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The Many Layers of the Canada-India Diplomatic Dispute


35 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute


Canada–India relations have been trapped in a downward spiral following an explosive statement in Parliament by Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau on  September 18. He alleged involvement of Indian agents in the June 18 killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent British Columbian (BC) Sikh leader who was on India’s most wanted watchlist.

India has rejected the charge as “absurd” and denounced Canada as a “safe haven” for “terrorists, extremists and organized crime”—language normally reserved for Pakistan.

To understand the unexpected diplomatic tensions between the two Commonwealth parliamentary democracies, we need to recall the historical context, the democratic backsliding in both countries even while each prides itself on being a leading exemplar of democracy, and the shifting global order in which the existing normative architecture is simultaneously challenged by voices from the Global South and being reconfigured by hard-nosed geopolitical calculations.

Historical Baggage on Both Sides

Canada’s first major disillusionment with independent India was the latter’s refusal to frame its approach to world affairs through the West’s moral lens in the three Indochina control commissions set up after the Geneva Agreements of 1954, which India chaired and which was the subject of my PhD dissertation.

There has been similar long-simmering resentment in Ottawa at the perceived ‘betrayal’ by India when it used Canadian-supplied reactors to conduct a nuclear test in 1974, adding insult to injury by calling it a “peaceful nuclear explosion.” Pierre Trudeau, the current PM’s father who was PM in 1968–79 and 1980–84, was also irritated by Indian PM Indira Gandhi’s propensity to moralize.

Today it is Indians who are put off by the younger Trudeau’s virtue-signalling self-righteousness over race and gender-obsessed identity politics. Nothing illustrates this better than his bizarre apology on September 27 for the way in which 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian Yaroslav Hunka was honoured by Canada’s Parliament on September 22, in the presence of visiting President Volodymyr Zelensky, with a standing ovation.

It turns out he had fought as part of a Ukrainian Waffen-SS unit against the Soviet Union that was a Western ally at the time in World War II. As well as causing grave offence to Holocaust victims and Jews, Trudeau said in a belated apology: “It also hurt Polish people, Roma people, 2SLGTBQI+ people [don’t ask: I can’t be bothered], disabled people, racialized people” [another woke linguistic innovation of the Trudeau government].

Sikhs number around 25 million in India and are spread all over the country but concentrated in Punjab. Although just under two percent of India’s total population they are the majority community in Punjab. In a Pew Research Survey in 2021, a stunning 95 percent of them said they were extremely proud of their Indian identity; 70 percent said anyone who disrespects India is not a good Sikh; and only 14 percent said Sikhs face significant discrimination in India.

The armed insurgency for Khalistan as a separate homeland for Sikhs died out in India thirty years ago but left a bitter legacy. The Indian Army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar—the holiest site for all Sikhs—and the killing of 3,000 Sikhs in the pogrom following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by Sikh bodyguards in 1984 inflamed anti-India passions among Sikhs that remain raw, around the world as well as in India.

Numbering 770,000, Sikhs account for two percent of Canada’s population—a higher proportion than in India—and a little under half of Indo-Canadians. Canada is home to 5 percent of diaspora Indians and 13 percent of Indian overseas students who make up 40 percent of foreign students in Canada. It accounts for 5 percent of India’s foreign tourists but under 0.7 percent of its trade and foreign investment.

Canada-based Sikh extremists blew up an Air India plane in 1985 killing 329 people: the biggest mass murder in Canadian history. In 1982, India’s request to extradite Talwinder Singh Parmar was reportedly rebuffed by Canada. He was one of the architects of the Air India bombing.

Trudeau’s 2018 India Trip

An early indication that Trudeau is a show-pony who lacks policy nous and political street-smarts came with his week-long trip to India in February 2018. It was a PR disaster at home because it looked like an extended family vacation at taxpayer expense, and a political disaster in India. He was ridiculed for the occasional demonstration of Bhangra dancing skills and nonstop display of sartorial splendour more suited to lavish Bollywood wedding scenes than quotidian Indian lifestyle.

More seriously, Jaspal Atwal, convicted in Canada of attempting to kill a visiting Indian cabinet minister in 1986, posed with Trudeau’s wife in Mumbai and was invited to the official dinner at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. National security adviser Daniel Jean mooted the conspiracy theory that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government. Trudeau backed him.

India’s Farmers’ Protest, 2020–21

In September 2020, the Modi government passed three farm reform laws to open up the agricultural sector to market forces and discipline, encourage scale economies by creating a national market, deregulate trade in agricultural produce, and facilitate private investment. Farmers worried that the reforms would leave them vulnerable to large and predatory agri-conglomerates.

