Republican Congressmen have introduced legislation that would make it a crime, punishable by more than a decade in prison, for protesters to cover their faces during demonstrations.
The “Unmasking Antifa Act,” introduced in June by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) and co-sponsored by Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Ted Budd (R-NC), states anyone who “while wearing a mask, injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates any person” could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
The broader aim of not allowing masked protesters at demonstrations isn’t that unusual. Since the 1950s, 18 states have introduced legislation making it illegal to wear masks at protests. Those laws, which were ironically put in place to combat the KKK, have since been flipped on their head to target leftist protesters. In April for instance, counter-protestors at a Nazi rally in Georgia were forced at gunpoint by police to remove their masks.
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) April 21, 2018
What makes this latest piece of legislation so troubling is that it specifically targets the constitutionally protected rights of leftist counter-protestors to free assembly rather than, say, the neo-Nazi who killed one and injured dozens more during last year’s Unite the Right white supremacist rally.
The legislation also ignores the massive disparity in violence between Antifa and far-right groups. As HuffPost noted, there has been precisely one death at the hands of Antifa in more than 30 years, while individuals affiliated with the far-right have been responsible for dozens of police fatalities in the last decade alone.
Curiously, the legislation introduced by Donovan has a specific clause that exempts law enforcement. So while normal citizens could face a decade and a half in prison for wearing a ski mask at a protest, police will still be free to hide their appearance — both at demonstrations and on day-to-day patrol. This is perhaps unsurprising bearing in mind that Rep. Donovan, a former prosecutor, failed to win an indictment to prosecute the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014.
It’s possible that the Unmasking Antifa Act will stall in Congress and never make it to the floor for a vote, serving only as an ideological campaign advertisement for Donovan, who represents a very Republican, law enforcement-friendly district in Staten Island.
If it were enacted, however, it would put any leftist counter-protester at far-right rallies in an incredibly precarious position: risk the possibility of 15 years in prison for covering up your face, or expose your identity and face the very real threat of a far-right harassment and stalking campaign.
Since last year’s Unite the Right rally the far-right media ecosystem has been steadily pushing the idea that it is Antifa, and not white supremacists or neo-Nazis, who are the real “terrorists” that America needs to worry about. In the immediate aftermath of the Sutherland Springs shooting last November for instance, Mike Cernovich suggested that it may have been an “Antifa terrorist attack” (it was not). “Crying Nazi” Chris Cantwell, too, claimed in March that he was actually working with the FBI to help “bust Antifa.”
Speaking with the Daily Beast this week, one New York-based Antifa member claimed the latest “anti-Antifa” bill followed that same pattern, “criminaliz[ing] people fighting fascism” rather than cracking down on violent right-wing extremism or abusive government policies.
“The point of these laws is always to protect the status quo of inequality and to use the power of the state to enforce compliance to this inequality,” they said. “This particular law follows this same pattern: it wants to criminalize people fighting fascism, whether that be the kind of scum involved in torchlit marches in Charlottesville, or the ones who rip children away from their parents.”