A new bill dubbed the “Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018” aims to punish the far left activists. Those on the right who are cheering its introduction might want to pump the brakes. The Unmasking Antifa act is a slippery slope waiting to happen.
Antifa has its routes in the anti-fascist movements of Germany as well as The United States prior, during, and after WW2. There has been a reemergence of self-styled Anifa groups in the United States since the 2016 election. You may have seen them during the election protests, at the 2017 Charlottesville protests, at Berkeley, and recently in Charlottesville again.
Not All They’re Cracked Up To Be
Antifa has been linked to multiple acts of violence, mostly against Trump supporters, conservatives, and in some cases, innocent bystanders. They view themselves as a noble, anti-fascist organization. In reality, they’re rather fascist themselves.
There have been numerous arrests of Antifa activists for crimes ranging from assault to property damage, arson, and vandalism.
While they view themselves as some perverse version of freedom fighters, they also have roots in anarchy, communism, or any number of loosely defined, anti-right or anti-capitalist ideology.
There is no centralized leadership to Antifa. Rather, cells operate independently in several cities across America and around the world with varying degrees of organization.
After several publicized accounts of violence and intimidation, Bill HR 6054, the “Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018” would impose a 15-year prison term on:
“anyone wearing a mask or disguise who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates” someone else exercising a right guaranteed under the Constitution.”
While the bill does not specifically mention Antifa in the text, the title “The Unmasking Antifa act” makes the implication clear. Many “on the right” are cheering this bill, however, I would caution them to stop and reevaluate their joy. In fact, there are many “on the left” who should oppose this bill too; though not for the reasons you might think.
Here’s why the Unmasking Antifa Act is a bad idea.
The Wording is Vague.
Let’s first examine the incredibly vague wording of the bill. “Anyone wearing a mask or disguise” can be applied to a number of people or scenarios. After all, what is a disguise? Halloween makeup? A fake mustache? We know what a mask is, but what about disguises?
“who injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates” someone exercising a right guaranteed under the Constitution. Well, what the hell does that mean? Sure, we know that “injury” would apply to acts of violence but in today’s climate that might not be the only application.
Surely not when it comes to the growing movement to classify certain words, phrases, topics, and conversations as literal violence. True, we aren’t there just yet. However, there is certainly enough of a belief that words can “oppress, threaten, or intimidate.”
Lastly, the act applies to perpetrators who aim their disguised intimidation towards someone exercising a right guaranteed under the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees several rights, not just free speech. This means that the bill can be applied to a number of amendments.
In short, the act of “wearing a disguise” while “intimidating” someone exercising any number of guaranteed Constitutional rights will get you put into prison for 15 years.
The Application Will Be Vaguer
Although it is called the “Unmasking Antifa Act,” there is nothing in the bill that mandates it only be applied to Antifa. In fact, the vagueness of the law can be applied to any number of actions.
If I put on a clown nose and stand outside CNN headquarters chanting “CNN Sucks” am I wearing a disguise while intimidating the freedom of the press?
If I wear Halloween makeup and stand outside a gun store holding a sign saying “ban all firearms” am I wearing a disguise while intimidating someone from exercising their 2nd amendment rights?
And is 15 years in prison a reasonable response to either of the above acts?
15 Years Is A Long Time
Antifa statistics are difficult to come by, precisely because the movement is loosely defined and lacks centralized organization and leadership. From what evidence is available, it appears that most members are college-aged students mixed in with a few adults who should know better.
Antifa are not the freedom fighters they believe themselves to be. Far from it. In fact, there is a lot which isn’t clear about the movement. How many of them are truly committed to the cause? The cause being some loose definition of anarcho-communism. How many are just liberal college kids getting caught up in a moment?
Neither is an excuse for violence or poor decisions. Let’s be clear on that. However, absent a crime against another person or property, of which there are already several defined crimes, do we need to jail every college kid who wears a mask to a protest? And for 15 years?
If we assume that an Antifa protester is 19 years old, a 15-year prison sentence amounts to 78.94% of their life so far. Do they deserve to go to prison for 15 years simply for putting a bandanna over their face and going to a protest? By all means, if someone commits assault, arrest them for assault. If they break a store window, arrest them for damaging property. But 15 years simply for showing up?
A Slippery Slope
I don’t like Antifa. I think the movement is a loosely defined group of mostly rich, white college kids who wear Che Guevera t-shirts un-ironically with zero knowledge or respect to his sordid history. These are kids who use Twitter on their smartphones to talk about how evil capitalism is while sitting in a Starbucks sucking down a Grande Latte.
The irony is apparently lost on these kids, but ignorance and stupidity should not carry so hefty a punishment. If a law is no broken, do we need to create a new law to punish people? Sentences vary from state to state, however, most states classify assault as a misdemeanor with a fine and up to a year in prison.
But if you wear a mask you’ll get 15 more years?
The Problem With Legislation
The Unmasking Antifa Act will cause more harm than good. It would no doubt give me some level of perverse, tribalistic pleasure to see a smart-ass, Antifa college kid drop his iPhone and his designer bandanna while being hauled away by the police for being an idiot.
When my joy fades, that kid will still be in jail for 15 years. I’m sorry but the punishment does not fit the crime.
We should exercise extreme caution when creating laws that would rob people of their freedom. Even, and sometimes especially when we find ourselves deriving pleasure from our perceived application of the punishment. We should furthermore imagine the worst, most harmful application of the law, perhaps in the hands of our political opponents.
If you are on the right, would you have been comfortable with the Obama administration having this authority? Will you be comfortable if Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Bernie Sanders are in charge?
I will not shed a tear to see an Antifa punk punished for assaulting someone. However, the Unmasking Antifa Act goes too far.
In short, I know many on the right will cheer this proposal. I am probably fighting a losing battle with my opposition. However, I would caution anyone who thinks this is a great idea to pause for a moment. Consider the potential ramifications, even if the examples of which seem implausible or extreme.
Republicans will not be in charge forever. Harry Reid found that out the hard way. He changed the Senate rules which lead to Neil Gorsuch. He did not think his actions through. Mitch McConnell warned him at the time that he might come to regret this decision.
“And sooner than you might think,” McConnell said.
How long before Republicans learn the same lesson?