Fearing price volatility and loss of stable income, many Sikh farmers launched a mass protest that included blocking traffic in and out of Delhi with trucks and farm vehicles. “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest,” Trudeau unnecessarily and unhelpfully declared on November 30. When India denounced the “ill-informed” remark, Trudeau doubled down and urged “dialogue.” Modi capitulated to the farmers in December 2021 and the protest ended peacefully.

Setbacks to Democracy in India and Canada

Both countries’ leaders are open to charges of violating liberal democratic norms and the rule of law. Modi, for pandering to militant Hinduism, eroding minority rights, muzzling the media and silencing critics. Trudeau, because of a reputation for being an unserious dilettante who never grew up or into the leader of a G7 country.

I have previously criticised India’s growing democratic deficit on Modi’s watch, decried efforts to erode Muslims’ equality of Indian citizenship, and warned of the danger of turning India into a Hindu Pakistan. In addition, however, for many of us who were and remain shocked and appalled at the extent of Canada’s assault on citizens’ rights and liberties in its lockdown, mask, and vaccine mandates, there is an undeniable element of schadenfreude at Trudeau’s fall from the virtue signallers’ pedestal.

In early 2022, Canada’s truckers became icons of a larger struggle for freedom and liberty against growing state power that transcended Canada. The Freedom Convoy was the largest, longest, and noisiest honk-fest of a demonstration against a Canadian government in decades. It was mostly peaceful, good-humoured, supported by large numbers of Canadians and also inspired other countries to take up the cause, including America and Australia.

Yet, the world’s emoter-in-chief solemnly intoned in Parliament on February 9 that the truckers were “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.” Trudeau refused to meet and talk to them (“dialogue” for thee, Mr Modi, but not for me). The government froze the protestors’ bank accounts and of anyone linked with the protests, without due process, appeals process, or court order.

On February 21, Parliament approved the declaration of emergency and authorized Trudeau to use force against the protestors. Justice Minister David Lametti boasted: “We took measures that had been applied to terrorism and applied them to other illegal activity.” Western leaders responded with studied silence. Trudeau revoked the emergency on the 23rd, proving they weren’t needed in the first place. His hypocrisy vis-à-vis his support for India’s farm protests was duly noted in India.

We Know You are Guilty. Now Help Us Prove It.

Canada has levelled grave charges against a friendly government without tabling any supporting evidence. Trudeau’s choice of words was curious. Canada’s security agencies, he said, were “actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link” to Indian agents, not credible “evidence” of “involvement.” In effect Trudeau said to Modi: We believe you are guilty. Now help us prove it. In any joint investigation, both sides will want to protect sources and methods, limiting the scope for collaboration.

The statement covers an extraordinarily wide range of possibilities. At its most innocuous, some Indian embassy personnel might have held meetings with third persons who were in contact with the killers. At its most serious, Indian agents were the prime organizers of the hit on Nijjar or were themselves the assassins.

Key questions for outsiders are: At which point in the continuum should Canadian agencies expect to be informed by the Indians of what was happening? Which is the threshold of unacceptable complicity by Indian agents? Which is the crossover point at which Canada moves from behind-the-scenes efforts to resolve the differences and goes public with the charge of Indian involvement?

Having chosen to raise the allegation in Parliament, the onus is on Trudeau to convince India, allies, and Canadians, not on Modi to prove the negative. Arindam Bagchi, a foreign ministry spokesman, says India is “willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us. But so far, we have not received any.” The failure to provide more detail and evidence has generated disquiet even in Canada with the opposition leader, the centre-left Globe and Mail and the centre-right National Post all saying that Canadians deserve the full truth.

The correct procedure would have been to let the police complete investigations, charge alleged killers, provide evidence of official complicity in the form of forensic analysis, witness testimony, CCTV and/or surveillance photo, audio and video corroboration, and only then request Indian assistance in joint investigations and, if required, extradition to facilitate court proceedings in Canada.

Instead, Trudeau has patented a unique blend of lack of due diligence and incompetent governance. The latest manifestation of this was the Hunka fiasco. The kerfuffle has underlined the dangers of diaspora politics, the lax standards of background checks on migrants, and the keystone cops nature of the Trudeau government’s foreign policy competence. This too has magnified the international and domestic damage from the tiff with India.

“Tails You Lose:” If We Didn’t Do It, You Are Wrong

It is clear from what has been said publicly that Canadian intelligence agencies do not, at this stage, believe that this was a direct Indian hit squad operating on Canadian soil. If they had become aware of an independent plot to kill Nijjar, in light of Canada’s decades-long inaction against Canada-based financing and training for terrorist and criminal actions on Indian targets, Indian officers might have felt no obligation to warn the relevant Canadian agencies.

