Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once called for limiting free speech and holding suspects for weeks without charging them, in order to fight domestic terrorism.
Speaking at the Loeb First Amendment Award Dinner in New Hampshire, Gingrich called for a “different set of rules to prevent terrorism” that would include “impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of,” the New York Sun reported back on November 29, 2006.
“Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people,” he told audience gathered to honor those who fought for the freedom of speech.
“This is a serious, long-term war,”added Gingrich, who was mulling a bid for the presidency at the time. “And it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country. It will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous.
“The 1st Amendment does not protect lewd and libelous speech, and it should not — and cannot in 2006 — be used as a shield for murderers.”
Gingrich then expanded his perspective on the war on terror to the international level by proposing “a Geneva Convention for fighting terrorism” that defines terrorists as “subject to a totally different set of rules” from conventional conflicts. He cited the United Kingdom, where terror suspects can be held for several weeks without charge, as an example for America to adopt.
Constitutionalists and civil libertarians at the time raised concerns that Gingrich would limit the constitutional rights of Americans. His proposals would violate the First and Fourth Amendments protecting free speech and unwarranted search and seizure, they argued.
“What these guys don’t understand is that the best defense against bad ideas, like extremism and terrorism, is free speech,” George Washington University law professor Johnathan Turley said. “That’s what we’ve proven.
“That’s why they [the terrorists] don’t like us, is that we’re remarkably successful as a democracy, because we’ve shown that really bad ideas don’t survive in the marketplace, unless you try to suppress them, unless you try to keep people from speaking. Then it becomes a form of martyrdom. Then you give credence to what they’re saying.”