A few weeks ago, Americans everywhere took to social media to express collective outrage over Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s now-infamous racist remarks. Sterling’s comments, made in private, were taped and later leaked to the press by his girlfriend. In addition to condemning the comments, the public quickly labeled Sterling as a bigot, and the NBA launched an investigation that resulted in a lifetime ban from the league, a $2.5 million dollar fine, and calls for the NBA to force the sale of Sterling’s team.

This controversy does more than just highlight the severe consequences an individual can face today if found guilty of racism. More importantly, it exposes the dangerous efforts made by the liberal media to police and punish private thoughts and convictions.

This phenomenon, labeled a “thoughtcrime” by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, has been going on for years now. Such attempts to regulate thought signify a fundamental change in American society and politics, as it teaches Americans to be more concerned with how others think rather than how they act. Now, sharing thoughts others might find offensive, even views that have nothing to do with your public life or career, is a risk with potentially life-ruining consequences.

Indeed, leftist organizations and media have a history of bullying political opponents who they find guilty of “thoughtcrime” into silence and submission—especially when these individual views are politically incorrect or unpopular:

  • Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was essentially forced to resign after the dating website OKCupid berated him for a past donation to Proposition 8, found in a searchable database published by the Los Angeles Times. Of the $39 million given in support of the ban, only $1,000 came from Eich–that’s only 0.00003% of all supportive donations–but neither that fact nor Eich’s past achievements (like creating the Javascript scripting language and co-founding the Mozilla Corporation) were enough to deter the left from destroying his career.
  • In 2008, the LGBT community rallied behind gay rights group Equality California to force the resignation of Marjorie Christofferson, the Mormon manager of the El Coyote restaurant in Los Angeles, after they discovered she made a $100 donation in support of Proposition 8. The demonstrators cost the restaurant considerable business and only moved on to harass other conservative business owners when the staff at El Coyote gave $500 to the group challenging Proposition 8.
  • At the 2009 Miss USA competition, liberal blogger and acting judge Perez Hilton asked contestant Carrie Prejean from California whether she thought gay marriage should be legalized in every state across the country. After Prejean politely answered that her personal views limit marriage to one man and one woman, Hilton gave her low scores, effectively handing the competition to Miss North Carolina, and later took to the internet to call Prejean a “dumb bitch.” Here, a woman’s success in a beauty pageant rested not on her actions or accomplishments, but instead on whether or not her opinion on gay marriage was the politically correct one.
  • When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy publicly expressed his support for traditional marriage in 2012, the left responded with massive outrage, digging up and publicizing records of his donations to pro-Christian and pro-family organizations. The left condemned Chick-fil-A as a haven of hate, and the subsequent boycott even led several city mayors, like Boston’s Thomas Menino and Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel, to (unlawfully) declare a ban on any future Chick-fil-A restaurants within city limits.
  • HGTV was forced to cancel a program hosted by John and David Benham, twin Christians who oppose abortion and gay marriage, after the blog Right Wing Watch falsely accused the Benham family of believing homosexuality to be “destructive” and “demonic.” In an interview with Glenn Beck, the Benhams said that HGTV was already familiar with their Christian convictions and decided to begin filming for the show anyway, perhaps recognizing that the brothers’ personal views had absolutely no relevance to their new home-improvement program.
  • Just last week, Miami Dolphins player Don Jones was fined by the Dolphins and will also be forced to complete an “educational training class” before resuming team activities, because he tweeted “OMG” and “Horrible” in disapproval of Michael Sam during the NFL Draft. Presumably this training program will teach Jones that he can express personal thoughts on his twitter account if and only if they’re politically correct, given the fact that the media has targeted anyone who disagrees with their excessive exaltation of the league’s first openly gay player.

All of these instances indicate that the America we live in now is one where nonconformity is considered a crime, and it’s perfectly just for others to hold you publicly accountable for your private beliefs. The frightening implication of this political bullying is the idea that if the general public disapproves of your opinions, then your rights may be taken from you. If you have the “wrong” opinion about a topic like homosexuality, abortion, or global warming, then you must forfeit your freedoms of speech and expression or you could see your career destroyed, your reputation shattered, and your private life subject to public examination.

What’s perhaps even more disturbing than the rise of this “Thought Police” is the liberal media’s hypocrisy and double standard in covering these controversies. Take Donald Sterling as an example. Donald Sterling is a racist who made offensive comments, but he also pays his black players tens of millions of dollars every year. Moreover, for some reason it was these racist thoughts that warranted the termination of his career, and not the housing discrimination lawsuit he settled in 2009, when both the NBA and the media stayed silent even as Sterling purportedly suggested “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Black players in the NBA and the NFL are also consistently faced with allegations of domestic abuse and other crimes each year, and behavior much worse than Sterling’s racist comments frequently goes unpunished. For instance, Kobe Bryant called a referee a “faggot” and received only a fine, while Ron Artest physically assaulted fans during a game and just received a suspension. Last year, JJ Redick attempted to force his girlfriend to abort their child, as per terms of their disturbing abortion contract, and he has yet to face any consequences at all. The list of misconduct by these athletes goes on and on, but rather than call attention to it, the media chose to target an old white man for a few (illegally-taped) racist comments. Can you imagine the sort of outrage that might result if these athletes’ private locker-room conversations, most likely featuring some choice words about women and gays, were taped and released to the general public?

Meanwhile, liberal celebrities like Spike Lee, who openly admits his hatred of interracial couples, and Jay Z, who proudly wears the symbol of the Five Percent Nation, a radical organization that views white people as devils, also continue to succeed in the industry without any protests or media persecution. Our own president spent twenty years–that’s two full decades–worshiping in a church headed by the radical, anti-white, and anti-American pastor Jeremiah Wright, and despite some controversy during his 2008 campaign, much of the country still refused to hold him accountable. The lesson learned here is that apparently the media and the general public only feel obligated to condemn racist thought when it comes from a political opponent or an old, rich white guy.

This campaign to control individual thoughts and silence political opposition even extends beyond nongovernmental organizations, as evidenced by the Obama Administration’s record of targeting the press with intrusive regulatory policies. Indeed, just recently the Federal Communications Commission revealed plans to police media newsrooms under the guise of a “research study,” which is supposedly intended to measure bias in the media.

If this political bullying and reckless manipulation continues, we could live in an America that no longer protects the free exchange of ideas. Instead, we could find ourselves in an America where actions just don’t matter as much as words, and individuals are judged by the content of their thoughts rather than the content of their character.