Halfway through Black History Month, white people still haven’t gotten the message that they need to stop using Martin Luther King Jr. to justify every little perceived slight to their sensibilities. During a Fox News segment about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking the Emergency Powers Act, George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley made a colossal error by invoking Martin Luther King Jr.in his response.
Turley attempted to use the Civil Rights Movement and King as an example of unfairness but instead showed his ignorance of repression experienced during the period. It also seems like he didn’t know King has ever been arrested, let alone targeted with arrest nearly 30 times.
“By this rationale, they could have cracked down on the Civil Rights Movement. They could have arrested Martin Luther King.”
Guessing Turley has never read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” you know the famous letter King wrote from jail! Or maybe he has never seen clips of Black people being brutally arrested. Dogs, water hoses and batons were among the instruments used by state actors to People were brutalized while trying to cross an Alabama bridge to register to vote.
Maybe he also isn’t familiar with Cointelpro and the steps the FBI took to undermine organizing by King and other Black people during the period.
Or he doesn’t care. But who cares about facts and accuracy when you’re drumming up fake outrage.
The brief exchange is another example of why it is essential to teach the complete history of America in context and without stressing individual comfort. Three organizers registering voters in Mississippi were murdered for daring to try. School children required armed escorts to attend class in peace. The crackdown against Black people attempting to exercise constitutionally protected rights has always been swift.
Two weeks later, people who don’t like having to comply with mandates during a public health crisis are being told ‘point made, now go home.’ No cracked skulls, no deprivation of actual rights.
Federal interventions in the U.S. were necessary during the Reconstruction Era and the Civil Rights Movement to protect Black people’s rights. The Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were federal interventions that some viewed as overreach. Last year, the reconstruction era law was successfully used to punish white supremacist organizers of the violent 2017 Unite the Right Rally.
While Turley tried to correct his error in a Twitter thread Tuesday, he still doubled down on alleged parallels between the relatively small group of truckers opposing public health measures and civil rights organizers. Although conservatives try to make the comparison, fighting for equal rights isn’t the same as generalized gripes about government tyranny with sprinkles of far-right extremism.
Evidence of far-right extremism within the protest movement has been documented. As reported by NPR, extremist elements have infiltrated the blockades. The newly appointed commissioner on systemic racism in New Brunswick told a Canadian outlet that after reviewing social media posts of a recent blockade, she observed anti-semetic and white supremacist symbols.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network tweeted about a cache of weapons found at the since dismantled blockade in Coutts, in Alberta. Speaking with CBC, one of the Coutts organizers said they were infiltrated by an extreme element and were going home.
“We were infiltrated by an extreme element.…Our objective was to be here peacefully,” Marco Van Huigenbos told CBC. “To keep that message going, we want to peacefully leave Coutts and return to our families.”
The Canadian Trucker blockades, like the anti-public health actions stateside, are not about addressing persisting inequities that impact people’s ability to not only survive but thrive. The context matters.
People may disagree with the invocation of the Emergency Powers Act, but exaggerated responses and false narratives only further spread misinformation about the Canadian government’s response. According to CBC News, the act can only be used temporarily for an “urgent and critical situation,” like the ongoing blockades impacting multiple border locations in the country. Further, the situation must be one found to “seriously endanger the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it.”
American conservatives, including elected officials who opposed racial justice protests and backed anti-protests bills, have openly expressed support for the truckers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who notoriously signed into law a bill that criminalizes protests that block a road or highway, has expressed support for the Truckers. He also joined other Republican officials in calling for an investigation into GoFundMe after donations for the blockades were seized.
Responding to a bad faith question with a bad faith defense is par for the course with Fox News. But at a time when Americans are fighting attacks on democracy and white supremacists hiding under the guise of defending “freedom,” commentary like Turley’s emboldens extreme elements throwing a collective tantrum because they aren’t in control.
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