Meet the Censored: C.J. Hopkins, Critic of the "New Normal"
Internet platforms have had a sense of humor failure about the Germany-based playwright, author, and satirist, one of many zapped for criticism of pandemic policies
|Matt Taibbi||May 13||331||681|
The arrival of Covid-19 has crashed America on a paradox that reads like the plot of a bad Star Trek episode. Half the country mistakes science for a set of inflexible decrees and demands it be worshipped as a religion. The other half believes the first group is always lying and defies even its sensible dictates, in its own theology of liberation. Science, a deliberative process, is collateral damage to the battle.
C.J. Hopkins is an American playwright, novelist, and columnist living in Berlin. His writing first came to my attention shortly after the election of Donald Trump, when he was one of the first American writers anywhere to peg Russiagate and the campaign against “fake news” as a targeting mechanism, for identifying dissident groups who now needed to be monitored and perhaps censored. He wrote this in late 2016:
Who’s behind this “fake news” menace? Well, Putin, naturally, but not just Putin. It appears to be the work of a vast conspiracy of virulent anti-establishment types, ultra-alt-rightists, ultra-leftists, libertarian retirees, armchair socialists, Sandernistas, Corbynistas, ontological terrorists, fascism normalizers, poorly educated anti-Globalism freaks, and just garden variety Clinton-haters.
Not long into the Trump presidency, when there began to be questions about factual errors popping up in sensational exposés about the Orange One, Hopkins wrote:
Absurd as it obviously is, millions of Americans are now rushing to defend the most fearsome propaganda machine in the history of fearsome propaganda machines from one inarticulate, populist boogeyman who can’t maintain his train of thought for more than fifteen or twenty seconds.
Hopkins was no Trump fan, but his writings from the Trump era became an often hilarious review of the catastrophizing that was the mandatory posture of op-ed pages during those years. He skewered hand-wringing pundits who beginning in late 2016 predicted the end of civilization in total seriousness, from the Guardian announcing the beginning of an “Age of Darkness” and the end of “civilized order,” to Paul Krugman’s prediction “a global recession with no end in sight,” to Jonathan Chait, “after heroically vowing not to flee the country with his terrified family,” guaranteeing Trump would “shake the republic to its foundations.”
His take on the pandemic began in a similar vein. Once again, he took aim at overwrought official rhetoric, interpreting a lot of the coronavirus response as an opportunistic, authoritarian power grab by the global neoliberal project. He was critical of Germany’s creepily-named Infection Protection Act, a law that took power from the country’s 16 states and allowed for the open-ended imposition of any measure the federal authorities deemed necessary, including lockdowns and overnight curfews. He blanched as the government’s response to protests against all of this grew increasingly ham-fisted:
Most of all, Hopkins has been critical of the emotional tenor of propaganda around Covid-19, which treats the crisis not as a logistical problem to be solved but as a signal that people should fundamentally alter their expectations for life, lowering demands for political freedoms, making the terror of death a constant public relations fixation, and embracing a “new normal” of heightened surveillance and security rituals. “Society has been transformed into… an enormous hospital from which there is no escape,” he wrote, adding:
You’ve seen the photos of the happy New Normals dining out at restaurants, relaxing at the beach, jogging, attending school, and so on, going about their ‘normal’ lives with their medical-looking masks and prophylactic face shields. What you’re looking at is the pathologization of society, the pathologization of everyday life, the physical (social) manifestation of a morbid obsession with disease and death.
Not long ago, Hopkins shared on Facebook a picture of a tower in Dusseldorf on which was written the message, “Vaccination = Freedom.” He compared it to the infamous Auschwitz message Arbeit macht frei, i.e. “Work shall set you free.” Facebook said it violated community standards against “dangerous individuals,” and removed it to prevent “offline harm.” He soon found that friends and acquaintances were prevented from sharing this and other posts of his. A website where he publishes also appeared to be permanently slapped with warning labels, one fairly well-known — he tells the story below.
