American Thinker Closing Its Comments Section Is a Tragedy and a Warning to Us

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

This week Dr. Thomas Lifson’s blog, American Thinker, announced that it was closing its comments section.

It is news to almost nobody who reads American Thinker that a political witch hunt is underway. Parties in and out of government are looking for excuses to suppress and destroy voices that oppose the left.

Because AT lacks the ability to monitor comments in real time, and because our position that comments are a forum, not something we publish, is being called into question, we can no longer publish comments.

We take this action with a heavy heart.

This was followed up by a statement by Deputy Editor Andrea Widburg that made it clear that the decision was a very difficult one:

Third, this site is a labor of love for everyone involved, especially for its founder, Thomas Lifson. If you imagine that he would ever authorize such a difficult decision when there were other choices to be made, well, you don’t know Thomas. All of us who work here agree that the choice was binary: shut down the comments or shut down the site. Or to use an analogy, amputate the limb or watch the patient die. Looked at from that perspective, there really was no choice.

I have no inside knowledge of why the decision was made and don’t intend to speculate (Ms. Widburg’s post seems to say that the decision had nothing to do with American Thinker’s legal difficulties with Dominion Voting Systems). The fact is that they were forced to choose between continuing to exist or having unmoderated comments, and they chose the former over the latter. One can’t fault them for that.

In the past week, we’ve seen the freedom of expression of conservative voices come under direct attack by a techno-kakistocracy that cares for very little other than getting revenge for their middle school years when they were mocked by all their classmates (“you’re ugly and your Mom dresses you funny”) and forced to eat paste while donating their lunch money to the class bully’s 401k plan. These are not good people. They are not even emotionally well people. They are not acting in good faith to protect their employer from liability or others from harm. They are hellbent on making American society conform to the socialist hellscape in which they think they want to live. Please make no mistake, these people, not the people they censor, are the danger to the American Experiment.

Comments sections are one of the last remaining frontiers of free speech on the internet. But even that limited and small-scale freedom is more than the left can countenance. Last June, the left came for the comments sections at The Federalist and ZeroHedge:

Tech giant Google has barred ZeroHedge from its lucrative ad platform and threatened to boot The Federalist after finding “racist” content on their pages related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

ZeroHedge, a mostly financial Web site that posts articles from anonymous writers, will no longer be able to rake in millions of dollars of ad revenue through the search giant’s platform after it was found to have violated Google’s policies related to race, NBC News reported.

The Federalist, known for its right-wing content, has been warned that it, too, could be booted from the ad platform because of hate speech in its comments section.

Ever since its founding, the comments section at RedState has been a central part of the site. Perhaps the only time there was serious discussion of dissolving our comments section was when the site had assumed a viscerally NeverTrump aura that made belittling our readers its be-all, end-all. We are keenly aware of the financial pressures the tech conglomerates can bring to bear on a website that produces content loathed by the SJWs these corporations seem to seek out and whose dysfunctional and anti-social behaviors they coddle.

How did this come about? A leftwing branch of the Karenwaffen called the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) trolled the comments sections of those two sites to find allegedly racist comments about BLM and the George Floyd demonstrations. With this, they got their allies at Google to shut down the cause of their wadded panties.

Just a couple of days ago, the same basic tactic was used by other actors against the gun-rights message board, AR-15.com, to get its web host, GoDaddy, to shut it down (see Amazon Partner GoDaddy Deplatforms the World’s Largest Gun Forum Website).

We know that we are being watched by people who are trying to build a case to shut down your ability to comment. It’s a fact. I’ve had comments screenshotted from here tossed at me on Twitter as evidence of our racism and desire for violence. I know there are agents provocateurs on the site who surface periodically to make blatantly racist comments and encourage violence and then circulate their own comments as though they had found it. There are others that are obvious mobys…lefties who spout the extreme stuff they think that conservative sites post. We ban those accounts as they are identified but we are constantly playing catch-up.

Today, Mike Ford has a great piece on the role that comments sections fulfill (Opinion: Online Publications & Their Comment Sections, the Taverns of the Modern Era). In principle, I couldn’t agree more. The climate of the times, my fiduciary responsibility to the folks who own this site, and my loyalty to my contributors, some of whom depend upon their earnings here for a non-trivial part of their monthly budget, compels me to add a huge “however.”

If we are going to retain the comments section, we have to manage it so that it does not jeopardize this site. That existence may very well be in jeopardy over the next four years, but we should not allow the push to silence us to be an easy one.

We have a list of guidelines for posting on RedState, and we have a small number of moderators (see Announcing New Moderators in the Comments Section); because of the success of our comments section, the list of mods will expand in the near future. However, our first line of defense is self-policing. Not every thought that runs through your frontal cortex needs to be posted here. Beyond that, stop bleating about how your personal right to post whatever the hell you want is being infringed upon by corporate lackeys, pause and think about how what you are about to post may impact the site and others’ ability to post. We want to retain as free and vibrant a comments section as possible. We believe we can do that without racist remarks, without ethnic slurs, and definitely without calls for violence against individuals and groups.

This is not a joke to me. It is not a joke to the contributors. It is certainly not a joke to the folks who pay all of us. You can be tough and uncompromising without being a dumbass that gets us all in trouble.