. If –

Nico Perrino: Sure. And then when you have censorship, a lot of people blame the rise of Nazism on freedom of speech. But folks don't realize the sort of political violence that was allowed to happen there. And the censorship as well, that happened. The Nazi party that was used as a propaganda tool within Weimar, Germany between – people forget this, 1925 and 1927. Reading William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Hitler was banned from speaking. What did Joseph Goebbels do? Put together a propaganda campaign that said, “One man amongst 2 million people cannot speak in Germany.” The man, of course, was Hitler. And the ban was eventually dropped. Right? So, it's like –

Marc Randazza: Well, it's also enshrines. I think it enshrines some nasty speech. With kind of an air of mystique when it's censored. Because you see this when you have these – I mean, frankly they're lying assholes when they talk about Banned Books Week. Like, show me one book in Banned Books Week that's actually banned. My kid’s walking around with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird under her arm and nobody's looking at her funny.

You want to have Banned Books Week, then put Mein Kampf and The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and Hit Man, which is actually banned. Put some actual banned books there. But I remember when we were in high school. Whoever had the copy of The Anarchist Cookbook that week, we’d hand it around to each other. I mean, make bombs and… I don’t know. We never did any – well, we did some of the stuff in there. But if it had been freely available, I don't think we would have thought of ourselves as so cool for having a copy of it. Now –

Nico Perrino: Yeah, the forbidden fruit.

Marc Randazza: Again, if you make this certain kind of speech – I think some people like this kind of speech because it's offensive and forbidden. Like, Anglin is a great example. God, the guy can't even have a domain name. Google just took his domain name and wouldn't give it back. Because –

Nico Perrino: Yeah, there was that situation, what in 2017? Was it Cloudflare, which is one of the main denial of service preventers that most websites use to prevent these sorts of negative – just like stopped servicing?

Marc Randazza: Yeah. And if you think that made his website less popular, you're wrong. It made the people who are fans of it even more committed.

Nico Perrino: Well, that's another trend that we're seeing. Right? Are these otherwise, kind of, sort of, neutral internet infrastructure companies that are increasingly becoming political. Like, none of us think that because of what we say or what we believe that – Brendan, I know out there in London you have your own companies. But here, AT&T or Verizon. The phone companies are going to come and shut down our internet. Or our phone lines. They might. But on the internet, you have PayPal finding people, as we saw. Or was that earlier this year or last year? If you engaged in wrong speak, wouldn't give you any information about why. You see Cloudflare taken away this sort of protection against denial of service.

Marc Randazza: But the really spooky part is they won't tell you why. Almost no service that will ban you will tell you why. Just, “Because we said so. And that's why.”

Brendan O’Neill: Yeah. I think one of the really worrying things about censorship today is the rise of corporate censorships – capitalist censorship. In some ways, it's even worse than state censorship because it's so unaccountable. There's nothing you can do about it. At least with the government, you can vote them out. And hopefully, vote for a different party that is a bit more pro-freedom. But as you say, Nico, we've had PayPal preventing people from accessing their funds because it doesn't like what they say.

Of course, there was the case of the Canadian truckers who were deprived of money that was raised for them on GoFundMe, I think? Or one of those funding platforms. And they weren't allowed to have that money because the owners, the unaccountable owners of that platform didn't like what they were saying.

We've seen numerous cases here in Britain of what is referred to as debanking. It happened to Nigel Farage. Very well-known British politician. Former leader of the Brexit Party. He was debanked from Coutts Bank. And an internal document was leaked, which showed that they actually talked openly within the bank about his problematic views. The fact that he's a climate change skeptic. The fact that he criticized Black Lives Matter. The fact that he criticizes the trans issue. All of that was held against him. And his bank account was closed. Now, of course, if you don't have a bank account, you can't operate in the modern world. So, it's a very severe form of punishment.

One thing that worries me when I go to the US – I absolutely love going to the US. It's a wonderful place. But I do sometimes worry that American, libertarians in particular, are not ready for this discussion we need to have about corporate tyranny. And corporate censorship, because they feel torn, I think between defending the private property rights of these businesses to do what they want to do. And the free speech rights of the average citizen, or consumer, to think what he or she wants to think.

Now my view as someone who, like Marc, comes from the left, but everyone calls me right wing. I haven't moved but everyone else seems to have moved. As someone who comes originally from the left, my old-fashioned view is that citizens' free speech rights are more important than a private company's private property rights.

And our government, here in the UK at least, has already said that there are certain things that private companies are forbidden from doing. You are not allowed to sack a woman because she gets pregnant. You are not allowed to refuse to give someone a job because he believes in Allah. You are not allowed to refuse to give someone a job because he's Black. So, we already restrict their right to do certain things. And it makes sense to me, that we might want to restrict their right to attack citizens and consumers for what they think. So –

Marc Randazza: Yeah, why isn’t free speech seen as a positive right? I have a positive right to not be discriminated against, which is okay. Why don't I have a positive right to free speech? Why shouldn't that be?

