Florida gets a lot of publicity for being America’s zaniest state, but my vote goes to the one who thought that Joe Arpaio was a suitable choice for Sherriff of America’s fourth largest county for the last 24 years. Arpaio was ousted in this last election, but his authoritarian spirit clearly still lives on in the Republicans populating their state Senate.
In a vote split down party lines (17-13), the Arizona Senate passed a bill which expands laws aimed at organized crime syndicates to include “rioting.” Now you may say “but rioting is clearly bad, so why wouldn’t we want to prosecute those who riot?” First off, c’mon man…rioting is already illegal, and there are punishments in place for those who destroy property and incite violence. It’s not like you can set a car on fire and just walk away without any consequences. This isn’t Gotham. Secondly, according to this bill, “rioting” doesn’t solely mean perpetuating anarchy. Per the Arizona Capitol Times:
There’s something else: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events.
Welcome to the era of pre-crime. Senator John Kavanaugh, R- Fountain Hills, told the paper:
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder. A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists, but this stuff is all planned. I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.’’
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake (yes, that’s really the area she represents, and this is my new favorite thing), said:
“I have been heartsick with what’s been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do.”
Got that young Arizonans? Protesting when you feel strongly about something now makes you part of an organized crime syndicate (provided the House passes it and the governor signs the bill), and your actions are making the Republican Snowflakes of the world “heartsick.” To be fair, the idea that protesters are not genuine is a talking point not just confined to the right—as Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this in 2009 in response to a question by Jake Tapper as to whether some of the Tea Party protests against the Affordable Care Act were “manufactured:”
I think some of it is yes. In fact I think you’ve had groups today—the Conservatives for Patients’ Rights—that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger.
I never understood this criticism. How can you plan a legitimate protest without some central form of organization? When Tapper asked Gibbs how their organizing is any different from a liberal group doing the same, Gibbs responded:
I think what you’ve seen is they have—they’ve bragged about manufacturing to some degree that anger—I think you’ve got somebody who’s very involved, a leader of that group that’s very involved in the status quo. A CEO that used to run a healthcare company that was fined by the federal government—1.7 billion dollars for fraud—I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.
No matter the political shade of the protester, those in power will move heaven and earth to discredit their intentions in order to portray themselves as noble servants pursuing the public interest in the face of anarchy, but what Arizona Senate Republicans are doing is exactly what authoritarian regimes across the globe do. It’s one thing to battle protesters in the court of public opinion, and quite another to restrict their constitutional rights in actual courts of law. The first amendment is first for a reason. Given the inherent discrimination of this Trumpian moment, Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, highlighted the obvious fear at the heart of this bill, which can be classified as nothing short of an orgy of pure incompetence and evil:
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard.”
If you think that opposition to this bill is broken down along partisan lines, one look at some capital C conservatives’ timelines on Twitter today will prove you wrong.
The Republican infotainment complex that is currently on display at CPAC has disconnected so many “conservatives” from the principles of the movement that a sizable chunk of Republicans operate from the assumption that party is more valuable than country, as they have spent this writer’s entire three-decade-long lifetime asserting that “liberals” are antithetical to American values and are hellbent on destroying America.
Whomever is a “liberal” has nothing to do with their political persuasions, but whether they uniformly adhere to this perverted idea of a party line. This nefarious bill is emblematic of this traitorous insanity, as it aims not only to destroy the lives of protesters (and let’s be real, the aim here is to silence anti-Trump ones since there was no push for a law like this when the Tea Party vociferously opposed Obama’s agenda), but in the process, it tramples all over the constitution they so firmly wrap themselves within while claiming that they are the One True Protectors of the historic document underwriting this great nation. If you were wondering if this particular shade of lunacy is confined to Arizona, Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott told our commander-in-Cheeto’s favorite TV show today that he intends to sign a bill jailing elected officials who adopt sanctuary city policies.
A peaceful assembly can still be a peaceful assembly even if some jackass breaks a car window next to it, but under this Arizona bill, one unaffiliated fool can classify an entire group as an organized crime syndicate. Ironically enough, this bill is so sloppy and so expansive that if one of these Republican congressmen staged a rally—even with the proper permits—a liberal agitator could throw a brick through a shop window and immediately include these Senators under their vast definition of “racketeering.” This is the one silver lining of this calamity, so if this does get passed into law, here’s to hoping that some of these Republican congressmen eventually get burned by the unconstrained grease fire they created—thus establishing a moral hazard for authoritarians of any ideology, reminding them of the unintended consequences of their aggressively naïve form of evil.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.