Anti-Trump protesters risk 60 years in jail. Is dissent a crime?
More than 200 people who were arrested on Trump’s inauguration day risk up to 60 years of jail. Meanwhile, the white supremacists in Charlottesville walk free
On the morning of President Trump’s inauguration, police trapped and arrested more than 230 people. Some were anti-Trump demonstrators; some were not. The next day, federal prosecutors charged them all with “felony rioting”, a nonexistent crime in Washington DC. The prosecution then launched a sweeping investigation into the defendants’ lives, demanding vast amounts of online information through secret warrants.
Prosecutors eventually dropped a few defendants, like
journalists and legal observers, but simultaneously increased the
charges against everyone else. The most recent indictment collectively
charged more than 200 people with felony rioting, felony incitement to
riot, conspiracy to riot, and five property-damage crimes – all from
Each defendant is facing over 60 years in prison.
The prosecution next obtained warrants focused on anti-Trump organizers. One sought a list of
all visitors to a website that organizers used to promote Inauguration
Day protests. A second sought information on all Facebook friends and
related communications of two organizers, the host of a coalition
Facebook page, and those who simply “liked” that page.
Despite legal challenges, a court recently decided to enforce the
warrants, requiring only that personally identifiable information be
redacted for “irrelevant” material. This unprecedented prosecution
follows a drastic change in local law enforcement’s response to protest.
The DC Office of Police Complaints issued a report critical of the mass arrest, noting the departure from standard operating procedure and the likelihood that police lacked individualized probable cause to arrest everyone. This is exactly the type of action new policies and statutes enacted in DC were meant to avoid, following a 2002 mass arrest that caused the District to pay over $10m in settlements.
Compare this crackdown with the government’s response to the
pre-planned, armed violence and rioting by white supremacists and
private militia groups in Charlottesville, Virginia.
There was no sweeping online dragnet to identify organizers who
conspired to plan, promote, and carry out violence in Charlottesville –
violence against people, not property.
Nor were all the participants in Charlottesville rounded up and
charged with felony conspiracy to commit rioting – or charged as
accessories to Heather Heyer’s murder. Instead, federal prosecutors have
done little to nothing.
Online activists exposed the identities of a few white supremacists, leading to charges from local law enforcement due to public pressure. But there have been no felony rioting charges, no charges of guilt-by-association, no police raids, no sweeping investigation.
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Cartoon by Jen Sorensen - http://jensorensen.tumblr.com/