10 Sinister State Moves, Including Killing Protesters, Prove 1st Amendment Is Dying

By Claire Bernish

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

President Donald Trump’s first week in office has seen a tumultuous mix of sweeping executive actions peppered with a few pleasant surprises; but if one thing proves true — as with the first term of any new president — there will be cause for someone to protest something.

Indeed, before Trump even took the oath of office, protesters descended on Washington, D.C. — marching en masse down the middle of typically congested roadways, chanting, screaming, and generally causing the sort of disruptions demonstrators seek in order to draw attention to a cause.

But that most basic right — to air one’s grievances to elected leaders in a public forum, often through disruption — might soon be a risky endeavor in at least ten states, as protest is gradually being criminalized in rather astonishing ways.

Lawmakers from North Dakota and Minnesota, to Virginia and the state of Washington, have proposed or passed legislation levying hefty penalties against anyone who dares to exercise the basic right to protest against — ironically enough — legislation and policy found to be untenable.

At the rate such laws have rapidly come to fruition, even if legislators in your state have yet to propose obstacles to protesting, the following list should serve as a guide for potential future strictures regarding your right to speak out.

1. NORTH DAKOTA

North Dakota lawmakers have proposed arguably the most crushing measures against protesters — seemingly specifically targeting water protectors opposing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Under House Bill 1203, drivers would be permitted to run down protesters — literally — so long as they claim they didn’t intend to do so. As the proposed bill states,

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway, is not guilty of an offense.”

In other words, if a protester in a roadway were to be struck by a vehicle and killed, the driver would not be charged with a crime if they claimed, for example, accidentally hitting the accelerator instead of the brakes.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson proffered a second bill criminalizing wearing masks to protests; and, though the legislation would allow exceptions for harsh weather conditions and holidays wear face coverings are traditional, it’s an open question how police might interpret those exemptions.

“I would be the first to defend your right of free speech and freedom of assembly,” Carlson told a state legislative committee hearing on Tuesday of House Bill 1304, according to the Billings Gazette. “I’m always concerned when there’s a reason that, I believe, may be used to hide your identity when you’re creating some kind of disturbance.”

Should the legislation pass, masks would not be permitted at demonstrations on public property or roadways — nor on private property, unless the owner gives explicit, written consent.

2. MISSOURI

Missouri legislators are also hoping to criminalize mask-wearing at protests in a bill that would make intentional concealment of one’s “identity by the means of a robe, mask, or other disguise” at any gathering deemed an “unlawful assembly” punishable as a Class A misdemeanor — with a penalty of up to one full year behind bars.

3. MINNESOTA

As alarming as it might be that a mask could land you in jail in Missouri or that North Dakota drivers can run down protesters without facing charges, Minnesota lawmakers took the criminalization of demonstrations in an equally shocking but wholly different direction — the wallet.

Minnesotans whose protests force police to intervene would be financially liable for the cost of the intervention should Rep. Nick Zerwas’ legislation by written into law.

As the Star Tribune reports, a committee meeting on Tuesday “ended abruptly after a House panel passed Zerwas’ proposed legislation that would give cities authority to charge protesters for police services if the demonstrators are convicted of illegal assembly or public nuisance. The measure would also give cities the option of suing convicted protesters to recoup expenses from policing the demonstration.”

Furious residents disrupted that meeting, rightly questioning the measure’s constitutionality and what the bill would mean for future ability to demonstrate against acts of police violence, as in the shooting death of Philando Castile in 2016 — or in any instance where complaint falls on deaf ears and public assembly stands as the only option.

Zerwas and the bill’s supporters, however, side with Minnesotans who resent large demonstrations, and say the financial onus of policing protests should fall on those participating.

“I have an entire constituency that feels as though protesters believe that their rights are more important than everyone else’s,” Zerwas explained in an interview cited by the Guardian. “Well, there is a cost to that. Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. She didn’t get out and lay down in front of the bus.”

He added, “The meters are running and the taxpayers are holding the bag.”

