In what is being called the "biggest protest crackdown since the Civil Rights Era," Republicans in at least 20 states have put forward or passed laws with the intention of making protest more difficult and the punishment for expressing dissent more draconian since President Donald Trump's inauguration in January.
"The state will try to devise ways to squash opposition and chill the will of people who are willing to face risks to their liberty to further their cause."
—Chase Iron Eyes, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Throughout his bid for the White House, Trump frequently signaled his support for taking forceful action against those who vocally opposed him at campaign rallies and speeches, once suggesting a protester who interrupted a rally "should have been roughed up."
In what was characterized as "an act of intimidation," Trump also floated the idea of "jailing journalists who publish classified information" in a private meeting with former FBI Director James Comey.
Republican lawmakers, it appears, have been emboldened by Trump's open contempt for free expression. News outlets, alarmed by the trend, have kept a running tally of states with anti-dissent laws in the works. Common Dreams reported in April that the number had reached 19, up from 10 in January. Now, according to The Daily Beast, 20 states are in the process of attempting to suppress peaceful resistance.
- In North Dakota, several measures were passed during protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, one of which makes it illegal for demonstrators to cover their faces.
- Missouri, Washington, Georgia, Nebraska, and Montana are considering similar laws.
- In Minnesota, a "pending bill would allow a state or local government to bring a civil action against people 'convicted of participating in an unlawful assembly' in order to recover 'public safety response costs,'" according to Vox.
- "North Dakota, Tennessee and Florida have submitted bills immunizing motorists who strike a protester if a demonstration obstructs traffic," USA Today reported.
- In Wisconsin, a proposed bill would punish "anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct that interferes with the free expression of others."
- North Carolina State Senator Dan Bishop has vowed to introduce legislation that would criminalize heckling.
- Iowa and Mississippi have filed bills that would make "blocking high-speed roads a felony."
With such measures proliferating across the U.S., the United Nations condemned the trend as both "alarming and undemocratic."
"In my dozen years of monitoring state legislation, I’ve certainly not seen a wave of anti-protest bills this large," Lee Rowland, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), recently told the New York Times.
Attempts to crackdown on dissent have also begun to affect the work of the national press. In a move that sparked immediate outrage, Senate Republicans last week announced new rules making it difficult for reporters to interview lawmakers in the hallways of the Capitol.
On Monday, the White House barred reporters from making audio or video recordings of the daily press briefing, prompting an indignant reaction from CNN's Jim Acosta, who deemed it deliberate "suppression of information."
Make no mistake about what we are all witnessing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news media. Hiding behind no camera/no audio gaggles— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
Chase Iron Eyes, an activist and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, recently characterized the White House's anti-dissent posture, as well as Republican efforts to criminalize protest, as an attempt to "send chilling effects" and delegitimize activists engaged in non-violent resistance.
"The state will try to devise ways to squash opposition and chill the will of people who are willing to face risks to their liberty to further their cause," he concluded.