Rep. Jim Banks, chair of the Republican Study Committee, shares with The Daily Signal how Twitter censored him for calling Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine, who now identifies as a woman, a man. The Indiana Republican breaks down why Twitter censored him and what conversations he has had with the social media giant since its censorship. He also explains why it is so important for Americans to pay attention to tech censorship—particularly of a sitting U.S. congressman—and what may be next. Listen to the podcast interview or read the lightly edited transcript.
Mary Margaret Olohan: My guest today is Congressman Jim Banks, a Republican who represents Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. Congressman Banks, thank you so much for joining me today.
Rep. Jim Banks: Great to be with you.
Olohan: Congressman Banks, I understand a tweet of yours got you into some hot water lately. Can you give us a little background on this? What tweet was it and how were you censored?
Banks: Well, I’ll read it to you. … I’ve got it in front of me. My tweet was simple. It said, “The title of first four-star officer gets taken by a man.” So, pretty simple, but context is everything, right? It was a quote tweet. I’ll read the quote tweet from the surgeon general, who tweeted, “It was an honor to Admiral [Rachel] Levine’s historic appointment as the first female four-star officer to serve in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the first openly transgender four-star officer to serve in any of the uniformed services.”
So, let me read my tweet again. My tweet was simply, “The title of first female four-star officer gets taken by a man.” That’s using the surgeon general’s language and Admiral Levine who when she was promoted to four-star admiral said, “I’m proud to be the first female four-star officer.”
My tweet, though, is a fact. It is a biological fact that Admiral Levine is a man who has taken the title of first female four-star officer away from young women and young girls all over this country who might one day hope to achieve an accomplishment being the first woman this or that.
I was surprised on Saturday morning, I opened my Twitter account and Twitter had notified me that my account had been locked and gave me a choice: Delete the tweet or lose access to your Twitter account. I’ll report to you today that we’re still in that sort of … state of affairs. We have ongoing conversations with Twitter about where we go from here, but my account is locked.
Banks: Because I tweeted a fact.
Olohan: So, let’s backtrack a little bit here, and this is the United States assistant health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, and for our listeners that don’t know, Rachel Levine is a biological man who identifies as a transgender woman, and Twitter censored you for calling a biological man a man?
Olohan: So, you haven’t deleted the tweet. What actions have you taken since this censorship? Have you reached out to Twitter? Have you been in contact with them?
Banks: A little bit. … The notification on Twitter is “Delete the tweet or lose access to your account.” I’m not the first one to go through this. I mean, I’ve heard from literally dozens of people … who have tweeted something similar or something remotely altogether different who have found themselves in this situation with Twitter.
But what’s remarkable about this, Mary Margaret, is that I had hundreds of people react to a story that you wrote that first broke the news about this story on Saturday, who tweeted in support of me, who tweeted exactly the same thing that I tweeted, or even took it a few steps further. They haven’t been banned from Twitter.
I mean, this is clearly a situation that is targeted at me because of my position as a United States congressman, because I am a conservative member of Congress, and because in this case, I tweeted a fact. But, let me read my second tweet. …
I tweeted a second tweet right after the tweet that was banned. I tweeted, “Calling someone that was born and lived as a man for 54 years the first female four-star officer is an insult to every little girl who dreams of breaking glass ceilings one day.”
Who am I talking about? I’m talking about my three daughters. I have … three daughters who are 12, 10, and 8. This is deeply offensive to me because of them, because I want them to grow up in this great country and have the opportunities to accomplish things that other people haven’t accomplished before.
Banks: In this case, a title is being taken away from them by someone who lived 54 years of their life as a man, who is a biological male, who is calling themselves the first female four-star public health officer.
Olohan: That was actually something I wanted to ask you about. I saw a ton of different people tweeting “Levine is a man,” tweeting different things to the effect of what you tweeted, calling out that Levine is a biological man, and you shouldn’t get in trouble for saying that. It seemed in a way they were inspired by you.
