Government Speech and the War on Terror
Government Speech and the War on Terror
Helen Norton 0 1
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1 University of Colorado School of Law , USA
Recommended Citation Helen Norton, Government Speech and the War on Terror, 86 Fordham L. Rev. 543 (2017). Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol86/iss2/9
The government is unique among speakers because of its coercive power,
its substantial resources, its privileged access to national security and
intelligence information, and its wide variety of expressive roles as
commander-in-chief, policymaker, educator, employer, property owner, and
more. Precisely because of this power, variety, and ubiquity, the
government’s speech can both provide great value and inflict great harm to
the public. In wartime, specifically, the government can affirmatively choose
to use its voice to inform, inspire, heal, and unite—or instead to deceive,
divide, bully, and silence.
This Article examines the U.S. government’s role as speaker (rather than
as regulator of speech) in its War on Terror, drawing from historical and
contemporary examples to illuminate the great power of the government’s
wartime expression. As we shall see, on the one hand, the government’s
expressive choices in wartime can be enormously valuable. On the other
hand, the government has also engaged in wartime fearmongering and lies,
with at times devastating effects not only on its intended targets but also on
the American public.1 Many of the challenges involving the government’s
speech in today’s War on Terror are familiar (often painfully so), while some
seem different in degree and perhaps even in kind.
Although courts and commentators have discussed at some length the First
Amendment issues raised by the government’s restriction of others’ speech
as part of its War on Terror,2 relatively little attention has yet been devoted
* Professor and Ira C. Rothgerber, Jr. Chair in Constitutional Law, University of Colorado
School of Law. Thanks to Lydia Lulkin and Eddie Ramirez for outstanding research assistance
and to Catherine Tremble for excellent editorial assistance. Thanks too for thoughtful
comments to Brad Bernthal, Deb Cantrell, Kristen Carpenter, Alan Chen, Ming Chen, Danielle
Keats Citron, Rick Collins, Kristelia Garcia, RonNell Andersen Jones, Heidi Kitrosser, Sarah
Krakoff, Genevieve Lakier, Kyle Langvardt, Lyrissa Lidsky, Pierre Schlag, Anna Spain,
Alexander Tsesis, Ahmed White, and participants in the Fordham Law Review symposium
entitled Terrorist Incitement on the Internet held at Fordham University School of Law, Yale
Law School’s Free Expression Scholars Conference, and workshops at the University of
Colorado School of Law and the University of Utah Law School. For an overview of the
Fordham Law Review symposium, see Alexander Tsesis, Foreword: Terrorist Incitement on
the Internet, 86 FORDHAM L. REV. 367 (2017).
to the implications of the government’s own expression in this setting. Apart
from its interpretation of the Establishment Clause to limit the government’s
religious speech in certain contexts,3 for example, the U.S Supreme Court’s
government speech doctrine remains incomplete in that it has yet to address
the ways in which the government’s own speech might affirmatively threaten
other constitutional values.4
This Article examines how the government’s speech in the War on Terror
can threaten free speech, equal protection, and due process values.5 It focuses
primarily on the constitutional harms threatened by the government’s speech
itself (what some call a form of “soft law”),6 rather than on situations in
which the government’s speech may be evidence of a constitutionally
impermissible motive for its “hard law” actions.7
Part I of this Article considers the government’s fearmongering speech in
wartime—its deliberate expressive effort to instill or exacerbate public fear
of certain individuals or communities through stereotyping and scapegoating.
Next, Part II considers the government’s war-related lies—its deliberately or
recklessly false assertions of fact about its wartime conduct made with the
intent that its listeners understand them to be true.8 Finally, Part III outlines
a range of constitutional, statutory, structural, and political responses to the
government’s wartime speech that threaten key constitutional values.
I begin with a few notes about this Article’s use of the terms “government
speech” and “war.” First, this Article considers a wide range of government
speakers. Although a great deal of the government’s wartime speech
Brandenburg in a Time of Terror, 84 NOTRE DAME L. REV. 655, 657–61 (2009); Wadie E.
Said, Humanitarian Law Project and the Supreme Court’s Construction of Terrorism, 2011
BYU L. REV. 1455, 1498–508; Alexander Tsesis, Terrorist Speech on Social Media, 70 VAND.
L. REV. 651, 662–75 (2017).
3. E.g., County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 601–02 (1989) (holding that a
county holiday display that included a crèche constituted governmental religious expression
in violation of the Establishment Clause).
4. The Supreme Court’s government speech doctrine recognizes simply that the
government’s own expressive choices are exempt from Free Speech Clause claims by private
parties who claim a constitutional right to join or change the government’s chosen message.
E.g., Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460, 467 (2009).
5. Elsewhere, I have addressed the potential harms of government speech more
generally. See Helen Norton, The Government’s Lies and the Constitution, 91 IND. L.J. 73,
89–107 (2015) [hereinafter, Norton, Government’s Lies] (exploring possible Due Process and
Free Speech Clause constraints on certain government speech); Helen Norton, The Equal
Protection Implications of Government’s Hateful Speech, 54 WM. & MARY L. REV. 159, 183–
87 (2012) [hereinafter, Norton, Government’s Hateful Speech] (exploring possible Equal
Protection Clause limits on certain government speech).
6. See Jacob E. Gersen & Eric A. Posner, Soft Law: Lessons from Congressional
Practice, 61 STAN. L. REV. 573, 577 (2008) (defining “soft law” to include government speech
that does not have legally coercive status—that is, government expression “that do[es] not
have the force of law”).
7. E.g., Int’l Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, 857 F.3d 554, 591–92 (4th Cir.)
(relying on President Trump’s speech as evidence that his administration’s proposed ban on
travel from certain primarily Muslim countries—referred to above as “hard law”—was
motivated by impermissible anti-Muslim animus in violation of the Establishment Clause),
cert. granted, 137 S. Ct. 2080 (2017).
8. Fearmongering and lying do not describe mutually exclusive categories of government
emanates from the president and other members of the federal executive
branch, this Article also explores the wartime expression of federal
legislative and judicial branch actors and state and local government officials.
In so doing, this Article considers speech by a government body itself (e.g.,
reports issued by an executive agency or a legislative committee), as well as
speech by a government official empowered to speak for a government body
(e.g., the president, the secretary of homeland security, a governor, or a police
chief).9 Second, this Article does not insist upon any particular definition of
“war” or “wartime.” Instead, it considers the government’s speech in
situations where the government itself asserts emergent threats to national
security from an opponent that may or may not take the form of a
I. THE GOVERNMENT’S FEARMONGERING SPEECH IN WARTIME
This Part briefly examines the government’s wartime fearmongering—that
is, its deliberate expressive effort to instill or exacerbate public fear of certain
individuals or communities through stereotyping and scapegoating.
Of course, the government need not make such expressive choices.
Indeed, the government can choose to use its voice in wartime instead to
include and unite. The government’s apologies for its misconduct, for
example, can help heal and reconcile. Illustrations include Congress’s
(belated) apologies to Japanese American citizens wrongly interned during
World War II: “For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties
and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry, the
Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation.”11
9. This Article does not address the very different constitutional issues raised when
government employees speak in their personal, rather than official, capacities and can thus
assert First Amendment rights of their own. See generally Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369,
2377–83 (2014) (discussing the First Amendment rights of individual public employees);
Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 568–74 (1968) (same).
