Republicans are condemning the horrific terror attack in Charlottesville today, but in recent months they have been trying to provide killers like James Fields with legal cover.
During January, Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced a bill in the North Dakota legislature that would have effectively endorsed right wing terrorists who drive into crowds “accidentally.” The bill, which lawmakers wisely voted down in February, was overtly aimed at the Standing Rock protests.
“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” Kempenich told the Star-Tribune at the time. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road. … Those people didn’t ask to be in this.”
Get that? Some poor fellow is just minding his own business when strangers suddenly inconvenience him. Why, you would think that driver was being pulled over by police just because of his race, or harassed in the street because of her hijab, or denied housing for being transgender or something! And we all know that inconvenience is a perfectly rational excuse for homicidal “negligence.” Just ask the average traffic cone.
In North Carolina, however, House Republicans worried that Black Lives Might Actually Matter Some Day actually passed a similar bill. HB 330 is set to be on the Senate agenda when the Legislature reconvenes in November.
Introducing the measure, sponsor Justin Burr lamented that “drivers [shouldn’t] have to fear driving through Charlotte or anywhere in North Carolina.” Burr insisted that his legislation “does not allow for the driver of a vehicle to target protesters intentionally” — which is probably very reassuring to any explosive alt-right personalities out there contemplating a similar attack, since they will always have the option afterward of claiming it was an accident.
Tennessee Republican Rep. Matthew Hill also introduced a bill to immunize drivers from civil liability if they “inadvertently” run down “lawless rioters” blocking a street. Thankfully, his legislation never made it out of committee, so it is still illegal to target liberal pedestrians in Nashville.
These were just three of at least 18 bills that Republicans have put forth in state legislatures around the country this year — a nationwide crackdown on demonstrations by non-right wing groups. The clear focus for many of these efforts is preventing blocked roads, whether with fines or jail time or the implied endorsement of vigilante violence.
America is lucky that none of the most alarming legislation has actually become law yet. After the events of this past weekend, it is unlikely that these tyrannical bills will actually pass. But the fact that so many Republicans were so eager to create potential legal loopholes for right wing terrorists speaks volumes about how the Charlottesville terrorist was radicalized in the first place.
Make no mistake, Heather Heyer and the nineteen people injured on Saturday are victims of violent radicalization — the process of closing one’s mind to reality, and killing empathy, in order to rationalize unthinkable acts. For years, their attacker’s brain cooked in a toxic stew of fake Fox news and polarizing propaganda, all while the Republican Party tacitly encouraged him to act out in exactly this way. Why are we surprised that he took their cue?
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