Tweets almost silenced, Cotton says; senator's military support criticized

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington in this May 5, 2020, file photo.

WASHINGTON -- After U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., advocated unleashing the military, if necessary, to quell unrest in American cities, Twitter threatened to censor his account, the lawmaker from Dardanelle told Fox News on Wednesday morning.

Ultimately, "the Twitter thought police" backed down, Cotton said.

The senator made the allegations on the same day that he co-sponsored legislation that would make it easier for people to sue when they believe their online political speech is being censored by major social media companies.

"It was a very Star Chamber-like procedure, I have to say, in which they were just calling us out of the blue, demanding that we censor my own tweets or that they would censor my entire account," Cotton told Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends.

A Twitter spokesman defended the company's handling of the matter.

"The Tweet was reported to Twitter and our teams reviewed it within the context in which it was shared, as is standard, and determined it didn't violate our rules," he said. "We apply the Twitter Rules impartially to every account on our service."

Those using Twitter "may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people," the rules state. The San Francisco-based social media giant also prohibits what it calls "the glorification of violence."

Cotton's tweets touting potential military force were posted June 1.

"Anarchy, rioting, and looting needs to end tonight. If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let's see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they're facing off with the 101st Airborne Division," he tweeted, adding, "We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction."

"And, if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry -- whatever it takes to restore order," Cotton wrote in a subsequent tweet, concluding, "No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters."

Critics on the right and the left said "no quarter" -- in military parlance -- means killing enemy combatants who are sick, injured or captured.

As such, it is a war crime, they said.

In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette later that day, Cotton denied using "no quarter" as a term of art.

"No mercy. No slack. No leniency for insurrectionists and anarchists," he said. "I'm using it in the colloquial [sense]."

A show of military force, Cotton predicted, "would be a display of strength that would put an end to the kind of wanton violence you see in Washington, D.C., and some of the other cities."

President Donald Trump expressed support for Cotton's views June 1, retweeting the initial message and adding: "100% Correct. Thank you Tom!"

That evening, during daylight hours, law enforcement officials put on a display of strength in and around Lafayette Park, within eyesight and earshot of the White House.

As Trump was preparing to deliver a speech branding himself "an ally of all peaceful protesters," swift-moving, baton-wielding law enforcement personnel advanced on a large, loud, tense but predominantly peaceful crowd.

Pepper spray projectiles were fired, smoke canisters were deployed and protesters were knocked to the ground. Journalists were attacked by law enforcement while broadcasting live. Bystanders were wounded.

Once the demonstrators had been evicted, the president and his associates walked, without interference, from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church, the target of an arson attack the previous day.

Outside the historic building, Trump posed for pictures, holding a Bible in front of him as the cameras clicked.

In a written statement posted online, U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory T. Monahan said the law enforcement action was taken "to curtail the violence that was underway" and came after the crowd was given multiple warnings.

Ultimately, Park Police made no arrests, he added.

Video posted by Reuters reflects a predominantly peaceful assembly and warnings to disperse that are hard to hear above the din.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

Some of those dispersing the crowds carried "Military Police" shields.

Cotton's challengers, Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington and independent Dan Whitfield, both condemned the June 1 crackdown.

Cotton, while voicing support for the rights of peaceful protesters, has declined to say whether the demonstrators were mistreated.

Hours before Lafayette Park was cleared, Cotton was asked how many of the country's demonstrators were peaceful protesters and how many were "anarchists, insurrectionists, rioters and looters."

A large number of lawbreakers were taking to the streets, "especially during hours of darkness," Cotton said.

"It appears that during the daylight hours, it is predominantly peaceful protesters," he told the Democrat-Gazette.

In his Fox News appearance Wednesday, Cotton wasn't asked about the protesters' treatment.

Instead the focus was on the threats to free speech ostensibly from the left.

He noted the uproar that followed publication of his op-ed piece, "Send in the Troops," by The New York Times.

The backlash from some Times staffers was so intense that the paper eventually backtracked and the editorial page editor resigned.

"You do have left-wing thought police, not only in the New York Times newsroom and in Twitter but throughout journalism and, increasingly, at businesses and in politics as well, who were raised in social justice seminars, and they think they're entitled to be protected from any opinion they don't like as opposed to trying to rebut opinions they don't like with stronger arguments and better evidence," Cotton told Fox.