September 30, 2021

The case of Jared Benjamin Lafer, as reported in The Daily Beast, underscores just how eager some right-wingers are to physically harm, if not kill, protesters engaging in their First Amendment-protected freedom of political speech (Jan. 6th insurrectionists excepted, of course):

Victoria Hewlett, who was sitting in a parked car with her husband at an intersection just yards from the scene, told The Daily Beast that protesters were crossing the road in a pattern consistent with the walk signal. She says that Lafer pulled up behind her car, then swerved around her vehicle “pretty aggressively,” before rounding the corner and driving “directly into where the protesters were in the crosswalk.” She says — and Jonathan Bowers, Lafer’s primary victim, also states in a hospital-bed affidavit and subsequent testimony — that Lafer rolled slowly, without breaking, into the intersection, “bumped” him with his truck, and then suddenly “floored” the vehicle, running him over and leaving him unconscious in the road.

Yet despite video evidence that none of the approximately 10 protesters were near Lafer’s car when he ran over Bowers and narrowly missed another who jumped out of the way in time, a Tennessee grand jury apparently bought Lafer’s lawyer’s argument that “he did what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation that he felt was dangerous to his family.” The grand jury concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Lafer.

By the time of the arrest, Lafer’s earlier social media posts joking about running over protesters had been scrubbed from the internet, preserved only in screengrabs captured by a local progressive news site.

The awful thing is, Lafer is no isolated case. He’s part of a right-wing movement. TDB’s Kali Holloway explains:

Run them over” had become a rightwing social media catchphrase as far back as 2015, after the Ferguson uprising, and memes about vehicular homicide against protesters — like those Lafter promoted before his accounts were deactivated — have proliferated since. In 2017, Fox News ran an article headlined "Here's A Reel Of Cars Plowing Through Protesters Trying To Block The Road.” (“Study the technique; it may prove useful in the next four years,” the author urged.) They quietly removed the piece months later, three days after a white nationalist at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville used his car to murder Heather Heyer.

In recent years, conservative legislators around the country have responded to demonstrations and uprisings with anti-protest bills that, in addition to threatening folks’ constitutional rights, protect drivers who used their cars in attacks against protesters. Most of those failed to become law, but in the months following the police murder of George Floyd and the demonstrations that ensued, eight states have passed legislation that aims to have a chilling impact on political protest and free speech; another 21 have proposals in the works.

Right-wingers are getting the message. Holloway sites statistics that show people drove vehicles into protesters dozens of times during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protesters. Of 104 cases between May 27 and September 5, 2020, 43 drivers showed obviously malicious intent but only 39 faced any criminal charges.

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