Opinion: About That McCrory Video …
Ex-governor’s ‘Shame on you!’ moment draws unconstitutional response
So here’s Pat McCrory on Friday, ambling toward an entrance of the Capital Hilton in Washington, tailed by a small group of left-wing activists yelling at him because of House Bill 2. This is impolite, but then McCrory is accompanied by Lou Dobbs, which evens things out a bit. You can see by the video—shot by one of the activists, a young Greensboro man named Udai Basavaraj—that McCrory is, at worst, mildly inconvenienced. At the door, he turns around and grins, a bemused expression on his face. His hands are tucked into his coat pockets, not generally the stance of a man afraid for his safety. The cops clear the area around the door. Nobody gets hurt. It’s not clear whether anyone even gets touched. Life in our nation’s capital continues apace. (These days, “apace” is FUBAR, but you catch my drift.)
This inspired N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County, the co-author of HB2, to undertake a Googly investigation; determine that Udai is a Badperson™ because he’s apparently a collegiate socialist; dump on the Observer because why not; and, most important, announce that he intends to introduce legislation this week, modeled after a section of the D.C. code, to “make it a crime to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties.”
Its chances of passage? With this legislature, anything goes. How broadly might law enforcement trying to enforce it construe the definition of “threaten, intimidate, or retaliate”? Anyone’s guess; mine is “broadly.” If it passes, will it be laughed out of court on the inevitable ACLU challenge? Maybe. If what’s shown in the video is the standard for the crime, would it be an unconstitutional restriction of free expression? You bet.
Bishop is riding the wind here. We’ve quickly entered an era in which words have elastic meanings and power asserts itself by staking its claim on reality itself. (And I thought popular confrontation of public officials was a patriotic duty. It was last week, anyway.) The dark joke is that introducing legislation that would criminalize “intimidation” of a current or former public official is itself a form of intimidation. We’re four days into the new abnormal. You can expect more of it.