Executive Order, State Laws Seek To Criminalize Protests

If you are a committed climate change advocate, what you are about to read should scare the bejezus out of you. President Trump and his new Attorney General, along with legislatures in several US states, are trying to turn dissent and public protests into criminal acts carrying prison sentences of 5 to 40 years.

Go back and read that again. Never before in America have citizens been so outraged by the behavior of the federal government. Shredding environmental protections, slashing regulations that put limits on Wall Street and the banks, eliminating Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, barring refugees and immigrants from our shores. The list of abuses is long and getting longer. People are angry, but Executive Orders signed by Trump on Thursday will put people who dare raise their voice against the administration in prison.

This is the America our forefathers fought and died for? What about the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances?”

The latest Executive Order seems to target Black Lives Matter activists and the Native Americans at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Trump has already signed an order commanding that construction of the the Dakota Access pipeline go forward, claiming he is unaware of any opposition to the plan. The order says it is intended to prevent violence to police officers and calls for a review of existing laws with an eye toward proposing new legislation that will define “new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes.”

In other words, you can protest all you want, so long as you do it from inside a solitary confinement cell in a federal prison. Congressional Republicans seem eager to get in on the fun of incarcerating their constituents.

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Several states are also ratcheting up the pressure on nonviolent protesters. In recent weeks, Minnesota passed a law that would require protesters to pay the cost of police protection. Another bill under consideration called the Minnesota Public Safety Personnel Protection Act would mandate a minimum of 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for any protester who obstructs police or other public employees.

Try proving your innocence if you get charged under that law. You will need surveillance video from a drone to prove the police provoked an incident, but of course filming the police is itself a crime in many jurisdictions.

In North Dakota, Republicans have introduced a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so “accidentally.” Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to make any acts of civil disobedience that qualify as “economic terrorism” a felony. And what is “economic terrorism?” Anything the local police and prosecutors say it is.

Are you getting the idea that America is no longer a free country but rather a dictatorship? A country that used to celebrate its diversity and “spit in your eye” grit has become a place where citizens cower in their homes, afraid of young refugee children who have suffered the worst deprivation imaginable. We have become a nation where it is okay to tell other people what to think and how to act and lock them up if they don’t comply.

We are a nation in which our police forces have become weaponized, militarized, and fortified to carry out the most vicious assaults on citizens, all paid for by we the people. We are paying people to make criminals of us all.

I have a prediction. Sometime in the next several months, a joint task force equipped with tanks, helicopters, stun grenades, sound cannons, water cannons, rubber bullets, and assault rifles are going to swoop down on the Standing Rock protesters and clear them out by any means necessary. Many will be grievously injured. Some will be killed, all in the name of completing a pipeline filled with some of the dirtiest oil on the face of the earth so the oil barons and the banks can make a few more shekels.

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When Trump signed the executive order to restart construction of the pipeline, he bragged that he was unaware of any complaints about it. Tell that to the military veterans who are converging on Standing Rock once again. “We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late Friday. “We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.”

How ironic that people who once were classified as heroes on foreign battlefields will now be vilified and subject to long prison terms for protecting liberty on a domestic battlefield. Many of the protesters will be rounded up and charged with felonious conduct, then shuffled off to detention centers around the country. It will be one of the saddest moments in the history of a once great nation.

Benjamin Franklin, the prince of sage advice and wise sayings, once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” After the Constitution was completed in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, Franklin was asked by a citizen, “What sort of government have you given us, sir?” “A republic,” he replied. “If you can keep it.”

Franklin and his peers knew all too well how human frailties and foibles could undermine the best of intentions. That is why they tried so hard to set in place a system of checks and balances, so that greed, avarice, ignorance, and the lust for power could not tear the new nation apart. The plan worked for nearly 250 years. But now, that republic is no more. Government in America is for sale to the highest bidder. The people who represent us are sworn enemies of government. They now propose to make criminals of us all.

Is there anything that can save us? Based on all the observable evidence, the answer is “probably not.” Public protest is certainly not the answer. It is good for making the participants feel good, but seldom brings about changes in policies. More direct action is needed, such as the movement that convinced the Seattle City Council to sever its business relationship with Wells Fargo bank. Actions that affect corporate profits are the only way to effect change in corporate boardrooms.

The courts may or may not prove to be a bulwark against tyranny. The jury is still out on that. Donating to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union will help focus judicial scrutiny on the worst civil rights abuses by federal and state authorities.

America is no longer a nation of people. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of America, Inc., where corporate profits are valued more than civil liberties. The people must now decide whether to sever the link between business and government and restore the Constitution to its rightful place as the owners manual for democracy. But you better hurry. The forces of evil have every intention of shutting down the power of the ballot box. Start planning now to vote on November 6, 2018.

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