President Donald Trump may attempt to crack down on Black Lives Matter protests wielding a legal weapon typically used against mob bosses.
The president and some of his top officials have signaled that they may use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to target Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists, although legal experts are highly dubious that law would apply in those cases, reported The Daily Beast.
“It was useful, and still is sometimes, at taking down genuine organized crime,” said former federal prosecutor Ken White. “The problem is that [RICO] sounds badass so people want to use it on everything. People basically use it like an angry emoji … I think 98 percent of the time it’s invoked, it’s more emotional or performative than it is substantive.”
Acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News on Monday that he and Attorney General William Barr had discussed prosecuting activists like Mafia dons.
“Well, this is something that I have talked to [Barr] personally about,” Wolf told host Tucker Carlson. “I know that they are working on it.”
The president told Fox News, without evidence, on Tuesday that activists were being paid to fly to protests, and claimed those unfounded reports were being investigated, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made similar claims about activists last week and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) arguing last year that the Antifa movement should be investigated under the RICO Act.
“When [Wolf] says they’re looking at the leaders of Black Lives Matter for RICO charges, who do they mean?” said Chip Gibbons, policy director for the advocacy group Defending Rights And Dissent. “Do they mean the board of trustees on the actual 501(c)(3) [nonprofit] organization? Do they mean the three individuals who are credited with coming up with the hashtag? These are pretty decentralized movements … How are we going to subpoena the hotel records of Antifa? It’s a nonsensical proposition, like if I said I’m going to subpoena the hotel records of feminism.”
Even if the charges don't stick, those legal claims can spell trouble for activists -- who believe the administration is using the law to try and intimidate them into silence.
“One of the things this administration has tried to do is label protesters as part of some criminal organization, because once you have the idea of an organization, then that makes it a lot easier to go after people who are related," said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "You might not necessarily have to get the individual person who might have committed a crime; you can actually treat the entire group as being dangerous or criminal, and that gives you a lot more leverage in going after its members.”