The political manias that have grown up around coronavirus want to sort people into groups that “believe” science and don’t, but the problem there is that much of the propaganda around coronavirus has intentionally blurred distinctions between scientific and political authority. A trend both in reporting and censorship involves describing any political opposition to pandemic policy as scientific denialism. People opposed to vaccine passports become “anti-vaxxers,” opponents of curfews or lockdowns become virus “deniers,” and so on. (Sometimes they are both things. But not always).
I’d be the last person to ever suggest an unvaccinated person go without a mask — I wore one everywhere since this thing started — but the symbolism of, say, a vaccinated Joe Biden still wearing a mask outdoors in defiance of CDC guidelines, or Kamala Harris releasing pictures of herself wearing a mask for a Zoom call, is increasingly obvious. For a politician, the mask is a symbol of the authority he or she has borrowed from science, and removing one is a symbol that the fear justifying emergency power has subsided. It’s hardly surprising to see a reluctance to take masks off, even when scientists say it’s fine to do so.
The German domestic intelligence service recently announced that it’s put “coronavirus deniers” under surveillance, because, as the New York Times explains, “they posed a risk of undermining the state.” Whether or not that will include someone like Hopkins is anyone’s guess, but it’s become clear in recent months and weeks that the standard for deleting or blocking coronavirus-related content is widening dramatically, to include everything from tasteless jokes to sarcastic complaints about health officials to the dreaded Questions About Wuhan.
A previous subject of this column, U.S. Right to Know, may have been dinged by Google for publishing public records about U.S.-funded collaboration with the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology. Over the last year, scores of websites and Facebook accounts were either shut down or suspended for various speculations about the Wuhan Institute, but now that former CDC director Robert Redfield told Sanjay Gupta on CNN, “I'm of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory. Escaped,” once-prohibited views have had to be re-mainstreamed. This underscored what should have been an obvious problem with shutting down discussions at the outset of complex news events.
I talked about these and other questions with Hopkins, who on the page is fulminating, sarcastic, hyperbolic, funny, and opinionated. I don’t agree with him about some things — I’m not particularly not a capitalist, for instance — but I never thought agreement was a prerequisite for enjoying a writer, and Hopkins is a fun one. He is the kind of person who is frankly too blunt and too interesting to be employed at an American newspaper, which is great for his readers, but probably less of a gas for him, since his type tends to be the first sent off the plank in any censorship regime.
Incidentally, I’d be interested to hear any stories from any readers about having Covid-19 related content removed or deleted. Here is the account from Hopkins:
TK: What stories have you been prevented from sharing on the Internet?
Hopkins: Perhaps the most dramatic example was the censorship of a Facebook post featuring a photo of a “New Normal” art exhibit in Germany where the artist projected “Vaccination = Freedom” on one of those gigantic TV towers that we have here. Of course, that evoked the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign over the gates of Auschwitz, which I noted in my post (i.e., “Not quite 'Arbeit Macht Frei,' but close enough”). Facebook prevented people from sharing the post, and, when they inquired about why, sent them this warning: “Your post goes against our Community Standards on dangerous individuals and organizations ... we don't allow symbols or support of dangerous individuals or organizations on Facebook. We define dangerous as things like terrorist activity, organized hate or violence, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, criminal or harmful activity.” Many people who tried to share the post had their accounts suspended or restricted. I covered this in detail in one of my Consent Factory columns, The New Normal “Reality” Police.
More recently, YouTube censored an interview (“Corona Kult”) I did with Gunnar Kaiser, an author and well-known YouTuber here in Germany, on the grounds that it “contains medical misinformation.” The interview contains no medical information at all. It’s just me and another author discussing our views of the Covid-19 restrictions, “New Normal” ideology, global capitalism, totalitarianism, my novel, and so on.
