Op-ed: Republican lawmakers want to use pro-Trump rioters to undermine peaceful protest

This op-ed original appears in NBC News’ Think.

Legislators in many states are drawing exactly the wrong lessons from the tragic events in Washington on Jan. 6. The U.S. Capitol riot was violent, with multiple deaths and well over 100 members of law enforcement suffering injuries. And yet state legislators are introducing bills that would limit peaceful protests, allegedly as a public safety measure.

Provisions like these deliberately strike at the heart of what it means to live in our democracy.

Legislation has been introduced in many states — including Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington — but one of the worst and most restrictive bills is being championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Rather than focus on the type of violent acts that we witnessed in Washington, DeSantis has proposed restrictions that would limit peaceful protests.

As the Supreme Court has explained, it is “through the exercise of these First Amendment rights” — “rather than through riot or revolution” — that our Constitution enables and empowers people “to bring about political, social, and economic change.” There is good reason to consider how we can prevent insurrections like the one at the Capitol. But instead, Florida’s bill would use the tragic events to dress in sheep’s clothing DeSantis’ wolfish intent to become the arbiter of free speech in Florida. Multiple provisions in the bill make that clear.

To read the full op-ed, visit NBC News’ Think.

About the Authors

Erwin Chemerinsky

Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law

Ngozi Nezianya

Former Counsel

Ngozi Nezianya was a counsel at Protect Democracy

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