Nearly a decade ago, British provocateur David Icke took a trip to Canada. As he swiped his passport through the scanner at the Vancouver airport, the words “WATCH FOR” appeared on the screen. Security quickly whisked him away to a holding cell.

Icke, a former English football player and BBC sports correspondent, had his career take a remarkable turn in 1991, when he declared himself to be the Son of God on a British talk show. Later, he wrote that he believed the Earth was secretly controlled by an extraterrestrial race of reptiles which, if they consume enough human blood, will enable them to take a human form. In his 1999 book, “The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World,” Icke exposed George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as members of this reptilian ruling class.

While they appeared to some to be nothing more than the rantings of a madman, Icke’s theories were immediately denounced as anti-Semitic. While he never accused Jews of any plot to rule the world, some believed his “lizard race” theory was too similar to many other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As a result, Icke was flagged by Canadian customs authorities, who had been pressured by anti-discrimination groups to keep him out of the country altogether.

In the airport holding cell, a man with rubber gloves rifled through Icke’s belongings to find anti-Semitic artifacts. Two immigrations officers berated him, trying to get him to admit he was an anti-Semite. “The families in positions of great financial power obsessively interbreed with one another,” he said. “But I’m not talking about one earth race, Jewish or non-Jewish. I’m talking about a genetic network that operates through all races, this bloodline being a fusion between human and reptilian genes,” he protested.

After four hours in the cell, the Canadian authorities concluded that when Icke said lizards, he really meant lizards. They released him, and he was free to go on his way. He began giving speeches to Canadian crowds, which were often cut short by protestors hurling pies at him.

Certainly, it’s a long way from lizard conspiracy theories and Canadian immigration agents to Wisconsin in 2008. Yet the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) is attempting to unilaterally impose Canadian-style restrictions on free speech, without any action by a single elected official. In essence, they’re going to give themselves the ability to decide whether or not people are talking about reptiles.

The unelected GAB, made up of former judges, was instituted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2007, in order to more aggressively enforce existing elections laws. Instead, the Board has deigned it necessary to make new laws which have never been considered by the Legislature. (Also known as those who represent the people of Wisconsin.)

For instance, the GAB is trying to make itself the sole group that decides what can and can’t be said during an election. They are looking into promulgating rules that would allow them to regulate the timing and content of political speech in Wisconsin by determining what is and what is not “express advocacy.” Is a television ad urging people to call their legislators to support tax relief political speech? Only the GAB will know. Is a newspaper ad asking voters to support candidates who are pro-life “express advocacy?” If the GAB decides so, it could be yanked from the papers. As a result, many citizens who normally band together to criticize legislators or their policies will be intimidated into silence during campaign season.

With the power of free speech vested in such a small group of “elites,” who knows what they will decide is appropriate? Is an ad discussing Barack Obama’s ties to Jeremiah Wright’s church legitimate, or is it a secret racist code? Is an ad criticizing Sarah Palin’s lack of experience accurate, or is it an unfair attack on working mothers? Only the GAB will be able to decide. And if the future holds anything that is certain, it is that they won’t be able to fairly determine when a lizard is just a lizard.

-September 22, 2008

For more on the travails of David Icke, see “Them: Adventures with Extremists,” by Jon Ronson.