10. See MARY L. DUDZIAK, WAR TIME 5 (2012) (“Built into the very essence of our idea
of wartime is the assumption that war is temporary. The beginning of a war is the opening of
an era that will, by definition, come to an end. When we look at the full time line of American
military conflicts, however, including the ‘small wars’ and the so-called forgotten wars, there
are not many years of peacetime. This shows us that war is not an exception to normal
peacetime, but instead an enduring condition.”).
11. See DAVID COLE, ENGINES OF LIBERTY: THE POWER OF CITIZEN ACTIVISTS TO MAKE
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 169 (2016) (“In 1976, . . . President Gerald Ford issued a proclamation
condemning the internment. In 1980, Congress created the Commission on Wartime
Relocation and Internment of Civilians to study the issue. Three years later, and nearly forty
years after the Korematsu decision, the commission unequivocally denounced the internment,
and called for an official apology and reparations . . . . In 1988, Congress passed and Reagan
signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided $20,000 for each interned Japanese American,
and contained an extraordinary official apology.”). In 2011, the Office of the Solicitor General
acknowledged its own complicity in these events in an admission of error (another type of
government speech). See Neal Katyal, Confession of Error: The Solicitor General’s Mistakes
During the Japanese-American Internment Cases, U.S. DEP’T JUST. ARCHIVES (May 20,
More important, government speakers can—and sometimes do—
affirmatively reject appeals to division and hatred in the midst of war (rather
than decades later). As one illustration shows, President George W. Bush
repudiated anti-Muslim bigotry in a speech at a mosque immediately after
the September 11, 2001, attacks. There, the president emphasized Islam as a
religion of peace and the “incredibly valuable contribution[s]” Muslim
Americans make to the United States as “doctors, lawyers, law professors,
members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.”12 He
emphasized the need for Americans to treat their fellow citizens with respect
and stated that anything less “represents the worst of humankind” and that
“[t]hose who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens . . . should be
ashamed of that kind of behavior.”13
Related examples include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
impassioned defense of plans to build a mosque near the site of the former
World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in 2010:
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and
that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as
Americans. We would betray our values—and play into our enemies’
hands—if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact,
to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—
and we should not stand for that.14
For similar reasons, President Barack Obama expressly chose not to use
the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” to avoid associating terrorism with
Islam as a religion.15 In its War on Terror, the Obama administration
consistently prioritized a message of tolerance and antidiscrimination for
instrumental as well as moral reasons:
[W]e must remember that just as our words and deeds can either fuel or
counter violent ideologies abroad, so too can they here at home. Actions
and statements that cast suspicion toward entire communities, promote
hatred and division, and send messages to certain Americans that they are
somehow less American because of their faith or how they look, reinforce
violent extremist propaganda and feed the sense of disenchantment and
disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.
. . . .
We must do everything in our power to protect the American people
from violent extremism while protecting the civil rights and civil liberties
of every American. Protecting our fundamental rights and liberties is an
important end in itself, and also helps counter violent extremism by
ensuring nonviolent means for addressing policy concerns; safeguarding
equal and fair treatment; and making it more difficult for violent extremists
to divide our communities.16
At other times, however, the government has asserted its expressive power
to instill fear and hatred and to wound, exclude, and divide. In so doing,
government speakers in wartime have often targeted immigrants, the
government’s critics, and others perceived as “outsiders.” As Geoffrey Stone
observes, “Fear has proved a potent political weapon.”17
Early examples of the government’s wartime fearmongering include
Federalists’ inflammatory speech and character assassination that
exaggerated the danger of war with France. This fearmongering encouraged
not only the suppression of speech (through the enactment of the Alien and
Sedition Acts) but also acts of violence against those perceived to be
disloyal.18 Government actors during World War I similarly invited hatred
of German immigrants in the United States. President Woodrow Wilson, for
example, claimed that “the agents and dupes of the Imperial German
Government” were actively engaged in a “sinister intrigue” within the United
States and that “many of our own people were corrupted.”19
In World War II, government officials offered stereotypes and falsehoods
to support the internment of thousands of Japanese American citizens.
Dissenting from the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the internment,
Justice Frank Murphy described the government’s fearmongering speech in
That this forced exclusion was the result in good measure of this
erroneous assumption of racial guilt rather than bona fide military necessity
is evidenced by the Commanding General’s Final Report on the evacuation
from the Pacific Coast area. In it he refers to all individuals of Japanese
descent as “subversive,” as belonging to “an enemy race” whose “racial
strains are undiluted,” and as constituting “over 112,000 potential enemies
. . . at large today” along the Pacific Coast. In support of this blanket
condemnation of all persons of Japanese descent, however, no reliable
evidence is cited to show that such individuals were generally disloyal, or
had generally so conducted themselves in this area as to constitute a special
menace to defense installations or war industries, or had otherwise by their
behavior furnished reasonable ground for their exclusion as a group.
. . . .
A military judgment based upon such racial and sociological considerations
is not entitled to the great weight ordinarily given the judgments based upon
strictly military considerations. Especially is this so when every charge
relative to race, religion, culture, geographical location, and legal and
economic status has been substantially discredited by independent studies
made by experts in these matters.20
Shortly thereafter, the Cold War21 brought an extensive and destructive
cycle of the government’s fearmongering speech intended to silence political
opposition. Examples include the FBI’s spread of defamatory falsehoods
about the government’s critics during the 1950s and 1960s.22
As this period illuminates, legislative bodies as well as the executive
branch can engage in fearmongering expression. The Senate’s Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) engaged in expression
that encouraged private parties’ acts of retaliation against its targets through
firing, blacklisting, and even physical violence.23 One HUAC chair
explained that “the committee’s goal was to expose Communists and fellow
travelers ‘before their neighbors and fellow workers,’ with the ‘confidence’
that loyal Americans ‘will do the rest of the job.’”24 Indeed, as Justice Hugo
Black explained when he dissented from the Court’s decision to uphold the
contempt conviction of a witness who declined to answer some of HUAC’s
questions, the committee sought to punish its targets through “humiliation
and public shame. There is nothing strange or novel about this kind of
punishment. It is in fact one of the oldest forms of governmental punishment
20. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 235–40 (1942) (Murphy, J., dissenting);
see also Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406, 1418–22 (N.D. Cal. 1984) (granting
Mr. Korematsu’s coram nobis petition and describing evidence of government lies in the
21. See DUDZIAK, supra note 10, at 73 (“Cold War-era warfare included major wars in
Korea and Vietnam, but also smaller-scale military engagements in Asia, Africa, Latin
America, and the Middle East.”).
22. See STONE, supra note 18, at 490 (“In its effort to destabilize and incapacitate the left,
FBI agents wrote letters to employers to cause the firing of antiwar activists; . . . sent
anonymous letters to campaign contributors and other supporters of antiwar candidates to
sabotage their campaigns; mailed anonymous letters to the spouses of antiwar activists,
suggesting that their partners were having extramarital affairs; and spread false rumors that
individuals were embezzling funds or secretly cooperating with the FBI.”).
