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'Cancel culture has reached Henderson County government,' commissioner says

Staff members and commissioners listen to a speaker who opposed Covid-19 vaccination campaigns. [PARKER NEWMAN/Hendersonville Lightning] Staff members and commissioners listen to a speaker who opposed Covid-19 vaccination campaigns. [PARKER NEWMAN/Hendersonville Lightning]

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners called an emergency meeting on Thursday evening to respond to what the county manager called YouTube's "blatant act of censorship" in removing the video of Wednesday's Board of Commissioners meeting from its platform.

"Do we live in the Soviet states of America now? I don't know," County Manager Steve Wyatt said Thursday night. "Commissoner Edney and I and others — Daniel (Andreotta) and Rebecca (McCall) and others have talked this afternoon" about the news — first reported by the Hendersonville Lightning — that Youtube had removed the video. Commissioners agreed to hold an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. Friday "to discuss this issue of this censorship — apparent censorshiop — of the June 16 meeting, and the implications for depriving Henderson County citizens of their constitutional rights, one of which is to question the government."

Wyatt said Commissioner Michael Edney, an attorney, could shed more light on the board's potential response to YouTube's action. Edney was not immediately reachable Thursday night.

It's unclear whether Youtube in the past has removed videos of other public meetings of elected bodies. The Henderson County Board of Commissioners has for many years — predating the pandemic — posted videos of its meetings that people could watch later.

"I've been doing this a long time. The answer is no," Wyatt said when asked if he was aware of other videos being taken down. "I am absolutely appalled of this blatant act of censorship. It's beyond the pale."

County officials say they don't know why YouTube removed the video but it appears likely — based on a side-by-side comparison of comments made by people who objected to the Covid-19 vaccination to YouTube's guidelines on coronavirus misinformation — that the public comment period triggered the decision.

"I'd like to know (why) but I know that there was a vigorour demonstration of democracy where these citizens questioned the government and you know what? When we can't do that anymore, it's over. So it's time to wake up. No. This cannot stand."

While the First Amendment bars the government from infringing on free speech and on citizens' right to air grievances about the government's actions, it does not force private companies to protect free speech.

"I know they're a private company, I understand," Wyatt said. "They're also a platform and if they're not regulated, by God, they need to be, because they're trampling on people's free speech rights."

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta emphasized in a Facebook post Thursday that the board on Wednesday stood against coercion or incentives for the Covid vaccine.

“If you saw my update last evening you know that we the County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the concept of coercion, incentivizing, or even rewarding citizens solely for getting vaccinated. We believe it should be a personal choice with input from a physician," he said.
"We were notified today that YouTube has taken down the video from our most recent meeting because it violated their community guidelines. It seems to me that it was taken down because there was something other than pro-vaccine only content. Again, we did not speak for or against the vaccine. Rather, we spoke in opposition to media campaigns that incentivize, reward, or otherwise induce citizens to get vaccinated. Cancel culture has reached Henderson County local government."