And as the Intercept reports, “In addition to the highway-protesting bill, Minnesota lawmakers also proposed a separate piece of legislation that greatly increases penalties for nonviolent cases involving ‘obstructing the legal process.’ Under the bill’s language, nonviolent obstruction of authorities would carry ‘imprisonment of not less than 12 months’ and a fine of up to $10,000.”

4. IOWA

Where North Dakota legislators want to permit, in essence, vehicular homicide to curb the blockage of roadways, and Minnesota lawmakers seek to make such protests too costly, politicians in Iowa would rather throw demonstrators who block highways in jail for five years.

Senator Jake Chapman proposed Senate File 111 in response to an incident in November in which some 100 protesters blocked Interstate Highway 80 and brought eastbound traffic to a standstill for around 30 minutes — much to the consternation of drivers caught in the unexpected jam.

“Look, we have the right to protest. No one disputes that,” the lawmaker explained in defense of his controversial bill, which, incidentally, isn’t without opposition. “We encourage that. But there is an appropriate time and an appropriate place to do so. Interstates are not one of those places. That is what this bill does. It aims to stop that.”

As COO of Midwest Ambulance Service, Chapman claims to be concerned such spontaneous highway blockages obstruct access for emergency services, as well as free commerce and travel.

If passed, Chapman’s law “would apply to people blocking the travel portion of Iowa highways with speeds posted at 55 mph or higher. Violators could be charged with a Class D felony, which includes a sentence of prison time and a fine of at least $750 and up to $7,500,” the Des Moines Register reports.

5. INDIANA

In line with aforementioned proposals, Indiana State Senator Jim Tomes introduced the “Block Traffic and You Die” bill — or, at least, that’s how opponents are characterizing the Hoosier State’s anti-protest legislation.

Senate Bill 285 would require public officials to dispatch all available law enforcement to clear roadways — using “any means necessary” — if at least 10 protesters have attempted to obstruct traffic without first obtaining a permit.

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Although indeed vague, it is the ‘any means necessary’ portion of Tomes’ proposed law that worries activists who have traditionally worked with police. Often officers will escort marchers in roadways, blocking cross traffic for them to pass, ensuring both protesters and drivers remain safe. Thus, opponents of the legislation find it frivolous and curiously worded — and far too open to interpretation.

And there are still more proposed laws restricting the constitutional right to protest.

6. COLORADO

“In Colorado,” the Intercept reports, “Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg has introduced a bill that would greatly increase penalties for environmental protesters. Under the proposed law, obstructing or tampering with oil and gas equipment would be reclassified from a misdemeanor to a ‘class 6’ felony, a category of crime that reportedly can be punished by up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000.”

7. WASHINGTON

Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen proposed creating a new crime to facilitate charging protesters with a felonies for blocking roads and other assorted activities — he hopes to deem them “economic terrorists.”

Ericksen seeks to allow felony prosecution “of those who intentionally break the law in an attempt to intimidate or coerce private citizens or the government by obstructing economic activity.” However, the broad brush language in his proposed legislation deeply concerns civil and constitutional rights advocates, like Doug Honig of the Washington ACLU, who noted in a statement quoted by Q13 FOX,

The statement throws out a lot of broad rhetoric, and we’ll need to see an actual bill.  But we’re already concerned that some of its loose terms  appear to be targeting  civil disobedience as ‘terrorism.’  That’s the kind of excessive approach to peaceful protest that our country and state do not need.

Let’s keep in mind that civil rights protesters who sat down at lunch counters could be seen as ‘disrupting business’ and ‘obstructing economic activity,’ and their courageous actions were opposed by segregationists as trying to ‘coerce business and government.’

Lawmakers in two states have taken a more unusual route to combat protests.

8. NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina Senator Dan Bishop wants to provide controversial Governor Pat McCrory — and incidentally any politician — an official safe space away from hecklers who might approach to, well, scream unpleasant words.

Bishop, reports the News & Observer, decided verbal criticism of politicians was worthy of legal protection after witnessing McCrory being followed and yelled at over inaugural weekend in Washington, D.C. Should the proposed legislation pass, it would thus be “a crime to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties.”

