Protesting, rioting, harassment, speech, vandalism: what’s in a word? This week, the ACLU, a left-wing legal group, filed a lawsuit challenging the new bipartisan anti-rioting law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly. The ACLU said they worried that those participating in legitimate protest could get swept up by the police just because others in the group had acted out in violence.
For a good example of why this kind of law might be needed, just consider the case of UNC law student, James Marsicano, who was part of a violent planned attack on Atlanta police. According to Atlanta police, Marsicano and his friends “changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.”
Not surprisingly, now that he’s been charged with terrorism and banned from campus, students at UNC are outraged at this breach of his ability to protest however he sees fit, even if a police officer is left with third-degree burns from a Molotov cocktail or a permanent brain injury from being hit in the head with a brick.
Apparently, colleges nationwide are a place where far-left protests, even if they veer a little bit into mob violence now and then, cannot be restricted. The important thing is that the person has the correct opinions. If they question any progressive dogma, however, their right to speech is not quite so important.
Recently Riley Gaines, a female athlete who was forced to compete against transgender male William Thomas, spoke out on the unfairness of the situation. In the one race he didn’t win, Gaines was able to tie him. But because there was only one trophy, the NCAA decided he should have it since it’d be better for P.R. She also said Thomas watched the females change and exposed himself in the locker room, making many of them uncomfortable.
Gaines was invited to speak at San Francisco State University by a conservative student group. The event did not go as planned, though, as she was chased down the hall by a mob, who trapped her in a classroom for three hours. They said she’d only be allowed to leave if she paid them. She was also hit and pushed by male trans students more than once.
Police and the administration decided not to discipline any students. The dean even told them they were brave for tolerating Gaines’ presence and offered them therapy to recover.
You can see why the ACLU might be concerned about mobs of left-wing activists being charged. The ACLU listed their statewide chapter, the ACLU of N.C., as the plaintiff in the case, because they will be affected by the bill in their efforts to organize and attend rowdy protests. The ACLU of N.C. knows a little bit about the limits of free speech, after they recently had to fire their lobbyist for making threatening and lewd statements to members of the media. Before the media attention grew, they at first defended her by saying she was simply expressing her freedom of speech.
What about conservative speech?
But while they appear very concerned that a statewide bill spearheaded by the Republican legislature might risk limiting legitimate speech, it doesn’t seem that they, or any other progressive groups, are all that concerned about a new ordinance by the City of Raleigh that goes even farther. Even if one does not make threats of violence or violate any current law, Raleigh wanted to have a crime on the books to charge people in very specific circumstances, which you will see happen to involve conservative speech.
The ordinance, which passed 7-1 on first reading, creates a misdemeanor within the city for harassment. According to the News & Observer, Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin said the problem they were trying to solve had to do with a group of loud homeless people in Moore Square “And then the other part is the abortion protest.”
During discussion, the sole “no” vote, Mary Black, said she was not comfortable tightening the rules on speech this way because she does a lot of “direct action” and protest downtown and said, “I worry that it’s going to be applied too broadly.” But Council Member Stormie Forte responded that, while she could “appreciate that,” “folks have been really aggressive with performers” at Pride events.
Mind you, these people are not currently breaking any state laws on making threats or perpetrating acts of violence. They are protesters who disapprove of abortion and certain performances at Pride events who are making certain other people uncomfortable. It’s telling that the progressive Raleigh City Council didn’t seem to bring up any of the very harassing left-wing protests as examples.
For background, those protesting outside of abortion clinics have been targeted harshly by liberal DAs as well as by federal prosecutors. Pro-life demonstrator Mark Houck of Pennsylvania had his house raided by 25 FBI agents, according to his wife, and had guns drawn on them and their five children. The prosecutor recommended 11 years in prison for him.
What was his crime? According to Houck, an abortion-clinic escort got in the face of his 12-year-old son and said profane things, and he pushed the man away. The escort says Houck pushed him unprovoked. Either way, I have my doubts there will be 25 FBI agents busting down the doors of any of those who pushed Riley Gaines.
Some of the language in the Raleigh ordinance is vague enough that you’d think it would be concerning to the ACLU. For example, following or surrounding another person “in a manner that would place a reasonable person in fear for that person’s safety” would be a misdemeanor. Did the rioters in 2020 ever act in a way that would cause a “reasonable person” to fear for their safety? Absolutely. But it seemed like everyone was assured that those wouldn’t be the type targeted by this ordinance.
Abortion protesters and pro-choice vandals
It appears that pro-life demonstrators whose actions could be interpreted a certain way to reasonable (to whom?) people will now be subject to arrest. But those whose pro-life church or organization has been smashed up are not always so lucky to have zealous prosecutors on their side.
After the Dobbs decision, which sent abortion regulation back to the states, churches and crisis pregnancy centers across the country were vandalized. Here in North Carolina, the pro-life Mountain Area Pregnancy Services campus in Asheville was badly vandalized by terrorist group Jane’s Revenge, who also spray painted threatening messages on the premises. Similar was done to my own church.
But the media largely ignored these cases, and federal prosecutors and investigators didn’t seem to turn up much. I’d wager there won’t be 25 agents drawing guns at the homes of any Jane’s Revenge members any time soon either.
Recently, the Biden administration recommended no jail time for one such vandal — who had smashed statues, spray-painted vile messages, assaulted a church worker, broke windows, and even assaulted a police officer for good measure. Eleven years recommended for a push, nothing for arguably a terrorist act of religious and political intimidation.
It almost seems as if we are simultaneously equating violence with speech when it comes to the left-wing while equating speech with violence when it comes to conservatives.
A final example of this is the ridiculous treatment of the violent insurrectionists. No, not those ones — the ones in Nashville, Tennessee, who mobbed legislative police, rushed the floor during a voting session, and refused lawful orders to leave.
I was very critical of those who did similar things, and worse, on Jan. 6, although I think those on the left who make those protesters out to be a well-organized paramilitary force with a plan for a coup are overplaying their hands. They were a rabid mob breaking laws against trespassing, obstructing justice, and assault. Many left-wing protests at Capitol buildings across the country, including the recent events in Tennessee, did much the same.
But can you imagine those Jan. 6 protestors being brought onto morning talk shows? Well, these ones were, even Good Morning America.
Something’s got to give. We can’t move full-speed ahead towards excusing mob violence on one end and also towards limiting speech by conservatives on the other. There must be equality before the law, or the law will soon be seen as simply a weapon to use against one’s political opponents. These words — protest, riot, harassment, speech, vandalism — must have meanings that apply to all, no matter their views.
David Larson is opinion editor of Carolina Journal.