Since the start of this year, Republi-fascist lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 bills aimed at cracking down on political protest.1 While these anti-protest laws have been coming for years, 2021 has already seen twice as many such bills as in any other year.2 These laws are intended to ramp up the repressive force of this system’s police and courts against any continuation of the inspiring rising against police murder and oppression of Black and other oppressed people that erupted after the murder of George Floyd, as well as environmental, pro-immigrant, and other kinds of protest. Where passed into law, these bills dramatically increase the direct and indirect punishment for political protest; encourage the use of violence—even murder—by fascist thugs against those who take to the streets; and target efforts at the local level to pass laws restricting the use of deadly force by police.
Republican fascists in Florida have led the way in mounting this attack. Governor Ron DeSantis has already signed into law their harsh anti-protest bill, HR 1. DeSantis boasted publicly that it is “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” A Democratic state senator responded, “You have just declared war on the First Amendment in the state of Florida.”
Here are just some of the draconian provisions contained in the fascist new Florida law:
- Defines as an “aggravated riot” any grouping of three or more people that “endangers the safe movement of a vehicle.” In other words, protesters blocking traffic is now a second-degree felony punishable with up to 15 years in prison.
- Encourages violence against protesters by protecting drivers who hit protesters with their cars from civil lawsuits. Think for a moment about the neo-Nazi who drove into Heather Heyer and killed her during the fascist, white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
- Creates a new third-degree felony for defacing flags, statues, and other memorials—including Confederate statues—with a punishment of up to five years in prison.
- Creates a new criminal offense of “mob intimidation”—defined vaguely as three or more people acting with intent to force another to take their viewpoints—a misdemeanor with punishment of up to one year in prison. Think about any protest demanding that police be charged in the brutalization or killing of Black and other oppressed people.
- Imposes a mandatory six-month sentence for any protester who is convicted of battery on a police officer—a common charge that protesters get hit with when they try to protect themselves from violent police actions.
- Protesters are now prevented from being bailed out of jail until their first court appearance—amounting to legalizing detention of protesters before conviction for any alleged “crime.”
- Florida cities are now required to get state approval before making any cuts to police budgets. The new law also punishes local governments that are not heavy-handed enough in suppressing protests, by charging local officials for property damage that protesters allegedly are responsible for.
Other states have passed similarly outrageous laws, and the majority of state legislatures in this country are considering similar bills. The following are just a few of the provisions which have been enacted or are being considered in other states:
- A bill passed by the Kentucky Senate would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer with “offensive or derisive” words or gestures that would “provoke a violent response.” While the measure was defeated in the House, its sponsor plans to refile it next session.
- In some states, the consequences of protesters being convicted will greatly increase beyond fines and sentences. In Minnesota, a bill in the state Senate would prevent those convicted of unlawful protest from receiving student loans or other forms of financial aid, like housing assistance, food stamps, or unemployment benefits. In Indiana, anyone convicted of rioting would be barred from employment in state or local government, including elected office. And in Florida and other states, a felony conviction temporarily takes away your voting rights.
- Alabama is now considering a bill that allows people to kill anyone on their property as long as they “reasonably believe” that that person might attempt to trespass.
- Following in Florida’s footsteps, laws in Arizona, Oregon, and Alabama make blocking traffic a felony, and laws in Oklahoma and Iowa protect drivers who hit protesters with their cars.
This rush of outrageous anti-protest bills in Republican-dominated state legislatures is another sign of what Bob Avakian pointed out in his New Year’s Statement, A New Year, The Urgent Need For A Radically New World—For The Emancipation Of All Humanity:
The reality has to be confronted that, as expressed through the election, nearly half this country has passionately, aggressively and belligerently embraced what is represented by “Trumpism.” The unavoidable truth is that this country, the much-proclaimed “Shining City on a Hill,” is full of fascists!—in the government at all levels and in large parts of the society as a whole.
With this parade of fascist bills and laws aimed at criminalizing protest—along with the massive assaults on voting rights and on women’s right to abortion—the states are becoming a key focal point of the efforts by fascists to “reverse, with a vengeance, even the modest concessions that have been made to the fight against social injustice and institutionalized inequality and oppression, and to enforce a form of capitalist dictatorship that is overt and unrestrained by the Constitution and the rule of law (or which turns the Constitution and the rule of law into merely instruments of fascist tyranny and atrocity).”3
The backers of these anti-protest bills portray them as aimed against “rioting” and “unlawful protests.” They are carrying on with the lies and distortions from the Trump/Pence regime when it was in power that the protests last summer were full of “violence and destruction.” In reality, as the Washington Post reported last October, after studying 7,305 demonstrations in thousands of towns and cities in all 50 states and D.C. over the summer, involving millions of protesters, “the Black Lives Matter uprisings were remarkably nonviolent. When there was violence, very often police or counterprotesters were reportedly directing it at protesters.”4
Millions of people in this country, and around the world, took to the streets in a sustained beautiful rising demanding an end to the oppression, degradation, and murder of Black and other oppressed people enforced by police. In addition, we have seen protests by women and men against the oppression of women; courageous battles by indigenous people and their supporters against the oil pipelines threatening their lands; growing protest against government inaction in the face of impending climate catastrophe, and more. The fascist bills and laws being considered and passed in the state legislatures are a serious attack on all who are stepping out against oppression and injustice and must be opposed.
1. “G.O.P. Bills Target Protesters (and Absolve Motorists Who Hit Them),” New York Times, April 21, 2021. [back]
4. “This summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds,” Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, Washington Post, October 16, 2020. [back]