RICHMOND, Va. — Warning that attempts by the political establishment to blacklist groups espousing unpopular ideas will endanger and undermine legitimate First Amendment activities across the political spectrum, The Rutherford Institute is calling on the Virginia General Assembly to denounce House Bill No. 1601.
Introduced by Del. Marcia Price and drafted with the help of Attorney General Mark Herring, H.B. 1601 broadly and vaguely defines “domestic terrorism” in such a way as to create a new criminal class of “domestic terrorist organizations” by labeling organizations that are even minimally affiliated with individuals engaged in so-called “acts of terrorism” such as misdemeanor assault, trespass, and damaging property on the land of another. Moreover, once an organization is designated a “domestic terrorist organization,” it becomes a crime to provide that group with a service, whether that be food, lodging, transportation, communication or commerce for any purpose whatsoever.
“If you believe in and exercise your rights under the Constitution (namely, your right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share your political views, criticize the government, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government), that could be enough to land you on the federal government’s terrorism watch list. Now, under this proposed Virginia law, just associating with someone labeled a ‘domestic terrorist’ is enough to get an organization blacklisted,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “People have forgotten that in his day, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was viewed as a domestic terrorist for his acts of civil disobedience. Under this law, which aims to demonize and criminalize organizations based on their social or political associations with individuals whose unpopular beliefs or anti-government sentiments may be construed as ‘terrorist,’ organizations associated with King would be labeled as domestic terrorists and blacklisted. This is about as McCarthyist and un-American as it gets.”
In the wake of a massive protest in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 that resulted in violent clashes between alt-right and alt-left activists, with little to no intervention by police, Del. Marcia Price and Attorney General Mark Herring collaborated on legislation, House Bill 1601, that would create a new criminal class of domestic terrorists and blacklist any organizations associated, even minimally, with individuals engaged in so-called domestic terrorist activities.
In a letter to the Courts of Justice Committee, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute warn that H.B. 1601 poses grave dangers to the core constitutional rights of activist and political organizations of all stripes across the entire social and political spectrum. Notably, under H.B. 1601, almost any political organization risks being designated a “domestic terrorist organization”; organizations could be classified as terrorist based merely on minimal associations with individuals engaged in acts of so-called domestic terrorism; mired in secret proceedings, the protocol lacks any assurance of due process; the process for mounting an appeal of a “domestic terrorist” designation is overly burdensome and skewed; and the provisions impermissibly burden the right of political association protected by the First Amendment.