Besides being targeted by a right-wing disinformation campaign, the official who would have headed up a federal initiative fighting that sort of rhetoric said she received daily death threats.
“Over the last three weeks, I maybe had one or two days I didn’t report a violent threat,” Nina Jankowicz told MSNBC on May 18 2022.
“Something like, ‘We’re coming for you and your family,’ ‘You and your family should be sent to Russia to be killed,’ encouraging me to commit suicide; all of those [messages] have been forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security’s security services. That’s not something that is American. That is not how we should be acting when we have disagreements about policy in this country.”
Jankowicz made the remark a day after the Washington Post reported that DHS had “paused” on establishing what was to be called a Disinformation Governance Board. The agency also told the newspaper that Jankowicz, a qualified counterdisinformation specialist who has written two books on fighting disinformation, had received personal threats.
Jankowicz announced her involvement on the planned DHS board in late April 2022 on Twitter:
Subsequently, as the Washington Post reported:
Just hours after Jankowicz tweeted about her new job, far-right influencer Jack Posobiec posted tweets accusing the Biden administration of creating a “Ministry of Truth.” Posobiec’s 1.7 million followers quickly sprung into action. By the end of the day, there were at least 53,235 posts on Twitter mentioning “Disinformation Governance Board,” many referencing Jankowicz by name, according to a report by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts public-interest research. In the days following, that number skyrocketed.
Jankowicz rejected that Orwellian characterization, saying that the board’s purpose would have been to coordinate information between DHS’s agencies, naming the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as an example.
“Let’s say a foreign adversary like Iran or China, perhaps, would put out a narrative that says ‘Here’s how you get out of this city,’ or ‘Here’s where you can find disaster aid,'” she said.
“That could put people really into danger. Their lives into danger. That’s the sort of disinformation and misinformation that we were looking to support the department in addressing, to make sure that they had best practices and most importantly, to protect Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, and civil liberties while we were doing that.”
Regardless, right-wing political figures quickly seized on the “ministry” accusation online, including Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar (R), who boasted, “The Ministry of Truth is dead. Roe v Wade is next”:
As Associated Press reported, the announcement of the board also prompted a group of twenty right-wing attorneys general to threaten legal action against DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the board’s creation.
“Frankly it’s kind of ironic that the board itself was taken over by disinformation when it was meant to fight it,” Jankowicz said.
On May 10 2023, Jankowicz sued Fox News for defamation, saying that the network repeatedly attacked her over an eight-month period in 2021:
Hosts including Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity said her job was “to silence anyone who criticizes the Biden administration” and possibly even, as Mr. Carlson warned, “get men with guns to tell you to shut up.”
The suit was filed in Delaware less than a month after the channel settled a separate lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems in the same state for a reported $787.5 million. Fox still faces yet another defamation suit from another company, Smartmatic. Carlson was terminated from the channel on April 21 2023.
“Even after achieving their stated goal of driving me out of government and ending the board, they kept using me as a punching bag,” Jankowicz told the New York Times.
“It shouldn’t be something we just accept — that the most powerful cable network in the world can attack individuals willy-nilly and not face any consequences after they ruin their lives.”
Update May 11 2023, 10:58 a.m. PST: Updated to reflect Jankowicz’s lawsuit against the Fox “news” channel accusing it of defamation. — ag