23. See Vincent Blasi, The Pathological Perspective and the First Amendment, 85 COLUM.
L. REV. 449, 458 (1985) (“The Hollywood Blacklist struggle of 1947–53 left a residue of
broken careers, expatriate talents, and extreme reluctance on the part of film studios to address
controversial subjects or portray social conditions of potential political significance. The
character of the trade union movement was permanently . . . altered by the expulsion during
the anti-Communist purges of the 1950s of some of its most skillful, uncompromising, and
24. STONE, supra note 18, at 372; see also id. at 332 (“‘We have seen the character of
private citizens and of Government employees virtually destroyed by public condemnation on
the basis of gossip, distortion, hearsay and deliberate untruths.’ [The Tydings Committee]
found that the ‘methods employed’ to give McCarthy’s charges of disloyalty in the State
Department ‘ostensible validity . . . are a fraud and a hoax perpetrated on the Senate . . . and
the American people.’” (quoting S. REP. NO. 81-2108, at 151–52 (1950)).
known to mankind; branding, the pillory, ostracism and subjection to public
hatred being but a few examples of it.”25
McCarthy in particular shamed and muzzled not only his targets but other
governmental officials as well. Indeed, the conspicuous absence of
counterspeech by other government actors enabled McCarthy to thrive for as
long as he did. As one of many examples, President Dwight D. Eisenhower
abandoned plans to defend General George Marshall from McCarthy’s verbal
assaults.26 Eisenhower’s silence only encouraged further attacks by
McCarthy.27 For years, Republicans in Congress similarly declined to
challenge their fellow party member because they found that his
fearmongering worked to their political advantage.28 Only after Senate
oversight hearings finally exposed his overreaching did McCarthy’s
popularity drop sufficiently to embolden the Senate to vote to censure him
for “contemptuous” and “reprehensible” conduct.29
The Trump administration has continued the trend of government
fearmongering in its War on Terror through expressive choices that
intentionally exclude, divide, and marginalize. As candidate for president,
Trump called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the
country.30 As president-elect, he tweeted a threat to dissenters: “Nobody
should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be
consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”31 As president,
Trump has chosen to use the pejorative term “radical Islam”32 that Presidents
Bush and Obama expressly eschewed.
State and local governments, like the federal government, can also engage
in hurtful fearmongering speech in wartime.33 Recent examples from the
War on Terror include the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) use of
training videos that portrayed Muslims in stereotypically negative and
inaccurate ways. One film announced that “the true agenda of much of Islam
in America” is “to infiltrate and dominate America.”34 The NYPD eventually
abandoned use of the videos in response to public criticism.35 Attorney
General Eric Holder ultimately repudiated the FBI’s use of similar training
materials and stated that such materials “really have a negative impact on our
ability to communicate effectively.”36
The government has long included the press among the targets of its
fearmongering speech.37 John Adams’s Federalist administration
infamously employed the Sedition Act in response to “the first mass media
in our history, the Republican papers that organized political opposition to
the administration and ran inflamed articles condemning its policies.”38
More recent efforts along these lines include those of the Nixon
administration, as summarized by journalist David Wise:
To the extent that the public could be persuaded, through such attacks,
to doubt the credibility, accuracy, and impartiality of the American press,
attention would, of course, be diverted from the question of the
administration’s own credibility. If the viewer can be goaded to kick the
tube when Walter Cronkite appears, he may be less likely to vent his anger
at Richard Nixon. This, at any rate, was the administration’s theory, and it
had a remarkable degree of short-range success. Doubt was cast on the
credibility of the press, and latent hostility toward the television networks
and the news media in general was crystallized and exploited.39
34. See Michael Powell, In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims, N.Y. TIMES
(Jan. 23, 2012),
35. See id. After a lawsuit alleged that another of its videos encouraged religious
profiling, the NYPD settled on terms that required it to remove the materials from its website.
See Stipulation of Settlement and Order at 5, Raza v. City of New York, No.
(E.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2017)
36. Spencer Ackerman, Attorney General: FBI Hurt Terror Fight with ‘Violent Muslim’
Training, WIRED (Nov. 8, 2011, 2:45 PM),
https://www.wired.com/2011/11/holder-fbiislamophobia/ [https://perma.cc/F36Y-J7B5]; see also Spencer Ackerman, FBI ‘Islam 101
Guide’ Depicted Muslims as 7th Century Simpletons, WIRED (July 27, 2011, 1:27 PM),
Spencer Ackerman, FBI Teaches Agents: ‘Mainstream’ Muslims Are ‘Violent, Radical,’
WIRED (Sept. 14, 2011, 8:45 PM), https://www.wired.com/2011/09/fbi-muslims-radical/
37. For a more detailed history of the often antagonistic relationships between presidents
and the press, see RonNell Andersen Jones & Lisa Grow Sun, Enemy Construction and the
Press, 49 ARIZ. L. REV. (forthcoming Feb. 2018) (manuscript at 28),
[https://perma.cc/HW2J4W7U]. Despite these longstanding tensions, the authors state that “the current situation
[under the Trump administration] is different in kind, and not just in degree, from past
presspresident hostilities, and thus the risks presented by that situation are more severe.” Id. at 21.
38. BRUFF, supra note 27, at 54.
39. DAVID WISE, THE POLITICS OF LYING: GOVERNMENT DECEPTION, SECRECY, AND
POWER 17 (1973); see also Jones & Sun, supra note 37, at 23 (“Like Trump, Nixon employed
war and enemy terminology to characterize [the press].”).
President Trump has doubled down on these efforts with expressive
choices that repeatedly seek to demonize, and thus undermine, the credibility
of the press. He branded the press not only “the enemy of the American
people” but also as incorrigibly dishonest; he stated that “[t]he press has
become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about [sic], we are doing a
tremendous disservice to the American people. . . . We have to talk to find
out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level
of dishonesty is out of control.”40 He accused the press of misrepresenting
his criticism of intelligence officials; he stated that he has “a running war
with the media,” that “[t]hey are among the most dishonest human beings on
Earth,”41 and that “they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the
intelligence community.”42 He sought to characterize negative press
coverage of his administration as inevitably false: “Any negative polls are
fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people
want border security and extreme vetting.”43 In short, he has sought to attack
and undermine the credibility of the press in an apparent effort to sap it of its
power to hold him accountable for his own wartime performance.44
Not only has President Trump repeatedly demonized the press, but he has
also attacked the legitimacy of the judiciary, specifically in the context of the
War on Terror. As just one example, he called the jurist who first issued a
preliminary injunction against his travel ban a “so-called judge” and claimed
that the judge’s actions impeded the fight against terrorism “[b]ecause the
ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be
pouring into our country. . . . What is our country coming to when a judge
can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad
intentions, can come into U.S.?”45 In another tweet, he continued that he
“[j]ust cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If
something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”46
As summarized by Curtis Bradley and Neil Siegel, the Trump administration
has been unusually willing to engage in a “blame-shifting narrative to reduce
the future checking power of institutions like the judiciary and the media,
especially in the wake of a terrorist attack.”47
To be sure, the government generally defends its fearmongering speech in
wartime as a necessary response to emergent threats to national security.48
But even if demonization of some “enemy” may be inevitable in wartime
(and sometimes constructive as a tool for mobilization),49 vulnerable
individuals and groups pay an unacceptably steep price when the government
chooses its targets based on stereotypes and falsehoods rather than on
II. THE GOVERNMENT’S LIES ABOUT WAR
The preceding Part addressed the government’s fearmongering speech in
wartime that threatens harm to the individuals and communities specifically
targeted by such expression. This Part turns to the government’s wartime
lies that inflict harm upon the American people more generally by frustrating
political accountability and eroding public trust.
War usually occurs in situations of great epistemic uncertainty that invite
a range of government responses in resolving such confusion.51 Here too,
the government’s expressive choices offer possibilities for both great value
and great harm. In some cases, the government’s speech that explains its
justifications for war and its wartime decisions can inform and inspire.
