The progression of the nation's first federal hate-crimes law -- the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- out of the House and into the Senate, where it will almost certainly pass (barring a GOP filibuster), has the right-wing punditocracy in an uproar.
Especially Sean Hannity -- who's now just flatly lying on the air about the bill, and about hate-crimes laws in general. The distortion and demagoguery is making quite a spectacle.
The right-wing smear-and-lie machine has been getting cranked up to fight this bill from the outset, with notable contributions from the likes of Virginia Foxx. But the champion liar/demagogue is Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has been throwing up garbage amendments -- including a nonsensical attempt to include veterans under hate-crime provisions. Of course, Hannity reported this attempt as something serious instead of the cheap grandstanding it was.
And the grandstanding continues with subsequent attempts to exclude pedophiles from bias-crime protection. On Fox News last night, both Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity devoted segments to exploring King's proposals to exclude pedophilia as a "protected class."
There's a big problem with this claim: There's nothing in either the federal legislation, or in any state law, that could credibly be construed as offering protection to pedophiles. In fact, the entire construct -- that these laws create "protected classes" -- is false to begin with.
But King's argument appears predicated on the notion that pedophilia might somehow legally qualify as a "sexual orientation" -- which is to say, it rests on the assumption that homosexuality is somehow akin to pedophilia.
Nonetheless, the hamhanded upshot of these cheap ploys is that Sean Hannity could get on the air and say:
HANNITY: Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles but not offer the same protection to servicemen and women? Is that an accurate statement?
KING: Sean, it is a matter of congressional record. Absolutely true -- beyond any doubt whatsoever.
HANNITY: Now, during last week's debate on the hate crimes bill, Republicans proposed an amendment that would exempt pedophiles from receiving the protections of that bill that offers victims of hate crimes.
Now, the Democrats voted unanimously against the amendment. Here's what they said.
CLERK OF THE HOUSE: Mr. Scott votes no [...] Ms. Lofgren votes no [...] Mr. Cohen votes no [...] Mr. Johnson votes no [...] Mr. Pierluisi votes no [...] Mr. Gutierrez votes no [...] Mr. Sherman votes no [...] Ms. Baldwin votes no [...] Mr. Weiner votes no [...] Mr. Maffei votes no [...] Mr. Wexler votes no [...] Ms. Waters --
HANNITY: Now, meanwhile, as we first reported on this program last week, one Democratic congresswoman denounced an idea that veterans should receive any sort of protections at all.
And joining me now to discuss what exactly unfolded is Congressman Steve King. He sponsored the amendment that would have excluded pedophiles from this legislation. Congressman, good to see you.
KING: Thanks, Sean. It's good to be with you tonight.
HANNITY: I want to be perfectly clear. So hate -- we have a hate crimes bill, and you're saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no. But when there is -- the sponsorship of the bill that would also include veterans that are victims of crimes because they're veterans, Democrats -- they wanted them exempt but the pedophiles in. Do I have that right?
KING: You have it right, Sean. They were wrong on both counts, obviously. But you have it absolutely right. And on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn't include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.
HANNITY: All right, Congressman. I got to slow down here, because I don't think I got this right. So the Democrats voted against special protected status to pedophiles in this bill.
HANNITY: But when they had a chance to offer special protected status to veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, they said no. Tell me that I -- tell me that that didn't happen in Washington. Tell me that I'm really -- I got this whole thing messed up and backwards.
We've debunked this nonsense numerous times in the past, but let's wash, rinse, and repeat anyway:
[King's] proposal would render the legislation moot and unconstitutional, because it would then be predicated on the idea of creating "protected classes." And, as has been already explained many times, hate-crimes bills aren't about creating "protected categories" -- they are strictly written to encompass the motives of the perpetrator:
Hate-crime statutes are neither written to protect specific classes of persons from assault nor to enhance the charges simply when a person from a "protected class" is the victim of a crime. We don't have laws that create stiffer time if you simply assault a black or a Jew or a gay person. The laws don't even specify races or religions. Such laws would be in clear violation of basic constitutional principles, including the equal-protection clause.
In fact, the actual class status of a victim is almost secondary to the decision whether or to file a hate-crimes charge or not. The primary concern is the motivation of the perpetrator. All of these laws are written to punish people more severely for committing a crime committed with a bias motivation.
