Shaky cellphone video taken recently in a New York City restaurant shows a stern, bald man being teased for wasting Brazilian taxpayer money.1 When restaurant staff are slow to remove their patron’s critic, the bald man gets up to do it himself, returning to his seat only when his heckler backs away. This was not the only time Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes met with critics during his recent trip to New York. When a Brazilian journalist protested outside his hotel, Moraes had the man’s passport revoked, effectively leaving him stateless and stranded.2
Moraes has earned a reputation of late for dealing with detractors by force, which is particularly concerning given the reported purpose of his recent trip: to lecture American business leaders on “the future of democracy.”3 The only thing Americans can learn from Moraes is what not to do. That’s because Brazil is the latest testing ground for the notion that censorship—using the force of government to suppress speech—can solve problems, and Moraes has largely been at the head of that experiment. . . .
Click To Tweet
1. “Brazilian Calls Police in New York against Alexandre de Moraes,” Revista Oeste, November 14, 2022, https://revistaoeste.com/sem-categoria/brasileiro-chama-a-policia-em-nova-iorque-contra-alexandre-de-moraes/.
2. César Mendez, “Moraes from the Brazilian Supreme Court Cancels Passport of ‘Defiant’ Journalist Living Already in Exile,” Rio Times, November 22, 2022, https://www.riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/brazil/moraes-from-brazilian-supreme-court-cancels-passport-of-defiant-journalist-living-already-in-exile/.
3. I won’t here address the common misuse of the concept “democracy,” which means unlimited majority rule. The fact is, democracy is dangerous, which is why America’s founders opted for a rights-protecting republic with democratically elected representatives, not a democracy.
4. “Germany: Flawed Social Media Law,” Human Rights Watch, February 14, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/14/germany-flawed-social-media-law; Joe Mullin, “The UK Online Safety Bill Attacks Free Speech and Encryption,” August 5, 2022, Electronic Frontier Foundation, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/08/uks-online-safety-bill-attacks-free-speech-and-encryption; Simon Chandler, “French Social Media Law Is Another Coronavirus Blow to Freedom of Speech,” Forbes, May 14, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonchandler/2020/05/14/french-social-media-law-is-another-coronavirus-blow-to-freedom-of-speech/.
5. Jack Nicas and André Spigariol, “To Defend Democracy, Is Brazil’s Top Court Going Too Far?,” New York Times, September 26, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/26/world/americas/bolsonaro-brazil-supreme-court.html.
6. Nicas and Spigariol, “To Defend Democracy, Is Brazil’s Top Court Going Too Far?”
7. See the Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Articles 220 and 53, https://www.stf.jus.br/arquivo/cms/legislacaoConstituicao/anexo/brazil_federal_constitution.pdf.
8. Jack Nicas, “To Fight Lies, Brazil Gives One Man Power Over Online Speech,” New York Times, October 21, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/21/world/americas/brazil-online-content-misinformation.html.
9. Larry Rohter, “Brazil’s Jaw-Dropping Corruption Scandal Comes to Netflix,” New York Times, March 16, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/arts/television/mechanism-netflix-brazil-jose-padilha.html.
10. “Senator Hawley Introduces Legislation to Amend Section 230 Immunity for Big Tech Companies,” Senator Josh Hawley, June 19, 2019, https://www.hawley.senate.gov/senator-hawley-introduces-legislation-amend-section-230-immunity-big-tech-companies.
11. Nicas and Spigariol, “To Defend Democracy, Is Brazil’s Top Court Going Too Far?”
12. “Brazil: The Deputy with the Most Votes in the Elections Sued Electoral High Court President for Censorship,” Rio Times, November 16, 2022, https://www.riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/brazil/politics-brazil/brazil-the-deputy-with-the-most-votes-in-the-elections-sued-the-president-of-the-tse-for-censorship/; “Elon Musk Assures Probe into Suspension of Far-Right Brazilian Politicians from Twitter,” India Today, November 8, 2022, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/elon-musk-assures-probe-into-suspension-of-far-right-brazilian-politicians-from-twitte-2294556-2022-11-08.
13. “TSE Orders Jovem Pan to Say That Lula Is Innocent,” UOL, October 29, 2022, https://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/agencia-estado/2022/10/29/tse-manda-jovem-pan-dizer-que-lula-e-inocente.htm.
14. “TSE Minister Prohibits Bolsonaro Propaganda That Calls Lula a ‘Thief,’” Gazeta do Povo, October 13, 2022, https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/eleicoes/2022/ministro-do-tse-proibe-propaganda-de-bolsonaro-que-chama-de-lula-de-ladrao/.
15. Jacob Mchangama, Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media (New York: Basic Books, 2022), 274.
16. Mchangama, Free Speech, 281.
17. “Bolsonarist Federal Deputy Points a Gun at People in São Paulo,” Folha de São Paulo, October 30, 2022, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/brazil/2022/10/carla-zambelli-points-a-gun-at-people-in-sao-paulo.shtml.
18. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (Overland Park, KS: Neeland Media, 2009), 153.