Only the naïve would believe the Five Eyes club of Anglosphere countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US) doesn’t conduct human and electronic surveillance and share intelligence. David Cohen, US ambassador to Canada, confirmed that “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” had informed Trudeau of possible Indian involvement. As India’s global interests and national capabilities grow, it too will invest in increasing intelligence gathering and covert operational infrastructures. But democracies do not perpetrate acts of violence on one another’s citizens and territory.

At present, the geographical focus of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, is its own neighbourhood and the tools of its tradecraft are bribery and blackmail. Although some would like to copy the example of Israel’s Mossad, for now RAW lacks the training, assets, and authority to kill enemies of the state sheltering in foreign lands. (It may act through domestic rivals.)

Modi has been willing to expand the limits of the militarily possible against hostile militant groups based in Myanmar and Pakistan. But India is not believed to have sanctioned state killings even in Pakistan, despite public pressure to do so.

In a conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on September 26, eight days on from Trudeau’s public accusation, rather than duck and weave, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was unequivocal in saying that India had told Canada that assassinations is not government policy, but that it would look into specific and relevant information provided by Ottawa. His denials have been firm enough that if he is gaslighting, he will pay a high individual reputational price, which adds to the presumption of credibility to his statement.

There is an additional political calculation. On the one hand, at best India would have only a rudimentary capability to carry out such missions in Canada. Although possible, it’s highly implausible. On the other hand, after Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US as a surveillance state and the international headlines about how the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s and other European leaders’ conversations for decades, India would be stupid to believe it could escape detection by a Five Eyes country with sophisticated human and signals intelligence capabilities. The risk of seriously damaging relations with all five countries seems too high for state sanction of Nijjar’s murder. It could also fatally undermine India’s international campaign against Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The failure to provide more detail and evidence has generated disquiet within Canada. The opposition Conservative Party is comfortably ahead in polls. The latest poll would see it winning 179 of the 338 seats, to the Liberal’s 103. Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre has urged Trudeau to reveal more details. His support for a tough response was qualified with “If true.” He also contrasted Trudeau’s softer actions in earlier dealings with China that had held two Canadian citizens hostage for many months. Both the centre-left Globe and Mail and the centre-right National Post say Canadians deserve the full truth.

India in turn holds fast to the allegation that Canadian authorities have been soft on diaspora terrorism, too tolerant of anti-Indian activities and rhetoric because of the electoral importance of the concentrated Sikh vote in BC and Ontario. Trudeau has been surprisingly indifferent to the sensitivity of the Sikh factor in Canada–India relations and unwilling to vigorously target terrorist financing from Canada. During Trudeau’s 2018 trip to India Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s Sikh premier (2002–07, 2017–21), gave him a list of wanted terrorist fugitives that included Nijjar’s name. Nothing happened.

As noted by Omer Aziz, a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau, diaspora-courting domestic politics often distorts foreign policy priorities. Trudeau’s minority government is reliant on the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP) to stay in power. Its Sikh leader Jagmeet Singh is viewed in India as “a known Khalistan promoter and supporter:” a sympathiser at best and an activist at worst. His public statements in response to an alleged Indian link to Nijjar’s killing referenced acts of “violence, persecution,” “torture and even death” by Indian authorities. This will not assuage India’s concerns that Trudeau is captive to domestic diaspora politics.

Many Canadians feel growing unease at migrant communities importing the troubles of their homeland into Canada. In a widely-circulated video, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Nijjar’s US-based lawyer, has urged Hindu Indo-Canadians to go back to India. Disinterest in policies to encourage and assist immigrant groups to adopt cultural norms and core political values of their new country can, for some groups, create isolated, self-contained parallel worlds in which they import all the prejudices and conflicts from their home countries.

Trudeau is going to have to put up or shut up. He has gone too far on a limb to survive prevarication and backtracking. If the allegations are not substantiated, he will damage his standing in Canada and internationally and worsen already strained relations with India.

Attention will focus on the foreign policy risks of diaspora communities and Canada’s lukewarm efforts to rein in their excesses. Allies will not be happy at being put in the middle of a bilateral spat to which Trudeau has contributed by failing to recognize the complexities and magnitude of India’s internal security challenges and not taking its concerns seriously.

Nijjar was a shady character who entered Canada illegally on a false passport in 1997. Eleven days after his claim to refugee status was rejected, he married a woman who sponsored him for immigration. That too was rejected, indicating a marriage of convenience. There is also an undated video (at about the 18-minute mark), of uncorroborated authenticity, of him at a training camp somewhere in BC with an illegal assault rifle. Despite this background, he was granted citizenship in 2015. This doesn’t seem like a mature and responsible approach to conferring citizenship.

An intra-Sikh quarrel in Canada, and in particular the occasionally violent “gurdwara [Sikh temple] politics” in BC, is another possible explanation for his murder. Indian intelligence had linked Nijjar to a hit on a local Sikh rival last year, raising the question: was he killed in a tit-for-tat assassination in the civil war?