What do you think has been the general sentiment about you tweeting that Levine is a man and Twitter censorship of you?
Banks: Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I’ve heard from so many people who reached out in support, who tweeted [in] support. Many of my colleagues, even colleagues in leadership like [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, have been weighing in heavily on this subject and tweeting about it.
It’s perhaps emboldened others to take a stand and call this out for what it is, which is censorship of conservative voices on online platforms like Twitter for simply and merely stating fact. It’s nothing more than that. …
If you look at how across the board Twitter has censored me versus how they’ve treated others, it’s clear that the rules for Twitter sort of change in a way or are being applied in a way that is not consistent. That’s the conversation I want to have with Twitter when I hopefully get on the phone with them … is why am I being treated differently than others have?
But this really leads into the broader conversations. What do we do about it? What do we do about Big Tech censorship? What do we do about Big Tech tyranny? About the way that Big Tech is trying to change our daily lives?
I mean, they want to influence how we live our lives, what we buy, how we vote, what we say, and how we speak out … Big Tech is trying to influence all of it. I’m chairman of the Republican Study Committee, which is the largest caucus on Capitol Hill. We’re the largest conservative caucus—158 Republicans out of 212 in the House. We are having this conversation every single day. When we get the majority back after the midterm election next year, what do we do to reign [in] Big Tech tyranny?
We have a wide array of policy solutions to weigh in on that, but this situation that I’m dealing with hits very close to home, and it’s educating a lot of my colleagues who have never experienced this before about what we’re up against because if they can censor me, they can censor any member of Congress.
Banks: Newt Gingrich, when I spoke to him this week said something … that I thought was really profound. He said, “On Big Tech platforms like Twitter, a member of Congress should be able to speak out and say something, anything that they can also say on the floor of the House of Representatives.”
… I thought that was extremely profound, and communicating with my constituents, and communicating with the American people, I could go down to … the floor of the House and give a speech and say what I … tweeted, and there wouldn’t be a repercussion for that because that’s what the venue of the House of Representatives is all about. It’s there for the public debate, the debate of the big issues of the day. I thought that’s what Twitter was for too.
Olohan: But apparently not. I would love to … break this down for people who are listening that maybe aren’t on Twitter that think, “Why are you making a big deal about a social media post getting censored? There’s bigger things going on.” This has serious repercussions, though. Can you explain for us: Why does it matter that you, a congressman, were censored on Twitter for talking about facts?
Banks: Well, first and foremost, Twitter, Facebook, other social media platforms, they have become the public square. OK. That’s where debate is occurring in America today, on these platforms online. That’s where we are. That’s where our culture is today. The reason that I’m prolific on Twitter, why I weigh in regularly on Twitter, is because that’s where the big debates of the day are happening. It’s the public square.
What we’re finding is that these Big Tech companies have monopolies. They’ve created and managed monopolies that keep competitive social media platforms out of the way … Parler is a good example. When Parler came about, a lot of conservatives moved there to speak out and used that as a platform because they were finding, even back then a couple of years ago, they were finding themselves censored in places like Twitter.
But what happened was it wasn’t just that Twitter was preventing Parler from competing with Twitter. It was that Amazon and the app stores, they wiped Parler out, so you can’t download Parler for a while on your devices because these Big Tech companies have wiped out any competitive social media venues.
So, we’re left with Twitter, we’re left with Facebook. There are some emerging new platforms like Gettr, and of course, I mentioned Parler. I’m really excited about the new Trump social media platform, Truth Social. That will be coming about soon. I imagine it will be very popular and successful.
That’s good, but Twitter remains the preeminent social media platform where a lot of our thought leaders, a lot of people in the media, lawmakers, a lot of others that Twitter remains a powerful place where the public debate is occurring.
