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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Proposes Strict Crackdown on Violent Protests

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  • On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called for legislation aimed at cracking down on “violent and disorderly protests,” as well as at withholding state grants and aid from cities with “Defund the Police” measures. 
  • Under his proposed law, a person could be charged with a felony if they block roadways during a protest held without a permit or if they are part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes injury or damage. 
  • It also gives protection to drivers who kill or injure others while “fleeing for safety from a mob” and would bar anyone who is convicted under this bill from becoming a state or local government employee.
  • Critics of the proposed law say that DeSantis is trying to scare people from using their first amendment rights and argue that the driver clause could actually lead to violence against protesters. 

DeSantis’ Proposed Protest Law

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) unveiled a bill on Monday that, if passed, would severely crackdown on protests described as “violent or disorderly.

Notably, that bill would make it a felony to be part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes property damage or injury to other people and to block traffic during a protest held without a permit. The bill also stipulates that drivers would “NOT be held liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”

Among those measures, the bill would create a new six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes a law enforcement officer “during a violent or disorderly assembly.” 

That also includes offense enhancements for people who throw objects that hit civilians or law enforcement, for people who assault law enforcement “during a violent or disorderly assembly,” and for people from different states who participate in such assemblies. 

On top of that, the bill has a “No ‘Defund the Police’ Permitted” measure, which would prohibit state grants or aid from going to any local government that slashes police department budgets.

It also “waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damage” if that “government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.” Essentially, sovereign immunity refers to the fact that the government cannot be sued without its consent.

Anyone who is convicted of participating in “a violent or disorderly assembly” would additionally be barred from becoming a state or local government employee. Convicted individuals would find their state benefits terminated as well. 

Support for the Bill

The bill is a response to nationwide protests where demonstrators have called for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Since those protests began, many have called for police departments to be defunded or abolished. 

While there have been documented cases of looting and arson, a September report from the U.S. Crisis Project found that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. 

As he announced the bill, DeSantis called it the “boldest and most comprehensive” piece of legislation of its kind.

If you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it,” he said. “If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks raining down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”

DeSantis then went on to criticize cities like New York City, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wicsonsin. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department labeled New York City, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” That came after President Donald Trump ordered the agency to review federal funding for local governments in cities that have faced violence, vandalism, and looting during protests.

“This proposed legislation gives us tools to separate the peaceful from the violent,” Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell told Politico. “It also establishes the Legislature’s direction that we severely punish those who promote violence through the corruption of these demonstrations.”

Like Campbell, DeSantis has stressed that the bill is aimed only at those who incite violence at protests, not peaceful protesters.

Criticism of the Bill

Still, many have argued that DeSantis is using marginal reports of violence to punish all forms of protest and critics of police misconduct.

Among those, Florida’s incoming House Minority Leader, Evan Jenne (D), said, “Most of this stuff is already illegal. He is just Hell bent on silencing any voice of opposition.”

“None of this is about policy,” Jenne added. “It’s about buoying President Trump, who has slipped precipitously in the polls. It’s dog-whistle base stuff.”

Stephanie Porta, executive director of the progressive group Organize Florida, said, “This is out there to absolutely scare people into not using their constitutional rights for freedom of speech.” 

The ACLU of Florida also condemned the bill, and Executive Director Micah Kubic called the proposal “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”

“This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” he added in a statement. 

Some are also worried that the bill could actually incite violence since it shields drivers that kill or injure people with their vehicles. In fact, several critics have noted that during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, a counterprotester was hit and killed. That same incident also injured 19 others. The driver of that car later claimed he “felt he was in danger and people were coming at him.”

Where Is the Bill at?

For now, this measure remains simply a proposal. 

It will first have the opportunity to be formally introduced in March 2021 when Florida’s next legislative session actually begins. Until then, committees will start the process of crafting the bill’s language and finding sponsors as they meet later this year. 

The bill’s language will be critically important. That’s because terms like “mob” and “Defund the police” will have to be strictly defined. For example, “Defund the police” can carry several definitions.

In some cases, it means redirecting money for police departments to other governmental agencies for housing, mental health services, and other social programs. In others, people could use it as a proxy for abolishing whole police departments. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (WESH 2 News) (WPTV 5)

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GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection

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  • Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
  • Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
  • Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
  • She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.

Rep. Cohen’s Claims

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.

While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”

“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”

Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”

Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.

The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

Boebert’s Checkered Record

Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.

In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves. 

Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.

She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.

In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.

Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”

“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News

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Washington, D.C. Ramps Up Security Before Inauguration

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  • Officials in Washington are ramping up security measures and imposing heavy restrictions ahead of the inauguration Wednesday.
  • The National Mall has been closed down since Friday, barricades have been put up all over the city, car traffic has been limited, and many public transit routes have also been shut down.
  • Around 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed from across the country, and the FBI is vetting all of them due to concerns of an insider attack.
  • Security has also been significantly increased in many state capitals nationwide following calls for armed protests in all 50 states, but so far, most of the protests at statehouses have been peaceful and exceptionally small.

Capitol Increases Security Measures

With two days to go until the inauguration, security has been massively ramped up in the nation’s Capitol.

While the inauguration is usually a high-security event, Washington has now instituted security measures not seen since the Civil War following a Jan. 6  insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol. Intelligence agencies have since warned about more threats of violence.

In an unprecedented move, the National Park Service announced Friday that the National Mall — which usually hosts massive crowds during the inauguration — will be closed until at least Thursday. The inaugural ceremony itself will also be scaled down due to both security threats and the pandemic.

Various barricades ranging from small metal barriers to tall fencing reinforced with heavy concrete blocks have been set up around the Mall and in other parts of the city, such as at federal buildings and businesses.

The Capitol complex itself, which will be entirely shut off to the public on Wednesday, is currently surrounded by a 7-foot fence topped with razor wire. 

Over a dozen metro lines will be shut down and more than two dozen bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter. Car traffic in most of the city will be either banned entirely or limited exclusively to residents and businesses only. Several bridges that connect DC to Virginia will also be shut down, and all street closures are subject to change or to be extended at the discretion of the Secret Service.

In addition to the wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel who are normally involved in inauguration security, around 25,000 National Guard troops have also been deployed from all across the country.

That is nearly two and a half times the number present for previous inaugurations. Notably, officials have been vetting all 25,000 coming to Washington because they are worried about an insider attack.

States Ramp Up Security

It is not just D.C. that is ramping up security. There have been mass deployments of the National Guard and other law enforcement officers to state Capitols all across the country. According to The New York Times, 19 states have deployed their National Guards following calls for armed protests in all 50 states.

So far, most of the activity that has been seen around statehouses are small, peaceful demonstrations by a few people, some of whom are armed. Even the most attended rallies had two dozen people or less.

Notably, all of the largest demonstrations documented so far have reportedly been held by or included members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right group that wants to start a second Civil War. The group showed up in some of the highest numbers in front of the Capitol buildings in Ohio, Michigan, and Utah.

As was the case with all of the other demonstrations so far, the protestors have been far outnumbered by security officials — and in some cases, spectators.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)

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Analysts Say Online Misinformation Has Plummeted 73% Since Trump’s Twitter Ban

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  • Online misinformation fell 73% in the week following President Donald Trump’s ban on Twitter, according to the San Francisco-based analytics firm Zignal Labs.
  • The firm also found that QAnon-related hashtags and phrases saw a decrease in use. Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Twitter has banned more than 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon.
  • Meanwhile, Poland’s government has now introduced legislation to crack down on bans and content removal by social media platforms. 

Misinformation Onlines Drops 

A recent analysis from a San Francisco-based analytics firm suggests that online misinformation has plunged 73% since Twitter first banned President Donald Trump on Jan. 8.

Twitter — followed by a host of other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat — enacted the ban following the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump insurrectionists. 

According to the firm, Zignal Labs, discussions of election fraud on various sites dropped from 2.5 million mentions to just 688,000 between Jan. 9 and Jan. 15. 

Zignal Labs also found that the use of common hashtags and phrases associated with QAnon conspiracy theories dropped off during the same time frame. Part of that is likely because, alongside Trump’s ban, Twitter banned more than 70,000 QAnon accounts.

“Bottom line is that de-platforming, especially at the scale that occurred last week, rapidly curbs momentum and ability to reach new audiences,” Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told The Washington Post. “That said, it also has the tendency to harden the views of those already engaged in the spread of that type of false information.”

On Sunday, Twitter also temporarily suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) account. According to Twitter, Green’s page was locked for 12 hours because of “multiple violations of our civic integrity policy.”

Green’s account includes a treasure trove of false claims about voter fraud in Georgia. She’s also peddled QAnon conspiracy theories.

Poland Seeks to Regulate Social Media Bans

News of decreased misinformation online also comes as Poland’s hard-right Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has proposed a new bill marketed as a “freedom of speech protection” law.

Notably, if it passes, that law would prevent social media platforms from deleting content or banning users who don’t break Polish law.

If a platform refuses to comply with an order to restore either a banned user or deleted content, it could face fines of anywhere from $13,000 to $13 million dollars. 

Despite this, domestic regulations on their own are likely to be ineffective. Because of that, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is also lobbying the European Union to regulate the issue. 

Critics of the law have argued that the “over-removal” of content on social media is a “non-existent risk,” especially when compared to hate speech targeting the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, and refugees.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (BBC)

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