President Abraham Lincoln’s wartime speech, as an illustration, often
46. See David Lawler, Donald Trump Travel Ban: ‘Blame Judge and Courts if America
Is Attacked’—President Hits Out Ahead of Legal Battle, TELEGRAPH (Feb. 6, 2017, 11:41
47. Curtis Bradley & Neil S. Siegel, Judicial and Media Independence After the Next
Attack, LAWFARE (Feb. 9, 2017, 5:41 PM),
48. JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER, WHY LEADERS LIE 7 (2011) (“But the fact is that there are good
strategic reasons for leaders to lie to their publics as well as to other countries. These practical
logics already override well-known and widely accepted moral strictures against lying.
Indeed, leaders sometimes think that they have a moral duty to lie to protect their country.”).
49. See Jones & Sun, supra note 37, at 36 (“For many political communities, defining the
enemy can be a mechanism for defining the community itself—for clarifying both its values
and its boundaries—and thus an important mechanism for increasing social cohesion.”).
50. See Blasi, supra note 23, at 464 (“[A]s Zechariah Chafee has demonstrated so well,
when the collectivist thinking that is necessary for a war effort takes hold, officials, judges,
and the public at large tend to overestimate dramatically either the level of cooperation
required to effectuate the goals of the community or the extent to which the achievement of
sufficient cooperation requires the stifling of dissent.”).
51. E.g., W.J. West, Introduction to GEORGE ORWELL, ORWELL: THE WAR
COMMENTARIES 11, 17 (W.J. West ed., 1985) (“Since the sea and air wars were wars without
frontiers they made highly suitable material for the propaganda war. . . . Japanese radio refers
to a sea battle in the Pacific as one of the greatest Japanese naval victories of all time; Orwell
quotes American sources describing it as a defeat for Japan which has started a process leading
to her ultimate collapse. Only the passage of time would enable listeners to tell which side
exemplified expressive deliberation, reflection, and a reluctance to attack
others’ motives, character, and loyalty.52 Recall not only Lincoln’s plea for
“malice toward none, with charity for all” in his second inaugural address,53
but also his public response to critics of the Emancipation Proclamation in
which he explained the wartime rationale for his decision:
You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing
to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively to save the
Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union.
Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall
urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare
you will not fight to free negroes.
I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the
negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the
enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that
whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for
white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you?
But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any
thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us,
they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of
freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.54
At other times, in contrast, the government has lied about its wartime
actions and their justifications—that is, it has made deliberately or recklessly
false assertions of fact with the intent that its listeners understand them to be
true. The government’s lies regarding national security and intelligence
where it has near-monopoly access pose especially grave instrumental threats
to democratic self-governance.55
For example, the government at times obscures or conceals the reasons for
its decisions about military intervention through false or misleading claims
of threats to national security. Illustrations include President James Polk’s
misrepresentation of the events that led the United States to declare war
52. See JEFFREY K. TULIS, THE RHETORICAL PRESIDENCY 83 (1987) (“Lincoln’s most
specific policy pronouncements are those in which he justifies war activity after the fact. The
most important of these are his defenses of suspension of habeas corpus and of martial law in
two replies to addresses. Carefully choosing written arguments made to him, he too responds
in the written form of a public letter. These documents are extraordinary for both their detail
and their power of argument.”).
53. President Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1865),
54. Letter from Abraham Lincoln to James C. Conkling (Aug. 26, 1863), in 6 COLLECTED
WORKS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 407, 409 (Roy P. Basler ed., 1953) (footnotes omitted).
55. See Leslie Gielow Jacobs, Bush, Obama and Beyond: Observations on the Prospect
of Fact Checking Executive Department Threat Claims Before the Use of Force, 26 CONST.
COMMENT. 433, 444 (2010) (“[President Bush] and his top officials relied on controlled
information release in a number of ways to support their use of force advocacy. That they
withheld much information within their control meant that they could rely upon the public’s
knowledge that they had superior access to the entire body of existing information to
characterize the facts with greater certainty than the content of the information reflected, to
omit mention of dissent, to suggest that they had more and better quality information than they
presented, and to ask the public to embrace the truth of the threat claims based on trust rather
than proof.” (footnotes omitted)).
against Mexico,56 the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s
misrepresentations of the incidents that triggered broader U.S. involvement
in Vietnam57 as well as its reasons for military intervention in the Dominican
Republic,58 and the George W. Bush administration’s misrepresentation of
the evidence supporting its invasion of Iraq.59 As David Wise explained with
respect to the Johnson administration’s expressive choices, the government’s
falsehoods to justify its military intervention can threaten death, devastation
to natural and financial resources, and other shattering harms:
Often, in the foreign policy and national security area, what the
government says is the news. The Tonkin Gulf episode was a classic
illustration of this. The public was told that on August 4 two American
warships on “routine patrol” had, in Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s
words, been under “continuous torpedo attack” by North Vietnamese PT
boats; in response, Lyndon Johnson ordered the first bombing attack on
North Vietnam and pushed the Tonkin Gulf resolution through Congress,
thereby acquiring a blank check to escalate the war. Later it became clear
that there had been much confusion and considerable doubt within the
government as to whether any PT-boat attack had taken place at all. The
public, however, had to rely entirely on Lyndon Johnson and Robert
McNamara for their news of the incident. If the details seem unimportant
in the larger tapestry of the war, we need only recall that at the time 163
Americans had died in Vietnam.60
Relatedly, sometimes the government lies about how well its war efforts
are going. During World War II, the government misrepresented the extent
of its losses at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere.61 During the Vietnam War,
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told government employee Daniel
Ellsberg in private that the addition of 100,000 U.S. troops had resulted in no
56. See BRUFF, supra note 27, at 114.
57. See id. at 318–19 (“Johnson’s sponsorship of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to authorize
the war involved deception about both the facts and the president’s intentions, setting the stage
for a repetition of these sins that would eventually destroy his presidency. It is one thing to
find oneself in a strategic bind and quite another to try to work out of it behind a bodyguard
of lies.”); id. at 321 (“As he escalated the war, LBJ repeatedly denied doing so, in an effort to
protect the viability of his domestic initiatives and to preserve the option of withdrawing
without seeming defeated.” (footnote omitted)).
58. Id. at 323 (“Johnson misled Congress and the public by claiming the intervention [to
send troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965] was an attempt to protect American lives,
when it was in fact actuated by a concern that the new government might be leftist. This
poorly conceived intervention gave way to an authoritarian regime that lasted a quarter
century.” (footnotes omitted)).
59. See Jacobs, supra note 55, at 440–41 (“We know now that these threat claims were
not true. . . . With the facts misunderstood, Congress members and the public consented to
the use of force based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the policy choice to be made.”
60. WISE, supra note 39, at 27–28.
61. See STONE, supra note 18, at 279 (“After Pearl Harbor, Secretary of the Navy Knox
gave a flagrantly misleading report of the extent of American losses, and as the Japanese swept
through Singapore, Hong Kong, and Manila in the spring of 1942 the military did its best to
cover up the magnitude of each defeat.”).
military progress—only to report great improvement to an audience of
journalists ten minutes later.62 As the Pentagon Papers eventually revealed,
lying was permitted throughout the ranks of all governmental services [in
the Vietnam War], military and civilian—the phony body counts of the
“search-and-destroy” missions, the doctored after-damage reports of the air
force, the “progress” reports to Washington from the field written by
subordinates who knew that their performance would be evaluated by their
Note too that the Pentagon Papers themselves—commissioned by Secretary
McNamara for the government’s use and written by government employees
and contractors—offer an example of salutary government expression
because of what they exposed about the government’s deceitful wartime
The government sometimes lies about what it is actually doing in wartime.