Olohan: Right. That kind of brings me to my next question. We’ve seen a lot of censorship of conservatives, specifically conservatives on Twitter, over the past couple months, say, a year or so. I mean, we even saw the New York Post get censored by Twitter for sharing stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop. And then we found out later that these stories were verified and were true, but they were still treated as misinformation.
We’ve seen a lot of Democratic lawmakers suggesting to [President Joe] Biden that he should take a more aggressive approach to conservative media and conservative lawmakers in censoring them. Could you lay out for us what are the dangers of this type of censorship? What are the dangers of encouraging the president of the United States to censor a party that you don’t agree with?
Banks: Well, it’s quite incredible if you think about it. The Democrat Party has become the pro-censorship party. I think something like 76% of Democrats in America want President Biden and Democrat Party leaders to censor conservatives.
It’s really astounding if you think about it. It’s extremely un-American. In America we enjoy the freedom of speech. It’s one of the foundations of what makes this the greatest country in the history of the world. But if these Big Tech companies and their friends at the Democrat Party, who are the party in power today, accomplish their goals of censorship, they will wipe conservative voices off the map.
That is exactly the totalitarian ideology that we’re up against as we compete with [our] greatest adversary, which is China. It’s everything that we stand against that they use and employ in their culture and society that you’re seeing Democrats rally for in the United States of America. It’s extremely dangerous.
And it’s why policymakers, especially in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, we have to be the ones that are fighting for freedom of speech. Otherwise, conservatives are going to be wiped out of the equation.
As we go down that slippery slope … and wipe out voices who are, in my case, indisputably stating a fact and saying that I can’t tweet that, or the Hunter Biden laptop story, which very well could have influenced the outcome of an election—that was scrubbed off the internet—that we now know is completely and entirely true, the origins of COVID stories that were wiped off these social media platforms a year ago, even stories about vaccines and COVID 19 vaccines, so that’s not allowed in the public square on Big Tech platforms.
We’re heading down a dangerous path if the left and these Big Tech companies can accomplish what they want to accomplish.
We can’t allow that to happen. That’s why the Republican Study Committee, the group that I chair on Capitol Hill, we’re having this conversation about everything from repealing Section 230—by the way, a law that grants immunity to these Big Tech companies, that allows them to get away with things because they are publishers, because they’re maintaining a public square, even though now they’re not. …
A bigger debate is emerging, and that’s over antitrust laws to break up these Big Tech companies. For a lot of my more traditional conservative friends, that’s a harder discussion to get into when we talk about markets, but when these Big Tech companies can scrub their competitors, wipe them off the map by not allowing, by Amazon not allowing or Apple not allowing for certain apps to be downloaded on devices, then what we’re seeing is a lot of power contained in the hands of just a few people. That’s a dangerous place to be.
Olohan: Right after Biden was elected when there was a lot of controversy about former President Donald Trump’s supporters, I remember certain Democratic lawmakers suggesting that people who had worked in the Trump administration shouldn’t get jobs, people who still supported the former president shouldn’t be employed or should be treated badly.
I’m just curious if you can elaborate a little more on this slippery slope you were talking about. We seem to be in an era where you can get censored for saying seemingly obvious things. Does this kind of censorship stop with Twitter, or should we be worried that it will move off the internet and into your daily life?
Banks: Yeah. Remember, this is a competition [in] America today between the left, who in this case, and as so many other ways, supports the same authoritarianism or this path toward to totalitarianism in the same way that we’re fighting back against with China.
If they support that, then they’ll wipe out conservatives, conservative voices, intimidate us to a place where we can’t speak out and argue our point of view. That’s a very dangerous place to be. Republican conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill, we have to be the ones that stand against it, that fight for our constitutional rights, our freedom of speech, our freedom to peaceably assemble that these Democrats want to take away from us.
I never thought I would come to Washington as a new congressman just a few years ago and be involved in these kind [of] fights because if you’re them, you have to recognize that it works both ways. I don’t know why somebody on the left would be OK with that when the shoe could be on the other foot.
Banks: It seems like they would see it but they don’t. Perhaps it’s a political reality but we have to fight against it.
Olohan: Something we see a lot is Democrats or opponents of traditional concepts of gender and family, they’ll say in response to a tweet like yours that calling Levine a man is really cruel and unkind. How would you respond to people like that?
Banks: Well, to me, that’s obviously not true. My tweet, which Twitter flagged as a hateful tweet, it just points out that you can’t call yourself the first female something when you live 54 years of your life identifying as a man and you are a biological male. Don’t take that title away from young girls. There’s nothing hateful about that. I think many on the left understand that, but they’re afraid to say it. I mean, I don’t entirely get it, but we’re in a dangerous place when we can’t have reasonable debates.
I came to Washington hoping to be involved in many debates about the issues of the day. I thought that’s what you did when you went down to the well, and spoke behind a podium, and debated with your colleagues on the other side of the aisle about issues, any issue.
But now we’re being told that some debates you can’t have. To me, that’s extremely un-American, but the larger issue here is that some of these Big Tech oligarchs and companies … they’re able to take that right away from us. It’s just wrong and we have to do something about it.
Olohan: What’s next? You guys are talking to Twitter. … Do you think anything will come of that? What action do you plan to take after this step?
Banks: I don’t know. In the meantime, I have my personal Twitter account that I’m tweeting from. … I have far fewer followers than I do on my official account—@RepJimBanks is the account that was blocked. I’ll continue to tweet at my personal account, which is @Jim_Banks, and weigh in on issues that way.
Olohan: But you’re not going to take the tweet down?
Banks: For now I’m exploring … where we go from here. I mean, my bigger question is simply, why are some people treated differently than I am—some people who have tweeted exactly the same thing that I did, or even took it several steps further? I’d like for Twitter to explain to me before I take any action.
Olohan: Right. It seems either all or nothing, right? If they’re going to censor you, they should censor every single one, or maybe no censorship at all?
Banks: Well, to your point earlier, I mean, it embolden a number of other people to reach out and show support, or reach out to me and tweet the obvious, that what I tweeted was a fact. Twitter, they would have to censor or take down a lot of Twitter accounts, a lot of blue checkmarks, right? If they applied this rule consistently across the board, they would be taking a lot of active users off their platform. I don’t think they’re willing to do that for obvious reasons.
Olohan: That’s interesting in and of itself because there’s a lot of people out there saying the same thing as you are, which indicates that public sentiment on this issue, is that Rachel Levine, who is a biological man, is a man. So perhaps Twitter should be taking that into account when they’re deciding what’s hateful speech or not.
Banks: Again, you would think. I mean, I read the tweet a little bit ago, but it’s not … particularly profound or offensive: “The title of first female four-star officer gets taken by a man.” I think they know they have a hard time explaining why that would be censored or taken down, especially compared to thousands of other tweets that said something similar or tweets from the left that say hateful things toward people on the right.
Olohan: Congressman Banks, before we end, do you have any advice for people who would like to speak up and state facts about controversial issues nowadays that could get them in trouble? Do you have anything you would say to those people?
Banks: Well, don’t back down. I’m not going to back down. I mean, that’s my message to so many of my friends. I’m not going to back down. There’s so much at stake, and what’s at stake is the future of my three daughters and the type of culture in America that they’re going to grow up in.
I want them to know that their identity as young women growing up in this country matters, and that the opportunities they have ahead of them are enormous, significant, and I’m hopeful that they will accomplish great things. Those great things can’t be taken away from them by a biological man, whether they’re competing in girls sports against boys or they’re growing up and trying to achieve an accomplishment that a woman has never accomplished before.
I’m excited and hopeful about the things that they can accomplish and those opportunities should [not] be taken away from them by a man who is identifying as a woman.
Olohan: Right. Well, Congressman Banks, thank you so much for joining us today. This is a really interesting discussion and we look forward to talking with you more in the future.
Banks: Thank you. Have a good day.
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