One of the most difficult challenges people face in convincing people that the United States is far from free is that, for the most part, people still have a considerable amount of the right to free speech as allegedly protected by the first amendment.
There have not been any incidents to truly rival the White Rose Resistance Movement of Nazi Germany, in which the six people who were handing out pamphlets criticizing the government were executed. It is true that compared to Nazi Germany, Americans have pretty impressive free speech rights. Anybody can start a blog, or post to any internet forum, and criticize the leadership of the United States. There is no crime in saying that George W. Bush and Barack Obama are incompetent, idiotic, despotic psychopaths.
But doing so has no impact.
Sometimes internet activity can have an impact. In the case of Michael Nifong, William Anderson’s relentless blogging, combined with the defendants having the resources to defend themselves, not only led to the case being dismissed but to Nifong being disbarred, losing his job, and spending an entire day in jail. It was clear that the trial of Nifong had the entire court staff mystified because it was a prosecutor being put on trial for prosecutorial conduct. But that was an isolated case. Libertarians commenting on the case tried repeatedly to branch the discussion from this particular example to the behavior of the legal system in the United States and the behavior of prosecutors, only to have the audience disappear every time. While this particular case was impacted, the system as a whole was not impacted.
Or there is the case of the Critical Mass Cyclist, where the internet forced the case to not only be dropped but for the officer involved to be stripped of his badge. He was not incarcerated for his crime. This relates to the case of the BART shooting in Oakland, where the officer was convicted of fourth degree manslaughter because of the large number of cell phones recording the shooting - after the police attempted to confiscate all the cell phones in the vicinity of the shooting. In both of those cases, modern technology facilitated free speech to achieve some (albeit insufficient) justice, but libertarians commenting on the cases tried to branch the discussion from isolated incidents to police behavior in general, only to have the audience disappear every time.
In these specific instances, in these specific cases, the specific people involved were impacted by free speech, but the overall system was not impacted. Even so, there is discussion inside Washington on how to regulate blogging, because even isolated incidents show that the power of the elite is not absolute. It is when speech starts having an impact that government officials seem to be more than willing to sacrifice the first amendment. It is already the case that elected officials believe campaign contributions are not a form of speech at all, and have managed to convince many people of that.
Radio personalities John and Ken of KFI640 were unhappy with Congressman David Dreier area over the topic of illegal immigration. So they led a campaign to have him lose his next election, calling it "Fire Dreier" and urging people to vote against him due to his stand on illegal immigration. Their impact was such that, in his safe district, he won by a small margin instead of a large margin. That result was so troubling that the Republican Party filed an FEC complaint against them in a deliberate effort to chill political speech. The FEC has not taken any action against John and Ken or KFI.
Unlike the victory of John and Ken, Julian Heicklen is constantly being abused by those in authority, so that when he is not being arrested by police he is being involuntarily committed to the hospital. He is receiving this treatment for handing out FIJA pamphlets in front of court houses. He is not a major radio personality in a major media market, and that is why the police can continue to get away with this kind of abuse. FIJA pamphlets are a direct assault on the court system which has conspired to prevent people from exercising their full rights as jurors. In some states, such as California, it is currently illegal to hand out pamphlets on court house grounds at all, unlike in the places were Julian Heicklen does his work.
It is clear that free speech is under assault, but in a very careful manner to protect all speech except for speech that may actually make a difference. That way the average American will not ever encounter a situation where he will find his free speech to be limited, and thus will never believe that free speech is limited in the first place.