Here in the US, I don't know if you're familiar with it, Brendan, but there's a case called Pruneyard. And Pruneyard is where – I have a lot of friends at FIRE. And usually, if there's more than three of them with me, they're all yelling at me that Pruneyard is an abomination. Pruneyard is definitely an anti-libertarian case. And Pruneyard was a shopping mall that had bought up – and this is where I first started getting interested in free speech jurisprudence.

I lived in Florida. And I lived in this county where everything was either a private homeowner's association or a shopping mall. And if you actually looked on the map to where you had government grounds, public space. These little narrow strips around, that's where you could protest.

Well, Pruneyard recognized that under the California constitution, this shopping mall had become the public square. And thus, they had an obligation to allow protests there. Within reason. It couldn't be so bad that it would make it that you couldn't shop there. But you had to allow someone to hand out leaflets. Pruneyard is a derelict on the sea of jurisprudence. And is probably going to be overturned.

But I've had a very unpopular view around free speech people. And most very strong free-speech advocates in the US think that my position is stupid and awful. But I believe that Pruneyard should not just remain intact, but should come onto the internet. And should come into other areas. Where you own such a big free speech platform.

Now, where do I draw the line? I don't know. I'm not smart enough to do that. But if you own such a large free speech platform that it has become the de facto Times Square, you should have at least some requirement to tolerate more free speech on it than if it's just your personal blog. Much like own a little coffee shop. Maybe I don't need to allow people to protest in favor of Hamas inside my coffee shop. But if I own the shopping mall that owns the coffee shop, maybe I do have to allow them to peacefully walk through holding their signs.

Brendan O’Neill: I suddenly think that I really agree with that. And I at least think that social media companies, despite being private companies, ought to permit all the speech that is already legally permitted in the country in which they're operating. I mean, that's the bottom line. Now, that raises all sorts of questions about how Twitter operates in Saudi Arabia, for example. Or how social media operates in China where they’re very authoritarian.

And there is a difficult question here. That I'm also possibly not intelligent enough to answer, which is the question of whether we really want Silicon Valley billionaires to be enforcing sovereign nations to adopt a different standard of speech than the one that they actually want to adopt.

So, I'm not saying it's a straightforward question. That we want Elon Musk to ride into, I don't know, Pakistan and tell them that they have to allow everyone to say whatever they want. And to call Muhammad a pedophile, or whatever people do. I'm not sure I want Musk to play that slightly imperial role.

However, when X – Twitter, whatever it's called, is operating in a country like Britain, we should have a fair expectation that you won't be banished from that platform, which is like a modern town square. You won't be banished from that platform for saying things that are legal to say in Britain. So, over the past few years, pre-Musk, feminists in Britain were banned for life from Twitter. For saying that men are not women. And for saying that if you have a penis, you are male, not female. They were literally banned from saying that. But it's not illegal yet to say that in Britain.

So, this was overreach by corporations. Punishing citizens in a very real way for saying things that we as a democratic nation have agreed that it is acceptable to say. So, that's where it’s very problematic. And Musk has obviously changed things quite a lot. But I think social media should go further. And be compelled to allow people to speak as freely as their nation allows them to speak.

Nico Perrino: See, this is where I think I play the minority voice that yells at Marc around the dinner table.

Marc Randazza: My belief is strong enough, they can exist with opposition.

Nico Perrino: No. But I agree with you guys in principle. Right? A lot of our public conversation happens in these digital town squares that are owned by private companies. Right? And if we're talking about free speech as being a release valve, so to speak. And a lot of the places that free speech happens is on these social media companies. Where censorship also happens. You could see that the relief valve might not be operating as it should be. And free speech isn't just a government censorship discussion.

Go back to John Stuart Mill, who wrote that, not because of the laws of England. But because of the cultural conformity of Victorian England. And this is where the rubber hits the road. Right? So you might agree with that, in principle. What do you do about free association values, right?

So, it's the principle then that FIRE, or any other organization that's mission-based, can't fire employees who are no longer on board with free speech. If we are worried about the capture ideologically of institutions of higher ed, what do you do when a corporation can't get rid of the ideologues? Right? Who are undermining the mission of the university. This is just gonna be a weapon that's going to be utilized for the people to burrow their way into the side of organizations. And retare her and divert them from a mission. I mean, there's this phrase, gosh, what was – management's just gonna be caught up with HR. Right? The whole time. You can't get rid of people who are undermining the mission.