9. MICHIGAN

Rather than worrying about political or environmental protesters, Michigan lawmakers turned their attention to union workers with two proposed pieces of legislation aimed to sharply curtail the right to picket for grievances such as pay or safety conditions.

“One bill would increase fines against picketers to $1,000 per person per day of a picket and $10,000 per day for an organization or union involved in the picket that is deemed to be an illegal mass picket,” the Detroit Free Press reported last month.

“The other would repeal a law that requires employers to include information about an ongoing strike when they advertise to hire employees who will replace existing, but striking employees at a company.”

10. VIRGINIA

Only in Virginia did a lone lawmaker stand in opposition to their party’s proposed legislative crackdown on protest, as the Daily Press reports

Senate Bill 1055 would have increased penalties for failing to disperse when police declare an unlawful assembly, upping a misdemeanor that brings only a fine now to one with potential jail time. It was one of four bills on protest punishments filed this session by state Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, and the last of the four to die.

* * *

All told, this collection of anti-protest legislation constitutes an overarching attempt to quash the right of the people to demonstrate when the government errs against them — and the result will only increase near unbearable police state conditions already choking out First Amendment protections in the United States.

With division at unprecedented levels over politics, police violence, and, really, any nameable issue, such extraneous laws can only be attempting one thing.

As Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, warned in a statement to the Intercept,

This trend of anti-protest legislation dressed up as ‘obstruction’ bills is deeply troubling. A law that would allow the state to charge a protester $10,000 for stepping in the wrong place, or encourage a driver to get away with manslaughter because the victim was protesting, is about one thing: chilling protest.

Claire Bernish writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.


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24 Comments on "10 Sinister State Moves, Including Killing Protesters, Prove 1st Amendment Is Dying"

  1. I do believe people had better understand that you are fighting a corporation! And that the United States Corporation Company thinks that we are a bunch of little corporations they can boss around!!

    GET THIS STRAIGHT –
    https://anticorruptionsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/articles-of-incorporation-of-u-s-corp-company.pdf

  2. All of these laws are unconstitutional.

    • KarmaUntoKarma | January 28, 2017 at 5:43 am | Reply

      Yes they are, except the writer has ‘chosen’ to word them or twist them to heat up her audience…It worked. You need to understand the concept of law, liberty & freedoms and how they work if people follow them and how they don’t, when they don’t.

      You all have the same inalienable rights as the next person. You do not have a right to strip the other person of them, We don’t always get what we want…so… protest…but…follow the laws, get a permit, don’t obstruct commerce, traffic or the lives of others. Respect the rights, lives, property, liberties & freedoms of others and it shall be given to you as well. Simple.
      You savvy?

  3. NJguy - Proudly Deplorable | January 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Reply

    They can always go to the town hall and get a permit to protest in a safe way just like everyone else. No violence permitted.

    • Average Joe American | January 29, 2017 at 3:29 am | Reply

      “Go to the town hall and get a permit to protest…”

      A permit to protest? Seriously, to protest the town laws supporting the county laws supporting the state laws supporting the federal laws?

      Of COURSE no violence, violence violates all laws unless morally and legally permitted (defense of persons or property). But, get a permit from the government to protest the government?

      “Um, we want a permit for Saturday between the hours of 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM to stage a peaceful demonstration against bulldozing the homeless colony in the vacant lots between 4th and 3rd owned by the city.”

      “Sure, here ya go. We’ll assemble a chain-link protest cage for your people, sign here. Your taxes will pay for the fence, ma’am. Will there be anythin’ else?”

      “Um, where will our cage be located?”

      “Not up to me, ma’am, we’ll just hafta see.”

      • NJguy - Proudly Deplorable | January 29, 2017 at 10:47 am | Reply

        I’m pretty sure that one needs a permit to assemble and protest. This way the area can be secured and all can be safe. However, permits must be granted unless something dangerous or violent requires that it be in a different place at a different time.

