The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put its controversial new Disinformation Governance Board on hold Wednesday after criticism from conservatives and civil liberties groups.
The DHS said the board was supposed to help prevent the spread of disinformation, but put it on pause after its creation almost three weeks ago.
Republicans warned it could become a way for the government to censor speech it didn't like. Some even called the board "Truth Police" who will undermine the right to freedom of speech in America.
Nina Jankowicz, the board's controversial executive director, has now resigned. Critics had accused her of spreading partisan disinformation, defending the very disinformation that her job was purportedly created to fight. For example, she had reportedly defended the debunked Steele dossier which may have been an actual Russian disinformation plot to undermine President Trump.
What remains to be seen is how the board's disastrous rollout and ensuing criticism around it will damage U.S. efforts to counter disinformation used as a weapon by Russia and other adversaries. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the board's controversy had become a distraction to the department's other work, which includes safeguarding U.S. elections, two officials familiar with his decision said.
While the board has not formally been closed, it will be reviewed by members of a DHS advisory council that's expected to make recommendations in 75 days.
"The Board has been grossly and intentionally mischaracterized: it was never about censorship or policing speech in any manner," the department said in a statement. "It was designed to ensure we fulfill our mission to protect the homeland while protecting core Constitutional rights."
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted the board had never met, and neither the department nor Jankowicz had any power to censor or remove content labeled as disinformation.
DHS officials had tried to extinguish concerns about how the board would impact issues of free speech and online privacy by describing it as an internal working group intended to study definitions of disinformation across the department.
But as CBN News reported, while the Biden administration claimed the board's goal was to protect the First Amendment, many lawmakers, state legislators, and constitutional scholars called the agency a weapon.
The White House defended the board's creation, which came shortly after billionaire Elon Musk's announcement to buy Twitter. Since the agency was created by the Homeland Security Department, critics were skeptical of its timing and mission.
"The timing is not coincidental. After Elon Musk purchased Twitter, the left is frightened they are losing an avenue of censorship," said Lora Ries, a senior research fellow for Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation.
The backlash grew over what was described as the Democrats' latest attempt to censor speech. "Democrats think disinformation is any fact inconvenient to Joe Biden and the Democratic Party," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
Twenty Republican attorneys general, led by Jason Miyares of Virginia, also threatened Mayorkas with legal action over the board "unless you turn back now and disband this Orwellian Disinformation Governance Board immediately," Miyares said in a statement.
In addition, more than a dozen GOP senators also responded with a bill to stop the board, calling its creation an abuse of power while drawing comparisons to George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth" which pushed government propaganda in his classic novel 1984 about dictatorship.
Critics also suggested Jankowicz was too partisan for the job, pointing to statements she made that questioned the provenance of a laptop said to belong to Hunter Biden, the president's eldest son, and posting a TikTok video of her singing about disinformation to the tune of a song from "Mary Poppins."
Jankowicz claims she has received violent threats that came in daily through phone calls, emails, or Twitter messages since the board was announced. Some included rape or death threats. Others encouraged her to kill herself.
"It was horrible. It was constant," she said. "That's obviously really scary and really unpleasant. I was trying to do important work to protect Americans from a real threat."
The department, she said, failed to address concerns about privacy and free speech issues around the board's work.