Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Civil Society Groups Warn Against Anti-Protest Legislation Following Siege of US Capital

"We have to make sure this moment is not used to further anti-protest legislation."

Simon Davis-Cohen

Hours after Confederate flag-toting white supremacists made their way into the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of the U.S. presidential election, the Florida House of Representatives released a statement announcing its intention to pass a bill to clamp down on protests.

“In response to the violent mobs in Washington, D.C., the Florida House of Representatives and Senate filed identical bills to combat violence, disorder and looting in Florida,” the release reads.

"While we condemn these crimes against democracy, such antics cannot be used to justify new repressive measures against actual protests, restrictions of the right of peaceful assembly, or curtailment of speech."
—Chip Gibbons, Defending Rights and Dissent

The proposed legislation in Florida is a continuation of a national trend to attempt to criminalize Black Lives Matter, indigenous and other civil rights protest movements. The proposed Florida legislation aims to punish municipalities that reduce funding to police departments, protect Confederate monuments, legalize forms of vigilante violence against protesters, and heighten “riot” charges. Democratic State Rep. Omari Hardy called it “bad legislation that is fundamentally un-American,” and “unconstitutional.”

Across the nation, dozens of sister anti-protest bills have been passed and proposed over the past few years, many at the behest of law enforcement lobbies and unions and influential corporate lobbies.

The proposed Florida bills are not alone.

A bill to criminalize anti-pipeline demonstrations is awaiting Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s signature (SB33). Others, to legalize violence against protesters, further criminalize, or punish protesting, are alive in Missouri (SB 26, SB 66, HB56), New Jersey (S 3261, A 4991, AB 3760), Oklahoma (SB 15), South Carolina (HB 3491), Virginia (SB 5079, SB 5058, SB 5074), according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, as well as in Nebraska, Texas and Utah.

Weaponizing the siege of the U.S. Capitol

When news broke of the white supremacists breaching the U.S. Capitol, multiple news outlets repeated statements labeling the mob as “anarchists,” echoing White House efforts to target “Antifa.”

This type of weaponization of the day’s events to justify efforts to clamp down on protests is raising concerns among civil society groups.

“We have to make sure this moment is not used to further anti-protest legislation,” says Justin Hansford, Founder and Director of Harvard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.

The events on December 6 showcased preferential treatment by law enforcement for white supremacist groups. “The tanks, batons, and tear gas rounds aggressively used against BLM protesters this summer were conspicuously absent when these white supremacists stormed the capitol building,” says Hansford. “At the end of the day, for many people around the world, this incident punctuated not only the delusion of President Trump's supporters but more enduringly, the fundamentally racially tinged nature of police response to public assemblies."

This preferential treatment, also condemed by the National Lawyers Guild, is further proof that any new efforts to strengthen the power law enforcement to clamp down on dissent—such as through domestic terrorism legislation—is “without basis," says Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director, Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

“This violent mob was allowed to storm the Capitol,” says Verheyden-Hilliard. “The differential treatment that they received, and as compared to the brutal attacks on actual First Amendment protected activity of the racial justice movement, is stunning. Capitol police have all the weapons, tactics and personnel at their disposal but they made an obvious decision not to deploy them. The last thing we need is to allow this right-wing attack on the Capitol to become a vehicle to give police more tools to clamp down on the progressive, peaceful social justice movement.” (The DC Police purchased over $130,000 worth of tear gas just before the November 2020 election and turned down offers from the Pentagon for backup.)

Chip Gibbons, Policy Director for Defending Rights and Dissent agrees. “While we condemn these crimes against democracy, such antics cannot be used to justify new repressive measures against actual protests, restrictions of the right of peaceful assembly, or curtailment of speech,” said Gibbons in a statement.

Groups including Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, Center for Protest Law and Litigation, Defending Rights & Dissent and Justice for Muslims Collective are demanding probes into the federal and local police planning and response to Wednesday’s events.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Simon Davis-Cohen is a writer and filmmaker focusing on political rights, municipal activism and mass incarceration. He works on research and communications for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and edits the Ear to the Ground newsletter. Follow him on Twitter: @SimonDavisCohen

Simon Davis-Cohen

Simon Davis-Cohen is a writer and filmmaker. He can be found on Twitter @SimonDavisCohen

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

News Outlets, Press Freedom Groups to DOJ: Don't Let GOP States Criminalize Abortion Coverage

"We ask that you publicly reiterate the press freedoms granted under the First Amendment, and remind states that they cannot infringe on those rights when news outlets write about abortion."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Terrific Win for Consumers': Biden FDA Clears Way for Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

"This is such an important move that will change lives," said the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Jake Johnson ·


Saudi Arabia's Enablers Condemned as Woman Sentenced to 34 Years for Tweets

"Saudi activists warned Western leaders that giving legitimacy to the crown prince would pave the way for more abuses, which is unfortunately what we are witnessing now."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Hell State America': Florida Appeals Court Won't Let Parentless 16-Year-Old Get an Abortion

"The status of minors in a post-Roe America: Not mature enough to make decisions over your own body, but mature enough to be forced to continue with a pregnancy."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amazon Employees Hold First-Ever Work Stoppage in Air Freight Division

"If Amazon can afford to pay its CEO $214 million last year it can afford to give their workers a $5-an-hour raise and a safe workplace," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo