“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor
There is a new silence spreading across the land. And unless we find a voice to pierce it, millions of innocents from around the world will be fed into the maw of America’s human trafficking industry.
By now, cancel culture has become a familiar feature of our cultural landscape. Operating by a combination of social shame, media manipulation and economic intimidation, the forces of evil have systematically silenced dozens of necessary conversations. Citizens have watched helplessly as debates ranging from library policies to foreign policy have been driven out of polite society.
Silence disadvantages the truth. For, while truth can hold its own in a public debate, lies eventually crumble under cross-examination. Silence prevents the needed scrutiny. It perpetuates twisted talking points and suppression of the facts.
Worse, the spread of silence creates a perfect storm that gains energy by sucking ever more topics into its swirling vortex. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann named this phenomenon in a 1974 paper. She identified “The Spiral of Silence” while she was trying to understand the social forces at work that allowed millions of German citizens to remain silent in the face of the manifest evils of the Nazi regime.
The Spiral of Silence is initiated by the manipulation of the levers of social power. People who openly express “wrong think” are publicly punished by various forms of social isolation. Others, who share their thinking, silence their own expression to avoid a similar fate.
The resulting self-censorship feeds on itself and adds energy to the storm. As more and more topics of conversation are drawn into the Spiral of Silence, and as the severity of social isolation increases, self-censorship grows exponentially.
Initially, all that is noticeable about the Spiral of Silence is that one side of the debate gains an illegitimate upper hand. But as the asymmetry grows, the injustices smothered by silence escalate into atrocities.
Just a few short years ago, Americans overwhelmingly called for a government that would enforce longstanding federal immigration laws at the southern border. In response, powerbrokers from both major political parties launched a campaign designed to paint those calling for control of the southern border as villains intent on smashing the dreams of poor people of color.
It was an effective strategy. Many declined to speak on the issue for fear of being painted as “bad people.” This silence not only advances an agenda. It also spreads a pall of darkness under which atrocities multiply unchecked.
This became clear to me in Rep. Harriet Hageman’s recent series of town halls across Wyoming. While she discussed a wide variety of issues — from fair treatment of Native Americans to the weaponization of government agencies — her February visit to the southern border was the most breathtaking part of her talk.
Hageman reported that, in the past year, 200 bodies were recovered from a single field near Yuma, Arizona. These people did not die of natural causes, but were murdered by the cartels. While the federal government refuses to control the border, the cartels have taken over the job.
Those who attempt to cross without paying tens of thousands of dollars to the cartels are murdered in the attempt. Many more, who do not have the money, are forced into slavery to pay off their debt to the cartels after they enter America.
The “lucky” ones pay off their debts by working in sweatshops and illicit factories. The rest, even the youngest of children, pay off their debts as sex slaves trafficked to American cities. Testimony given before the House Judiciary Subcommittee (April 26, 2023) backs up Hageman’s claims. Human trafficking, she averred, has become a $15 billion industry — enriching the cartels far beyond fentanyl sales.
You can extrapolate the numbers for yourself. The human cost is unimaginable. If the national press is silent, at least Wyoming’s media should report Hageman’s concerns and demand accountability from the federal government. Instead, there is near-complete radio silence.
I searched the internet in vain, looking for even one story that mentions her allegations. In my own town, the Uinta County Herald devoted nearly 1,200 words to Hageman’s May 4 town hall, but never mentioned a word about human trafficking. This is shameful.
Whether these editorial choices were made because of the fear of social disapproval or by an overt political calculation, they are alarming and they perpetuate the Spiral of Silence. Human trafficking victims deserve better.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it most poignantly: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”