Examples include the Nixon administration’s lies about its decision to bomb
Cambodia,64 the Bush administration’s misrepresentations of its
interrogation tactics with respect to suspected terrorists,65 and Obama
administration officials’ falsehoods about the sweep of its domestic
surveillance and data collection efforts.66
The trend continues. In the contemporary War on Terror, for example, the
Trump administration has made inaccurate charges about immigrant
involvement in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil to justify its proposed travel ban
and related measures.67 President Trump also claimed that the press had
62. See id. at 501.
63. HANNAH ARENDT, CRISES OF THE REPUBLIC 4 (1972) (footnotes omitted).
64. See BRUFF, supra note 27, at 328 (“Nixon tried to solve the legal difficulty by keeping
the bombing [of Cambodia] secret and ordering military records falsified to conceal it. This
tactic foreclosed any possibility that approval by Congress or the people legitimated the
action.” (footnote omitted)).
65. See David Cole, If Those Techniques Were Approved, Why Did the CIA Still Lie About
Torture?, WASH. POST (Dec. 1
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/if-theinterrogation-program-was-approved-why-did-the-cia-still-lie-about-it/2014/12/12/e858eeec8162-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7 [https://perma.cc/F79L-KN7K] (describing then-CIA
Director Michael Hayden as “misrepresent[ing] virtually every aspect of the [CIA’s coercive
interrogation] program to the [Senate Select] Committee [on Intelligence]” in April 2007
testimony and referencing a committee report listing misrepresentations about the program’s
genesis, interrogators’ qualifications and training, the ability to stop interrogation at any time,
whether interrogators punched targets or threatened to kill their family members, number of
detainees, specific abusive conduct, effectiveness of waterboarding, and other “coercive
66. See Mary-Rose Papandrea, Leaker Traitor Whistleblower Spy: National Security
Leaks and the First Amendment, 94 B.U. L. REV. 449, 467 (2014) (describing Director of
National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony to Congress).
67. See Linda Qiu, Fact-Checking Assertions About the President’s Travel Ban, N.Y.
TIMES (Feb. 24, 2017),
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/us/politics/fact-checkingclaims-about-trumps-travel-ban.html [https://perma.cc/594M-E9FS] (“According to the New
America Foundation, all 12 jihadist terrorists who have killed people in the United States since
Sept. 11, 2001, were American citizens or permanent residents, and none had ties to the seven
countries named in Mr. Trump’s [original] executive order.”); see also Fred Barbash & Derek
Hawkins, Trump’s Loose Talk About Muslims Gets Weaponized in Court Against Travel Ban,
WASH. POST (Feb. 7, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/
02/07/words-matter-trumps-loose-talk-about-muslims-gets-weaponized-in-court-againstfailed to report acts of terrorism: “ISIS is on a campaign of genocide,
committing atrocities across world. . . . It’s gotten to a point where it’s not
even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press
doesn’t want to report it.”68 Along the same lines, then-candidate Trump
falsely claimed that Arabs in New Jersey had publicly celebrated the 9/11
To be sure, the government sometimes engages in wartime deception to
achieve various national security and foreign policy purposes. For example,
the John F. Kennedy administration’s deceptions during the Cuban Missile
Crisis included not only lies regarding what it knew about the presence of
Soviet missiles in Cuba but also lies about the negotiated terms for the
missiles’ withdrawal.70 Kennedy Press Secretary Arthur Sylvester later
suggested a governmental duty to lie in certain circumstances:
Government officials as individuals do not have the right to lie politically
or to protect themselves, but they do always have the duty to protect their
countrymen. . . . Sometimes, and those times are rare indeed, Government
officials may be required to fulfill their duty by issuing a false statement to
deceive a potential enemy, as in the Cuban missile crisis.71
Governmental lies motivated by public purposes are sometimes morally
and instrumentally justifiable, as I have suggested elsewhere:
In certain rare circumstances, the government’s decision to lie [in ways that
cause or coerce the deprivation of constitutionally protected liberty] may
survive strict scrutiny when necessary to achieve compelling government
travel-ban [https://perma.cc/RN4M-YFF4] (“Trump again called for a ‘ban’ after the Pulse
nightclub shooting in June, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. He framed the attack
as an immigration issue, even though the shooter was a U.S. citizen born in New York to
68. Philip Rucker, ‘If Something Happens’: Trump Points His Finger in Case of a
Terrorist Attack, WASH. POST (Feb. 6, 2017), http://wapo.st/2jVOJ6S
[https://perma.cc/9MJV-TL9X]; see also Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Trump Says Journalists
‘Have Their Reasons’ to Play Down Terror Threat, N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 6, 2017),
[https://perma.cc/C495-VWV6] (“The president’s comments on Monday were reminiscent of
his claim during a visit last month to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in
Langley, Va., that the news media had fabricated his feud with the intelligence community.
Those remarks came only days after he likened American intelligence officials to Nazis, after
several weeks in which he had denigrated their work.”).
69. Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee, President Trump’s Cascade of False Claims
in Time’s Interview on His Falsehoods, WASH. POST (Mar. 23, 2017),
70. See Arthur Sylvester, The Government Has the Right to Lie, SATURDAY EVENING
POST, Nov. 18, 1967, at 10 (acknowledging that during the Cuban Missile Crisis President
Kennedy knowingly approved a press release falsely stating that “the Pentagon has no
information indicating the presence of offensive weapons in Cuba”); see also BRUFF, supra
note 27, at 305 (describing how “[l]ying, [President Kennedy] denied that [the removal of
American missiles from Turkey] was a quid pro quo for Cuba” and that “[t]he shield of lies
with which President Kennedy hid his trade of missiles in Turkey for missiles in Cuba was
constructed to meet both international and domestic political considerations” such as
preventing the displeasure of the Administration’s NATO allies and domestic critics).
71. Sylvester, supra note 70, at 14.
interests. This may be the case when time permits no other option—for
example, where the government’s coercive lies are necessary to calm public
panic in a public safety emergency or to prevent a criminal from hurting a
But the government’s lies are rarely necessary to achieve such ends. Lies
ostensibly told to mislead military opponents, for example, can instead
deceive the American public without any offsetting national security benefit.
