Feb 24, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Pro-Trump groups put a target on Big Tech

Illustration of a hand holding a spear where the tip is made from a cursor arrow.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new pro-Trump think tank is leading a right-wing charge against Big Tech, urging Republican leaders to legislate to rein in the major platforms.

What's happening: Republicans typically are skeptical of intervening in markets. But these groups are pressuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to drop that reluctance when it comes to Big Tech.

Driving the news: The Center for American Restoration, the new organization stood up by former Trump administration official Russ Vought, is leading a coalition of groups calling for a "proliferation of legislative activity" to reform Big Tech.

  • They argue that the corporate power amassed by tech companies is a greater threat to free speech and democratic ideals than government overreach.
  • The organizations signing on include Jim DeMint's Conservative Partnership Institute, Mike Davis' Internet Accountability Project, and L. Brent Bozell III's Media Research Center.

The big picture: The fight between the pro-Trump and traditional free-market factions of the GOP over the right approach to Big Tech is yet another way the Republican policy agenda is splintering.

What they're saying: "Conservatives have long been skeptical of government intervention in the free market, and such skepticism remains critical in the fights to come for our movement," the Center for American Restoration wrote in a Wednesday letter to congressional leaders.

  • "But we cannot be blind to the reality that stares us in the face: concentrated corporate power of this nature is as much a threat to the spirit of our Constitution as abuses of its letter by the government itself."

Context: Trump and his allies have long complained that tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter censor conservatives, and their anger only deepened with Trump's banishment from the social networks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

  • The companies argue they're enforcing rules to protect users from hate speech and misinformation.

Of note: As Axios' Ashley Gold notes, some former Trump-era Justice Department officials also are helping push anti- Big Tech messages as part of their new gigs.

  • Alexei Woltornist, who formerly led communications for the DOJ's antitrust division, and Jonathan Bronitsky, who served as former Attorney General William Barr's chief speechwriter, have launched a PR and strategic communications firm called Athos that is partly focusing on Big Tech.
  • One recent project includes landing an anti-Big Tech Newsweek op-ed about building a "second internet."
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