Trudeau’s star power has faded. He has been buffeted by allegations of Chinese interference in Canada’s last election and criticised for the tardiness and softness of his response.

Payment on the Covid-era economic shutdowns and subsidies has come due in the form of inflationary pressures. Carson Jerema, a National Post editor, writes that at a time of sinking popularity, almost “everything this government does is calculated for political gain.” Creating “an international incident” with the allegation that India “is behind the murder of a Canadian citizen could be exactly the point.”

Nevertheless, if an uncooperative India is proven guilty in the world court of public opinion, it will deserve unqualified condemnation.

“Heads We Win:” If We Did It, We Are Right

States using targeted assassination as an instrument of national security policy is rare but not unknown, especially by major powers. President Barack Obama ordered assassination-by-drones of several suspected anti-American terrorists in the Afghanistan–Pakistan badlands. Most of those killed were not high-value targets in whose names the strikes were justified, but low-level combatants and civilians (16 percent of those killed in drone strikes 2004–12, according to data compiled by the New American Foundation).

Moreover, Obama also ordered a hit—without any due process of trial and conviction—of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American of Yemeni descent. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed in a follow-up strike.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Obama had no intention of capturing Osama bin Laden alive. For practical purposes it was a targeted assassination whose morality did not trouble too many people, all things considered. For major powers, including Western powers, lethal action against grave threats based in foreign jurisdictions, if it is operationally feasible, will be judged to be morally permissible if the government is persistently unable or unwilling to take effective action.

Many Indians are exasperated with Trudeau’s pandering to diaspora “vote bank” politics. An editorial in the Indian Express concluded: “Trudeau appears to be engaging in toxic domestic politics by playing to the extremist fringe of the Sikh diaspora.” Amarinder Singh dismisses Trudeau’s allegations of Indian involvement in the killing and non-cooperation in the investigation as “a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.” He adds: “It is common knowledge that Nijjar was killed because of rivalry over local gurdwara [Sikh temple] politics.”

Thus the net result is that Canada too finds itself in the international spotlight as a safe haven for extremists who use Canada as a base of operations against the interests of their countries of origin. Another example from South Asia is the presence in Canada of significant numbers of Sri Lankans and their role, often under coercion from activists, in financing the Tamil Tigers in that country’s civil war.

Modi has cultivated a strongman persona as a muscular nationalist. In the unlikely event that it is confirmed that India executed a successful hit on a wanted alleged terrorist in Canada, international reputational costs notwithstanding, it would give a big boost to his popularity leading into next year’s elections. In the context of how Western-based diaspora communities can encourage covert operations and military interventions, as in Iraq in 2003, it could also cement India’s reputation in the Global South as a country able and willing to stand up for its interests.

The Moral Rebalancing in a Shifting Global Order

Canada’s mainstream media would appear to be blind, still, to the grave global damage caused to the country’s liberal democracy brand and the international cynicism when Trudeau invokes commitment to the rule of law and human rights. In an editorial, the Globe and Mail noted that Canada’s “embarrassed allies” have essentially “averted their gaze” and refused to voice strong public condemnation of India. In the geopolitical reordering underway, the Globe explained: “The U.S. is clearly prepared to swallow Mr. Modi’s well-documented assaults on liberal democratic values.”

It’s past time that Western commentators woke up and smell the coffee. The era of the West being the arbiter of the moral compass for itself and for everyone else is over. The new assertiveness of several prominent countries among the rest reflects a self-confidence rooted in a position of strength.

In sharp contrast with Trudeau’s lightweight persona, Jaishankar has a deserved reputation for intellectual depth and gravitas to go with this his decades of experience as a career diplomat and then an articulate (but not angry) champion of India’s non-Western (but not anti-Western) perspectives. All these traits, plus the easy manner in which he connects to a policy audience in Washington, can be seen in this video of his interactive conversation at the Hudson Institute in Washington on September 29.

Jaishankar has been polite but firm in calling out the double standards of Western countries for their criticisms of India’s stance on the Ukraine war. In India’s annual statement to the UN General Assembly on September 26, he decried the reality that “it is still a few nations who shape the agenda and seek to define the norms.” Rule-makers cannot go on subjugating rule-takers indefinitely and we must not “countenance that political convenience determines responses to terrorism, extremism and violence.” Jaishankar’s pointed remarks on the persisting imbalances in the global order would have played well throughout the Global South.

Canada’s Soft Power Righteousness Has Collided with India’s Growing Hard Power Geopolitical Heft

So far, as noted by the Washington Post and also by Canada’s main national newspaper the Globe and Mail, Canada’s allies have offered only tepid support while attempting to walk the tightrope between an old ally and a growing strategic partner. Canada is a dependable ally but not a first-tier global power nor one with realistic alternatives to continued national security dependence on the US. Its soft-power credentials are a liability when the world has pivoted into a hard-power moment.

