Florida’s “Anti-Rioting” Law Makes it Clear: The Right Wants to Kill Us

The state of Florida has just outlawed peaceful protesting. The state’s “anti-rioting” bill, recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron “Who Needs Masks?” DeSantis, essentially criminalizes free speech and the right of citizens to assemble peaceably.

The new law classifies any public group of three or more people as a “riot.” And, most shocking of all, it grants legal immunity to any right-wing driver who intentionally rams their car into a group of peaceful protesters who happen to be blocking traffic. Under the new law, the driver is immune from criminal penalties even he or she kills a protester.

Put more bluntly, the law legalizes murder.

In other words, the right in Florida has declared “Open Season” on left-wing activists. The Florida law essentially makes official what activists on the left have long understood: The right and the state are actively trying to kill us. The “anti-rioting” law is merely the latest phase in the ruling class’s decades-long campaign to crush the left.

And the Florida law is just one of a slew of so-called “anti-rioting” bills currently under consideration in several state legislatures. Thirty-four state legislatures have introduced 81 similar anti-protesting bills, so far this year.

The Real Target of “Anti-Rioting” Bills: Black Lives Matter

Let’s get real about who the true targets of these bills are: Black Lives Matter activists. These bills — which, tellingly, were proposed before the verdict was delivered in the high-profile Dereck Chauvin trial — are an attempt to curtail a repeat of last summer’s unprecedented anti-police protests. Those nationwide Black Lives Matter rallies were some of the largest in history. And, contrary to the right-wing media’s bogus “both sides” narrative, the protests were largely peaceful. So some adventurist radicals engaged in property destruction and petty vandalism. So what…?

Destruction of store front property is in no way comparable to the murder of a human being. There is no moral equivalency between the racist violence of the police state and the looting of a small business. Indeed, what pray tell has the “small business community” done for the African American community, in recent years? Do any of these businesses pay their black (or for that matter, their white) employees a living wage? Do they offer them decent employer-benefits like affordable health care that actually covers anything? How about paid sick time during a global pandemic? Yeah … I didn’t think so.

Such capitalist denial of basic human needs is also a form of violence. Yet we do not think about it as such because the ruling class has legitimized these forms of violence and exploitation to the point where they seem “normal.”

Instead of boarding up their storefronts every time working-class black people take to the streets to denounce the near-daily police murders of unarmed black citizens, perhaps these petty-bourgeois business owners should join the protesters in a show of solidarity. Such action would, indeed, do far more to ensure the safety of their precious private property.

Playing to Trump’s Petty-Bourgeois Base

But then, such right-wing petty-bourgeois are precisely who these “anti-rioting” bills are intended to benefit. These are, keep in mind, the very same people who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Many of them are members of white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers. They are, in other words, the very people intent on running over left-wing activists with their trucks and SUVs. These Republican-led bills are red meat for Donald Trump’s quasi-fascist base.

As Eve Ottenberg writes of these “Kill a Leftist Laws” in a recent piece for CounterPunch:

Doesn’t any idiot with a gun have the right to “stand his ground?” Why can’t fascists like the Proud Boys shoot anybody they don’t like? … This is the new criteria in some U.S. states for how we excuse homicide — red blooded Amuricans [sic] don’t like these people, so yeah, it’s cool to drive smack into them.

Activism has Always Been Risky Business

The Florida law is but the latest phase in the ruling class’s decades-long campaign to violently crush the left. Throughout history, the state has spied on, surveilled, blackmailed, infiltrated, bombed, shot, and assassinated its most vocal critics, from Malcolm X, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Medgar Evers, and Fred Hampton to name just a handful.

The working-class struggle against capitalism has, from the very beginning, been an uneven conflict. The ruling class has the power of the state, the police, the military and National Guard, the FBI, CIA, and NSA at its disposal. The working-class, by contrast, has nothing but its sheer numbers. And, I would argue, even the U.S. Constitution itself is a bourgeois weapon against democracy and freedom.

As the left has become more radicalized in recent years, with the resurgence of socialism, the state has only gotten more nakedly aggressive in its use of violent force against us. With draconian laws like Florida’s the state has basically dropped any and all pretense that it is a “neutral,” “apolitical” body.

The state, as Lenin explains in State and Revolution, represents the “special bodies of armed men” charged with defending capital and protecting the interests of the bourgeoisie. And, as Lenin observed, the left’s goal cannot be to merely “take over” the existing capitalist state and wield it for its own purposes. The state must be smashed to pieces and replaced with a worker-run communism.

We Can’t Rely on the Courts to Save Us

The Florida law is so extreme it almost cries out for legal challenge. Not only are these bills a transparent attack on First Amendment rights, but they also risk creating a startling chilling-effect on protesters’ free speech. Indeed, the Florida law is so broad in scope it could easily apply to right-wing protests. I guess this means we can run members of the Proud Boys over, too!

(Of course, right-wing groups like the Proud Boys rarely attempt to block traffic or engage in any actual manner of civil disobedience. In fact, they typically have their own police escort surrounding them, ready to pounce the minute Antifa counter-protesters show up. This is because the cops are basically on the white supremacists’ side.)

But those of us on the left should not wait around for these “anti-rioting” laws to be struck down in court. This is partly due to how right-wing the courts have become under the Trump administration. But it is also a bad strategy because the courts, as functionaries of the capitalist state, have rarely been on the side of the working class — let alone “democracy.” Even the “good,” liberal judges ultimately side with capital and the ruling class.

The only effective way to fight these “anti-rioting” laws is to take to the streets and actively defy them — regardless of the risk. There are still more of us than there are of the Trumpite fascists. They cannot run all of us over.

These “Kill a Leftist” bills make clear the ruling class’s ultimate project: Class war. The left must be willing to fight back and defend itself. “Force,” Frederick Engels wrote, can play a “revolutionary role… In the words of Marx, it is the midwife of a very old society pregnant with a new one, it is the instrument with the aid of which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilized political forms.”

Writer, socialist, and coffee-fiend. I have written for the West End News, Socialist Worker, a bunch of decidedly less interesting publications.