Diary

About That Proposed Unmasking Antifa Law

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Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
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As brought to the attention of Redstate readers recently, a bill has been proposed in the House called the Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018.  Before rationally discussing the proposal, let’s dispense with the Leftist criticism, and look at some of the violence this bill proposes to curtail.

The antifa movement came to prominence almost within hours after the election of Donald Trump.  In February 2017, they protested an appearance by Milo Yiannopolous at Berkley causing over $100,000 in property damage.  For the first time in 82 years, their threats cancelled the annual Roses Parade in Portland.  In June 2017, they disrupted a Patriot Prayer event at Evergreen State College in Washington.  We know about their presence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and shortly thereafter at a rally in Boston.  Of course, these black-clad thugs have shown up at other events also.

To say the Left and antifa members are going bonkers in response to this law is an understatement.  Scott Crow is a former organizer for the group who had this to say:

This is another draconian measure to actually criminalize dissent in the United States…If they take away the right to mask up, people will still do it anyway to fight against authoritarianism in any form.

Other leaders of the movement have justified the use of violence, often citing non-existent claims of violence against their members by some right wing groups.  For example, Carmichael Monaco, a member of New York’s Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (just writing that made me giggle), had this to say about the law:

“H.R. 6054 takes a pro-fascist stance in its very name, and doubtlessly in its enforcement. In the current political climate, antifascists who speak out against fascism, racism, xenophobia, etc. are routinely harassed, threatened, and attacked by the far right, often supported by the police, who are notably exempted here. Families and friends of antifascists also become targets of far right violence. The wearing of a mask is an act of self-defense often necessary to ensure one’s right to free speech.

Of course, he cannot cite a single example of attacks by the far right except for one lone nut in Virginia, or of families and friends being threatened.  Further, describing the wearing of a mask as an act of “self defense” is ludicrous from the start.  Nor is their a “right to mask up.”

Going even further, Walter Shaub, former Director of the Office of Government Ethics said this:

Two groups go to Charlottesville. A big group chants racist filth, wields semi-automatic assault rifles, fires a gun into a crowd & murders a woman with a car. A small group wears masks. It’s the small group these Congressmen want to lock up for 15 years. Authoritarianism rises.

The only truth in that statement is “murders a woman with a car.”  Unless we were watching something else that day in Charlottesville, it was no small group wearing masks.  Upon exiting the park, the far right groups were attacked by the thugs who had come armed with sticks, bats, urine-filled water bottles and other weapons.  A report on that event laid the blame for the violence not on the right wing protesters, but on a terrible job by the police who were looking for an excuse to shut down the entire event.

Most importantly, antifa members are unapologetic about their violent tactics.  They may insist that not all antifa members participate in violent acts or are part of the black bloc- the group that dresses in black and wears black masks over their face.  The reason for the mask is obvious- to hide their identity from authorities since they will likely be the ones participating in violence.

Trust me- this writer believes these people are nothing short of Neanderthal street thugs posing as social activists engaged in an Orwellian movement of fighting alleged fascism with actual fascism.  It is funny to hear them now cry about their Free Speech rights being violated as they violate the free speech rights of others with which they disagree.

By the same token, the law as written may be misguided and unconstitutional, but not for the reasons stated by its detractors.  First, naming it the “Unmasking Antifa Act” leaves the proposed law open to charges of targeting a specific group.  A better name would have been “No Covering a Face at a Protest or Demonstration Act.”  While everyone would know it was about antifa (since they are basically the only ones who do it), it does not single out that group.

Some people have said the penalties- specifically up to 15 years in jail- is draconian.  That is misleading.  The bill would add two years to any crime they are convicted of on top of any jail sentence meted out.  Get caught vandalizing a Starbucks while wearing a mask and sentenced to two months, add two years.  The up to fifteen year penalty would be for the most egregious acts of violence, not simply for showing up at a demonstration with a bandana on one’s face.

Further, the bill’s penalties only kick into effect for those who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates” another exercising their Constitutional free speech rights.  Before the penalties become effective, one would have to be arrested, charged and convicted for injuring, oppressing, threatening or intimidating.  Here, I believe the wording gets into some constitutional problems.

Bodily injury and property damage are pretty straightforward.  Assault and battery charges or vandalism charges can certainly be proven and people are arrested almost daily on those charges absent the demonstration/protest atmosphere.  Intimidation laws certainly exist.  Wikipedia describes it thus:

Intimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that “would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities” to fear injury or harm. … Threat, criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury.

The most troublesome word is “oppresses.”  What are the parameters of that “oppression?”  Merely showing up as a counter-protester?  Yelling a profanity?  The term is vague and the law would stand on very shaky Constitutional footing given the vagueness.

Of course, all of this is academic given the reluctance of some police forces to actually enforce existing laws (Charlottesville, Portland, Berkeley and others).  Personally, I think they (antifa) members should pay treble fines for any property damage they cause also.  Let’s see how far their activism extends when they (or their parents) have to pay fines in excess of $5,000.

The bill’s author, Dan Donovan of New York, said this:

My bill expands upon long-standing civil rights statutes to make it a crime to deprive someone of Constitutionally-guaranteed protections while masked or disguised.  Americans have the natural right to speak and protest freely; it is not a right to throw Molotov cocktails and beat people while hiding behind a mask.

And there is certainly evidence of this fact.  Several state laws, designed to crack down on the KKK, are in existence.  Georgia, Alabama and New York have such laws.  In April 2018, Georgia threatened use of the law against anticipated antifa thugs and they backed down being the cowards they are.

In 2013, Canada passed a law making it illegal to wear a mask or cover your face during a public demonstration.  The following European countries have anti-masking laws for public assemblies or demonstrations: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Spain, and Ukraine.  Australia likewise has such a law.

In the United States, the laws in Alabama and Georgia have been upheld by their state supreme courts.  The New York law was held up by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  On the other hand, such laws in Florida and Tennessee have been struck down as unconstitutionally too broad.

It is that latter view- being too broad without specifying “oppression” or “intimidation-” that has this writer concerned the law, if ever passed, would not pass Constitutional muster.

Other groups get their message across without resorting to violence behind a mask.  Throwing a bottle of urine or a Molotov cocktail stretches the boundaries of the definition of free speech- anonymous or not.  Provided they can tweak the language and specify the penalties more closely, it is a welcome and needed step in the right direction to unmask these violent thugs and send them cowering back to the safety of their parent’s basement.