India is the anchor of the West’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Canada is outside both the Quad and AUKUS as the main bulwarks of the emerging anti-China resistance front. More than putting India in the dock, Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told the BBC that Trudeau’s allegations have exposed Canada’s “moment of weakness.”

Jaishankar is in great demand at the world’s major foreign policy platforms and used his trip to the opening of the UN General Assembly to speak to multiple influential audiences in the US. As a result, for the first time, key American audiences will have been exposed to the decades-long Indian complaint about the operating space that has been given to extremist and criminal elements from India by a very permissive Canada that has its own political compulsions.

Jaishankar noted at the Hudson Institute event that while most Indians know this, not many Americans do. His comment about the relative knowledge and ignorance of Indians and Americans is illustrated in this video podcast on September 29 of an in-house discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center. At around the 10-minute mark, Sands, an American, recalls the 1985 Air India bombing only to make two astonishing gaffes. He says it was a Montreal-Bombay flight over the Pacific and “almost all” the victims were Indian citizens. In fact Air India flight 182 was blown up over the Irish Sea en route from Montreal to Delhi via London.

The overwhelming majority of passengers were Canadian citizens and residents, albeit of Indian ancestry. But in the Canadian collective consciousness this seems to be remembered as a bombing in which the victims were mainly Indians, not Canadians.

The bigger picture that has been in existence for some considerable time provides the necessary context to the current Canadian charges. As a vibrant democracy, India doesn’t need lessons from others on the meaning of free speech. But freedom of speech does not extend to “incitement to violence.” That’s not a defence but “an abuse of freedom,” Jaishankar insisted.

It is not therefore simply a matter of other countries overriding their normative principles to accommodate policy to geopolitics. Rather, India is gaining some sympathy for its charge that Canada too has a case to answer and needs to put its own house in order. In other words, as far as Western democracies are concerned, ignoring the problem of migrant communities engaged in hostile activities in home countries is not a long-term solution to the policy dilemma.


  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

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Brownstone Institute

During the Crisis, Free Speech Worked Brilliantly

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

By Jeffrey A. Tucker

The free platform proved itself capable of quick course correction alongside maximum agility in processing the floods of constant new information. Meanwhile, the venues in which “misformation” has been anathematized ended up being the major source of exactly that.

There is only one major social media platform that is relatively free of censorship. That is X, once known as Twitter, and owned by Elon Musk, who has preached free speech for years and sacrificed billions in advertising dollars in order to protect it. If we don’t have that, he says, we lose freedom itself. He also maintains that it is the best path to finding the truth.

The crisis that broke out after the attempt on Donald Trump’s life put the principle in motion. I was posting regular updates and never censored. I’m not aware of anyone who was. We were getting second-by-second updates in real time. The videos were flying along with every conceivable rumor, many false and then corrected, alongside free speech “spaces” in which everyone was sharing their views.

During this time, Facebook and its suite of services fell silent, consistent with the new ethos of all these platforms. The idea is to censor all speech until it is absolutely confirmed by officials and then permit only that which is consistent with the press releases.

This is the habit born of the Covid years, and it stuck. Now all the platforms avoid any news that is fast in motion, except to broadcast precisely what they are supposed to broadcast. Maybe that works in most times when people are not paying attention. Readers do not know what they are missing. The trouble was that during these post-shooting hours when nearly everyone on the planet wanted updates, there were no press releases forthcoming.

By habit, I reached for what was once called television. The networks had plenty of talking heads and newscasters with their usual eloquence. What was missing from all the broadcasts that I saw in these hours were any factual updates. They too were waiting for confirmation of this or that before putting out any information at all beyond the basics. They let their “experts” speak as long as possible just to waste time before rolling out new advertisements.

Over time, I realized something. X was driving the whole of the news, while the newscasters had to wait for permission before reading scripted lines.

Meanwhile, on X, the situation was utterly wild. Posts were flying fast and furious. New rumors would circulate (the shooter’s name and affiliations, stories about a second shooting, claims that Trump was hit in the chest, and so on). But shortly after the rumor circulated, so did the debunking. The feature called “Community Notes” kept the faulty news in check, while the truth gradually circulated to the top. This happened on topic after topic.

The wildest theories ever were permitted to appear, while others would debunk them with reasoned arguments. The readers could decide for themselves. You could see how the seeming chaos gradually organized itself into communities seeking verification. Posters grew ever more careful about posting claims that could not be verified, or at least explaining what they were.

X was single-handedly holding the whole of the corporate media to account, and reporters and editors very obviously came to depend on their X feeds to figure out what to say next. It was the same with newspapers. When NYT, CNN, WaPo, and so on would make major missteps, posters on X would call them out, the word would reach the editors, and the headline or story would change.

