The “Unmasking Antifa Act,” introduced by a Republican member of Congress, would imprison people for up to 15 years for simply wearing a mask at a protest.
Rep. Dan Donovan (R-New York) is attempting to make it a crime to be associated with Antifascist Action (Antifa) — a loosely organized protest group across the nation committed to fighting the rise of fascism in the U.S. Because of their controversial tactics of physically engaging with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, members of Antifa typically wear bandanas or masks to hide their faces from law enforcement officers who have, in the past, used facial recognition technology and cameras to identify and make lists of protesters at various demonstrations.
In the text of H.R. 6054, which Rep. Donovan introduced in June, the bill would make the mere act of just intimidating someone at a protest while wearing a mask a federal crime punishable by a fine or up to 15 years in prison.
“Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, while in disguise, including while wearing a mask, injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District, in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.”
Despite the media’s portrayal of Antifa as a group of violent anarchists starting fights, the protest movement is actually embraced by communities, and the vast majority of its contingent is nonviolent. As Mother Jones’ Shane Bauer reported following the counter-protest of a white supremacist rally in Berkeley, California, the mood of the day was “festive” aside from a few scattered beatings of Nazis throughout the day, and neo-Nazis were driven away from the site of their rally by mere chanting of slogans like “Nazi scum off our streets” and “Black lives matter.” Antifa activists even coordinated with other community groups to make sure the counter-protest was united:
The narrative that antifa “stormed” the demonstration is false. Antifa didn’t invade; they were one group among many that organized the counterprotest with other left-wing groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America—not to mention black and immigrant churches. Many attendees expressed surprise at the unprecedented level of coordination between groups that don’t always get along. Antifa organizers reached out to local businesses, handing out anti-hate window signs and flyers to educate business owners about the white supremacist groups active in the Bay Area.
Antifa may make an appearance at the upcoming white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, which will be a revival of last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where counter-protester Heather Heyer was run over and killed by a neo-Nazi who drove into a crowd of other counter-protesters. The driver was charged with first-degree murder and will stand trial this fall.
Rep. Dan Donovan did not respond to Grit Post’s request for comment as of this writing. His bill has not yet been scheduled for any committee hearings.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.