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.”
The FBI is investigating the car attack against anti-racist activists in Charlottesville, VA, and has been reaching out to counterprotesters who were there, to conduct interviews ostensibly about the car attack.
After the Murderous Attack in Charlottesville, It is Time For Lawmakers to Reject Bills Protecting Those Who Run Over Protesters Once and For All
Lawmakers who push bills removing liability for “accidentally” running over political protesters do so with a wink and a nudge. Responding to a nonexistent problem, these bills are about communicating a murderous disdain for political protests. While given the seriousn nature of the charges against Heather Heyer’s murderer, it is unlikely that bill protecting those who unintentionally run over protesters would have offered him much protection. It is also impossible to deny what message singling out those who injure or kill protesters for special protections sends.
The benefits of protest are not always obvious. Demonstrations are not persuasive in and of themselves, but they encourage discussion and introspection. In the market place of ideas, they open the door for change and help define and protect civic space.
In a terrifying move, the DOJ has served a warrant on web hosting platform DreamHost demanding the IP addresses of all 1.3 million people who visited DisruptJ20.org, the information hub for Inauguration Day protests.
We are deeply saddened to see Rasmea leave and are angered by the circumstances under which she departs. Rasmea has worked tirelessly as a community organizer. Even the last few months, she has continued to fight for social justice, acting as one of the organizers of the March 8 International Women’s Strike.