In the end, X became the one place where you could find the fullness of truth. All the while, the old-world media was dishing out the most ridiculous headlines one could imagine. For many hours, the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and other such venues refused to say it was an assassination attempt on Trump. The headline led people to believe that this was a MAGA rally with some random shooters that got carried away and so Trump had to be ushered out. This really did happen, and readers were outraged.

CNN was probably the worst offender, with the following headline: “Secret Service Rushes Trump Offstage As He Falls at Rally.”

It took many hours and repeated attempts but eventually the mainstream media finally said that the incident was “being investigated” as an assassination attempt, even though it was very obvious that it was an attempt on his life that he barely survived with the slight turn of his head.

It was the kind of flurry of nonsense that further discredited the old corporate media right there in front of an entire planet that was no longer believing anything they said.

It’s hard to know why the corporate press did this. Were they just cautious and worried about misinformation? If so, how come so many of their headlines were of the same sort, that which refused to say that someone just tried to kill Trump? Were they just in the habit of waiting for officials to tell them what to say? Was it raw TDS that was driving this? It’s hard to know but the failure was conspicuous and obvious to all.

What stood out above all else was the way free speech on X worked to ferret out the real story, while actually driving forward the mainstream press to correct its errors and get the story right. One shudders to think how it would have all taken place in absence of this one platform, which became the go-to place for everyone. The most important lesson: free speech worked. And beautifully.

All Western societies are currently struggling with the question of just how much speech to allow on the Internet. The trajectory for years now has not been a good one. Once-free platforms have become more frozen, more propagandistic, more staid, and duller, even as this one platform has created a culture of freedom combined with community-driven accountability.

This freedom accomplished exactly what it was supposed to accomplish, while the censored platforms held onto misinformation much longer than they should have been.

Which makes the point. Too often, the battle over free speech is framed as misinformation/freedom vs. facts/truth/restriction. The very opposite has proven to be the case. The free platform proved itself capable of quick course correction alongside maximum agility in processing the floods of constant new information. Meanwhile, the venues in which “misformation” has been anathematized ended up being the major source of exactly that.

Freedom works. As messy as it is, it works better than any other system. Meanwhile, governments of the world have targeted X for destruction. Advertisers continue to boycott and regulators continue to threaten.

So far, it has not worked and thank goodness. But for X, the last 24 hours would have looked very different: nothing but propaganda, apart from a few marginal places here and there. Therein lies another irony: the way X is managed is increasing trust rather than reducing it.

The lesson should be obvious. The answer to the problems of free speech is more of it.


Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Life After Lockdown, and many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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Brownstone Institute

The Pandemic Excuse for a Corporatist Coup

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

By Jeffrey A. Tucker

We’ve just come across a document hosted by the Department of Homeland Security, posted March 2023, but written in 2007, that amounts to a full-blown corporatist imposition on the US, abolishing anything remotely resembling the Bill of Rights and Constitutional law. It is right there in plain sight for anyone curious enough to dig.

There is nothing in it that you haven’t already experienced with lockdowns. What makes it interesting are the participants in the forging of the plan, which is pretty much the whole of corporate America as it stood in 2007. It was a George W. Bush initiative. The conclusions are startling.

“Quarantine is a legally enforceable declaration that a government body may institute over individuals potentially exposed to a disease, but who are not symptomatic. If enacted, Federal quarantine laws will be coordinated between CDC and State and local public health officials, and, if necessary, law enforcement personnel…The government may also enact travel restrictions to limit the movement of people and products between geographic areas in an effort to limit disease transmission and spread. Authorities are currently reviewing possible plans to curtail international travel upon a pandemic’s emergence overseas.

“Limiting public assembly opportunities also helps limit the spread of disease. Concert halls, movie theaters, sports arenas, shopping malls, and other large public gathering places might close indefinitely during a pandemic—whether because of voluntary closures or government-imposed closures. Similarly, officials may close schools and non-essential businesses during pandemic waves in an effort to significantly slow disease transmission rates. These strategies aim to prevent the close interaction of individuals, the primary conduit of spreading the influenza virus. Even taking steps such as limiting person-to-person interactions within a distance of three feet or avoiding instances of casual close contact, such as shaking hands, will help limit disease spread.”

There we have it: the pandemic plans. They once seemed abstract. In 2020, they became very real. Your rights were deleted. No more freedom even to have house guests. In those days, the rule was to enforce only three feet of distance rather than six feet of distance, neither of which had any basis in science. Indeed, the actual scientific literature even at that time recommended against any physical interventions designed to limit the spread of respiratory viruses. They were known not to work. The entire profession of public health accepted that.

Therefore, for many years before lockdowns wrecked economic functioning, there had been two parallel tracks in operation, one intellectual/academic and one imposed by state/corporate managers. They had nothing to do with each other. This situation persisted for the better part of 15 years. Suddenly in 2020, there was a reckoning, and the state/corporate managers won it. Seemingly out of nowhere, liberty as we have long known it was gone.

Back in 2005, I first came across a Bush administration scheme, an early draft of the above, that would have ended freedom as we know it. It was a scheme for combating the bird flu, which officials back then imagined would involve universal quarantines, business and event closures, travel restrictions, and more.

wrote: “Even if the flu does come, and taxpayers have coughed up, the government will surely have a ball imposing travel restrictions, shutting down schools and businesses, quarantining cities, and banning public gatherings…It is a serious matter when the government purports to plan to abolish all liberty and nationalize all economic life and put every business under the control of the military, especially in the name of a bug that seems largely restricted to the bird population. Perhaps we should pay more attention. Perhaps such plans for the total state ought to even ruffle our feathers a bit.”

For years I wrote about this topic, trying to get others interested. It was all there in black and white. At the drop of a hat, under the guise of a pandemic that only state managers can declare, real or drummed up, freedom itself could be abolished. These plans were never legislated, debated, or publicly discussed. They were simply posted as the result of various consultations with experts, who worked out their totalitarian fantasies as if scripting a Hollywood film.

The 2007 blueprint is more explicit than anything I’ve seen. It comes from the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, which “includes executive leaders from the private sector and state/local government who advise the White House on how to reduce physical and cyber risks and improve the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors. The NIAC is administered on behalf of the President in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act under the authority of the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security.”

And who sat on this committee in 2007 that decided that governments “may close schools and non-essential businesses”? Let us see.

  • Mr. Edmund G. Archuleta, General Manager, El Paso Water Utilities
  • Mr. Alfred R. Berkeley III, Chairman and CEO, Pipeline Trading Group, LLC, and former President and Vice Chairman of NASDAQ
  • Chief Rebecca F. Denlinger, Fire Chief, Cobb County (Ga.) Fire and Emergency Services
  • Chief Gilbert G. Gallegos, Police Chief (ret.), City of Albuquerque, N.M. Police Department
  • Ms. Martha H. Marsh, President and CEO, Stanford Hospital and Clinics
  • Mr. James B. Nicholson, President and CEO, PVS Chemical, Inc.
  • Mr. Erle A. Nye, Chairman Emeritus, TXU Corp., NIAC Chairman
  • Mr. Bruce A. Rohde, Chairman and CEO Emeritus, ConAgra Foods, Inc.
  • Mr. John W. Thompson, Chairman and CEO, Symantec Corporation
  • Mr. Brent Baglien, ConAgra Foods, Inc.
  • Mr. David Barron, Bell South
  • Mr. Dan Bart, TIA
  • Mr. Scott Blanchette, Healthways
  • Ms. Donna Burns, Georgia Emergency Management Agency
  • Mr. Rob Clyde, Symantec Corporation
  • Mr. Scott Culp, Microsoft
  • Mr. Clay Detlefsen, International Dairy Foods Association
  • Mr. Dave Engaldo, The Options Clearing Corporation
  • Ms. Courtenay Enright, Symantec Corporation
  • Mr. Gary Gardner, American Gas Association
  • Mr. Bob Garfield, American Frozen Foods Institute
  • Ms. Joan Gehrke, PVS Chemical, Inc.
  • Ms. Sarah Gordon, Symantec
  • Mr. Mike Hickey, Verizon
  • Mr. Ron Hicks, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation
  • Mr. George Hender, The Options Clearing Corporation
  • Mr. James Hunter, City of Albuquerque, NM Emergency Management
  • Mr. Stan Johnson, North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC)
  • Mr. David Jones, El Paso Corporation
  • Inspector Jay Kopstein, Operations Division, New York City Police Department (NYPD)
  • Ms. Tiffany Jones, Symantec Corporation
  • Mr. Bruce Larson, American Water
  • Mr. Charlie Lathram, Business Executives for National Security (BENS)/BellSouth
  • Mr. Turner Madden, Madden & Patton
  • Chief Mary Beth Michos, Prince William County (Va.) Fire and Rescue
  • Mr. Bill Muston, TXU Corp.
  • Mr. Vijay Nilekani, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • Mr. Phil Reitinger, Microsoft
  • Mr. Rob Rolfsen, Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Mr. Tim Roxey, Constellation
  • Ms. Charyl Sarber, Symantec
  • Mr. Lyman Shaffer, Pacific Gas and Electric,
  • Ms. Diane VanDeHei, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA)
  • Ms. Susan Vismor, Mellon Financial Corporation
  • Mr. Ken Watson, Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Mr. Greg Wells, Southwest Airlines
  • Mr. Gino Zucca, Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Resources
  • Dr. Bruce Gellin, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Dr. Mary Mazanec
  • Dr. Stuart Nightingale, CDC
  • Ms. Julie Schafer
  • Dr. Ben Schwartz, CDC
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Resources
  • Mr. James Caverly, Director, Infrastructure Partnerships Division
  • Ms. Nancy Wong, NIAC Designated Federal Officer (DFO)
  • Ms. Jenny Menna, NIAC Designated Federal Officer (DFO)
  • Dr. Til Jolly
  • Mr. Jon MacLaren
  • Ms. Laverne Madison
  • Ms. Kathie McCracken
  • Mr. Bucky Owens
  • Mr. Dale Brown, Contractor
  • Mr. John Dragseth, IP attorney, Contractor
  • Mr. Jeff Green, Contractor
  • Mr. Tim McCabe, Contractor
  • Mr. William B. Anderson, ITS America
  • Mr. Michael Arceneaux, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA)
  • Mr. Chad Callaghan, Marriott Corporation
  • Mr. Ted Cromwell, American Chemistry Council (ACC)
  • Ms. Jeanne Dumas, American Trucking Association (ATA)
  • Ms. Joan Harris, US Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary
  • Mr. Greg Hull, American Public Transportation Association
  • Mr. Joe LaRocca, National Retail Federation
  • Mr. Jack McKlveen, United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • Ms. Beth Montgomery, Wal-Mart
  • Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, Georgia Office of EMS/Trauma/EP
  • Mr. Roger Platt, The Real Estate Roundtable
  • Mr. Martin Rojas, American Trucking Association (ATA)
  • Mr. Timothy Sargent, Senior Chief, Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Finance Canada

