Historian Paul Johnson wrote that the second most important factor in the formation of America’s political character, after religion, was respect for the rule of law: “The law was not just necessary—essential to any civil society—it was noble.”
Americans might wonder how this squares with the recent storming of Capitol Hill. The media and social media and our elected leaders are all telling us one thing (in many cases word-for-word), and yet our gut may tell us something else. We have been told that an insurrection was put down—a coup narrowly avoided. Three cheers for the triumph of the law!
It doesn’t feel that way, though. Many Americans can put themselves in the shoes of the Capitol Hill protesters, with an important caveat: We have no truck with the window-smashers and Bison Man—who went on a food strike in jail for an organic diet. (Now there’s a typical Trump supporter for you.)
Many Americans see themselves rather as having been among those protesters who dashed up the steps but stayed inside the ropes, looking for their elected representatives—not to smash in their faces, but rather to give them a piece of their minds.
I know this because I myself might have been there. Many of my friends considered going to Washington to join the protest. So did I. And, but for a trick of fate, I might have been at the Capitol that day, at that moment, when the barricades were breached—or simply opened—and Americans went flying up the steps. I would have looked for my own congressmen to tell them, face to face, that all their fancy words and procedures are meaningless if my vote isn’t counted.
Auditing the Returns
Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of pretending either that there is no evidence of fraud, or not enough evidence, or that the courts have gone into this thoroughly and found nothing. A few days after the election, I was recruited by a nonprofit group to assemble a small analytics team to study the election. We had, of course, no subpoena power or special inside data. But there was a lot of publicly available data, especially from states that use software like Scytl (“Simplify Your Elections”) to report results. We were fairly dab hands at extracting and analyzing information, and we devoted several hundred hours to examining the results, particularly in Georgia and in Pennsylvania.
Some of our work was auditing other peoples’ findings—for example, the claim that tens of thousands of Pennsylvania ballots had been “returned” before they were actually mailed out. That turned out to be true—more than 23,000 ballots had return dates earlier than their mail-out dates and more than 38,000 had return dates identical to their mail-out dates. Moreover, we confirmed that the Pennsylvania Department of State, which made this data available, was busily changing these dates after the election, ex post facto, so that the number of ballots with return dates before mail-out was reduced from 23,000 to just 181. In fact, a comparison of archived datasets shows that Pennsylvania has changed the dates on more than 100,000 ballots. We wonder why.
The main body of our work was statistical analysis, which showed, for example, that Biden’s vote totals in Philadelphia and Allegheny seemed to have been massively inflated, and that thousands of Trump votes were missing from Fulton and DeKalb counties in Georgia.
The principle behind this analysis is simple and even elegant: It is easy enough to cheat—to falsify data, say, by feeding in a bunch of extra ballots for your preferred candidate. But to do so in a natural-looking way is hard, because tampering with just one part of a whole system makes that part stand out. It may not be obvious to the casual observer, but statistical analysis is like a blacklight revealing flaws invisible to the human eye.
While the press was assuring everyone that this was a massive conspiracy theory, and while plenty of mainstream conservatives were helpfully chirping that “if there was any evidence, we’d have seen it by now,” we—and dozens of similar teams—were preparing this evidence (plenty of which had in fact been released and ignored) with the knowledge that it would have to stand up in court, so it had better be thorough and correct. We were certain we wouldn’t have as much time as a criminal forensics team assembling evidence for even the most trivial prosecution, but we did our best to balance speed against mandatory diligence. It took us about three weeks to get the first results out.
We believed that no honest court or grand jury could hear this evidence and not be swayed. We were—and remain—ready to pitch our work against everything on the opposing side, and to accept the decision of the courts as final.
Silicon Valley’s Ham-Handed Dictators
But we were not expecting that there would be no decision—a kind of anti-justice, a series of summary dismissals and summary affirmations, but no cases actually heard and argued. No standing at the Supreme Court. No court willing to touch such a sensitive political issue. No due process, no remedy, no redress of grievances. No rule of law.
It is extraordinary that three-quarters of Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac poll, believe there was widespread voter fraud in the election, when YouTube is removing videos on the subject as fast as they are put up, and Twitter has now blocked the account of the president himself.
But the tech oligarchs who have become the de facto national leaders are not students of history nor are they men of any deep conviction—they are simply children with money. They were raised, in America’s schools, without any commitment to or understanding of the value of free speech. And they are equally ignorant of the history of tyranny. So just as they make bad democrats (with a small ‘d’), they make equally ham-handed dictators.
The criminalization of thought and speech goes back to the French Revolution and much earlier. It is freedom of speech, and not its suppression, that is the recent and real innovation, and which today remains unique to America. If Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey had studied any of this, they would know that you cannot make people agree with you just by preventing them from saying what they think. All you can buy with censorship and suppression and even the threat of violence is nothing more than the appearance of conformity and the semblance of agreement. Suppression doesn’t make thoughts go away—it drives them underground. There, as Winston Churchill pointed out, they become twice as potent for being forbidden: “A little mouse, a little tiny mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.”
Those casual enemies of free speech who today dominate the tech landscape have a much weaker hand than they think. Twitter has fewer daily active users in the United States than Trump had Twitter followers. Amazon Web Services and its politically aligned competitors Google, Microsoft, and IBM may appear to be the only game in town for web hosting, but that, too, will change.
New Dreams of Independence
By expunging millions of users from their ecosystem, the tech giants have created a huge and ready customer base waiting to be served. And, in a mostly free market, it will not be long before new companies arise not only to serve those orphaned customers, but to challenge and depose today’s potentates.
Perhaps never in the history of any industry has a dominant faction so openly invited its own destruction.
Likewise, our elected leaders will be making a grave mistake if they persecute and hound the Capitol Hill protesters. Millions of Americans will feel that they, by extension, are persecuted and hounded.
Back in Colonial America, even as late as 1774, independence was not to be dreamed of. The First Continental Congress made no such demands—they were united only by a desire to petition for redress of grievances. Many Americans felt they had been treated unfairly. But they did not intend to go to war over it: Not only did Britain have one of the strongest professional militaries in the world, which made physical resistance seem wild and ridiculous, there was still genuine affection for the British Crown, as well as—–hand in hand with American respect for the rule of law—–a natural conservative distaste for radical change where conciliation was possible.
All that was necessary was for the British government to treat Americans with respect on the level of British subjects living in Britain. But the British government believed themselves to be so unassailably strong that they chose coercion, rather than conciliation. Frederick Lord North’s “Coercive Acts” in Britain became the “Intolerable Acts” in America, and public passions were inflamed by our local illegal and seditious press, whose writers and printers ran the risk of being hanged, and who, for having taken that risk, number among the fathers of the American Republic.
William Pitt, speaking in the House of Lords, unintentionally expressed the hubris and the contempt that was to make America’s emancipation inevitable: “Our power over the colonies is sovereign and supreme. This is the mother country, they are the children. They must obey!”
Then, on the morning of April 19, 1775, a detachment of the British Army was sent to Concord via Lexington to confiscate a store of American weapons. A detachment of 80 American militia under John Parker met them on the green at Lexington. British Major John Pitcairn shouted an order: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!” They didn’t.