Midwest Dispatch: Beware of Proud Boys and Liability Shields

The sight of Proud Boys stomping through the streets of Washington, D.C., on December 12, ripping Black Lives Matter flags from Black churches and burning them, should stop…

The sight of Proud Boys stomping through the streets of Washington, D.C., on December 12, ripping Black Lives Matter flags from Black churches and burning them, should stop us all in our tracks.

Let’s be very clear about the danger here: The Proud Boys is a far-right, extremist group organized around a white nationalist ideology. Its members have repeatedly engaged in racism-fueled violence, from their participation in 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protests in Portland, Oregon, this past summer, and now, in the nation’s capital.

In Congress, the dangerously obstinate Mitch McConnell is stubbornly insisting on liability shields before he will agree to help millions of Americans face a winter of deep uncertainty.

President Donald Trump has seemingly voiced his support for the Proud Boys over the years, counting them among the “very fine people on both sides” that he said were at the Charlottesville event and telling them to “stand back and stand by” during a debate with presidential candidate Joe Biden in September (all while claiming he didn’t know who they were).

Members of the group came to Washington, D.C., on December 12 for a MAGA rally, held in support of Trump’s half-baked, uniformly unsuccessful attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Unrest “boiled over,” a local NBC outlet noted, as four people were stabbed at the rally and dozens were arrested. Many attendees were reportedly not wearing masks, even as COVID-19 continues to spread out of control.

I agree with those who have characterized Trump’s efforts to undermine the election as little more than a game designed to keep his name in the news and his bank account flush, rather than a serious move to retain the presidency.

But trying to guess at, or sweep aside, Trump’s real agenda is a waste of time. He may certainly be refusing to concede the election simply because he can, but it is causing something very destructive to take place all around us.


Groups like the Proud Boys pose a real threat to our overall safety and security, through their willingness to embrace anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic propaganda. But it seems clear their egregious behavior also provides cover for more easily overlooked acts of harm.

In Congress, the dangerously obstinate Mitch McConnell is stubbornly insisting on liability shields before he will agree to help millions of Americans face a winter of deep uncertainty—wondering when, or if, their own tax dollars can be used to help them. 

We can be outraged, but we should not be not overly distracted by the sight of Proud Boys tromping through the streets of Washington, D.C.

Never heard of liability shields? Then you are probably not a lobbyist or the owner of a corporation, working to protect your employer or your organization from a coronavirus-related lawsuit.

McConnell and other elected officials have been trying for months to tie liability restrictions to any new stimulus bill, a move The Washington Monthly called an “unprecedented federal power grab.” It would make it virtually impossible for people to sue if a business, employer, or nursing home carelessly infected them with COVID-19. 

Writing for Jacobin magazine in October, David Sirota and Julia Rock pegged the liability shield issue as part of a “long-term campaign to disempower workers.” The legislation would in fact “strip frontline workers of their last remaining legal tool to protect themselves in the workplace,” Sirota and Rock argued, even as many employees face financial pressure to continue working during the pandemic.

McConnell has recently expressed a willingness to drop the liability shields requirement, if Democrats also drop their demand for more money for state and local governments. Do these seem like equivalent demands?

I don’t think so. Few people would have the wherewithal to sue a business or hospital in the wake of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

But people should not have to struggle to get help from federal, state, and local governments. Why is it not more of an emergency that millions of people are on the verge of losing their unemployment benefits? In Minnesota alone, “more than 100,000 people are expected to lose jobless payments in the next two weeks,” the Star Tribune reported.

That’s a small but important fraction of the estimated nine million people, nationally, who stand to lose their CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits on December 26, unless Congress can agree on a stimulus package this week.


We can’t look away from the pain that COVID-19 has caused, particularly for Black Americans.

This point is magnified in a new report from researchers at Princeton, who found that struggling Black households “experienced greater job loss, more food and medicine insecurity, and higher indebtedness in the early months of the pandemic compared to white or Latinx low-income households.”

It would be wrong to parse this too closely. Lots of people are suffering in the United States right now, including Indigenous communities reeling from high COVID-19 case numbers and single parents trying to hold down a job or get by on unemployment while supervising their children’s online learning.

We can be outraged, but we should not be not overly distracted by the sight of Proud Boys tromping through the streets of Washington, D.C., burning Black Lives Matter flags, and brawling with counterprotesters. We must deal with the racialized terror and chaos such scenes represent. 

But Congress must also act now to put real money behind the claim that Black lives matter—by dropping the liability shields demand, extending jobless benefits, and immediately doling out a new round of stimulus checks.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.


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