And then you also have, on the social media front – I'm glad we're getting into social media. This is kind of where we're at. Where we'll wrap up. Social media and the internet. Of like, okay, it's all principle. Everything legal in the United States should be allowed on these platforms. But these platforms rise and fall on how they make editorial judgments. I mean, the content that you get fed is based on the algorithm. And the algorithm is what distinguishes it from other platforms. And better algorithms that feed you more relevant or interesting content that you engage with are the ones that are going to succeed. And the other ones are not. I don't even go on Facebook anymore because –

Marc Randazza: [Inaudible – Crosstalk] [01:02:16] I'm a Catholic chat board. Should I have to also have transsexual porn on it?

Nico Perrino: Sure. Sure. I mean, you could make the Hobby Lobby argument. Right? Like this is a closely held mission ideologically based corporation. So, that's where the exception is. Whereas, like if you work for Chase Bank, it's different. But at the same time, legal speech on the – if we're talking about the United States. Legal speech on social media companies has crushed videos, beheading videos. A hardcore porn, like you need to be on board with that, too. Because that's constantly – that would be – to censor that, would be a content-based or arguably viewpoint-based restriction. Nobody's gonna want to use those social media platforms.

One of the arguments that NetChoice makes, the trade group that represents some of these social media companies. Government’s free to set up its own social media platform and have the First Amendment prevail. But no one's gonna want to use that platform. That's not necessarily an argument against the First Amendment. It's an argument in favor of freedom of association. People being able to associate around the ideas and values they care about.

So, I agree with you guys in principle. And it is deeply concerning to me. That how censorious American corporations have become. Although, I think it's getting slightly better in the last year, slightly better. But how do you navigate all those all those tricky add-on questions?

Marc Randazza: Well, at the very least you could have a requirement of transparency. I will recognize you are asking for some lines to be drawn that I don't know that I'm smart enough on my own to draw them. But at the very damn least, they could be transparent. And you could say, “What have I done? Where is the resolution?” Because what we've done in other contexts, we haven't had a hard time drawing those lines.

I don't want to get too deep into tech stuff. But in the domain name space, for example. If you have a reasonable policy. That reasonable policy has been in the UDRP arbitration procedure. Bang, that has worked imperfectly, but better than nothing for the entire history of the internet. Or most of the history of the internet.

So, is there a way to say, over a certain size you have to permit X, Y, or Z? But yeah, where do you draw the line? Because let's forget about just a parade of horribles, of crush porn. But just the spam you might have. Right? How can you limit spam? Because you'll have every single thing on Twitter will become send 40 million, send $40 to Nigeria, and you'll get $40 billion. Right?

But you could have community, I'd be more comfortable with community flagging. Right? If enough people vote to diminish it, then at least you've got some kind of a consensus being built. And it's not just one person's – and usually it is, just one person with way too much power. Sitting in some cubicle in Palo Alto, who decides this person’s banned for life and that's that.

Nico Perrino: What's really concerning to me on the social media front right now, is what the European Union is trying to do with the Digital Services Act. Right? So, in this case, you have Elon Musk, who is trying to make the platform freer for a diversity of political and ideological viewpoints. Who has threats made against him by regulators within the European Union. That want social media companies to police the speech on their platforms. Under paying of a fine of up to six percent of that year’s total gross revenue, if they don't remove this content.

The argument is that hate speech is illegal in the EU. Grounds for prosecution and this Digital Services Act extends that online. And this is, Jacob, who I mentioned earlier, has talked about this being the exportation of censorship.

So, here in the United States, Brendan I don’t know how familiar you are with it. California has a huge economy. So, when it sets emission standards for cars, those then become the emission standards for across the country. Because you don't want to have a separate car built for California versus a car for Montana. Europe is a huge market, too.

So, are you gonna create a separate X? Or separate Twitter? And all the resources, and time, and energy, and expense goes into that versus the rest of the world? In order to comply with this Digital Service Act? It's a worrying, worrying trend. But I guess you in London and Britain don't have to deal with that anymore because you're not in the EU. You have the, what is it now? You have the –

Brendan O’Neill: We have the we have the Online Safety Bill. So, we liberated ourselves from the European Union by voting for Brexit. So, you’d think we wouldn't be subject to these kinds of laws. But, of course, we have our own version with the Online Safety Bill, which is not that dissimilar to the Digital Services Act legislation in Europe.

The thing is, following on from what I said earlier. There's a little bit of a contradiction in what I'm saying. I realize that, because on the one hand, I think it's legitimate for government to take action against corporations in order to ensure that they don't censor citizens, unnecessarily, or unfairly, or unjustly. I think that's the right of a democratically elected government. To put pressure on private companies in that way. However, I recognize that I'm talking about governments that do not believe in freedom of speech themselves. That includes the British government. It includes all of the governments of the European Union.

