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BRIAN HAWKINS: The Right Must Embrace The Counterculture

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Brian Hawkins Contributor
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Last year, punk rocker Johnny “Rotten” Lydon made waves when he was quoted saying, “I never thought I’d live to see the day when the right wing would become the cool ones giving the middle finger to the establishment, and the left wing becoming the sniveling self-righteous twatty ones going around shaming everyone.”

Elon Musk tweeted Rotten’s observation about contemporary politics. Conservative twitter personality, Robby Starbuck, quickly emphasized the point by declaring, “the right is the new counter culture now,” with numerous editorials since elucidating the idea.

If the right is the new counterculture, conservatives must embrace policies that enhance their ability to combat the entrenched establishment.

Historically, conservatives were instinctive institutionalists, emphasizing a desire to protect culture, traditions, and institutions. This was best personified by William F. Buckley’s ubiquitous description of a conservative as “someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop…’” Rebelling against this established order were the liberals raging against the machine.

In recent years, however, the right has been the most ardent critics of the established order. As conservatives increasingly find themselves at odds with the orthodoxies of the federal government, the media, public health bureaucracy and academia, conservatives need robust privacy protections that ensure their ability to challenge the left’s dominance in society’s key institutions.

When challenging the regime’s narratives, the establishment will often leverage their vast resources to crush dissenters. A few examples illustrate the point.

During the American revolutionary era, Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” a pamphlet articulating the case for American independence from Great Britain. Paine wrote under a pseudonym to protect his identity from royalists.

The revolutionary cause was still controversial as late as 1776, with many colonists still loyal to Great Britain. Divulging his identity in that polarizing climate would have threatened Paine’s revolutionary efforts and denied our Founding Fathers a powerful tool to shift public opinion towards independence.

Similarly, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the Jim Crow South, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously repudiated the state of Alabama’s attempt to forcibly disclose donors and members of the state’s NAACP chapter, an effort intended to target people who funded the movement’s disruptive campaigns.

More recently, the Federal Election Commission long exempted the Socialist Workers Party from campaign finance disclosure requirements, because of Cold War era threats faced by their members. Acknowledging the hostility the party faced, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “We are not unmindful that the damage done by disclosure to the associational interests of the minor parties and their members and to supporters of independents could be significant… In some instances, fears of reprisal may deter contributions to the point where the movement cannot survive.”

Today, entrenched interests continue to take punitive actions against those who challenge the status quo. Last year, JPMorgan Chase closed the bank accounts of the National Committee for Religious Freedom and refused to restore access unless NCRF divulged their donors to the bank.

Fidelity Charitable, a division of Fidelity that advises clients on their philanthropic giving, blacklisted Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberties law firm that has secured several victories at the U.S. Supreme Court, refusing to refer donors to the organizations unless their giving is publicly disclosed.

When a fundraiser was launched to help support the legal defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the crowdfunding app GoFundMe shut down the fundraiser alleging an unspecified violation of its terms of service. Furthermore, those who were able to contribute were doxxed and faced harassment, including one Virginia law enforcement officer who was fired from his job for the offense of donating to the left’s most recent villain.

This is why Republicans in Congress must tread carefully when shining a light on the left’s use of nonprofit organizations: any response that empowers the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take a more active role in policing the political activity of nonprofits would inevitably be used against conservatives seeking to disgorge entrenched power.

This was demonstrated when the IRS targeted Tea Party groups for extrajudicial scrutiny during the Obama administration, limiting the right’s ability to organize at the height of the 2012 presidential election.

Despite the various rationales for censorship given by the defenders of the status quo, the message is clear: if you dissent, you will be punished. Conservatives need to embrace all of what it means to be a countercultural force fighting against the status quo, which includes securing privacy protections that fuel the battle of ideas in this country.

As conservatives learn to rage against the machine, they will need all of the robust speech and privacy protections guaranteed by our Constitution, because their opponents have many institutional tools at their disposal to weaponize against them.

Fortunately, the First Amendment exists to shield the counterculture from the censorious desires of the establishment.

Brian Hawkins is an external affairs director in Washington, D.C.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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