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These State Lawmakers Indulged the Violent Fantasy of Ramming Protesters With a Car

1:55 PM EDT on August 14, 2017

After the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Americans have now seen homegrown terrorists adopt the tactics of ISIS. James Fields, 21, drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators -- killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

The violence of the rally was so ghastly that Republican officials rushed to distance themselves from it. But let's not forget that Fields was acting on an impulse that some lawmakers have encouraged.

In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter and Dakota Access Pipeline protests, lawmakers in Tennessee, North Dakota, Rhode IslandTexas, Florida, and North Carolina introduced legislation that would indemnify drivers who smash into crowds.

We want to name a few names.

    • Rep. Keith Kempenich in North Dakota compared Dakota Access Pipeline and Black Lives Matter protesters to terrorists in defense of his legislation.
    • Rep. Justin Burr in North Carolina proposed protecting drivers who hit protesters from civil liability. It passed the House 67-48.
    • In Tennessee, State Sen. Bill Ketron, State Rep. Matthew Hill backed legislation to shield drivers who plow into protesters from civil suits. That was shortly after a driver did just that in Nashville during a Black Lives Matter protest.
    • In Texas, Rep. Pat Fallon wanted to legalize hitting protesters, full stop.
    • In Florida, State Senator George Gainer proposed civil immunity for drivers who hit protesters.
    • In Rhode Island, State Rep. Justin Price was behind another civil immunity push.

In most cases, defenders of these bills have stated that they would not apply to someone who intentionally rams a car into protesters, as Fields did. For example, drivers who fail to exercise "due care" would in theory not be shielded by Rhode Island's legislation.

But as Gary Kavanagh writes in an excellent thread, these lawmakers were playing with fire:

Vehicular attack was not an aberration, a culmination of broadly expressed rhetoric & fantasies of killing street protesters on the right.

— Gary Kavanagh (@GaryRidesBikes) August 13, 2017

These bills fed an undercurrent of rage against people exercising their right to assemble, and all these men bear a portion of the blame for what happened to Heather Heyer. It was only a matter of time before an extremist like Fields acted out the violent fantasy these bills tacitly encourage -- to kill and injure people with a car.

Bills to legalize hitting protesters with a motor vehicle gave a not-so-subtle wink and a nod to extremists with violent fantasies (including the leader of the Santa Fe police union, who posted this meme on Facebook).
Bills to legalize hitting protesters with a motor vehicle gave a not-so-subtle wink and nod to extremists with violent fantasies (including the leader of the Santa Fe police union, who posted this meme on Facebook). Via Aaron Cantu

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