In her new book "The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech,"
long-time "Potomac Watch" columnist and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberley Strassel brandishes her reporting chops and presents arguably the most detailed chronicle to date of the IRS targeting scandal – its genesis, its dramatic personae, what actually happened, and why.
Her book also introduces readers to everyday Americans who drop their kids off at school in the morning and then spend their day fighting to free themselves from the federal bureaucracy's endless coils.
Their only offense, it seems, is caring enough about their country to get involved. But because they don't tow the politically correct line on issues like taxes, healthcare, climate change, and federal spending, they find their activities have been virtually criminalized by limousine liberals trying to weaponize government bureaucracies to use them to silence dissent.
"Today," Strassel ominously writes, "every American is at risk of retribution."
Strassel's technique for managing a potentially dense topic in a winsome way is straightforward: She simply begins each chapter with the story of a person involved in an important skirmish on the frontlines of freedom.
Strassel understands that behind every process, every statute, and every federal regulation there stands living, breathing, every-day Americans whose lives are deeply affected by just how far into the tent the bureaucratic nose is allowed to intrude. Strassel tells their stories.
Meet Karen Kenny, who ran afoul of the IRS because she founded in 2009 a small nonprofit organization, the San Fernando Valley Patriots, that openly espoused the principles of two radical, revolutionary documents: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Kenny's grass-roots organization was one of nearly 300 conservative non-profits subjected by the IRS for additional scrutiny and delay in the run-up to the 2012 election – all part of the systematic targeting of conservative nonprofits that top IRS officials in congressional testimony denied was occurring.
For more than two years, the IRS pestered Kenny with legally binding questionnaires about her group, all while withholding her group's nonprofit status. That her group survived at all is a miracle.
Kenny is but one victim of what Strassel sees as a wide-ranging game the left plays to bully its opponents into silence.
"The left does not like to engage in debates, because it often loses those debates," Strassel recently explained to Newsmax TV's John Bachman.
"So it attempts to control information."
Much more is at work here than the Fifth Amendment bumbledom of IRS apparatchik Lois Lerner.
Strassel exposes several other examples of hijinks in high places. Among them:
- The 2008 Prop 8 campaign over the definition of marriage in California unveiled the left's new favorite tactic of obtaining the confidential names of donors to conservative causes, and then splashing their names in the public square to hurt their business and single them out for public ridicule.
- The Koch brothers, industrialists who have donated tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes, endured being singled out by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who charged that they were trying to buy the election and called them "about as un-American as anyone I can imagine."
- The plight of businessman and Romney donor Frank L. Vandersloot, whose firm markets wellness products and supplements, was accused on April 2012 by a post on President Obama's re-election website of being "litigious, combative, and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement." Strassel writes this made him "the focus of every left-wing journalist in America." His business took a big hit but Vandersloot refused to back down, and wrote Romney another check for $100,000.
- The pre-dawn raids on the homes of conservative activists who dared to support Gov. Scott Walker's public-sector union reforms in Wisconsin. These were part of the Badger State's notorious John Doe investigations, which the state Supreme Court finally shut down in July 2015.
- The attorneys general of true-blue California and New York, who continue to try to force non-profit organizations in their states to reveal their donor lists – as listed on their confidential IRS Schedule B filings -- as a condition for operating in their states.
Strassel sees the shotgun efforts to silence conservative organizations as evidence of a larger push to control the social agenda.
"The intimidation game is real," she writes, "and it is now a defining feature of today's political environment. Americans tend to worry about Washington gridlock and political dysfunction and rampant partisanship. Their greater worry ought to be the steady erosion of their own rights."
Whether that campaign to squelch free speech that deviates from liberal orthodoxy will succeed ultimately depends on whether Americans will still fight for their own freedoms.
"The intimidation game only works," she notes, "if its targets let it."
David A. Patten is the senior editor of Newsmax Magazine.
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