How's this for a laughable — were it not so serious — proposed law? Arizona legislators want to make organizers and participants in planned peaceful protests subject to racketeering laws if violence erupts during the event. It would place protest organizers in the same league as organized crime figures and allow the government to seize the organizers' and protesters' assets — and possibly arrest them before the event if police believe violence might occur.
Hey, Arizona, let me introduce you to the 1st Amendment.
The impetus for this bit of stupidity apparently is the false idea — fake news! — embraced by so many on the right, including President Trump and his spokesman,
“It is a fundamental principle of American democracy that the policies and statements of a president — any president — should and must be second-guessed by citizens, experts, artists, stakeholders and, of course, the media. Political protest is part of the lifeblood of American democracy, from the Boston
And squelching peaceful is as democratic as, well, fill in the name of your favorite autocratic regime.
This isn't to argue that violent protests are defensible. They aren't. They achieve little (maybe personal catharsis for some) and erode public support from more sympathetic folks repelled by violence and property damage.
Such actions also invite violent repression by the police, again obscuring the point of the protest in the smoke of exploding tear gas canisters. Anarchists and their ilk aside, protest organizers rarely are interested in a violent confrontation.
To make the organizers, and peaceful protesters who join in to exercise their 1st Amendment right, responsible for the criminal acts of others is as silly as it is draconian. That's like arresting all the customers in a bank because one of them decided to rob it.
In fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled against a somewhat-related argument under which pro-choice advocates sued anti-abortion groups on grounds that raucous protests outside abortion clinics violated federal racketeering laws.
It's hard to envision even a conservative – or maybe, especially a conservative – Supreme Court letting stand a state law that holds people responsible for the unforeseen criminals acts of others, who may in fact be strangers to the organizers, and who may be acting under the proposed law to undermine their opponents.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see a scenario in which an anti-deportation protest turns violent with the arrival of a few pro-deportation folks tossing rocks through windows. Or, conversely, to see civil rights activists sweeping through a pro-police rally just to torch a car and watch the government jail and seize assets from those whose intent was to stand up for law and order.
Arizona needs to back down and save itself a lot of headaches, and the time and cost it will take to defend an indefensible law.