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Interview: Rep. Jody Hice on “Defund the Police” and Big Tech Censorship


“But there is no question that we’ve got some major issues, and free speech is so dependent these days on these big tech companies, so they have to be very careful that free speech is protected. And, of course, there’s a pattern now that shows otherwise…”

On July 21st, Merion West editor Erich Prince was joined by Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican who represents Georgia’s 10th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Rep. Hice has also joined Merion West for previous discussions in 2018 and 2019.) In this conversation, Mr. Prince and Rep. Hice discuss recent unrest in the country, including the “Defund the Police” movement, which has gained particular inroads recently in cities such as New York and Minneapolis. Rep. Hice then also weighs in on recent concerns about free speech, including allegations that various technology companies have an anti-conservative bias.

Good morning, Congressman. Nice to talk to you again and thanks so much for your time. I want to start off by quickly saying that I understand the President was in Atlanta last week—and that you had the chance to fly with him on Air Force One. How was that experience?

Great experience—it’s always wonderful to be with the president, but to be on Air Force One is just icing on the cake to be with him in that environment—just an amazing experience all the way around.

I saw a video you posted on Twitter showing your constituents the conference room [on board], and you shared with them a message about getting involved in politics.

Yeah, you know we are a country of “We the People”; our voice matters. I feel like I’m an example of that myself; [I] never dreamed I’d be in a place like this. And I just want to encourage other people that their voices matter; their votes matter; and to step up to the plate in whatever capacity they can and to be involved. I thought the place, the conference room on Air Force One, was appropriate for getting that message out on.

Jumping ahead, I read your June op-ed in The Daily Caller “End Racism—Not the Police,” as well as your recent letters co-signed with a few other colleagues to the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Obviously, this anti-police moment is gaining a lot of traction. What do you think is the best way to turn the tide against this from your perspective? 

I think, in fact, Americans in general—in every poll—they’re opposed to defunding the police or eradicating police departments. People understand that it’s impossible to have law and order if you don’t have law enforcement in the mix. And this attempt to remove all law enforcement in their capacity to maintain law and order is only going to create further chaos and more crime. And, of course, that’s what we’re seeing in all of those three cities that you mentioned: Crime is up; violent crime is up. It’s ludicrous to think that we can maintain a civil society without police departments and law enforcement.

And closer to home for you—obviously, Atlanta’s not your district—but that was an area that was hit pretty hard by things. And there were reports about morale suffering within law enforcement, such as reports of walkouts by police in Atlanta’s Zone 6 in particular. What are you hearing around the state of Georgia—whether in your district or around the state—from law enforcement?

As you mention, Atlanta is not in my district, but I have spoken to many law enforcement individuals in the 10th district of Georgia, and it’s a difficult time. We are not seeing the same type of protests as have happened in Atlanta and some other major cities. What protests there have been in our district have been peaceful and that type of thing, but the overarching question that you bring up is: How is the “Defund the Police” movement impacting these various departments, sheriff departments, police departments?

And it is impacting them. They are having great difficulty in hiring people, even receiving applications from individuals who are interested in law enforcement. And that’s been an area in the past that people have been proud to be in law enforcement, to be public servants in that capacity, but now it’s a different scenario. And even in rural parts of our nation, that is having an impact.

On the flip side, one does see some of this effort to show extra support for police. I saw a weekend or two ago in Queens [New York] that there was a very sizable pro-police march, so perhaps some of the people on the other side [of this debate] are also trying to make their voices heard.  

Yes, and I think you’re going to see more of that because, again, the vast majority of Americans understand that the vast majority of police officers are great people, and they’re public servants. Are there bad actors? Of course, there are, and those are the individuals we need to go after. That’s where the problems that exist need to be dealt with and eradicated. But to punish entire departments is doing nothing other than punishing entire communities and cities. It’s just the wrong way to go about it, and I think the majority of Americans are keenly aware of that, and they will be supporting the police departments.

So, yesterday when I was getting together this interview discussion, I was planning to ask you about free speech in a number of places, and one of the places was “big tech.” Then I saw your letter that you tweeted this morning about free speech, Twitter, big tech, and potential censorship. I know the Tom Cotton Twitter controversy a couple of weeks ago received a lot of attention. So, in the aftermath of recent events and free speech being arguably very much in the crosshairs, what is your thinking about the path forward as far as big tech?  

Actually, there is going to be a hearing in judiciary with the “big four” big tech companies next week, so we will have a better feel next week as to where this whole thing is going to go. But there is no question that we’ve got some major issues, and free speech is so dependent these days on these big tech companies, so they have to be very careful that free speech is protected. And, of course, there’s a pattern now that shows otherwise, and we want to stop that before it becomes a serious infringement upon people’s right to speak.

And I know a lot of people were concerned in particular with this perception that Twitter was employing its new fact-check feature disproportionately against conservatives, for example.

Yes, there’s multiple examples of that, and, of course, there have been hearings trying to deal with those issues in the past during which [these companies] have assured us that their algorithms do not show bias towards conservative groups—but it’s not just about algorithms. It’s about the individuals who are working there, meaning those employees who do, in fact, carry biases, and they are able to override the algorithms. So, it’s a little disingenuous for these companies to say that “our algorithms do not show any bias” because that’s not the only problem that’s involved in this. And I think that issue has now come to light, and now we’ll have to approach it from not only the systems themselves but also the people who are working those systems.

Lastly, college campuses have been a major discussion point when it comes to free speech. What are you seeing in Georgia [on this front]? Are you thinking about if this becomes an issue at various Georgia universities how to ensure free speech is taken care of there?

Right now, the big issue is if we’re even going to have college campuses and people meeting on those campuses, obviously. But, in the past, there have definitely been some issues in Georgia and across the country. And we are going to continue to keep a close pulse on that everywhere in this country, including college campuses. They should be the place where people have the right to express their ideas in the public square without fear of intimidation, or harassment, or punishment.

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case on college campuses, and there have been multiple lawsuits, and most of those lawsuits come out favorably. And, yet, the problem continues, so we will continue fighting and keeping a pulse on it here from the federal level as best as we can. Many of us up here at least have that as a major, important issue, and we will continue protecting the free rights of these students.

I appreciate your time, Congressman. Always nice to touch base—thank you.

Always nice to talk with you. Thank you, Erich.

Erich J. Prince is the editor-in-chief at Merion West. With a background in journalism and media criticism, he has contributed to newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The News & Observer, as well as online outlets including Quillette and The Hill. Erich has also spoken at conferences and events on issues related to gangs, crime, and policing. He studied political science at Yale University.

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