Those are the most notable examples, but I routinely hear from people on Facebook that they have been prevented from sharing my Consent Factory columns. I haven't been censored by Twitter that I know of, but they have pretty much “unpersoned” OffGuardian, which has been actively and critically reporting on the Covid-19 story since the beginning, and which reposts most of my columns. When you click on any OffGuardian story on Twitter, you get a warning stating “this link may be unsafe.” Of course, there's nothing unsafe about OffGuardian. The warning is simply a means of trying to scare people away from their website and content.
The censorship is clearly targeted at any content deviating from the official Covid-19/New Normal narrative. It has reached hysterical levels on Facebook, where any posts including the words “vaccine,” “Covid,” etc., are instantly festooned with an advisory warning about how “vaccines are tested for safety and effectiveness” or whatever.
TK: The tech platforms will tell me you're spreading anti-vaxxer propaganda. What would be your response to that?
Hopkins: They're half right. Almost everything I put out on social media is technically “propaganda,” i.e, “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or damage an opposing cause” (i.e., one of the Merriam-Webster definitions of the word). That said, most people think of propaganda as misleading, and I'm not trying to mislead anyone. I am trying to urge people to question the official propaganda that the corporate media and other “authoritative sources” inundate us with on a daily basis, much of which is, in fact, misleading.
As for the “anti-vaxxer” part, (a) I have no problem with vaccines that have been thoroughly tested and approved for public use, and which people aren't being coerced into taking by the introduction of a medical segregation system, and (b) these derogatory labels, “anti-vaxxer,” “conspiracy theorist,” and “Covid denier” are meaningless. They're purely tactical terms, like the term “extremist.” Their only purpose is to demonize anyone who questions or challenges the official “New Normal” narrative.
Incidentally, “Covid denier,” the official demonization label in Germany, has a particularly horrible ring to it here, which is no accident. The government and media have intentionally equated anyone who questions or challenges the official “New Normal” narrative with anti-Semites and neo-Nazis for over a year. It’s the most effective and frightening demonization campaign I have ever witnessed, and I've witnessed a few.
TK: Is Facebook's content moderation policy in Germany different from its U.S. policy? Is there a cultural difference in how Germans view content moderation, since they already had hate speech laws?
Hopkins: I’m sure German Facebook’s policy is different, but this censorship isn’t limited to Germany. It’s worldwide. As for the cultural difference, yes, there is one, but it's mainly focused on anti-Semitism, and anything to do with the Nazis, which is why the official campaign to demonize those of us challenging or protesting against the “New Normal” as “anti-Semites” has been so effective here. Being accused of anti-Semitism is every prominent German's worst nightmare.
TK: You were one of the first people to express skepticism about Russiagate. Do you see a connection between that story and this one?
Hopkins: Absolutely, same operation, different narrative. OK, I'll try to boil all this down as much as I can, so bear with me. We have to go back to 2016 ...
So, there global capitalism was, happily destabilizing, restructuring, privatizing, and debt-enslaving the entire planet, and cleaning up little pockets of resistance to global capitalist ideology, as it had been doing since the fall of the USSR, which is when global capitalism became the first unopposed globally-hegemonic ideological system in history. The War on Terror was still the primary official narrative. Then Brexit, Trump, and the whole populist backlash against globalization and wokeness that erupted in 2016. So global capitalism (or “GloboCap,” as I’ve taken to calling it) needed to adjust the official narrative to delegitimize Trump, who was (a) an unauthorized president and (b) a symbol of that populist backlash, basically, a big “fuck you” to the global capitalist establishment from the American people.
OK, GloboCap spends the next four years demonizing Trump as both a Russian intelligence asset and literally the Resurrection of Adolf Hitler, and everyone who voted for him (or who refused to vote for Clinton) as “fascists,” or “white-supremacist extremists,” or just “racists.” Russiagate fell apart in the Spring of 2019, but by that time GloboCap had already shifted to Hitlergate, and was whipping up mass hysteria over “literal fascism” and the coming frontal “attack on democracy” (and presumably the US military) that was going to be carried out by Trump's underground militia of Alex-Jones-watching “white supremacists,” or whatever.
