Why and How to Sue Anti Trump Protesters and Other Disruptors
“Sue The Disruptors” Is Far More Effective Than Criminal Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 21, 2016): Only 3 arrests, with slap-on-the-risk fines, for creating a 10-mile backup in Arizona Saturday is likely to encourage, rather than discourage, more Anti Trump Protesters – like so many similar cause-driven students on campus – to engage in criminal acts inconveniencing if not endangering others, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has a more effective remedy.
Banzhaf, who popularized the “Sue the Bastards” slogan, and helped obtain law suits against those who illegally blocked traffic at NYC’s George Washington Bridge, now suggests “Sue the Disruptors.”
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He says that citizens stepping up to protect their own rights – even if only in small claims court if necessary – by bringing civil torts actions against illegal disruptors is a far more effective way of discouraging these criminal conspiracies than the criminal law itself.
Virtually any time people deliberately violate a criminal statute designed to protect the public, anyone who suffers some kind of harm as a result can sue the criminals, not just for the damages actually suffered, but also for punitive damages – a much larger amount specifically designed to discourage similar conduct in the future – says Prof. Banzhaf.
Banzhaf’s public interest legal actions got antismoking messages on the air, required Agnew to return the money he took in bribes, forced McDonald’s to pay more than $12 million for deceiving the public, and resulted in many other legal victories.
Indeed, Banzhaf has been called “One of America’s Premier Legal Activists,” an “Entrepreneur of Litigation [and] a Trial Lawyer’s Trial Lawyer,” “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” a “Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” and the “Dean of Public Interest Lawyers.”
The tactics of trying to shout down speakers to prevent them from being heard, or even blocking others who wish to hear them – now unfortunately so accepted on college campuses that some see such disruption as a fundamental right – is now spreading to presidential campaigns, predicts Banzhaf.
If we don’t want it to go even further, with small radical groups first issuing and then actually being granted non-negotiable demands just because they block access or shout down others, it’s time we begin suing the disruptors, says Banzhaf.
There are many reasons why the criminal law has often actually encouraged – rather than discouraged – criminal disruptors, says Banzhaf, noting that the same phenomena of a handful of criminal activists demanding radical change for their pet cause has now taken hold on too many college campuses.
Disruptors who violate criminal laws know that the chances of actually being arrested are small, as more and more police forces yield the streets and highways to their blockades, “die ins,” chaining themselves to things, and other similar tactics – with police often afraid to make arrests, recognizing a new right to let off steam, or simply because of sympathy with their cause.
Even if a few disruptors are arrested, they usually face only a token fine – a small price to pay, they think, for getting even more publicity for their cause. Indeed, if they refuse to pay the fine and must be prosecuted in court, they can often turn the trial into a major media event – a tactic honed by the Chicago Seven – to focus even more public attention on their grievances.
The arrests themselves can also be publicized, with still pictures or videos shot from cell phones posted on the Internet to gain sympathy, and to increase their status and street cred in the community.
Often, an illegal demonstration is seen as a “happening” – something fun and exciting and interesting to do – where people can join friends, meet those of the opposite sex, and have a good time while doing something they can feel proud about themselves for their participation.
In many states, “disturbing lawful assemblies” is a criminal offense, so perpetrators can be arrested and fined. But if there are no arrests – because of police leniency, political pressures, or simply because no officer witnessed the offense – there can nevertheless be a civil prosecution for the tort; one said to be implied from the criminal statute.
Anti Trump Protesters
So, instead of simply calling for more hooliganism from his supporters to counter deliberate disruptions at his rallies, and sometimes even offering to pay his supporters’ legal fees, Donald Trump can finally put his money where his mouth is, and sue those who deliberately disrupt his talks.
In this way he can impose large actual as well as punitive damages on these criminals – if necessary, putting a lien on their possessions and even garnishing their wages – regardless of what the authorities do or don’t do.
Deliberately blocking streets or highways is also a crime, notes Banzhaf, so that anyone who is stuck in a traffic jam just because of such a street blockage would have a cause of action on this ground alone.
In addition, the well recognized tort of false imprisonment occurs whenever somebody deliberately makes it difficult for another to leave where they are. At Banzhaf’s urging, this tort was used in a law suit against those who trapped people in their cars near NYC’s GW bridge as part of a political protest, and could also be used by anyone caught in the Arizona traffic jam on Saturday.
It is also a tort, a civil wrong, to conspire with others to unlawfully harm someone, even if the same acts done by only a one person would not be illegal. So, for example, if protestors agree to all call an 800 number maintained by a political candidate so that others cannot get through, that constitutes a “civil conspiracy,” and each and every participant can be held liable for the total damages, both actual and punitive.
“Suing the Disruptors” – like “Suing the Bastards” – may be the most effective way to help deter illegal protests, says Banzhaf, citing these examples.
When other groups learn that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been forced to pay $2.55 million to Japanese companies for illegally using acid and smoke bombs to disrupt their whaling, they may think twice before blocking traffic to advance their agenda, says Banzhaf.
In another example, a student who illegally chained himself to some construction equipment because he opposed an oil pipeline was forced to pay out big bucks for his criminal conduct.
As NPR reported it, he was apparently ready to accept a relatively painless conviction and tiny fine for trespass, but not to pay the pipeline company $39,000 in restitution.
Similarly, eleven protesters who allegedly engaged in illegal activities at the Mall of America faced restitution claims from the City of Bloomington.
Pro-life activists were successfully sued under RICO for physically blocking access to abortion clinics under a theory which might even by used against those involved in Arizona, says Banzhaf.
Small groups of students who stage disruptions on college campuses, drowning out and even blocking access to those whose viewpoints they appose, have forced their universities to make major concessions because administrators were afraid to stand up to their unlawful tactics, says Banzhaf.
If we want to avoid having this dangerous tactic spread throughout society, and even to infect our political campaigns, those concerned – including, in this case, Trump supporters – have to be willing to stand up to these Anti Trump Protesters and bullies by using the tremendous power of legal action, says Banzhaf.
Anti Trump Protesters
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School