As Hannah Arendt observed, the government’s lies during the Vietnam War
hardly ever aimed at the enemy (this is one of the reasons why the
[Pentagon P]apers do not reveal any military secrets that could fall under
the Espionage Act), but [were] destined chiefly, if not exclusively, for
domestic consumption, for propaganda at home, and especially for the
purpose of deceiving Congress. The Tonkin incident, where the enemy
knew all the facts and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee none, is a
case in point.73
As David Wise similarly explained:
The excuse for secrecy and deception most frequently given by those in
power is that the American people must sometimes be misled in order to
mislead the enemy. This justification is unacceptable on moral and
philosophic grounds, and often it simply isn’t true. Frequently the “enemy”
knows what is going on, but the American public does not.74
In short, the government’s wartime lies to achieve public purposes can be
justified on moral and instrumental grounds when they are actually necessary
to achieving such purposes—but often they are not. Instead, such lies
sometimes have the intent or effect of insulating the government from
political and legal accountability for its wartime decisions.75
III. ADDRESSING THE GOVERNMENT’S HARMFUL WARTIME SPEECH
This Part discusses possible responses to the government’s fearmongering
and deliberately false wartime speech that threaten significant harm,
proposing a range of constitutional, structural, political, and expressive
suggestions for influencing the government’s expressive choices. In so
doing, it addresses a variety of possible actors and audiences that include
courts and lawyers, other government officials, the press, and the public more
72. Norton, Government’s Lies, supra note 5, at 115.
73. ARENDT, supra note 63, at 14.
74. WISE, supra note 39, at 344; see also STONE, supra note 18, at 393 (“Certainly, the
goal of preserving the nation’s security from unlawful espionage, sabotage, and foreign
influence is legitimate. Certainly, there were well-justified concerns about these matters
during the Cold War. But a democracy is about means as well as ends. It is not enough to say
that Joe McCarthy meant well, but went about it the wrong way. McCarthy violated the
fundamental norms and the essential values of the American constitutional system. There is
simply no excusing, defending, or mitigating that reality.”).
75. See SUSAN A. BREWER, WHY AMERICA FIGHTS: PATRIOTIC AND WAR PROPAGANDA
FROM THE PHILIPPINES TO IRAQ 282 (2009) (“[T]he more flawed the policy, the more heavily
officials have relied on lies and exaggerations to manipulate opinion.”).
Government expression in wartime may sometimes violate specific
constitutional guarantees. This can be so even if the contested government
speech is otherwise consistent with the principles of separation of powers and
federalism. For example, even if the executive’s speech is consistent with
Article II of the Constitution, that does not mean that it is necessarily
consistent with the First Amendment, Due Process Clause, and Equal
Protection Clause since those provisions have very different purposes.76
More specifically, as I have described elsewhere, the government’s lies
and other speech can violate the Due Process Clause when they coerce the
deprivation of their targets’ life, liberty, or property. Examples include
government officials’ lies that coerce their targets’ involuntary waiver of
constitutional rights, government lies that deprive their subjects of the ability
to meaningfully exercise voting or other protected rights, and government
lies to individuals about their constitutionally protected rights (which are
often the functional equivalent of the government’s refusal to honor those
Relatedly, I have proposed that the government’s speech can violate the
Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment when it is sufficiently coercive
of its targets’ beliefs or expression to constitute the functional equivalent of
the government’s direct regulation of that expressive activity. Just as a
government’s criminal sanction or economic reprisal designed to silence
dissent clearly frustrate First Amendment values, so too can government lies
and fearmongering squelch critics’ speech.78
Moreover, government speech at times threatens equal protection values
by dividing or excluding its targets based on protected-class status. This
danger is especially acute in wartime, where possibilities for fearmongering
and scapegoating abound. As I have urged elsewhere, we can understand the
government’s hateful speech as violating the Equal Protection Clause when
it facilitates or encourages private parties’ discrimination or acts of violence
against its targets or when it discourages its targets from exercising protected
rights or pursuing key opportunities.79
Although I have argued that the government’s speech by itself may
sometimes run afoul of the Constitution, I also recognize that efforts to
enforce constitutional constraints on the government’s expression pose
obstacles and trigger concerns of their own. These efforts not only invite
worries about courts’ institutional competence to evaluate such claims but
76. See Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 534–35 (2004) (holding that certain executive
branch actions found to be consistent with the Executive’s Article II powers may nonetheless
violate the Due Process Clause); see also Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 234
(1944) (Murphy, J., dissenting) (“Individuals must not be left impoverished of their
constitutional rights on a plea of military necessity that has neither substance nor support.
Thus, like other claims conflicting with the asserted constitutional rights of the individual, the
military claim must subject itself to the judicial process of having its reasonableness
determined and its conflicts with other interests reconciled.”).
77. See Norton, Government’s Lies, supra note 5, at 89–99.
78. Id. at 99–107.
79. Norton, Government’s Hateful Speech, supra note 5, at 194–98.
also may be more readily applied to government expression that inflicts
individualized harm on specific targets than to government speech that
threatens more collective harms to the general public.80 They may also
encourage attacks by the government’s critics for partisan rather than
principled reasons and thus chill the government’s important wartime
These challenges invite us also to consider nonconstitutional means for
addressing harmful government expression, such as the counterspeech and
oversight opportunities available to other government officials specifically
and to the public more generally. The remainder of this Part sketches a range
B. Nonconstitutional Constraints
The president is not the only government speaker with a bully pulpit; other
governmental leaders can use their public platforms to challenge
fearmongering and lies. Indeed, separation of powers principles offer
structural means for other governmental actors to shape the government’s
expressive choices through oversight and counterspeech. For example,
legislative oversight of the executive’s expressive choices can include
requiring relevant officials to testify under oath (or in other settings where
truthfulness is required by law) and denying funding to government agencies
engaged in lying or other harmful expression.81
Legislatures can also contribute to the development of what some call
“internal separation of powers” checks on the executive.82 For example,
Congress has enacted statutes establishing inspector general (IG) positions
80. Related concerns in other settings have led courts to develop various justiciability
doctrines that limit the circumstances under which the judiciary is empowered to review the
legality of the other branches’ choices. At the same time, courts have recognized limits on
and exceptions to these doctrines to help ensure that an independent judiciary remains
available to check the government in appropriate circumstances. See Norton, Government’s
Lies, supra note 5, at 85; see also JAMES E. PFANDER, CONSTITUTIONAL TORTS AND THE WAR
ON TERROR xviii (2017) (“[T]he federal courts should focus on the narrow (but supremely
important) task of evaluating the legality of official conduct. Once that understanding of the
judicial role has been accepted, existing law furnishes ample tools with which to reach the
merits of misconduct claims. . . . One way to accomplish such a return to the merits would be
to allow litigants to limit themselves to a claim for nominal damages. Such nominal claims
would enable the court to reach the constitutional issue in a world of legal uncertainty without
confronting the officer with a threat of personal liability and triggering the qualified immunity
81. See Louis Fisher, When Wars Begin: Misleading Statements by Presidents, 40
PRESIDENTIAL STUD. Q. 171, 18
) (“Congressional committees need to call executive
officials to testify, under oath, to defend their public statements about going to war. To do
that effectively, lawmakers and their staffs must arm themselves in advance with information
obtained from executive agencies and from experts outside of government.” (footnote
omitted)); see also Jacobs, supra note 55, at 480 (“When intelligence lapses happen, Congress
members with responsibility for oversight should be named and asked to identify and explain
the oversight actions engaged in on their watch.”).
