Washington GOPer Proposes Charging Protesters With 'Economic Terrorism'

Ted S. Warren

A Republican Washington state senator who supported Donald Trump is proposing a bill that would slap an “economic terrorism” label on protest activities already prohibited by law and dramatically intensify their penalties.

Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) on Wednesday sent out a press release announcing legislation to make “economic terrorism” a felony in the Evergreen State.

“I respect the right to protest, but when it endangers people’s lives and property, it goes too far,” Ericksen said. “Fear, intimidation and vandalism are not a legitimate form of political expression. Those who employ it must be called to account.”

The proposed bill would allow police to charge protesters who “block transportation and commerce, cause property damage, threaten jobs and put public safety at risk” with a class C felony. Ericksen said strikes and picketing would still be permitted.

The Republican state senator said similar charges would apply to those who “fund, organize, sponsor” such protests, and the bill would force such individuals to “pay restitution up to triple the amount of economic damage” done.

Several of the activities covered by Ericksen’s proposal are already prohibited by law. As the American Civil Liberties Union notes, protesters’ right to march through public areas is constitutionally protected so long as they remain on sidewalks and obey traffic and pedestrian signals. However, speakers can be arrested for incitement for promoting violence or provoking people to break the law. Blocking vehicular or pedestrian traffic, blocking building entrances, physically harassing others while protesting, destroying property or protesting on private property are all already cause for arrest.

Ericksen’s bill would seek to make the penalties for some of these activities much harsher, however. In Washington state, intentionally interfering with or obstructing pedestrian or vehicle traffic can result in a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days. Under Ericksen’s proposal to make these activities a class C felony, the same activity could result in five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.

The bill comes as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Washington’s major cities like Seattle to demonstrate against the policy proposals and rhetoric of the President-elect. The protests have been peaceful and no injuries or damage were reported, according to local station KATU.

There is also little evidence to support Ericksen’s claim that any of these protesters are funded by “wealthy donors,” as other Trump supporters including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani have alleged. One of the most widely-read writers of the “fake news” sites that proliferated during this election season said that he pushed false stories about protesters receiving up to $3,500 to demonstrate against Trump. That fake narrative of "professional protesters" was then promoted by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Hillary Clinton earned 55.7 percent of the vote in Washington, a reliably blue state, compared to 38.1 percent for Trump. Ericksen's proposal is unlikely to make much headway, given that Democrats control the state House and Gov. Jay Inslee is also a Democrat.

Read Ericksen's full press release below courtesy of TPM reader CW:

OLYMPIA – Washington needs to take a firm stand against illegal protests that block transportation and commerce, cause property damage, threaten jobs and put public safety at risk, says state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Ericksen has prepared a bill for next year’s legislative session that would create a new crime of economic terrorism. The measure would allow felony prosecution of those who intentionally break the law in an attempt to intimidate or coerce private citizens or the government by obstructing economic activity.

“I respect the right to protest, but when it endangers people’s lives and property, it goes too far,” Ericksen said. “Fear, intimidation and vandalism are not a legitimate form of political expression. Those who employ it must be called to account.”

Ericksen’s measure would create a class C felony when protests aimed at causing economic disruption jeopardize human life and property. It would not apply in cases of lawful and protected activities, such as strikes and picketing.

The penalties apply not just to participants but also to those who fund, organize, sponsor or otherwise encourage others to commit acts of economic terrorism. Accomplices may be required to pay restitution up to triple the amount of economic damage.

“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.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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