Unmasking Antifa

Unmasking Antifa Act would jail people up to 15 years for committing a crime while wearing a mask or disguise

Should wearing a disguise or mask, as the far left radicals referred to as Antifa often do, increase your jail sentence if found guilty of a crime?

Context

Activity by a range of militant left-wing groups collectively known as Antifa has surged since President Trump’s election.

Known for wearing masks or disguises, often in black, the group most prominently confronts alt-right or Trump supporters during their protests or rallies. This has occasionally turned violent, such as an early July incident in Portland.

What the bill does

The Unmasking Antifa Act would allow a jail sentence of up to 15 years for anybody who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates” another while wearing a disguise or mask.

The legislative text is not yet available, so it’s unclear whether it makes direct reference to Antifa, but both the bill title and a press release from the Republican lead sponsor makes it clear who the legislation is primarily aimed at.

It was introduced in the House on July 25 as bill number H.R. 4003, by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN2).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill justifiably stiffens penalties for those committing acts of violence and hoping (sometimes successfully) to evade persecution through disguise or masks.

“It’s time we get tough on this issue. These cowards wouldn’t act the way they do if the whole world could see their faces,” Rep. Burchett said in a press release. “Look at the recent attack on a journalist in Portland. He was assaulted while expressing his freedom of speech. It’s just plain wrong to allow someone to commit a crime anonymously and get away with it.”

What opponents say

Opponents of a 2018 version of the bill countered then that the bill focuses on the wrong people, referencing Antifa counterprotests at the August 2017 rally defending Confederate statues in Virginia.

“Two groups go to Charlottesville. A big group chants racist filth, wields semi-automatic assault rifles, fires a gun into a crowd & murders a woman with a car,” according to former Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub. “A small group wears masks. It’s the small group these Congressmen want to lock up for 15 years. Authoritarianism rises.”

Odds of passage

The bill has not yet attracted any House cosponsors, although it’s only been out for a few days. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

A June 2018 version attracted three House cosponsors, all Republicans. It didn’t receive a House vote, even though the chamber was then under Republican control.

This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin.

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