Today, we focus on the threat to America’s tattered democracy posed by a well organized effort from the right to prepare almost unfathomable legislation making felons of anyone daring to raise their voice with media lies used to justify these attacks on democracy. Read on, Retakers, we’ve got a short one today!
News In Brief:
A Focus on a Fraying Democracy
Today, we begin with Heather Cox Richardson and her Letters from an American: “April 26” as HCR offers a frightening view of what the GOP is doing to destroy truth as we know it, undermine democracy and seize power. We then turn to Democracy Now! with a short video describing the details and implications of new state laws criminalizing even the most modest protest, bills that are passing in Red state after Red state.
But First Some Good News
Before turning to the GOP and the media lies and misinformation related to civil unrest and Black Lives Matter, HCR begins with some good news, by outlining Biden’s newly announced shift in foreign policy, placing the needs of everyday people at the forefront. HCR cites as evidence:
- Biden’s supporting growing protests in the Soviet Union and his placing sanctions upon the Soviet Union,
- His calling out Turkey for over a century of genocide against Armenia, and
- His announcing distribution of 90 million vaccines to other countries as manifest of a new US foreign policy direction, one focused on the welfare of everyday people as a weapon against authoritarianism.
Normally one to place current policy decisions in historical context, HCR gives Biden a pass here, failing to even reference almost 250 years of bipartisan policy driven by colonialism and capitalism, with the interests of the oligarchs far more important than those people Biden now purports to want to protect. But taken on face value, these moves are certainly welcome announcements.
Now let us see if Biden applies these principles to challenge Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, if he applies pressure on Bolsonaro in Brazil, supports the struggles of governments whose democracies have been eroded by US foreign policy across Central America and in Venezuela, or offers US help to those nations being most impacted by the climate catastrophe. If so, this would certainly be a meaningful change in policy. I wish I were more optimistic, but 250 years of US domestic and international oppression is a mighty big precedent to skip past.
Now the Bad News
After introducing these promising foreign policy shifts, HCR abruptly shifts to a different focus, the Republican Party’s efforts to use “public safety” concerns and false claims of residents in America’s cities living in fear of spiraling BLM riots and urban terror, to craft another array of antidemocratic legislation aimed at curbing even the smallest, most peaceful protests. This latest round of ALEC-inspired legislation follows on the heels of “protect the vote” bills passing in virtually all Red states, bills designed to suppress our vote. The new wave of legislation is explicitly designed to suppress our voice.
HCR cites the new Florida law that:
- Can define a “riot” as a gathering of just three people if it is felt that there is the threat of violence.
- Classifies participation in these riots as felonies with the loss of the right to vote, forfeiture of all rights to bail, and subjects those arrested to 5 years in prison.
- Protects people who happen to injure or kill a protester during a riot, including by driving a car into them.
- Makes local governments financially liable if they do not respond aggressively enough to “unlawful assembly.”
- Prevents local government from redirecting any funds from police departments to fund more proactive and less forceful responses by trained mental health professionals or conflict resolution experts in specific kinds of low-threat cases.
And these bills are now being rushed through 17 state legislatures across the nation. You have to stop for a moment and consider the chilling impact such legislation will have on plans for even the most modest protests. These ALEC-generated laws are intentionally vague, leaving to the police responsibility for defining when public property is “threatened” and when a peaceful protest is deemed violent and therefore a riot.
Imagine a BLM protest in Miami with 20 BLM leaders speaking to a crowd of several hundred. Now imagine one over-exuberant participant throwing a rock at a police car or even just gesturing at police in a menacing manner. Is raising your fist menacing? Does it foretell possible violence? Still more chilling, imagine a white supremacist donning a BLM t-shirt, throwing that rock at a line of police.
In each instance, we now have a riot and all those participating, including the entire local leadership of the BLM are felons. Now imagine the anger their arrest would spawn, as they stew in jail without recourse to bail, awaiting trial and facing felony charges and five year sentences: for one thrown rock or raised fist. But now imagine how in days that follow, those police begin rounding up those participants who merely attended the protest, some perhaps for the first time, curious about what the BLM has to say. These individuals would also be subject to arrest without bail, felony charges and prison sentences.
Now imagine the calls for a protest to these arrests and the decision conscientious citizens would face: Do I raise my voice and risk prison? And of course, that is precisely the point of these laws. They are not designed to protect public safety; they are designed to suppress dissent. These laws fly in the face of research published by the Washington Post that found that over 96% of BLM protests involved absolutely no violence or damage to property.
They also fly in the face of our constitutional amendment guaranteeing free speech. But who is poised to protect our right to free speech? A court system that over the past four years, Trump and the GOP have infused with hundreds of very conservative, very young judges eager to advance the aims of the right.
As damaging as these laws are, and with seventeen Red states now pushing them through their fear-driven legislatures, they are truly a threat, the real threat to democracy lies in the rhetoric and lies used to justify legislative assaults on voting access and freedom of speech. From HCR:
“FNC personality Tucker Carlson called for his audience to start direct action. He told them to confront people wearing masks, which he says are signs of “political obedience.” He maintained that 64% of white Americans who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” “have been diagnosed with an actual mental health condition.” He called them “aggressors” and told supporters, “it’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in.” He said to call the police immediately if they see children wearing masks and keep calling until someone arrives: it is child abuse, he says, and his audience is “morally obligated to prevent it.”HCR Letters from an American: “April 26”
There is so much to unpack in the quote above. While comfortably ensconced in the Santa Fe progressive bubble, it is easy to disregard such overtly absurd claims, except that these and others like them are repeated daily. The systematic use of false claims are everywhere: the January 6 assault on the Congress was really Antifa and BLM terrorists; Biden wants to take your red meat and you will only be allowed one hamburger a month; masks are political mind control; vaccines change your DNA and are part of a government effort to create compliant sheep; Trump really won the election in a landslide.
This misinformation is being purveyed in a systematic campaign to foster ill-informed resistance to any form of government regulation or policy that threatens GOP power. And the sheer breadth and scale of their lies and the utter disregard for anything remotely resembling truth threatens to divide us and undermine civil discourse. How do you have a conversation with someone who counters everything you say with: “You are just spouting is liberal BS and 64% of those liberals are mentally ill” When this “fact” is challenged, the reply would be, “Tucker Carlson.”
We have a challenge to our Democracy that will be a focal point of future Retake / Rethink reporting. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, check out the 10 minute Democracy Now report from yesterday as it goes into more depth on the threat of the most recent challenge to our democracy, the ALEC-inspired legislative campaign described above.
Amy Goodman & Democracy Now
On GOP Efforts to Criminalize Dissent
The first seven and a half minutes outlines the legislation in Florida and other Red states. Amy then conducts a six minute interview with Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer who was murdered on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville when run over by a car, an act that would now be considered legal. What’s more, all of those Charlottesville white supremacists are now legally authorized to serve as judge, jury and executioner of all the peaceful protesters who might challenge their view of America. The interview closes with examination of how police have militarized crowd control and policy that reinforces and expands “stand your guard” bills that allow people to take the law in their own hands.
We need a plan. Ideas?
In solidarity, hope and gratitude,
Paul & Roxanne