The 2021 platform of the North Carolina Republican Party puts liberty first.
“We are the party that stands strong against tyranny and will fight at home and abroad to protect the lives and fundamental liberties of all people,” it proclaims.
“The fundamental role of government is to protect those inherent rights as recognized in our Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, including its Bill of Rights, and the North Carolina Constitution, including its Declaration of Rights.”
Among those who addressed the state GOP convention earlier this year to celebrate these freedoms — and to encourage a fighting spirit in defense of our liberties — was corrupt Charlotte City Councilman Tariq Bokhari, whom the party’s convention website identified as a “notable guest.” (Top billing went to former President Donald Trump.)
At the convention, Bokhari struck the pose of a freedom-loving tough guy auditioning for higher office.
He described political debates in the country’s Democratic-dominated big cities, including Charlotte, as “ideological war” occurring in “authoritarian laboratories.” In contrast, he lauded the “rule of law,” “limited government,” and “shared freedom and shared respect.”
Bokhari’s remarks culminated with citation to what has become his mantra, a three-word phrase he attributes to the sixteenth-century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes: “burn the ships.”
Cortes uttered those words (and then followed up by actually burning most of his boats) so his men, after arriving in the Americas, would have no choice but to fight and conquer the Aztecs, whom the Spaniards then slaughtered without provocation.
“It’s a lesson in leadership that there is no off-ramp for us,” Bokhari explained to his fellow delegates. “We must be prepared to fight.”
He added, “Wherever there is a policy being discussed, we will be there to fight.”
Everywhere, that is, but certain corners of cyberspace.
It’s become something of a joke in Charlotte that Bokhari went on a tear over the last year blocking users on Twitter whose opinions he doesn’t like or who dared to criticize him. (Those blocked include me. I previously published a lengthy essay explaining Bokhari’s corruption, which continues unabated.)
It turns out the tough guy urging others to “burn the ships” and to fight in every possible forum is something of a Republican snowflake.
He’s not the only one from the state convention who fits this description: Congressman Madison Cawthorn from western North Carolina, who once posted a video of himself punching a tree to demonstrate his macho, rugged bona fides, recently blocked someone online who apparently said something he dislikes. Cawthorn was another “notable guest” at this year’s state GOP convention.
Just as a poor man’s idea of a rich man stands atop today’s Republican Party, so are the party’s lower echelons filled with a weak man’s idea of strong men.
Bokhari’s online betrayal of his fake, tough guy persona — seeking shelter from words he doesn’t like — should count as a personal embarrassment, but his interference with people’s speech rights qualifies as a betrayal of liberty.
More particularly, Bokhari’s decision to block people on Twitter violates the First Amendment — one of the fundamental freedoms to which he and the state GOP have pledged allegiance.
In January 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes North Carolina, issued its opinion in Davison v. Randall, a case involving a local elected official in Virginia who blocked someone from accessing her social media page.
In that case, Phyllis Randall, who served as chair of her county board of supervisors, blocked Brian Davison, a constituent, from seeing her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page.
Randall identified herself on the page as a government official and designated the page as belonging to a “politician.” She solicited comments from constituents and frequently posted about her work as a public official.
Some users who posted on Randall’s page did so either to commend her or otherwise comment on business before the county.
Others, including Davison, posted comments criticizing Randall. Following one of Davison’s critical posts, Randall blocked him.
Davison then sued Randall, alleging that her denying him access to her Facebook page violated the First Amendment by engaging in viewpoint discrimination. In other words, Davison alleged Randall blocked him because she didn’t like his opinions and that her doing so violated his free speech rights.
The trial court found, and the appellate court affirmed, that Randall’s Facebook page was so bound up with her government duties that it functioned as a sort of adjunct to her work as a public official and that the page qualified as a so-called public forum from which she excluded Davison because she disagreed with his ideas. This, the court said, constituted viewpoint discrimination and violated the First Amendment.
(Perhaps an example not born of cyberspace will help illustrate the relevant legal principle: Suppose Randall prevented Davison from addressing her and other elected officials during the public comment section of a public meeting because they didn’t like his views on a particular subject. This would obviously violate the First Amendment. The Davison court ruled that Randall had engaged in equivalent behavior online.)
Since the Fourth Circuit handed down its decision, two other federal appellate courts have similarly ruled, including in a case that found President Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked his critics on social media.
The basic principle running through these cases is that when a public official uses a social media account to engage in public business, the account becomes a public forum, and the First Amendment prohibits the official from blocking users who express opinions that the official doesn’t like.
That brings us back to Bokhari, who frequently uses his Twitter account to engage in politicking and to discuss matters related to his work as a city councilman.
Bokhari identifies himself as “CLT City Councilman D6” in his Twitter bio.
In just the last two weeks, he’s used his Twitter account to comment on Charlotte’s economic growth; partisanship and City Council seats; a water main break; projected residential development; and an interview on local media with a fellow city councilman.
Before that, he used his account to comment on the re-drawing of council districts; law enforcement reform; COVID policy; non-discrimination; the 2021 state GOP convention; pay raises for elected officials; homelessness; his appearance on talk radio; and the city’s comprehensive land use plan.
On and on it could go, but the point is proven: Bokhari uses his Twitter account to conduct business as an elected official — just as Phyllis Randall used Facebook to conduct public business. And just as Randall ran afoul of the First Amendment by blocking a critic from her Facebook page, so is Bokhari violating the Constitution by blocking people on Twitter.
In addition to displaying a shameless hypocrisy by violating the very freedom he says he’s fighting for, Bokhari’s decision to block those with whom he disagrees has both a practical and principled consequence.
As a practical matter, Bokhari’s silencing of critics encourages insularity.
He’s shut out those who present a perspective different from his own, tending to create an echo chamber that excludes ideas or facts that might challenge his own beliefs. This encourages development of a limited perspective on public business, which is incompatible with good governance because good governance requires decision-makers to understand our community and world as they actually are, not as our prejudices and biases might like them to be.
As a principled matter, blocking people from a political conversation exhibits contempt.
Some people’s opinions count, and some people’s do not. Indeed, it’s more fundamental: Some people possess the right to have and express an opinion, while others do not. This qualifies as an attempt at a sort of political banishment, a most undemocratic idea, and certainly one incompatible with the idea of liberty.
When Bokhari criticizes Democrats for running “authoritarian laboratories” in America’s largest cities, he’s indulging the same habit so frequently indulged by his party’s leader: projecting on to others those dark, anti-democratic tendencies that lurk within.
Burn the ships! — except the one to which Bokhari can flee when others’ ideas challenge his own or when their words threaten to harm the ego of this most fragile warrior.