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WASHINGTON — Utah Republican Congressman Burgess Owens signed on to legislation to immediately defund the Department of Homeland Security's Disinformation Governance Board, which he called a "political tool for so-called experts to referee free speech."
What's happening: Last week, Owens agreed to co-sponsor HR7648, "to prohibit the use of federal funds to establish a Disinformation Governance Board."
- "The Biden Administration's Disinformation Governance Board is a political tool for so-called experts to referee free speech," Owens said in a statement on Tuesday. "I'm proud to support this commonsense legislation to prevent Utahns' hard-earned taxpayer dollars from funding the obstruction of their First Amendment rights."
- HR7648 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., and has 69 co-sponsors — all Republicans. Owens is the only member of Utah's delegation to join the effort.
What is the Disinformation Governance Board?
According to PolitiFact, Homeland Security described the Disinformation Governance Board as a "working group," with the goal of identifying best practices for responding to disinformation that poses a threat to national security.
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of the group last month. Since then, "the Biden administration has come under fire ... because opponents argue its purpose is vague," writes NBC News.
- In response to criticism, the agency put out a news release earlier this month highlighting Russia, China and Iran as foreign states that regularly threaten the U.S. with disinformation. It also said that the working group is "deeply committed" to maintaining freedom of speech, civil rights and privacy for Americans, and clarified that it has no "operational authority or capability."
- Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert who has worked on Ukraine and Russia issues will run the board, according to CNN.
Why is the board so unpopular with Republicans?
Owens isn't the only person on the right to criticize the working group. The National Review likened the board to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell's "1984" and Elon Musk called it "messed up."
- Some have questioned Jankowicz's role as executive director of the board, given that she has "in the past supported Democrats, praised efforts to crack down on coronavirus misinformation on social media and expressed skepticism about the provenance of Hunter Biden's laptop," The Washington Post writes.
- Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called Jankowicz a "leftist radical" in a tweet, saying Homeland Security "has decided to make policing Americans' speech its top priority," over policing the border.
- The Washington Post reported that Homeland Security "does have a history of tackling disinformation, including during the Trump administration," but reported that Mayorkas admitted the department "could have done a better job of communicating what (the board) is and what it isn't."