ANTIFA protesters who cover their face to foist anarchy upon the public could spend more than a decade in prison under legislation that’s currently being considered by the House Republicans.
According to an updated report from CNN, several GOP congressmen, such as Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and fellow co-sponsors Reps. Paul Gosar (R-A.Z.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), introduced a new law a few months ago which states it would be a federal crime to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person” exercising a right guaranteed under the Constitution while “in disguise, including while wearing a mask”.
It establishes a statutory enhancement (and a mandatory minimum) for vandalism committed while wearing a mask, stating anyone found guilty of “destroying property within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction” must serve two years in prison in addition to any sentence being imposed, so long as they’re wearing a mask in the process. Essentially saying crimes must be punished, but to freely express yourself as some faceless ghoul is punishable for making the work of the police more difficult.
The law also notes this bill applies “whether or not a masked person is acting under the color of the law,” meaning those who cite freedom of expression as their rationale to don their costume and punch citizens. While the lawmaker’s moral outrage is clear, it’s their phrasing, such as “oppress” and “intimidate,” neither of which always manifest themselves in the form of physical violence, that isn’t at all defined within the actual law.
“The thing I think is kind of funny is that the title refers to ‘ANTIFA,’” said Ruthann Robson, a law professor for the City University of New York, who spoke with The Daily Beast back when the law was introduced. “One issue there would be: is this law targeting a certain group of people? That would be a way to argue that it was unconstitutional. Is it general, or just targeting this group? Because a law targeting some group’s expression would be more problematic. You could call it viewpoint discrimination. There could even be some equality arguments.”
Introduced to Congress as Bill HR 6054, otherwise named “The Unmasking ANTIFA Act of 2018,” they seek to impose these harsh penalties on all forms of hate-groups who engage in this conduct. The bill mirrors criticized laws in Georgia, Alabama and 16 other states that are specifically designed to crack down on the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, while only the name of Donovan’s law is a specific jab at the violent left-wing protests of ANTIFA.
This term, ironically short for “anti-fascist,” is used to refer to a loose coalition of black-clad, far-left anarchists who believe it’s their absolute moral duty to roam the streets and stop the free speech of the racist far-right — using whatever means necessary to achieve their goals. Whether this law, intended to crack down on the unconstitutional, is itself constitutional remains up for debate in these upcoming months.
“This is another draconian measure to actually criminalize dissent in the United States,” said Scott Crow, a former ANTIFA organizer and political author, talking to CNN. “Because the law, even if it doesn’t explicitly state ‘leftists who mask up,’ that’s who the largest potential target of the law is, far more than the white nationalists.”
While it’s telling of an ANTIFA member to only care about the constitutional infringements made against their side, readers should understand a human right is a human right regardless of which side is the victim. It doesn’t stop their right to freely assemble in the street, as suggested by leftist outlets such as ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post, though it’s undeniably a restriction on the attire used for this form of protest, which could be seen as a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, whether used in the context of enacting unaccountable violence or not.
What should be criminal is the act of violence, not the costume used to accomplish the task. The GOP, classical liberals, libertarians and free speech absolutists, such as myself, are rightfully against “hate speech” laws for mandating penalties against questionable expression, whether the hood is white, black or covered by swastikas or the hammer and sickle. It just strikes as hypocritical, let alone dangerous. In April, for instance, counter-protestors at a Georgia neo-Nazi rally were forced to remove their masks at gunpoint.
Should this be the responsibility of the police in a free society? Or should they focus on the neo-Nazis who killed one and injured dozens more during last year’s Unite the Right white supremacist rally? As well as the protesters known for punching and smashing citizens across the head?
“Instead of dealing with that, they’d just rather deal with this,” Crow said, “which is to put a band-aid on something.” There’s certainly an argument to be made law enforcement should have more investigative ability into these organizations, which they can prove to be violent and unconstitutional against the citizenry across time. Since September 1st, 2015, the hard-right website Breitbart has compiled a list of 567 (and counting) verified acts of violence made against both Trump supporters and racists on the far-right, citing countless mainstream media articles (i.e., The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and more) that are completely free of their obvious conservative bias. There is a problem with the far-left, but to also allow the rise of state authoritarianism in the process isn’t a real solution.
The bill remains under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.