The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly. Unfortunately, at various times in US history, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have disregarded these protections, targeting people or groups based on political viewpoint, religious affiliation, or participation in lawful protests. The advent of the internet as the new “town square,” has opened a new front in the battle to protect free speech and assembly, and new technologies make it easier for the government to track our communications and movements both on and offline, inhibiting our willingness to dissent.
Undercover agents have infiltrated law-abiding activist groups, police have beaten and tear-gassed protesters at peaceful protests, and people are considered suspect merely because of their real or perceived Islamic faith. On the internet, police and intelligence agencies monitor social media and speech that should be protected by the First Amendment is considered evidence of “material support for terrorism.”
Dissent is being criminalized by DHS Terror Threat Assessments that name environmentalists, practicing Muslims or people with Ron Paul bumper stickers as potential terrorists, by legislation that conflates activism with terrorism (as in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and by over-policing at protests and restrictive “free speech zones.”
On Wednesday, Trump signed two bills meant to support the protest movement in Hong Kong. Would that domestic protest movements got a fraction of the love Capitol Hill and the White House are showering on those in Hong Kong.
The extractive industry is afraid. Concern about climate chaos, and opposition to their pipelines and fracking is growing. Rather than address concerns about the environment, they want to make their critics shut up. So they lobby legislators to pass bills silence the opposition.
Today, the National Park Service announced it will not adopt any of their proposed new regulations and restrictions on protests on the National Mall and the area around the White House.
Ohio’s SB33 would dramatically increase penalties for peaceful protests and civil disobedience at pipeline and other so-called “critical infrastructure” sites, and impose HUGE fines on groups that support protests.
Two bills making their way through the state legislature target protests, and are part of the wave of anti-protest bills we’ve been fighting across the country since 2016. In Wisconsin, anti-pipeline protesters and student protesters are being singled out for draconian penalties.