So, it's a very difficult situation one finds oneself in. Where you don't trust the unaccountable corporate power of Silicon Valley ideologues. But nor do you really trust your own government to defend your right to speak freely. So, it's a difficult situation. There's no question about that. And with the Digital Services Act, as you say, it's this act that puts pressure on social media companies. Especially the large ones that have millions of followers. To take down illegal content. To take down potentially harmful content. To take down misinformation, and hate speech, and so on.

But of course, in various European countries, all sorts of things count as hate speech. So, there's just been a case in Finland, for example. Where a former politician has been dragged through the courts for quoting the Bible on homosexuality in a leaflet that she wrote. She has been taken through the courts for that. We also had a court case in Austria a few years ago. Where a woman was punished, and it was upheld by the European courts. Because she said that Mohammed was a pedophile. We've had cases in the UK where people have been arrested. Or at least visited by the police. For posting supposedly transphobic content.

Fairly recently, the police visited a woman, a lesbian, who posted online that men aren't lesbians. That used to be a common-sense piece of knowledge a few years ago. Now it's a potential hate speech crime that the police can visit you for and tell you off for.

So, these kinds of legislation are terrifying. Because if social media platforms are being forced or pressured to take down content that might run foul of local laws, they will take down everything. They will urge on the side of caution. Six percent of their annual revenue is a hell of a lot of money. If they fined that amount of money, billions of pounds, billions of Euro. They would much rather censor us, rather than pay that money. So, we're entering a new era of digital censorship.

One thing that really worries me is the collapse of the dream of internet freedom. I'm old enough to remember 25 years ago, 30 years ago. When the internet was coming up. There was a real sense that this was more revolutionary than the printing press. Because for the first time in human history, you would be able to publish your thoughts and your ideas. Not only without the state breathing down your neck but without even the old infrastructure of editors and publishers breathing down your neck. You would be liberated from all the old forms of control and discrimination. To say what you want to say. To however many people you're able to say it to. It was seen as completely revolutionary.

But that's fizzled out now. It’s fizzled out on the –

Marc Randazza: You got to get through five or six companies. Could you imagine if, back in the pre-internet days, you went into the store to buy a ream of paper to print out your pamphlets? And the guy looked at you and said, “Well, I've heard you've got some things to say that are against what the regime wants to publish. So, no paper for you, son.” And the thought of that's maddening. But yeah, that’s your ISP. You could go onto your website one morning and just find that your domain name registrar has decided to take your domain name because they don't like what you have to say.

And sure, when that happened to Andrew Anglin, it's hard to say that his speech is okay. I don't think – it's no secret. I've told him I don't like it. But I still defend his rights. What did Mencken say? “That it's the trouble with fighting for human freedom is you spend most of your time defending scoundrels. And scoundrels that oppression is first aimed. And you have to stop all oppression at the beginning if it's going to be stopped at all.”

Nico Perrino: Well, folks, I've gotten through a lot of the questions that I had prepared or the topics I'd prepared for this. There were a couple other ones that maybe I'll do a part two. Or ask you guys to do a part two at some point. But I've already kept you longer than I said I would. So, I think we will –

Marc Randazza: I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I knew I would.

Brendan O’Neill: Definitely.

Nico Perrino: Good. I think that's you agreeing to come back on Marc.

Marc Randazza: Anytime, man. Yeah.

Nico Perrino: And if you've ever – and Brendan knows he has a standing invitation – if you're ever in DC, let me know. Have you swing by FIRE’s DC office. For those listeners who are interested in FIRE stuff. We're expanding our DC office right now. We're actually building a dedicated podcast studio. It's gonna be pretty cool. State-of-the-art equipment. Cool background, that’s not just the windows in my office. Although the windows in my office, I think, are pretty cool too.

So, you guys, either of you are in town, let's pop into the podcast studio and have a talk.

Marc Randazza: Take it easy guys.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. But thank you again very much. And hang on until I'm done reading this outro because I need to get your guys’ files.

This podcast is hosted by me, Nico Perrino, and produced by my colleague Sam Niederholzer. It's also edited by my colleagues Aaron Reese and Ella Ross. You can learn more about So to Speak by subscribing to our YouTube channel. This conversation will have a video component. If that's your thing, go to YouTube, and subscribe to the channel. You'll get notifications every time a new podcast is posted.

We also have a Twitter and Instagram account, which you can find by searching for Free Speech Talk. On Facebook, we're at If you have questions for us, or hate mail for Brendan and Marc, you can email and I will appreciate your feedback. And I'm sure Brendan and Marc would as well. I’ll forward it along to them.

If you enjoyed this episode, though, and you have positive things to say, consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or Google Play reviews. Help us attract new listeners to the show. And until next time, I thank you all again for listening.