The deputy director of the Trump campaign in Washington state has promised to introduce new legislation that would punish protest as a felony if it causes “economic disruption” and hurts corporate profits.
The proposed “Preventing Economic Terrorism Act” marks a radical expansion of legislation that was once used to criminalize environmentalists as “eco-terrorists,” and could be used against a wide range of social movements and anti-Trump protesters.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, the author of the bill, says protests that block highways or roads—such as recent Black Lives Matter protests, or the indigenous movement at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline—are “economic terrorism.”
In a statement on his website, Ericksen also says that the bill won’t be limited to protesters. It will include those who “fund, organize, sponsor or otherwise encourage others to commit acts of economic terrorism.”
“We are not just going after the people who commit these acts of terrorism,” Ericksen said. “We are going after the people who fund them. Wealthy donors should not feel safe in disrupting middle class jobs.” [emphasis added]
This type of language and legislation has been used for decades to target animal rights and environmental activists. As I’ve documented extensively in my book and on this website, these proposals grew out of an attempt by corporations to stop activists who were growing increasingly effective at hurting their bottom lines.
In Washington state, for instance, a similar proposal to label civil disobedience as “terrorism” was introduced the same month as Americans were celebrating that very style of civil disobedience, as part of the 50th anniversary of the lunch counter protests during the civil rights movements.
This new proposal, though, marks a radical expansion from those efforts.
Most importantly, it is not limited to protests in the name of the environment or animal rights. Older proposals, like SB6566, specifically targeted “terrorist acts against animal and natural resource facilities.”
This proposal—and undoubtedly others to come–doesn’t contain those limitations. It wraps up all protests, by all causes, if they disrupt business.
This is a development I have warned of again, and again, and again for the last 15 years. The relentless campaigning to label animal rights and environmental activists as the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” and to pass new laws like the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” has only set the stage for a much broader crackdown on dissent.
Just take a look at this proposal in Washington. Senator Ericksen acknowledges that the bill was originally meant for anti-logging protests, but now, after the presidential election and in the wake of mass national protests against the incoming president, Ericksen has dropped those limitations entirely.
His language about going after those who “fund, organize, sponsor, or otherwise encourage others to commit acts of economic terrorism” is directly pulled from the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. That proposal, created by ALEC, says “ecological terrorism” includes “raising, soliciting, collecting or providing any person with material, financial support or other resources.”
An article about Ericksen’s proposal in the Seattle Times said it “is likely to remain a mostly symbolic shot at protesters.” But that completely misses the point; it’s the kind of mindset that allowed the predecessor of the “Preventing Economic Terrorism Act” to become law.
There is nothing symbolic about this. This has been the real-world, tangible strategy to criminalize protest since the 1980s. It expanded in scope after 9/11, and now it is expanding in scope again after the election of Donald Trump.
I have repeatedly witnessed national organizations, the press, and others dismiss these types of proposals as “symbolic” or “scare-mongering,” only to have them become state and federal law. That’s what happened with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. That’s what happened with ag-gag laws. And that’s what is happening again.
Animal rights and environmental activists have been prosecuted and imprisoned under these laws. And as I discussed in a recent TED talk, some have even ended up in secret prison units for “domestic terrorists.”
This type of proposal isn’t an empty promise by a Trump campaign manager. It’s a plan.