Not everyone ever joins an armed service. Veteranhood is a not a universal trait. But the categories of bias motivation -- race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sexual preference -- are universal human traits:
[Bias crime laws] are intended to protect everyone equally from these kinds of crimes. Everyone, after all, has religious beliefs of one kind or another; we all have a race, a gender, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation. A quick look at the FBI's annual bias-crime statistics bears this out; anti-white bias crimes are the second-largest category of racial crimes, and anti-Christian crimes constitute the second-largest in the religion category. If the laws were written as [Rooney] suggests, they couldn't possibly pass the Constitution's equal-protection muster; yet these laws have.
Finally, bias-crime laws have always been about addressing real, identifiable social pathologies that have a toxic effect on larger society. Bias crimes against veterans -- who for the most part are fairly capable of defending themselves anyway; indeed, it strikes me as insulting to cast them in the role of victims -- are not, as far as anyone can demonstrate, an identifiable problem at this time. However, racially, religiously, ethnically, and sexually motivated bias crimes are indeed very real phenomena.
It is indeed an insult to the victims of those crimes to try to trivialize their suffering with cheap tactics like this. And it's downright obscene to claim that saying so is "anti-military" or "bashing the soldiers."
And of course, Hannity and King rounded out the segment with an exchange that was nothing less than a complete regurgitation of every Zombie Lie about bias-crimes laws known to man -- especially that ole fave, "these are thought crimes":
HANNITY: So I'm trying to understand it. Are we trying, through hate crimes legislation, to get into the thought process behind the crime instead of just punishing the actual crime and the actual act?
KING: Well, Sean, it is a thought. It is the thought crime. And I tried to bring this out in the mark-up before the Judiciary Committee. And I asked the specific question of the sponsors: Is it the perception of the perpetrator, or the perception of the victim?
And I got different answers. But, truthfully, it's both. Now we're trying to, by law, divine what was in head -- in the head of the victimizer, and what's in the head of the victim, who is self-alleged with their particular proclivity and would be protected by law given the circumstances of the legislation that passed off the floor of the House of Representatives.
So I think this is an area of law that we should stay completely away from. I think it brings about this special protected status. And I think that when you set up people that are -- that are victims, then you're dividing people. And so this is an agenda --
HANNITY: All right.
KING: -- of the homosexual activists. And they take this all the way through to imposing same-sex marriage on America.
That's right -- it's all part of the eeeevil homosexual plot. That's why Latino advocates -- the people who are dealing with the hate crimes that have been stirred up by the irresponsible fearmongering of people like Steve King -- and African American groups are all strongly behind this bill too.
Along with the ACLU, which also strongly supports this bill. They all want to create "thought crimes." Right.
Mushy-headed libertarians and liberals and particularly conservatives who see bias-crime laws as creating "thought crimes" -- a concern for which, in over two decades of having these laws on the books, there is scant evidence -- seem to be wringing their hands over a rather abstract notion of freedom, while losing sight of the hard reality that bias-crime laws are about protecting the freedoms of millions of Americans.
Maybe that's because these critics see the only threat to our freedoms as emanating from government. But over the history of our country, there have been notable examples in which people's freedoms were taken away by the acts of their fellow citizens -- the "lynching era" of 1880-1930 being the most prominent. Today's bias-crime laws are the direct descendants of the anti-lynching laws that were never passed at the height of this era, based largely on arguments similar to those raised against bias-crime laws -- a failure for which the Senate recently apologized.
The legacy of lynching remains with us today in the form of hate crimes -- whose purpose, once again, is to oppress and eliminate targeted minorities. Hate crimes have the fully intended effect of driving away and deterring the presence of any kind of hated minority -- racial, religious, or sexual. They are essentially acts of terrorism directed at entire communities of people, and they are message crimes: "Keep out." And they damage both the fabric of our communities and the democratic underpinnings of a free society. Most of all, they create what Yale's Donald Green calls "a massive dead-weight loss of freedom" for all Americans, particularly minorities.
Bias-crime laws aren't merely about "affirming the equality of all people": they're about preserving very real, basic freedoms -- freedom of association, freedom of travel, the freedom to live where we choose, and most of all the freedom from fear -- for every American. The only "freedom" upon which they impinge is that of violent yahoos to threaten and intimidate and take away the freedom of others.
Is that the kind of freedom Sean Hannity and Steve King wish to protect? It seems so. They'll even lie through their teeth about it.
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