The First Amendment lets Americans say pretty much anything to anyone, anywhere.
The Second Amendment lets them keep and bear arms.
So can they turn up at polling stations on November 3rd, armed and belligerent and, in the words of their President, “watch very carefully?”
No, they can’t.
In this case, what reads like 1+1 doesn’t equal 2.
The fact is, every one of America’s 50 states has rules forbidding such thuggery.
But until a group of constitutional lawyers at Georgetown Law School pointed this out, millions of voters had reason to fear this voter intimidation tactic. What’s more, some 200 private militias were gunning to defend what they think are their rights, but aren’t.
The Georgetown lawyers did something even more important. They created fact sheets for all 50 states on what to do when members of an armed private militia turn up at your poll or voter registration drive. Today, half a million downloads later, these fact sheets are giving election officials, police, poll captains and citizens the facts to smother ignorance and disinformation on voting day.
How this came about is worth noting.
Early in August 2017, Georgetown Law launched the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
It uses the courts to sue people who threaten America’s constitutional rights and values. It’s headed by Joshua Geltzer, the former Senior Director of Counter-Terrorism at the National Security Council.
One week later, on Wednesday, August 12th, 2017, some 250 white nationalists and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, yelling: “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!” Among them were three dozen members of a self-styled militia who were there “to keep the peace.” At 1:42 that afternoon, James Alex Fields, 20, from Ohio, drove his car into a crowd protesting the white supremacists. Fields killed one person and injured 19 others.
When asked after the confrontation what he thought, President Trump said: “…There were some very fine people on both sides.”
Another upshot of Charlottesville is that the Institute not only won consent decrees to prevent “Unite the Right” groups from returning there, but got its city council, business and community associations to join the suit. This, of course, has led to ICAP suing private militias on behalf of other jurisdictions and their district attorneys.
Earlier this month Geltzer’s ICAP colleague, Mary B. McCord, wrote in the New York Times that private militia groups are “…unlawful and not constitutionally protected.” This was the very same day the FBI uncovered the plot by the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Geltzer and McCord are constitutional scholars who like to get their hands dirty – especially in order to clean up the deliberate lies their President is spreading about “poll-watching.”
Said Geltzer: “One reason for the rise of private militias is that their members are afraid people are going to come for their guns. As life would have it, it’s the people who should be afraid that the militias will come for them.”