Politics, Moderate



Legalizing vehicular violence

Catherine Rampell on

WASHINGTON -- Last weekend in Charlottesville, a driver mowed down peaceful protesters and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The act was reminiscent of recent terrorist attacks across Europe committed in the name of the Islamic State, which has urged followers to use vehicles to kill enemies.

As far as we know, the alleged killer in Charlottesville didn't get instructions from the Islamic State. As far as we know, he didn't even receive marching orders from any of the neo-Nazi groups with which he sympathized.

But he also didn't need to turn to either of these factions for inspiration. He could just have easily have gotten the idea from a Republican state legislature.

This year, Republican lawmakers in at least six states have proposed bills designed to protect drivers who strike protesters. The first bill was introduced in North Dakota in January, and similar bills have since come under consideration in North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Rhode Island.

They were joined by other states trying to discourage protests -- typically relating to Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline or other left-leaning causes -- that sometimes obstruct traffic.

The North Dakota bill would shield drivers from civil and criminal liability. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Keith Kempenich, perversely suggested that shielding drivers who kill protesters was a necessary anti-terrorism measure.

Protesters who blocked cars were committing "an intentional act of intimidation -- the definition of terrorism," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Right-wing websites and at least one well-known conservative commentator more gleefully advocated running over protesters, including by sharing a viral video montage titled "Here's a Reel of Cars Plowing Through Protesters Trying to Block the Road."

I wonder: Did the Republican politicians and pundits who backed these measures believe too few protesters were getting hit by cars?

If not, what did they think would happen when they encouraged drivers to use their vehicles as a weapon against the public?


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