US ‘Unmasking Antifa’ bill Is Introduced as Bulk of #DisruptJ20 Rioters Go Free
Antifa rioters who cover their faces while committing violent crimes may soon be held federally liable in the United State, if Congress approves a bill that would provide enhanced penalties against rioters who use clothing to conceal their identities.
Antifa is short for “anti-fascist.” Despite its name, Antifa uses heavy-handed fascistic tactics and is infamous for assaulting conservatives, Republicans, and those who identify with the so-called alt-right. These violent modern-day agitators trace their roots to Weimar Germany, where they assaulted Nazi brownshirts but also emulated their tactic of using force to silence political rivals. The anarchists and communists of the Antifa movement are well-known for smearing their victims as fascists, Nazis, and racists.
Earlier this month, Toronto Sun photographer Stan Behal was attacked by a man at an anti-racism rally in downtown Toronto described by Toronto Sun columnist as an “Antifa-like rally” meant to be a counter-demonstration to a World Coalition Against Islam Canada rally.
The introduction of the proposed Unmasking Antifa Act of 2018 by U.S. Rep. Daniel Donovan Jr. (R-N.Y.) comes after prosecutors in Washington recently dropped charges against the remaining accused Inauguration Day 2017 rioters, who set fires and looted in downtown Washington on the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president. The civil disturbance stretched more than 16 blocks in the nation’s capital.
One of the key reasons prosecutors were unable to win convictions against all but a handful of the accused #DisruptJ20 (“J20” refers to the date of Trump’s inauguration, January 20, 2o17) rioters is because the black masks the Antifa activists wore made the positive identification of suspects impossible. Wearing masks to escape criminal liability amounts to a get-out-of-jail free card for Antifa rioters, some critics say.
The sartorial tactic of dressing entirely in black, including covering one’s face, is known as the “black bloc” style of activism or direct-action protest. The thinking is that this manner of dress creates a sense of group solidarity, in addition to making criminal prosecution difficult. The term “is frequently used when participants within the larger black-bloc group intend to commit violence or destruction of property,” according to court documents filed as part of the Washington prosecution.
Not all leftists approve of the approach. Journalist Chris Hedges once wrote that black-bloc participants were “the cancer of the Occupy movement” and that they “confuse acts of petty vandalism and a repellent cynicism with revolution.”
Although some criticize anti-mask laws as overbroad and an infringement of constitutional rights, statutes of that sort go way back in American history. Some date back to the Jim Crow era, when they were enacted to combat the Ku Klux Klan whose members wore white hoods to prevent being identified as they committed violence against black Americans, Republican Party supporters, and their property.
Donovan, a Republican who represents Staten Island, N.Y., said his legislation “expands upon long-standing civil-rights statutes to make it a crime to deprive someone of constitutionally guaranteed protections while masked or disguised.”
He added, “Americans have the natural right to speak and protest freely; it is not a right to throw Molotov cocktails and beat people while hiding behind a mask.”
Law-enforcement officials complain that Antifa activists often escape responsibility for their violent acts.
“Where is the accountability for the people that come with the intent to harm, destroy, and to tear things up and to come and physically fight other people?” said Police Chief Danielle Outlaw of Portland, Oregon, during a press conference about a violent counter-protest that Antifa demonstrators staged against the peaceful conservative group Patriot Prayer on Aug. 4.
In an interview with OPB, Outlaw said, “I personally saw, whether they were fireworks, M-80s, explosives, I saw those being set off by the anti-racist groups. The projectiles—pieces of cement that are large as a grapefruit, pieces of brick, broken glass bottles—all of that was not coming from the Patriot Prayer side at that time.”
The black-bloc practices of those who rioted in the nation’s capital on Jan. 20, 2017, appear to have helped the perpetrators escape justice.
In all, 234 individuals were arrested and charged with rioting. In the end, only 21 were convicted of anything – and those convictions only came about as a consequence of defendants’ guilty pleas. That represents a conviction rate of just 11 percent. Only one of the 21 defendants was convicted of a felony.
According to Bill Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, 20 of the defendants entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor rioting charges.
Miller identified those 20 individuals as Devin Bartolomed (also known as Devin Mardvich), William Bogin, Gabriella Bruce, Kyle Burcham, Sara Callahan, Zachary Callahan, Hannah Demarte, Matthew Fichtner, Ian Grape, Nathaniel Jaffe, Andrew Joung, Sydney Leslie, Jocelyn Mitchell, Christopher Patrick, Benjamin Pennacchio, Matthew Pink, Jack Sorensen, Cody Stewart, Robert Toomey, and Peter Soeller.
The sole rioter to be convicted of a felony was Dane Powell, Miller said.
He pleaded guilty April 28, 2017, to felony rioting and felony assault on a police officer. After signing a plea bargain document, Powell was sentenced July 7 last year to 36 months in prison, but the court suspended all but four months of that term on the condition that he successfully complete two years of supervised probation.
It took a year and a half for the courts to dispose of the 234 cases.
Charges against 19 of the individuals apparently didn’t survive the grand-jury process.
The grand jury returned a superseding indictment against 215 defendants on April 27, 2017, according to court documents. All were charged with “Urging or Inciting a Riot (felony), Engaging in a Riot, Conspiracy to Engage in a Riot, and five counts of Destruction of Property (felony),” according to a motion to consolidate the cases that Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Liu was nominated by President Trump and assumed office Sept. 24, 2017.
The number of defendants steadily continued dropping as time went on.
Jurors in Washington then acquitted or were unable to reach verdicts on six of the co-accused on Dec. 21, 2017. Prosecutors demonstrated the individuals participated in a mass protest but could not prove they committed specific acts of vandalism, as many of them were dressed head-to-toe in black attire intended to obscure their identities.
By Jan. 18, 2018, the list had been pared to 59 defendants.
On May 31 of this year, a trial judge, Robert E. Morin, threw out charges against seven defendants because, as the Washington Post reported, prosecutors “intentionally misrepresented information and withheld evidence from the defense.” Among that evidence was undercover video footage of the protesters’ planning meeting shot by the investigative journalists of Project Veritas, a good-government and media-accountability group headed by James O’Keefe III.
On June 1, prosecutors announced they were dropping charges against three defendants.
Days later, a D.C. Superior Court jury failed to convict four accused #DisruptJ20 rioters. While prosecutors presented photographs and videos they said showed defendants engaging in acts of vandalism, defense lawyers said the images were less than clear.
The jury foreman, identified in a June 7 Washington Post article only as “a 52-year-old woman from Adams Morgan [a Washington neighborhood] who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy,” said the evidence wasn’t convincing.
“It came down to identity,” she was quoted as saying. “We could not without a reasonable doubt say that these were the ones who were rioting.”
On July 6, prosecutors announced they were throwing in the towel, by moving to dismiss all charges against the remaining 38 defendants.