In other words, big everything: food, energy, retail, computers, water, and you name it. It’s a corporatist dream team.

Consider ConAgra itself. What is that? It is Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Orville Redenbacher’s, Reddi-Wip, Slim Jim, Hunt’s Peter Pan Egg Beaters, Hebrew National, Marie Callender’s, P.F. Chang’s, Ranch Style Beans, Ro*Tel, Wolf Brand Chili, Angie’s, Duke’s, Gardein, Frontera, Bertolli, among many other seemingly independent brands that are all actually one company.

Now, ask yourself: why might all these companies favor a plan for lockdowns? Why might WalMart, for example? It stands to reason. Lockdowns are a massive interference with competitive capitalism. They provide the best possible subsidy to big business while shutting down independent small businesses and putting them at a huge disadvantage once the opening up happens.

In other words, it is an industrial racket, very much akin to interwar-style fascism, a corporatist combination of big business and big government. Throw pharma into the mix and you see exactly what came to pass in 2020, which amounted to the largest transfer of wealth from small and medium-sized business plus the middle class to wealthy industrialists in the history of humanity.

The document is open even about managing information flows: “The public and private sectors should align their communications, exercises, investments, and support activities absolutely with both the plan and priorities during a pandemic influenza event. Continue data gathering, analysis, reporting, and open review.”

There is nothing in any of this that fits with any Western tradition of law and liberty. Nothing. It was never approved by any democratic means. It was never part of any political campaign. It has never been the subject of any serious media examination. No think tank has ever pushed back on such plans in any systematic way.

The last serious attempt to debunk this whole apparatus was from D.H. Henderson in 2006. His two co-authors on that paper eventually came around to going along with lockdowns of 2020. Henderson died in 2016. One of the co-authors of the original article told me that if Dr. Henderson had been around, instead of Dr. Fauci, the lockdowns would never have taken place.

Here we are four years following the deployment of this lockdown machinery, and we are witness to what it destroys. It would be nice to say that the entire apparatus and theory behind it have been fully discredited.

But that is not correct. All the plans are still in place. There have been no changes in federal law. Not one effort has been made to dismantle the corporatist/biosecurity planning state that made all this possible. Every bit of it is in place for the next go-around.

Much of the authority for this whole coup traces to the Public Health Services Act of 1944, which was passed in wartime. For the first time in US history, it gave the federal government the power to quarantine. Even when the Biden administration was looking for some basis to justify its transportation mask mandate, it fell back to this one piece of legislation.

If anyone really wants to get to the root of this problem, there are decisive steps that need to be taken. The indemnification of pharma from liability for harm needs to be repealed. The court precedent of forced shots in Jacobson needs to be overthrown. But even more fundamentally, the quarantine power itself has to go, and that means the full repeal of the Public Health Services Act of 1944. That is the root of the problem. Freedom will not be safe until it is uprooted.

As it stands right now, everything that unfolded in 2020 and 2021 can happen again. Indeed, the plans are in place for exactly that.


Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Life After Lockdown, and many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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