You know a protest is working when the powers that be try to stop you. By this measure, anti-Trump protests have been a success to some degree, since they have Republican lawmakers absolutely shook. Protests have damaged the Trump administration and the GOP’s public perception, handicapped conservative efforts to dismantle Obamacare, and even prompted the President to cancel some public appearances. Subsequently, nearly 20 states have already seen conservative politicians float anti-protest legislation, and that number seems to grow every day. Here are the states that have attempted to criminalize protest and silence activists in the process.
North Dakota, Florida, Tennessee
Two states have introduced legislation that would make it legal to hit a protester with your car. In Florida, state senator George Gainer introduced a law that would “exempt drivers from liability” if they hit a protestor under certain conditions. In North Dakota, a similar bill narrowly failed. North Dakota has been among the most aggressive states in crafting anti-protester legislation. These proposals take aim at the massive number of people who have stood in solidarity with indigenous people against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Lawmakers in North Dakota have also introduced legislation to punish masked protesters and have pushed for reimbursement for pipeline protests from the federal government. A Tennessee lawmaker has expressed admiration for these “Drive Your Ground” laws and hopes to craft something similar for consideration in Nashville.
Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Washington
The most common types of anti-protester legislation, being pursued in five states, aim at criminalizing blocking highways, sidewalks, and even airport terminals. Georgia’s proposed “Back the Badge” bill, which would increase penalties for blocking highways and sidewalks, has already passed the state senate. Similar legislation in Iowa would make blocking a highway a felony that carries up to five years in prison. In Mississippi, a similar bill would also make blocking the highway a crime worth five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Initially, the Indiana State Senate floated a bill that would give law enforcement the authority to shut down highway protests by “any means necessary.” This language was softened to simply allowing cops to levy stiff fines against protesters. In South Dakota, where lawmakers are anticipating an uptick in protests once the Dakota Access Pipeline protests disperse, similar laws are being considered. Washington’s bill aimed at punishing protesters who block highways refers to demonstrators as “economic terrorists.”
Following the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, oil rich states have introduced bills aimed at crippling environmental protests. In Colorado, lawmakers hope to strengthen penalties for “tampering” with oil and gas equipment (a.k.a. shutting off pipelines) with up to two years in jail and fines that could be as much as $100,000. Oklahoma is considering a similar law that would apply to both pipelines and railways. North Dakota has also introduced legislation along these lines to accompany their battery of other anti-protest bills.
In Michigan, politicians are doing their best to dismantle the state’s legacy of protest by increasing fines for “mass picketing” and giving courts broad authority to shut down protests.
The Minnesota GOP has joined in on pushing fines for protesters who block highways, though the proposal isn’t likely to make it into law in the blue state. That said, Minnesota has also flirted with a measure that would allow jurisdictions to retroactively charge protestors the costs of policing protests.
A common conservative tactic is to attempt to ban protesters from wearing masks or disguises during protests. Aimed at antifa and anarchist groups, this type of law has been stretched to include clothing as common as hoodies. Missouri considered such a measure after Ferguson, and has continued to discuss legislation under Trump.
After a group of protesters followed outgoing governor Pat McCrory around D.C. on inaugural weekend chanting “Shame!” a la Game of Thrones, state senator Dan Bishop introduced legislation to “protect public officials.” The bill would “make it 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 her duties.” The ACLU has been sharply critical of the bill, calling it a violation of the Constitution.
Conservatives in Oregon (who knew?) introduced legislation that would force public community colleges and universities to expel students caught taking part in “violent” riots.
One of the most transparent attempts to reduce the rights of protesters has come out of Virginia at the request of local law enforcement. One proposed bill included increased penalties for people who refuse to leave the scene of a riot or unlawful protest; those found guilty of this incredibly vague crime could face up to a year in jail. Thankfully, the bill died in the state senate.
One of the strangest bills targeting protesters is Arizona’s SB1142, which would expand the state’s racketeering laws to include “rioting.” The bill extends the definition of rioting to include “actions that result in the damage to the property of others.” As you might expect, such an odd and extreme law requires the construction of a straw man. State senator John Kavanagh said, “You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder.” This bill has advanced to the Arizona House after passing the state senate.
While professional protestors don’t actually exist, there are definitely politicians out their being paid to punish those flexing their First Amendment rights. They’re likely coming to a state near you if they haven’t already.