Ahead of Liberia’s upcoming 2023 elections, the US government is making moves to clamp down on nationals both engaged in corruption and incitement of political violence.
The clearest signals yet came directly from Amb. Michael A. McCarthy in statements during an appearance at the University of Liberia at the end of last week. In no unclear terms, the American diplomat sharply denounced Liberians engaged in what he called “irresponsible journalism.”
“While responsible critical observations from the Liberian diaspora can be healthy, some cowardly media personalities and political personalities have intentionally disseminated rumors or misinformation into Liberia’s political environment from the safety of their studios and offices in the U.S.,” McCarthy said.
“These people are motivated by disruption and a desire to break down trust in Liberian institutions – they don’t care what damage they cause, and when questioned by law enforcement, they do not have evidence to back up their claims,” Amb. McCarthy said.
While there are several well known Liberian media figures residing in the United States, it seems likely that Amb. McCarthy’s line of attack leads right to the doorstep of one Henry P. Costa, resident of the state of Delaware and host of the “The Costa Show” broadcast online and on Roots FM.
For those who are familiar with Costa’s show, the usual content is a firehose of hatred, incitement, and false claims. The show is financially supported by the formerly sanctioned arms dealer Benoni Urey in support of their preferred candidate, Joe Boakai. Any citizens or public figures seen to be critical of that candidate or party are targeted with Costa’s defamatory attacks, which in turn whips up violent threats among his audience.
One recent example, of course, was the intercepted arms shipment from the United States. Without any evidence, Costa blamed the arms shipment on the administration of President George Weah, and warned Unity Party faithful to “gear up” for violence.
Then there is the case of threats of violence which are expressed by commenters on the live feed of the Costa Show. During the March 14 show, Costa directly addressed these comments and admitted that the US Embassy had gotten in touch with him to express their urgent concern. But after asking his audience to “tone it down,” he went right back on the attack, making up stories about his opponents without any proof or evidence.
During Amb. McCarthy’s comments the following day, he clearly seemed to refer to Costa when he said, “they take advantage of America’s first amendment rights to spread rumors and stir up trouble in your country, which is despicable behavior.”
It has already been clearly demonstrated that US Government will take action against Liberian actors they view as acting outside the law. They have already sanctioned three government officials – which is unheard of outside of wartime – and they have launched criminal cases against other media owners, such as Stanton Witherspoon, who is facing a significant $114 million fraud case.
How long will be it before federal agents come knocking at the door of Costa’s Delaware home with search warrants? Will it be immigration service checking his residency, the tax authorities interested in his many suspicious transactions, or federal agents from the DOJ who previously cracked down on Witherspoon? This will be the key development to watch.