    • WOW people need a permit to complain, about mistreatment, what a democracy, called AmeriKKKA.

  4. “10 Sinister State Moves, Including Killing Protesters, Prove 1st Amendment Is Dying.” Yes, and
    the Trojan Horse that brought this fact and the likes of Trump into full bloom was
    the PC agenda and their SJWs, a shadow spawn army (people who are conditioned
    to be 100% repressed (psychologically), focused on hate (separation and division),
    are unable to perform any type of objective critical analysis and as a result
    are100% dependent and thus loyal to the (as Tuaca1107
    calls it) “Corporation”. The politically correct has brought about the censure of anything
    that offends them. Once this became normalized in the various forms of social medias
    this also began and now includes shaming corporations (who have a “personhood”
    recognized and much more valued than ordinary human beings). Their profoundly bigoted,
    undemocratic attacks against anyone who disagreed with them – a Chinese-like cultural
    revolution is happening in North America. The PC correct are
    profoundly dependent on “The Corporation” and will act as Kappos even though in
    the long run the world becomes one gigantic factory/sweatshop. The New Human:
    is completely and utterly dependent and slaveringly loyal to their corporate
    masters. Our fine Social Justice
    Warriors are truly delivering humankind into a worldwide condition of
    technocratic servitude.

  5. Lawrence Ambrose | January 27, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Reply

    A Constitutional right to violate rights. Hmmm…

  6. There is a difference in the right to peaceably assemble to protest, and actions that prevent others from exercising their rights to travel, among other things. Protesting along the side of a rode is one thing, blocking the right of others to use the road is whole different ball game. If anything goes to get someones attention, does one have a right to hit a person with a brick to — get his or her attention? I think the key word is “peaceably” to assemble. Protests of late are more often than not, violent. Violence begets violence, so perhaps we should allow people to run over those who block the roads just for sport of it. The people who trample the rights of others have set the rules of engagement, and cannot cry foul with another does the same to them.

  7. Yvonne Forsman | January 28, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Reply

    In contrast to this article here is a different news: FB censors certain posts.

    Who remembers 9/11? Who remembers Paris? Who remembers
    Brussels? Who remembers San Bernardino? I think most of us do. The other day a
    snowflake dumbo I don’t know posted on FB that he will become a Muslim in
    protest to President Trump banning ppl from terrorist countries to enter the
    US. I responded to the post by asking if he is going to go on a killing spree,
    adding that if he has a gun maybe we should report him to the police b/c he
    seems a bit unstable. FB blocked me for 24 hours. Should FB management be on
    the US domestic terrorist list?

  8. The problem, though, is that these protesters aren’t your garden variety protesters exercising their “right to free speech”—they are a bunch of leftist, communist, moslem sympathizing people who want to overthrow the government through anarchy. They hate the country that is allowing them to “protest.” They have no desire to work within the confines of our system. They want to overthrow it.

    • Average Joe American | January 29, 2017 at 3:00 am | Reply

      Sure you’re right, in many cases. But…then there are the situations where enough is, in fact, enough. We had protesters knocked down with police clubs, fire hoses, tear gas, rubber bullets, plastic shields, horses and attack dogs…

      I was a teenager going into my twenties. We had sit-ins and be-ins and love-ins. We protested black voter suppression in the South, we protested the illegal Viet Nam War (“police action”), we protested the draft and oppressive marijuana laws…we got crushed. And we came back. And we got crushed. And we…came…back.

      Now they give us “free speech cages” at political events. What’s that nonsense about?

      Nowadays we have paid protesters, undercover cops masquerading as protesters, people burning cars and smashing windows, agents provocateurs…

      In my day innocents marched and got tear gassed and clubbed, trampled and bitten, like normal pissed off citizens. We got blasted down the street by high-pressure water hoses and trampled by mounted police.

      Protesters these days…wusses. Obamacare wouldn’t cover what we suffered, we were proud to bear the scars of citizen assembly.

