(AP/Nati Harnik)

Ben Carson's authoritarian streak: The Tea Party favorite's frightening disregard for the Constitution

The Iowa GOP frontrunner backs federal investigations of college professors who teach "propaganda"

Simon Maloy
October 26, 2015 9:25PM (UTC)

Ben Carson is worried that the United States is on the path to fascism. The distressingly popular Republican presidential candidate has made a habit of invoking the Nazis to warn that liberals and Democrats could be nudging the country towards the same fate as Weimar Germany.

Gun control? That’s the first step towards the next Holocaust. Political correctness? Well, that’s what put Hitler in power. It’s a fantastically ignorant and morally reprehensible misappropriation of history that Carson employs to make a point about the importance of personal expression and freedom of speech. “If people don’t speak up for what they believe, then other people will change things without them having a voice,” Carson said a few weeks ago. “I am saying in a situation where people do not express themselves, bad things can happen.”


But Carson, for all his warnings about the state shutting down free thought and expression, seems to have a pretty well developed authoritarian streak. Speaking to Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, Carson laid out his plan to combat “indoctrination” within higher education: he’s going to have students report instances of “propaganda” to the Department of Education, which will then “investigate” the offending professor.

Carson’s insistence that he’s “thought about this” notwithstanding, he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about. This is obviously illegal and a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. But Carson thinks he can get around a professor’s constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech because the students are the ones reporting the “propaganda.” That doesn’t change the fact that he’s proposing a series of government investigations to determine if college professors are saying things that run afoul of what the Ben Carson administration would consider acceptable speech. Carson either doesn’t understand how the Constitution works, doesn’t understand how his own plan works, or both.


A quick trip over to the "Education" section of Carson's campaign website reveals yet another layer of incoherence. "In recent years, there has been a troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly trying to dictate how children are educated in our primary and secondary schools," it reads. So government intrusion in primary and secondary schooling is "troubling," but heavy-handed government restrictions on how people are taught in universities are necessary and justified.

More broadly speaking, the policy Carson has proposed here – students denouncing their own professors to government authorities as a way of fighting “propaganda” in educational institutions – would find a happy reception in really any totalitarian regime you can think of. With one breath, Carson worries about what will happen when people are afraid to express themselves. With the next, he proposes government monitoring of intellectuals to control what they say.

And what if an offending professor happens to be a Muslim? Carson has already made clear that he has a blanket mistrust of Muslims and would be suspicious of those who seek to be in positions of influence and authority, so how would they fare under this surveillance-state proposition of his? And what happens when the Supreme Court rules that this absurd scheme is, in fact, illegal? Well, according to Ben Carson, the president can just ignore the court.


And, of course, it has to be pointed out that this toxic swill of dangerous, half-considered ideas is proving extraordinarily popular among Republican primary voters, who have lifted Carson to frontrunner status in Iowa. His obviously unconstitutional policy ideas don’t seem to bother the Tea Party types who preach unswerving fealty to the founding document. And they don’t seem too put out by the fact that Carson’s campaign isn’t so much a “campaign” as it is a lucrative Ponzi scheme. He hates Obama and will stick it to the snooty professors and refuses to be “PC,” and that’s enough for them.

The irony for conservatives is that Carson is a real-life representation of the caricature they superimposed on Barack Obama: the unknown political entity whose compelling personal story masks ideological extremism. The right spent much of the last eight years attempting to “vet” Obama and expose the true radical that was hiding beneath his moderate exterior, only to embrace and promote a political outsider with strong personal appeal who ended up being a genuine extremist.


Watch four of the scariest things Ben Carson has said on the campaign trail:

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Simon Maloy

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