Tim Robbins Is Still Battling That Chill Wind

Gerald Herbert

I’m an old-school liberal. Before I engender too much ire over that, allow me to explain a bit further. I’ve detailed here previously my political evolution or “conversion” from left to right. It was a process and it began roughly 20 years ago — long enough ago that I was still a liberal Democrat when actor Tim Robbins made his infamous “Chill Wind Speech,” and naturally, found myself largely agreeing with it.

Robbins gave the speech on April 15, 2003, to the National Press Club, in Washington D.C. At the time, 9/11 was only 18 months in the rearview mirror and George W. Bush was President of the United States. The country, briefly united in the moments following the horror of 9/11, was heavily divided over the entry of the U.S. into the Iraq War. Social media wasn’t yet a thing but cable news was, as were talk radio and political message boards.

The crux of the address was aimed at the idea that speech opposing the war was being squelched. Robbins observed (emphasis added):

In the 19 months since 9/11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided, and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.
This past weekend, Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of sorts. Amidst the alcohol and the dancing, sugar-rushing children, there was, of course, talk of the war. And the most frightening thing about the weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community, in their own life. Keep talking, they said; I haven’t been able to open my mouth.
A relative tells me that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another teacher in a different school asks our niece if we are coming to the school play. They’re not welcome here, said the molder of young minds.
Another relative tells me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war because the students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer.
A teacher in another nephew’s school is fired for wearing a T-shirt with a peace sign on it. And a friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent anti-war activist. Death threats have appeared on other prominent anti-war activists’ doorsteps for their views.
Relatives of ours have received threatening e-mails and phone calls. And my 13-year-old boy, who has done nothing to anybody, has recently been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes — or, rather scratches his column — with his fingernails in dirt.
Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers, and by their fair and balanced electronic media cousins, 19th Century Fox. (Laughter.) Apologies to Gore Vidal. (Applause.)
Two weeks ago, the United Way canceled Susan’s appearance at a conference on women’s leadership. And both of us last week were told that both we and the First Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. “They promote our concert appearances,” he said. “They own most of the stations that play our music. I can’t come out against this war.”
And here in Washington, Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the room and uncalled on after asking Ari Fleischer whether our showing prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.
A chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications.
Every day, the air waves are filled with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent. And the public, like so many relatives and friends that I saw this weekend, sit in mute opposition and fear.

I didn’t like the idea of the suppression of free speech then and I don’t like it anymore now, even though despite my reservations regarding the Iraq War, by November 2004, I’d determined that Bush was the better option and cast my first vote for a Republican president. Which is what I mean when I say I’m an old-school liberal. I did — and do — embrace the tenets of classical liberalism, which has now oddly become the core of many conservative stances — certainly of those that lean libertarian.

It is fascinating to realize how far we’ve come (or gone) over the past 20 years and how the rise of Donald Trump and then the response to COVID played such pivotal roles in the…well…pivot of attitudes regarding the critical nature of free speech — most notably from the press itself. No longer is the Fourth Estate focused on “speak(ing) truth to power” (to the extent it ever truly was). Rather, the legacy media has cozied up to the Establishment and seemingly justified jettisoning rational discourse and preserving critical freedoms in the name of getting rid of the awful Orange Man and under the guise of “public safety.”

Part of this undoubtedly is generational, and part of it is the effect of leading “very online” lives these days. Whatever the various causes, one bright spot of late has been the refusal of some on the ideological left to embrace the 180 on fundamental freedoms just because the loudest voices on their “team” have done so with abandon. Ever since the Twitter Files started rolling out, it’s been gratifying to see independent journalists raising their voices and calling out the “Censorship Industrial Complex” for what it is.

(Re)-enter Tim Robbins.

Recently, independent journalists @mtaibbi @shellenberger @bariweiss have been exposing a massive censorship operation by the US government to control content on social media and eliminate any dissenting voices. Have you read their reporting? Or are you listening to the… https://t.co/n1f3TAY9E2
— Tim Robbins (@TimRobbins1) April 24, 2023

Citing Michael Shellenberger’s recent tweet thread regarding government censorship worldwide, on Monday, Robbins tweeted:

Recently, independent journalists @mtaibbi@shellenberger@bariweisshave been exposing a massive censorship operation by the US government to control content on social media and eliminate any dissenting voices. Have you read their reporting? Or are you listening to the embarrassed, compromised hacks from the media that are covering their tracks? Could be the most important story related to our personal freedoms in the US and it’s being buried. Mainstream media have not only ignored the story but now attack the journalists, effectively serving as a thuggish censorship arm of the government. Meanwhile @StaceyPlaskett@RepJeffries@RepJerryNadlerthreaten journalist Matt Taibbi with jail time. What an embarrassing, shameful time for the Democrats and the ‘free’ press. You are losing any shred of credibility you had, you fucking fools. Oh, and by the way #FreeAssange

Obviously, there are differing views regarding Assange but at minimum, people should be free to express and debate those views. Robbins is right on the mark with the remainder of his tweet — and consistent with the valid points he raised 20 years ago. The difference is who’s in power — and who’s snuggling up with it.

Robbins included a couple of follow-up memes to further illustrate his point.

— Tim Robbins (@TimRobbins1) April 24, 2023

I doubt Tim Robbins and I agree on all that much politically. But I’m confident I could sit across the table from the man and have a reasonable, possibly enlightening, conversation. And even if I came away from it more convinced than ever that he was wrong on whatever we discussed, I’d never call to silence him. It’s at least nominally refreshing to see him express a similar sentiment.

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