2012-03-05 "Many forms of Occupy protests subjected to new bill making protests illegal" by Danny Weil
bill passed last week in the US House of Representatives and the Senate
would make it a felony to participate in many forms of protest
associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests of last year. Several
commentators have dubbed it the “anti-Occupy” law, but its implications
are far broader.
The bill — H.R. 347, or the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds
Improvement Act of 2011”—was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Only Ron Paul and two other Republicans voted against the bill in the
House of Representatives (the bill passed 388-3). Not a single
Democratic politician voted against the bill.
The virtually unanimous passage of H.R. 347 exposes the fact that,
despite all their posturing, the Democrats and the Republicans stand
shoulder to shoulder with the corporate and financial oligarchy that
they work for.
One central provision of H.R. 347 would make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.”
The bill defines the areas that qualify as “restricted”, purposely in
extremely vague, ambiguous and broad terms. For one thing, it replaces
language prohibiting “willfully and knowingly” entering a “restricted
area” with language prohibiting merely “willfully” entering a
“restricted area.” This seemingly minor change dramatically increases
the reach of the law. Another example, restricted areas can include “a
building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the
Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or
grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a
special event of national significance.”
Even more onerous is the provision regarding events of “national
significance.” What circumstances constitute events of “national
significance” is left to the arbitrary and capricious discretion of the
Department of Homeland Security. The occasion for virtually any large
protest could be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an
event of “national significance”.
Looking forward one can see why the bill is being bandied about at this
political juncture: included among such events would be the Democratic
and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as
National Special Security Events (NSSE), thanks to a category created
under the Clinton administration. These conventions have been the
occasion for protests that have been subjected to ever increasing
militarization and police repression. Under H.R. 347, future protests at
such events could now be criminalized.
The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year
in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury (weapon is not
defined) is involved, the penalty may be increased to up to ten years.
Also criminalized by the bill is conduct “that impedes or disrupts the
orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” and
“obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted
building or grounds.” These provisions threaten to criminalize a broad
range of protest activities that were previously perfectly legal.
There is historical precedence for such measures. Under the 'ancien
regime' in France, steps were taken to ensure that the “unwashed masses”
were kept out of sight whenever a carriage containing an important
aristocrat or church official was passing through. Similarly, H.R. 347
creates for the US president and other top officials a protest-free
bubble or “no-free-speech zone” that follows them wherever they go,
making sure the discontented hoi poloi is contained and out of sight.
The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is plainly
in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but don’t
tell that to the current corporatists on the Supreme Court.
H.R. 347 comes directly on the heels of the 2012 National Defense
Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed by President Obama into law
on December 31, 2011. The NDAA gives the president the power to order
the incarceration of any person—including a US citizen—anywhere in the
world without charge or trial.
An earlier version of the bill would have made it a felony just to
“conspire” to engage in any of the conduct described above. The bill now
awaits President Obama’s signature before it becomes the law of the
What lies behind the unprecedented attack on the US Constitution and
Bill of Rights is a growing and unsettling awareness on behalf of the
ruling class in this country that the protests that took place around
the world against social inequality in 2011 will be back and in more
powerful forms, especially as ‘austerity measures’ make the objective
and subjective conditions of life more and more miserable for working