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Port: What scares me is the escalation

The left used violent demonstrations to shut down travel and commerce, and now the right is doing it. When the left was doing it, it was the right calling for severe government crackdowns. Now that

Truckers and their supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa
A person pretends to drink from a fuel can after police said they will be targeting the truckers' fuel supply as truckers and their supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, in Ottawa on Feb. 7, 2022.
Patrick Doyle / Reuters
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MINOT, N.D. — When former President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the often violent demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline here in North Dakota were ongoing.

Trump helped bring those protests to an end, issuing a key permit for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. Soon after the pipeline was completed and the protest camps were cleared.

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But what if Trump had gone further?

What if, instead of merely taking regulatory action in favor of the pipeline, he'd deputized America's financial institutions, tasking them with identifying participants in the protests and freezing their accounts? What if he issued an executive order defining those to be targeted by this initiative as participation in a “public assembly that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace.”

What if Trump's attorney general went on national television and declared that it wouldn't just be the demonstrators themselves who would be targeted, but anyone donating money to their cause ?

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We might call that sort of thing fascism.

These things I've described are the tactics Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has deployed against the trucker blockade which caused headaches north and south of the border for weeks.

I have little sympathy for those activists. I agree with them in some ways — many of Canada's pandemic-era policies have gone too far — but I can't condone a political movement that has anti-vaccine ignorance at its core. Nor do I endorse the tactics. They were wrong when the anti-pipeline people did them, and they were wrong in Canada too, though it's been amusing to watch left-wing observers rail against the very tactics they cheered when they were used against pipelines and law enforcement (and vice versa for the right).

Still, when it comes to protecting speech, the content of the speech is irrelevant.

The tactics deployed by the truckers, much like their counterparts in the anti-pipeline movement, were often illegal. Your right to speak, your right to gather and protest, does not justify harming other people, be it physically or economically.

Your cause does not give you license to obstruct the free movement and commerce of others.

Yet these illegal tactics are not justification for the government to appropriate vast new powers to exact financial reprisals against those who choose to engage in provocative political speech and those who support them.

What's terrifying in all this is the escalation. The left used violent demonstrations to shut down travel and commerce, and now the right is doing it.

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When the left was doing it, it was the right calling for severe government crackdowns. Now that it's the right blocking highways and making mischief, it's the left calling for the government to stamp it out.

We ought to ask ourselves, where does this road lead? Increasingly violent and disruptive political activities, provoking an ever more draconian response from the government that makes engaging, or even just supporting, the sprawling, brawling discourse that is the hallmark of any free society more fraught?

That's our future if we keep this up.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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