Although I have now been retired from journalism for 18 months, I haven’t lost touch completely. Happily, some of my former contacts continue to reach out. Yesterday I received this alarming memo in the mail in a plain white envelope. While I have not been able to get a second source to confirm its authenticity, one source swears that it’s genuine. Its contents are disturbing, to say the least.
Here’s the memo in its entirety
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
“Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur”
Memo Re Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Diane Ravitch
To Anthony B. Susan, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Community Understanding (AAAGCU)
From James B Kelly II, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Fundamental Understanding and Communication (ADAAGFUC)
As per your directive, I met privately with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a meeting held at her request. Her stated goal was to find ways to muffle, counteract and otherwise minimize what she referred to as “the constant drumbeat of negativity” about her agenda to improve educational opportunities for all children. The meeting lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes.
The Secretary is particularly upset with Diane Ravitch, the historian turned activist blogger who apparently has an audience of 30,000,000. The Secretary insisted on exploring several strategies for curtailing Ravitch, which I will summarize below.
- Could Ravitch be turned? As is well known, she was for many years a traditional Republican but is now a very left-leaning Democrat. She once was straight but is now gay. She used to hate dogs but now is reputed to be an extreme dog lover who has invested thousands of dollars in psychiatric counseling for her dog. Given that “pillar to post” pattern, the Secretary wondered aloud what it would take to bring Ravitch back into the Republican camp. She implied that money might do the trick because, she said, in her experience “everyone has a price.” However, subsequent research reveals that Ravitch often donates her speaking fees, suggesting that she does not need money and therefore might not be able to be bought.
- I suggested a media campaign to paint Ravitch as a wacko who shouldn’t be listened to, based on her taking her dog for intensive counseling. I mean, who does that? Bad idea, I learned, because apparently the Secretary’s four cats and two parakeets have been in psychiatric counseling for years. Who knew!
- The Secretary suggested invoking the Alien and Sedition Acts against Ravitch. She feels strongly that the Sedition Act of 1798, which criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government, applies to Ravitch. The Secretary expressed pride in her knowledge of history, pointing out that the Sedition Act resulted in the prosecution and conviction of many Jeffersonian newspaper owners who disagreed with the government. She expressed the view that Attorney General Sessions ought to invoke the Sedition Act against Ravitch, and perhaps other leftist bloggers as well. It fell to me to tell her that the Sedition Act was allowed to expire in 1800 and has not been law of the land for 117 years. At that point, she muttered something (which I probably wasn’t supposed to hear) about “going back to the good old days,”
- I will say this, the Secretary doesn’t give up easily. She brought up another old law, The Alien Enemies Act of 1798, which was designed to protect our young country from alien enemies in a time of severe danger. That particular act was never repealed and was codified into US law at the outset of the first World War. It was used to lock up German-Americans during both World Wars and to justify incarcerating Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Why not use that to shut down Ravitch, the Secretary demanded? Unfortunately for the Secretary, Ravitch is an American citizen, born in Texas in 1938. Her parents, or perhaps it was her grandparents, were immigrants, but Ravitch herself cannot be touched under the Alien Enemies Act or its successors.
- What about her audience, the Secretary asked? Surely some of them are aliens and, now that the Trump Administration has relaxed the rules about internet privacy, can’t the Justice Department monitor her readers and threaten them about possible dire consequences? That’s uncharted territory that might raise First Amendment issues, I told the Secretary. However, I was left with the distinct impression that she hopes to discuss this with POTUS or Steve Bannon at some point in the near future.
- At that point Secretary DeVos changed gears, asking if Ravitch’s platform for distributing her material could be shut down. I said that the First Amendment protected Ravitch. The Secretary muttered something (and this I am rock-solid certain I was not supposed to hear) about contacting her brother. Erik Prince is a former Navy Seal and the founder of Blackwater, is a notorious black-ops guy.
While I don’t think this meeting’s outcomes warrant the attention of the AG at this point, I strongly suggest that we step up our monitoring of Secretary DeVos and Diane Ravitch, but particularly of the former.
April 1, 2017