Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Police advance on demonstrators who are protesting the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Police advance on demonstrators who are protesting the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

'Classic Case of Crisis Opportunism': Republicans in Three States Introduce Bills Criminalizing Protest in Wake of Capitol Attack

These proposed laws are "aimed at police brutality protests, not right-wing insurrection."

Kenny Stancil

Progressives are sounding the alarm that a handful of Republican lawmakers are exploiting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by an insurrectionist pro-Trump mob to push for anti-protest bills that critics say do not aim to stem the tide of right-wing extremism but instead criminalize dissent by those seeking social change and justice.

In the immediate aftermath of last week's invasion of the halls of Congress, GOP lawmakers in Florida, Mississippi, and Indiana introduced bills that "do not represent new strategies designed specifically to prevent future right-wing insurrections... [but] draw from a set of policies that numerous state legislators introduced [last] summer in order to appear tough on protests against police brutality," The Intercept reported Tuesday.

According to the news outlet:

Florida's and Mississippi's bills in particular represent a new brand of anti-protest laws on steroids, creating penalties for a wide array of activities, from damaging monuments to obstructing traffic. The bills include measures that could encourage harsh law enforcement responses to protests as well as provisions meant to prevent local governments from reducing police funding.

The narrower Indiana bill would broaden the definition of rioting—which the Florida bill did as well—and would criminalize camping at the Indiana state Capitol. The Mississippi bill would also allow the state to strip unemployment benefits from anyone who pleads guilty to participating in disruptive protests.

The Intercept noted that lawmakers are using last week's events as an excuse to build on earlier efforts to penalize left-wing civil disobedience. This is "a renewed push to criminalize certain kinds of dissent," including protests against police violence as well as the fossil fuel industry.

"Civil liberties advocates warn that the three bills are only the tip of the iceberg," The Intercept reported, stressing that the new bills should not be interpreted as straightforward responses to the assault on the Capitol. Instead, the news outlet said, this legislative push is an attempt to "rebrand" previous anti-democratic attempts to crack down on protests, taking advantage of outrage over the right-wing attack on the Capitol to inhibit demonstrations for progressive causes.

"Look closely" at the proposed laws, said Alleen Brown, who co-authored the article with Akela Lacy. "They're aimed at police brutality protests, not right-wing insurrection."

In a critique of what he called the "righteous bipartisan weaponizing of this crisis," journalist Christopher Cook argued on Tuesday in The Progressive that the tools we create in response to the January 6 insurrection "will certainly be used to tamp down mass protest from the left."

"It's easy to see the Trump-incited insurrection as sheer madness fueled by utter falsehoods, not genuine dissent or 'protest,' but that won't keep it from being weaponized to expand the policing of protest throughout the United States," he warned.

In fact, Cook pointed out, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis "promoted a new bill 'cracking down on Black Lives Matter protests... [on] the same day insurrectionists were storming the Capitol." DeSantis used the riots in Washington, D.C., attended by several neo-Confederates, as a pretext to "make taking down Confederate statues a felony."

"When the acts of sedition spew from toy-soldier white supremacists and venomous self-proclaimed 'patriots' motivated by outright lies," it is easy to call for more surveillance, but "do we wish to... suppress every type of uprising, every act of sedition, no matter the cause or agenda?" Cook asked.

"We must remain vigilantly clear-eyed about protecting the right to nonviolent protest and dissent."
—Christopher Cook, journalist

"As the planet burns, our healthcare system crumbles, and our economy grows more vastly unequal and untenable, there may well be a need for some nonviolent rebellion from the left," Cook concluded. "We must remain vigilantly clear-eyed about protecting the right to nonviolent protest and dissent."

There is considerable overlap between critiques of crisis-driven attempts to criminalize dissent and warnings of the repressive implications of passing new laws targeting "domestic terrorism."

As Common Dreams reported on Monday, progressives say the federal government's failure to crack down on far-right extremists is a matter of insufficient will, not a lack of power. If law enforcement agencies are given an enlarged toolbox, critics say, those weapons will be used to stifle constitutional protections of free speech and the right to air grievances before the state.

Alluding to the significance and fragility of ongoing fights against Enbridge Energy's Line 3 project and against police violence, The Intercept's Ryan Grim noted that enacting "new laws criminalizing protest [and] expanding the definition of what counts as terrorism... [will] make pipeline companies" and Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)—who last summer advocated for invoking the Insurrection Act and deploying the military to quash racial justice demonstrations—"very very happy."

Spencer Ackerman, a reporter at The Daily Beast, on Wednesday spoke with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) about the danger of allowing January 6 to be turned into a "new September 11" that is followed by a punitive curtailment of civil liberties. While the progressive lawmaker has demanded accountability and supports Rep. Jamaal Bowman's (D-N.Y.) efforts to launch an investigation into the right-wing insurrection, she warned against greenlighting an expansion of the national security state.

As "the first woman in Congress to wear a hijab, someone who came to Minnesota as a refugee from Somalia, Omar... embodies everything that people who wear Camp Auschwitz sweatshirts consider the imminent end of America: political power in the hands of a left-wing Black Muslim woman," Ackerman wrote

He continued:

Trump, who is not incompetent when it comes to demagoguery, fed on a generation of security politics, regnant in both parties, that expressly demonized people like who look and worship like Omar. A rhetorical fixture at his rallies, his supporters would chant send her back. Omar's career shows the promise of American democracy despite such entrenched forces. But it also shows how a War on Terror is reactionary wildfire. Imagine for a moment what the mob would have done if the men who entered the Capitol brandishing zipties had gotten ahold of her...

[And yet,] Rep. Omar, with the weight of all of that on her shoulders, is warning against a domestic War on Terror.

Omar told The Daily Beast that notwithstanding the "traumatizing" nature of last week's events, "we must not give into fear or allow ourselves to be terrorized by those who seek to harm us. The answer is not a broader security structure, or a deeper police state."

"We should not lose sight of our disgust at the double standards employed against white protesters and black ones, or against Muslims and non-Muslims," Omar added. "But at the same time we must resist the very human desire for revenge—to simply see the tools that have oppressed black and brown people expanded."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

McDonald's Workers Join 'Striketober' and Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment

One striker participated because "McDonald's still refuses to take responsibility for the countless women and teenagers who face harassment on the job at its stores across the globe."

Jessica Corbett ·

Breaking: FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine for Kids 5 to 11

With just one abstention, the advisory panel voted 17-0 to approve the vaccine for younger children which scientific review has deemed both safe and effective against the deadly virus.

Common Dreams staff ·

Sunrise Movement Corrects Manchin: US 'Has Done More Than Any Other' to Cause—Not Solve—Climate Crisis

"Sen. Manchin is clearly drafting his climate plan with false information. At worst he's telling us lies given to him by his fossil fuel donors. At best, he's misinformed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Worst Polluters Spending Over Two Times More on Border Militarization Than on Climate Action

"Maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo