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Published 4 November 2017

Abby Martin meets a constitutional rights expert to examine the rolling back of basic human rights under U.S. President Trump.


In the latest edition of The Empire Files, Abby Martin meets constitutional rights lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard to examine the many legal assaults on civilliberties that have been sweeping the U.S. since Donald Trump was elected president in November last year.

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At Trump's inauguration, at least 200 protesters, journalists and innocent bystanders were arrested in a ‘drag-net’ and are now facing up to 70 years in prison on baseless charges.

This extraordinary erosion of civil liberties – from anti-fascists being treated as "domestic terrorists", to legislation protecting drivers who deliberately run over peaceful marchers – has only accelerated since.

To discuss the implications of this police-state crackdown on the left, Martin met Verheyden-Hilliard, head of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, who has been defending civil protest rights for more than 20 years.

“People are being threatened with decades in prison because they were in proximity to someone else who broke a window,” says Verheyden-Hilliard, who has fought – and won – several cases against the U.S. government for mass arrests and other types of repression.

“What that is is the First Amendment – the proximity to someone who had a shared political view – being the basis to prosecute.” In effect, Verheyden-Hilliard explains, the government is saying it has the right to arrest anyone in the proximity of a demonstration, simply because they were nearby.

Verheyden-Hilliard notes that there has been a major regressive shift in police tactics under the Trump administration to the period several decades ago when illegal mass arrests and police brutality were the norm.

As the litigator explains, this rolling back of basic human rights – including the deployment of police agent-provocateurs, government insistence that protest organizers hand over members’ details, and the branding of anti-fascists as ‘domestic terrorists’ – is giving law enforcement renewed licence to act against the social-justice movement.

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