82. See generally Neal Kumar Katyal, Internal Separation of Powers: Checking Today’s
Most Dangerous Branch from Within, 115 YALE L.J. 2314 (2006).
charged with monitoring various agencies for misconduct.83 These statutes
broadly empower the IGs to “undertake and carry out audits and
investigations without interference from agency leadership[,] . . . to access
documents within and beyond their agencies[,]” and to serve and inform
Congress along with their agencies.84 Along the same lines, presidents can
appoint or otherwise establish civil liberties defenders at high levels.85
In addition, legislatures can enact statutes that prohibit governmental lies
or otherwise constrain government speech in certain contexts. Examples
include the Federal False Statements Act (which prohibits speakers,
including but not limited to governmental speakers, from lying to federal
officials) and other statutes that impose affirmative disclosure requirements
upon government speakers.86 Moreover, legislatures can enact and
strengthen statutory protections for whistleblowers who can help expose
government lies and other misconduct.87 Executive branch actors at all levels
of government can then play a valuable role in vigorously enforcing these
Federalism principles offer similar structural means for governmental
officials to influence other governmental actors’ expressive choices through
counterspeech and public pressure. State attorneys general, for example, can
reject federal fearmongering not only through litigation but also through their
own forceful expression.88 Other illustrations include California Supreme
83. See Shirin Sinnar, Protecting Rights from Within? Inspectors General and National
Security Oversight, 65 STAN. L. REV. 1027, 1027 (2013) (describing inspectors general as
“playing a significant role in monitoring national security practices curtailing individual
84. Id. at 1035 (footnote omitted); see also Mark Mazzetti & Michael S. Schmidt,
Pentagon Clears Officials of Skewing Data in ISIS Reports, N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 1, 2017),
[https://perma.cc/8Z35-8ZXJ] (describing the inspector general’s internal investigation of
claims that agency reports “were manipulated to present a distorted view of the military
85. See STONE, supra note 18, at 542; see also Sinnar, supra note 83, at 1036–37
(“Congress also made explicit a civil rights role for the new [Department of Homeland
Security (DHS)] IG, requiring the IG to designate a senior official to investigate civil rights
allegations and to work with the DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on policy
recommendations.” (footnote omitted)).
86. See David E. Pozen, Freedom of Information Beyond the Freedom of Information Act,
165 U. PA. L. REV 1097, 1101 (2017) (“One alternative model for producing executive branch
transparency involves affirmative disclosure requirements, which can be tailored in a variety
of ways and enforced by agents such as inspectors general, ombudspersons, and auditors.”).
87. Such statutory protections are especially important in light of the Supreme Court’s
failure to protect many government whistleblowers as a matter of constitutional law. See
Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 421 (2006) (holding that the First Amendment does not
protect public employees’ speech pursuant to their jobs—including their truthful reports of
government lies and other forms of misconduct—when those reports are part of their official
duties); see also Helen Norton, Constraining Public Employee Speech: Government’s Control
of Its Workers’ Speech to Protect Its Own Expression, 59 DUKE L.J. 1, 4 (2009) (describing
multiple cases in which lower courts have invoked Garcetti to permit government employers
to punish employees who sought to expose the government’s lies and other misconduct).
88. See, e.g., Press Release, Lisa Madigan, Ill. Attorney Gen., Attorney General Madigan
& 15 Other Attorneys General Condemn the Unconstitutional Executive Order on
Immigration, Vow to Uphold Constitution (Jan. 29, 2017),
Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s letter to Attorney General Jeff
Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly requesting that federal
agents cease arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses for fear that
such arrests “may deter immigrants from coming to court for legal matters,
such as testifying or seeking protective orders from alleged abusers.”89
In rare circumstances, impeachment may provide a response to certain
presidential lies or other speech that inflicts egregious democratic harms. As
Curtis Bradley and Neil Siegel suggest in response to President Trump’s
efforts to undermine the credibility of checking institutions:
Another step would be to give more concrete consideration to the
conditions under which attempts to undermine the judiciary or the media
should be considered grounds for impeachment. Ideally, the very act of
thinking this through and specifying lines that should not be crossed might
help stave off potential abuses.90
Relatedly, government and nongovernment lawyers, as well as other actors
in civil society, can help police and thus shape the government’s especially
harmful expressive choices. So too can a vigorous press.91
Finally, of course, we the people have a substantial role to play in
responding to the government’s harmful expression, especially during (but
not limited to) wartime. Our political and expressive options include voting,
campaigning, lobbying, petitioning, and protesting. To be sure, such
remedies seem especially limited at a time when expressive choices involving
generosity, nuance, and humility do not appear to reap political rewards. But
the public can seek to cultivate habits of mind as both speakers and listeners
to help influence our leaders’ expressive choices. On one hand, for example,
Leslie Gielow Jacobs urges us to remember that “the President speaks as an
advocate when he presents threat claims,” which means that “listeners must
evaluate the claims [they] make, and the evidence [they] present, as
advocacy.”92 Thus, they “must attempt, through congressional or media
inquiry or otherwise, to verify the threat claims that are made.”93 On the
other hand, as an aspirational matter, Jason Stanley suggests the following:
89. See Kristine Phillips, California Chief Justice to ICE: Stop ‘Stalking’ Immigrants at
Courthouses, WASH. POST (Mar. 17, 2017),
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/postnation/wp/2017/03/17/california-chief-justice-to-ice-stop-stalking-immigrants-atcourthouses/ [https://perma.cc/S9MD-HSWD]; see also id. (quoting the letter as saying,
“[m]ost Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than with
the federal government, and I am concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence
in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate
other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be”).
90. Bradley & Siegel, supra note 47; see also id. (“[I]t is essential to continue resisting
any suggestion that, by doing their jobs, these institutions are to blame for the security failings
of this administration.”).
91. See Jones & Sun, supra note 37, at 48–58 (explaining the press’s multiple functions,
including its fact-checking, informational, and educational roles).
92. Jacobs, supra note 55, at 476.
93. Id. at 477.
A democratic culture is one in which citizens assume that their fellow
citizens have good reasons for acting as they do. It involves, for example,
questioning one’s own perspective, if one cannot make rational sense out
of the actions of one’s fellow citizens. It involves, as Du Bois argues, being
open to the “respectful presentation” of other perspectives.94
In sum, we can be both more skeptical of our leaders’ speech and
simultaneously more open to the possibility that we ourselves (and our
trusted proxies) may be vulnerable to mistake and error.
Our history and continuing experience show that the government’s
expressive choices during wartime sometimes threaten grave democratic and
constitutional harm. We can teach ourselves to recognize these pathological
patterns in our government’s wartime expression—such as the
fearmongering speech that wreaks life-changing damage on those branded as
dangerous outsiders and the military lies told for the government’s political
These threats may be exacerbated in the contemporary War on Terror
given its potentially unbounded scope in time and space: the enemy’s
identity is something other than a traditional nation-state, the battlefield’s
location includes the homeland as well as the rest of the globe, and the
conflict has no clear temporal stopping point.95 Indeed, although the
government’s especially harmful wartime expression in the past generally
dissipated with the resolution of the military crisis of the day (or its perceived
political advantage),96 whether and when the current War on Terror will ever
be resolved remains unclear.97 The Trump administration’s contemporary
expressive choices also appear unusual not only in the degree to which they
undermine and destabilize truth-seeking institutions like the media and the
judiciary but also in the ferocity of their attacks on the concept of truth
itself.98 Finally, the power of the government’s speech today is intensified—
for better and for worse—by changes in expressive technologies that magnify
the speed and reach of such expression, increasingly permit the government
to bypass the media and speak directly to the public,99 and encourage the
public’s political polarization.100
The government’s wartime speech packs great power. With that power
comes great responsibility. Even—and perhaps especially—in times of grave
crisis, the government’s speech can be soaring in its inspiration, its humanity,
and in its success in achieving essential public purposes. At times, however,
the government’s wartime speech instead threatens, bullies, divides, and
deceives for self-interested reasons, with sometimes crushingly destructive
results. Either way, the government’s expressive choices are just that—
choices—with especially significant effects. This Article has sought to
identify some of the motivations for and consequences of those choices, as
well as possible means for constructively influencing them. Persistent and
passionate expressive pushback by other governmental actors and by the
public more generally has been among the more effective antidotes to the
government’s especially harmful wartime speech in the past. As we have
seen, however, success has rarely been quick or easy—and it remains far
99. See Jones & Sun, supra note 37, at 34 (“Today, for the first time in modern history, a
president appears to have made the calculation that . . . go-betweens are no longer necessary
links to the citizenry. He is emboldened by shifts in the communications landscape and the
delivery of news that permit the direct, unfiltered communication with the populace.”).
