Masks and Street Violence

The South has anti-masking laws already because of its attempt to limit the power of the Ku Klux Klan. A Federal law that proposes to do the same thing is drawing fire from Antifa, which resents the comparison between themselves and the Klan. Well, anyone would resent such a comparison. However, the state's interest in prosecuting those who organize for the purpose of violence and political intimidation is the same, even allowing for all relevant differences in ideology.

All the same, they have a novel defense.
In the current political climate, antifascists who speak out against fascism, racism, xenophobia, etc. are routinely harassed, threatened, and attacked by the far right, often supported by the police, who are notably exempted here. Families and friends of antifascists also become targets of far right violence. The wearing of a mask is an act of self-defense often necessary to ensure one's right to free speech.
I accept the validity of the claim that the police should not be allowed to mask themselves either. Just as with badge numbers, police officers should be identifiable in order to hold them responsible for the manner in which they use the power entrusted to them by the public. We should always be allowed to film the police, to know their names and ranks and offices, and to hold them accountable for any misuse of the authority they bear.

Is it really the case, though, that America is such a place that one must wear a mask to be able to exercise free speech? That is surely not true. No one is stopping either these or the far right from organizing rallies or marching. They are free to make their points, in person or in writing as they prefer. If they elect to make their points by punching people, say, or setting fire to cars, say, then there might be some legal consequences. But the state is unlikely to recognize a legitimate self-defense right for speech acts of this kind.

Still, there is a sense in which anonymity or pseudonymity is indeed defensively useful and can encourage better and fuller speech. It can also encourage abuse, and that needs to be robustly handled in order for it to remain worthy. But it's the same sort of idea as is at work here, where most of us communicate through a pseudonym in order to speak our minds freely in the age of Google. It's not obviously a ridiculous argument for public speech acts like rallies either. I wonder if there is a way to address it without empowering groups like the Klan.


MikeD said...

I find their "defense" interesting that they believe they are in need of more protection than any other citizen, including law enforcement. Frankly, I worry more about the rights costumed performers or convention goers who choose to dress up (and wear masks) than I do about these particular thugs.

Grim said...

I believe that Georgia's mask law (which was constructed specifically to target the Klan) includes exceptions for Halloween and other purposes.

E Hines said...

In the current political climate, antifascists who speak out against fascism, racism, xenophobia, etc. are routinely harassed, threatened....

Antifa is projecting, and blaming the "far right" when it's Antifa thugs, and more than occasionally, BLM, who do the attacks.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

E Hines is correct. I could appreciate their position in the abstract better if they were not the perpetrators.

Bullies do usually believe they are the victims, because they are narcissists. They do not have low self-esteem, but artificially high and unsustainable self-esteem. This is why everyday actions cause them to feel threatened.

ymarsakar said...

So when Antifa was supported by the police when the police stood down and refused to help the victims of Antifa, this was the Alt Right using the police to terrorize Antifa.... I see.

You humans are funny but also dangerous.

If the police weren't protecting Antifa from the other vigilantes, America would clean them up in no time Wild West style. The reason why Americans look like they are afraid to take the leap is because the yare afraid of the legal consequences. Remove the legal consequences and see what happens.