  9. freewheelinfranklin543 | January 28, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Reply

    Your DAPL “water protectors” are nothing but a bunch of Soros sponsored and funded terrorists who have committed arson,vandalism,aggravated assaults on law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen. They have rioted,burned bridges,construction equipment and police and National Guard vehicles. They have made destructive devices and thrown them at the police ie Molotov cocktails and pipebombs. They have cut ranchers fences and rustled over 3 dozen cows and Bison which they ate. They have dragged DAPL employees out of their trucks and beaten them.
    Bad cases make bad law!

  10. Perhaps the first time a protester is prosecuted under such new potential laws, it should immediately be legally challenged (not just defended against) on a Constitutional basis.

  11. To determine if, as the author here concludes, that the first amendment is a dead letter law one of these state laws would have to challenged in court and if necessary taken to the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. If the suit was unsuccessful then indeed the first amendment and the entire constitution could then be said to be fully null and void. Some have speculated that when the Continuity of Government Act [COG] was declared to be in effect by Cheney on the morning of September 11, 2001, and renewed before sunset expiry ever since, that this was the end of the Constitution as the superior law of the land. COG contains provisions which suspend the constitution, in whole or which parts is not clearly known, under the emergency which triggered the declaration of COG to be in effect. Under a national emergency declaration the President assumes control of the nation as its supreme commander, or why executive orders have so much power today and in reality making Congress as the people’s representatives largely redundant and destroying any balance of power with the branches of government.

  12. Klikhir Tulagin | January 28, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Reply

    Well, the March for Life should serve to remind everyone what a an authentically peaceful protest looks like. If you behave that way, none of these proposed rules will touch you. (If you engage in purposeful provocation, you invite subversion of your event by police provocateurs, as is standard in a lot of countries. Let’s stay out of the downward spiral that produces.)
    Besides that, I thought that wearing masks in marches was already prohibited almost everywhere under the anti-Klan laws of the 1920’s and ’30’s. (The compliant, open-faced hoods look even dumber than the regular hoods, which are at least a little bit scary. The anti-mask laws were effective.)
    Finally, the North Carolina legislation about harassment of EX-officeholders is being copied from the DC ordinance that nobody is complaining about. (Redress of grievances isn’t available from someone who is no longer in office. Duh.)

  13. Of course this is all being proposed by right wing neo-fascists. America is shutting down. Once people have been silenced, then it is very easy for those in power to do whatever they wish.
    What these politician are doing is going tolead to further erosion of the First Amendment but then it’s obvious there are some of you would would like that.
    This is only the beginning of the complete destruction of the Bill of Rights.
    The political right has now exposed itself for what it truly is; neo fascist reactionaries, paid puppets for corporations, and just plain ignorant self hating rednecks.
    America is falling into a neo-nazi police state.
    When tyranny comes to America, there will be many who will stand up and applaud. They will choose the illusion of safety over liberty. They will willingly give up their rights to an abusive authoritarian regime which cares nothing for them. They will do so out of misplaced patriotism or religious belief. They will become lambs being led to the slaughter in the name of “Home Land security. In the name of Law and order. In the name some twisted ideal of patriotism. In the name
    “They who would give up essential liberty for safety deserve neither and shall have none.” Benj, Franklin.
    Once liberty is lost it become nearly impossible to regain .
    And if you seriously believe they won’ go any further , then you are living in La la land. The Fourth Amendment has been all but gutted. The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendment has been seriously eroded. Just how long before it is decided that private gun ownership is considered domestic terrorism?
    Well, you’d better consider it because that’s what the DHS considers all those who own guns: as domestic terrorist threats. And you’re next.
    If you are wiling to go along with further erosions of the the First Amendment then you are willing to go along with anything else.
    Those people who have blocked traffic as a form of protest do not deserve to be run over. The politician who proposed that creepy legislation will sooner or later be the victim of his own stupidity
    Be careful what you wish for.

  14. The supporters of the wealthy, are NEO-FASCIST, usually poor or middle class whites, whom also are nothing more than prisoners with privileges. Trumpeters are nothing more than the first wave of Nazism AmeriKKKAN style.

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