But Russiagate/Hitlergate was never about Trump, who was never a threat to GloboCap, and was always just a narcissistic ass clown. It was about reminding us who’s running things, and what happens if we start rebelling against the hegemony of global capitalism and electing unauthorized ass-clown presidents instead of the corporate puppets GloboCap has carefully vetted and presented to us to obediently vote for. What happens is, they make an example of the ass-clown president and demonize everyone who voted for him as “traitors” and “racists.” The narrative culminated in 2020 with the BLM protests/riots, the “Storming of the Capitol,” etc. Russian Hitler was vanquished. “Democracy” triumphed. So now it was time to “restore normality” ... or, rather, “New Normality.”
Essentially, what the last 4-5 years have been about is crushing resistance to GloboCap’s hegemony and ideology throughout the West, as it crushed resistance to its hegemony and ideology in the Middle East during the War on Terror. What better way to crush a populist rebellion and remind us who is really in charge than to foment mass hysteria over a clearly non-apocalyptic virus, impose a bunch of unnecessary, totalitarian “emergency measures,” cancel our constitutional rights, censor and/or demonize dissent, and otherwise transform societies into pathologized-totalitarian police states?
The extreme totalitarian phase won’t last (we're already shifting into Phase 2), but the “New Normal” is here to stay, or that’s the plan anyway. Which is not a surprise, or it shouldn’t be. GloboCap announced the transition to the “New Normal” very clearly, right at the outset, in March/April 2020, when they were still showing us fake photos of Chinese people dropping dead in the street, projecting a horrific 3.4% death rate (i.e., hundreds of millions of deaths), and otherwise carrying out the initial “Shock and Awe” phase.
OK, before somebody calls me a “conspiracy theorist,” GloboCap is not a bunch of guys in a room conspiring to do all this. Global capitalism is a system. Systems function according to their own structures and logic. What I'm talking about is not individual people conspiring (although individual people certainly do, and that is part of it). I'm talking about the logical evolution of a global-hegemonic ideological system, i.e., a system without external enemies, which has nothing left to do but consolidate power and eliminate internal resistance. If you understand the last 5-6 years (actually the last 30 years) that way, as I do, this shift to a less democratic, more ideologically monolithic, more totalitarian social structure (i.e., the “New Normal”) is not at all surprising. On the contrary, it is the next logical step.
The corrupt state of the corporate media that you and Glenn Greenwald have been writing about recently is also a part of this shift toward an ideologically monolithic global-capitalist societal structure, but I think I've rattled on here long enough, so let's leave that for another time.
TK: Have you lost friends in the theater world because of this issue?
Hopkins: Yes, friends and colleagues. Questioning the official Covid narrative, or any aspect of the “New Normal,” is pretty much the third rail in the arts and entertainment business. You interviewed Mark Crispin Miller about what he's has been going through defending himself from the “New Normal” fanatics at NYU. That kind of thing happens less formally in the arts. As Woody Allen famously put it, “it's not dog-eat-dog ... it’s more a dog-doesn’t-return-other-dog’s-phone-calls” type of business.
TK: Have you self-censored because of all this, and if so, in what way?
Hopkins: Does it sound like it? No, I think experiencing the roll-out of the “New Normal” for over a year, compiling stories of police goon squads raiding families in their homes because their neighbors reported them for “having friends over to dinner,” arresting old ladies for “strolling in the park without permission,” witnessing the media demonize Holocaust survivors as “anti-Semites” for protesting the Covid restrictions, reading ex-colleagues demanding that the government set up internment camps for those who refuse to be “vaccinated,” and all the rest of it, has only made me more outspoken, and, unfortunately, less funny.