100. See id. at 35 (“The strong majority of Americans who are now getting their news from
social media represent a change not only in news distribution, but also in news content. Social
media feeds allow the user to curate news consumption, and users now consume mostly
material that aligns with and reinforces their ideologies and world views.” (footnotes
1. See infra Parts I-II .
2. See, e.g., Holder v . Humanitarian Law Project , 561 U.S. 1 , 7 - 16 ( 2010 ); Ashutosh Bhagwat, Terrorism and Associations , 63 EMORY L.J. 581 , 638 ( 2014 ); Thomas Healy,
12. President George W. Bush , Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. (Sept. 17, 2001 ), https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ news/releases/2001/09/20010917- 11 .html [https://perma.cc/V89B-7SJY].
13. Id .
14. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg , Defending Religious Tolerance: Remarks at the Mosque Near Ground Zero (Aug. 3 , 2010 ), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michaelbloomberg/mayor -bloomberg-on-the-ne_b_669338 .html [https://perma.cc/F5Q9-9H5R].
15. See William Cummings, Why Obama Won't Say ' Radical Islamic Terrorist,' USA TODAY (Sept . 28, 2016 , 7 :44 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/ politics/onpolitics/2016/09/28/obama-town-hall/91245328/ [https://perma.cc/9CAR-4S8T].
16. Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ARCHIVES 7 (Aug . 2011 ), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/ default/files/empowering_local_partners.pdf [https://perma.cc/K2U2-EHQE].
17. Geoffrey R. Stone , Free Speech in the Age of McCarthy: A Cautionary Tale , 93 CALIF. L. REV. 1387 , 1388 - 89 ( 2005 ).
18. See GEOFFREY R. STONE , PERILOUS TIMES : FREE SPEECH IN WARTIME 27-28 ( 2004 ) ; see also id . at 74 ( “[A]s the events of 1798 illustrate, those in power may exploit a threat to the nation's security to serve their partisan ends. A time-honored strategy for consolidating power is to inflate the public's fears, inflame its patriotism, and then condemn political opponents as 'disloyal.' A national crisis (real, fabricated, or imagined) invites this strategy .”).
19. President Woodrow Wilson, Address on Flag Day (June 14 , 1917 ), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65400 [https://perma.cc/8H26-UVKP].
25. Barenblatt v. United States , 360 U.S. 109 , 154 - 54 ( 1959 ) (Black , J., dissenting).
26. See HAROLD H. BRUFF , UNTRODDEN GROUND 285 ( 2015 ) (“[Eisenhower] fail[ed] to deliver a planned defense in a campaign speech of his mentor George Marshall, then under a particularly scurrilous attack by Joseph McCarthy. News of the deletion only encouraged the senator .”).
27. See id.
28. See Stone, supra note 17 , at 1396; see also STONE, supra note 18 , at 389 ( “[A]s James Reston noted at the time, although McCarthy's public support had dwindled, it is a precept of most politicians that 'you never antagonize any group . . . if you can avoid it,' and if 'you have to choose between two groups, you always choose to antagonize the one that is less vindictive.' In this instance, that was 'certainly not the pro-McCarthy crowd .'”).
29. See Stone, supra note 17 , at 1401- 03 . Such a censure offers another example of government speech-in this case, counterspeech that seeks to influence other governmental actors' expressive choices .
30. Press Release, Donald J. Trump , Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7 , 2015 ), https://web.archive.org/web/20170301013409/https://www.donaldjtrump.com/ press-releases/donald-j. -trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration [https://perma .cc/NW3Q-3CST].
31. Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), TWITTER (Nov. 29 , 2016 , 3 :55 AM), https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/803567993036754944 [https://perma.cc/76WS5PEG].
32. See Andrew E. Kramer , The Phrase Putin Never Uses About Terrorism (and Trump Does) , N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 1 , 2017 ), https://www.nytimes.com/ 2017 /02/01/world/europe/ vladimir-putin -donald-trump-terrorism .html [https://perma.cc/T5BM-6KQH].
33. See , e.g., STONE, supra note 18 , at 291 ( describing inflammatory charges against Japanese American citizens by the California legislature's Joint Immigration Committee) .
40. Jenna Johnson & Matea Gold, Trump Calls the Media 'the Enemy of the American People,' WASH . POST (Feb. 17 , 2017 ), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/postpolitics/wp/2017/02/17/trump -calls-the-media-the-enemy-of-the-american-people/ [https://perma.cc/WTS2-94LU].
41. Julie Hirschfeld Davis & Matthew Rosenberg, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift , N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 21, 2017 ), https://www.nytimes.com/ 2017 /01/21/us/politics/trump -white-house-briefing-inaugurationcrowd-size .html [https://perma.cc/7V8P-FRUV].
42. Id .
43. Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee Lee , Fact-Checking President Trump's News Conference , WASH. POST (Feb. 16 , 2017 ), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/factchecker/wp/2017/02/16/fact-checking -president- trumps- news-conference/ [https://perma.cc/LE4U-L4HT].
44. See Jones & Sun, supra note 37, at 1, 39 (“ The Trump administration, with a rhetoric that began during the campaign and burgeoned in the earliest days of Donald Trump's presidency, has engaged in enemy construction of the press, and the risks that accompany that characterization are great . . . . [E] nemy construction of the press can pave the way for the invocation of Schmittian exceptionalism that justifies limitation on press freedoms and thus subverts the important watchdog, educator, and proxy roles of the press .”).
45. See Eugene Scott & Allie Malloy , Trump Attacks Another Federal Judge, CNN (Feb. 5 , 2017 , 7 :38 AM), http://www.cnn.com/ 2017 /02/04/politics/donald-trump -attacks-federaljudge-travel-ban/index .html [https://perma.cc/2ZQN-QNAW].
94. JASON STANLEY , HOW PROPAGANDA WORKS 104 ( 2015 ).
95. See DUDZIAK , supra note 10, at 114 (“ By the end of the twentieth century, the state had dropped out of many definitions of war. A war on terror was more expansive still: it was a war against a tactic or an ideology, not a single, easily identifiable entity. And as the boundaries of territory and identity expanded, this conflict also seemed to defy the idea that war was limited in time .”).
96. See id. at 82-83 ( suggesting that the end to the government's repressive speech-related activities during the Cold War came not with an end to military conflict or threat but instead with the end of the perceived domestic political advantages of Red baiting ).
97. See id. at 5 (“My aim is to illuminate a conundrum: we imagine wars to be bound in time, but the American experience is to the contrary . Since 9 /11, war has been framed in a boundless way, extending anywhere in the world that the specter of terrorism resides, even as some of the country's political leaders-on the left and right-denounce its seeming endlessness .”).
98. See , e.g., Eric Bradner , Conway: Trump White House Offered 'Alternative Facts' on Crowd Size , CNN (Jan. 23 , 2017 , 12 :38 PM), http://www.cnn.com/ 2017 /01/22/politics/ kellyanne-conway - alternative-facts/ [https://perma.cc/YZ5L-4KJ8].