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Bill to unmask protesters will foster fascism



Simply put, it’s fascist. Fascist laws beget more fascism. This bill will not protect Rhode Islanders, it will make us more vulnerable to hate groups and hateful ideologies.

A new bill on offer from Representative Arthur Corvese would “make it a misdemeanor for persons to carry, possess, or wear masks or protective clothing or equipment designed to minimize the risk of injury from deadly weapons, for the purposes of hindering law enforcement crowd control actions. It would also outlaw persons who are engaged in conduct prohibited by law, from wearing disguises with the intent of avoiding their identification.”

This misdemeanor would carry a penalty of up to one year in prison, up to $1,000 in fines, or both.

Let me cut to the chase here: This bill is fascist, through and through.

“We live in very volatile political times,” said Representative Corvese in the press release announcing this bill. “Members of the extreme right and the extreme left face off every day with words and actions. In certain cities, such as Boston and Portland, Oregon, confrontations between these extremes have turned violent.”

Corvese neglects to mention, and perhaps he didn’t know, that we’ve had violent confrontations right here in Providence, on the lawn outside of the building he legislates in. Twice in 2018 white supremacist groups held rallies at the Rhode Island State House. We aren’t talking run of the mill Trump supporters here – though make no mistake, these groups fully support Trump – we’re talking Southern Poverty Law Center certified hate groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. They came here to Rhode Island to spread hate and violence.

When these out of state hate groups came to Rhode Island – from Boston, New Hampshire and Portland Oregon – it was not our legislature that stood up to them. It was not our law enforcement or our elected officials who called them out or ensured the safety of Rhode Islanders. Even our local media outlets were mostly AWOL.

The people who stood up to these fascist monsters were ordinary people, of all ages, of all races, and of all sexual orientations. These people are loosely called “antifa” in the media, which is short for antifascist, a name somehow meant to be derogatory, but a name I wear proudly.

I am antifa.

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These brave people twice put their bodies on the line, confronting violent racists on the lawn of a State House that mostly ignores the plight of the poor and the marginalized while passing legislation to protect the fortunes of the rich and entitled. While our lawmakers hide behind their tinted windshields, these people are being punched, kicked, sprayed with paint and chemicals, and verbally assaulted by fascist assholes. Antifa stands up because they know that if these fascists take power, everyone we love will face extinction, or worse.

The masks antifa and their allies sometimes wear are meant to protect them from the fascists. There is a thing called doxxing. I go to these rallies, document them, and I don’t wear a mask. As a result, I’ve been doxxed – identified on white supremacist websites. This doxxing comes with an implied threat: “We know who you are, you are not safe.”

I like to think, perhaps stupidly, that I am high profile enough that I am unlikely to be assaulted or killed for the writing I do on this and other subjects, but seeing one’s name and picture on such a website, with a discussion about what you believe with a few personal insults thrown in, is worrying, to say the least.

So I don’t wear a mask. Maybe that makes me a target, maybe not. But I am a person with a tremendous amount of privilege. I’m a white, straight, male, middle class, and a reporter with a platform. Consider other antifa. Consider the trans Latino kid, or the young Jewish mom. History tells us that they are the first targets of fascism. Wearing masks and protecting their identities allows them to confront fascism in the streets where it starts, and where the police and elected officials can and will do nothing to protect them.

If the antifascists stay home, fascism lives and grows and multiplies. And if this bill passes, confronting fascism, without making oneself a potential victim of doxxing or worse, becomes a crime. The crime of wearing a scarf around your face or wearing a helmet to prevent your head being caved in.

In April of 2019, the same fascists planned a third rally at the Rhode Island State House. That rally never happened, maybe because each time the fascists came to Rhode Island, antifa and allies met counter protested them and their events fell apart.

Compare that to Boston. At the recent “straight pride” parade, held by the same coalition of white supremacists and fascists that twice came to Rhode Island, the police dragged people from the crowd and beat and arrested them, for the simple “crime” of wearing scarf over their face. I also saw police indiscriminately pepper spray the crowd. All the violence I witnessed was initiated by the police.

I was there, I watched it happen.

Just last week, on February 22, the same group of fascists held a pro-police rally in Boston, to thank the police for defending them at the straight pride parade.

When I covered the white supremacists rallies in Rhode Island, where out-of-state hate groups take over our State House lawn and large groups of antifa and allies confront them, it’s hard not to see the police officers assigned to the events as part of the problem. The issue being, the police officers step between the groups, turn their backs to the fascists and towards the counter protesters.

Police snipers train their guns on the counter protesters. Police train their cameras on protesters.

The implication is clear. The police are facing the enemy, and it is us, Rhode Islanders interested in protecting diversity and fairness, not the outsiders sowing hatred. Black and brown and trans and queer communities have little reason to trust that these actions are for their own good or to protect them.

So to the bill. This bill pretends to respect our First Amendment rights, while making the exercise of those rights more dangerous. Simply put, it’s fascist. Fascist laws beget more fascism. This bill will not protect Rhode Islanders, it will make us more vulnerable to hate groups and hateful ideologies. Passing this bill is extending an open invitation to hate groups and tells the world that Rhode Island is fertile ground for hate.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.