Does former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory need protection? Do all current and former public officials? At least one state senator thinks so.
After a video was posted on Facebook Friday showing a group of people following McCrory during a trip to Washington, D.C., for inaugural weekend, chanting “Shame!” and calling him a bigot, Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte says he’ll introduce legislation to protect public officials.
The proposed legislation would “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,” Bishop said.
“Because lines are being crossed,” Bishop, a Republican who represents the 39th District in the North Carolina Senate, wrote in an email from his Senate campaign account.
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Bishop was one of the sponsors of House Bill 2, or “the bathroom bill” which McCrory signed into law. The bill was criticized for nullifying local non-discrimination ordinances statewide, directing transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms matching the gender on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings and initially revoking the right to sue in state court for discrimination.
Bishop calls the group of people of indeterminate number “a chanting mob” and “ubiquitous leftist rioters” and wonders whether the “mob fell upon the former governor by coincidence or if they stalked him.”
Bishop said such behavior should come with a five-year prison sentence and said he’ll introduce the legislation to make it so in North Carolina, similar to an ordinance in the District of Columbia.
“So should it be in North Carolina,” he wrote. “This is dangerous. Jim Hunt, Bev Purdue and other governors never faced riotous mobs in their post-service, private lives, without personal security.”
Bishop said he also will urge his fellow legislators “to take other appropriate steps to guarantee the personal safety of Gov. McCrory by all means necessary.”
Bishop said in an email to The News & Observer on Monday that he provided the District of Columbia statute to staff and asked for recommendations for a “North Carolina version” of the law. He said he also asked for research on practices of other states.
The Washington, D.C. law Bishop cites is D.C. Code § 22-851 (anyone who "by any threatening letter or communication, intimidates, . . . or retaliates against, or attempts to intimidate . . . or retaliate against" a current or former official "on account of the performance of [his or her] duties.")
“I hope Attorney General (Josh) Stein is looking into whether any federal statutes have been violated in this instance,” Bishop wrote, referencing McCrory’s Washington, D.C. incident. “I’m sure a referral from him to appropriate federal authorities would be very influential.”
American Civil Liberties Union North Carolina policy director Sarah Gillooly said in an emailed statement that the proposed legislation could limit citizens’ rights.
“People’s right to criticize politicians – whether in a newspaper, at a meeting, or on a public street – is the very heart of what the First Amendment protects,” Gillooly said. “Everyone deserves protection from violence, but politicians who run for and serve in public office shouldn’t get special treatment to shield them from criticism. Any attempt to criminalize peaceful political speech would violate the Constitution and our country’s proud tradition of free speech for all.”
Video and response
A Greensboro Socialist group on Facebook has taken credit for incident where McCrory was shouted at during a trip to Washington, D.C. over the inaugural weekend.
In a Facebook post Monday, the Greensboro Socialists - ISO page wrote “Comrades' video shaming Pat McCrory at the Inauguration Day protests have gone viral, thanks to the timely and dedicated work of our comrades across the Triad.”
The video was posted by Facebook user Udai Basavaraj on Friday about 4 p.m., four hours after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, and is tagged at the Capital Hilton in Washington.
In the video, which lasts three and a half minutes, McCrory, television personality and conservative pundit Lou Dobbs and three unidentified women are approached by people on the street who shout “Shame!” and call McCrory an “anti-gay bigot.” McCrory and his group try to avoid them but are followed down an alley where they waited to be admitted to a building.
None of the people who were shouting physically engaged with anyone in McCrory’s group in the video. No one is heard making any threats. Many of them are shown taking video of the incident on mobile phones.
Police eventually intervened and shooed the crowd away, though not before some of the protesters accused them of “protecting the homophobes.”
“It’s regrettable that up to a few dozen protesters decided to stalk and shout insults at the governor and police when we should all be listening to each other and coming together as a country in a respectful manner. Governor McCrory is thankful to Lou Dobbs for helping during this incident, and very thankful to the D.C. police for keeping everyone safe during a very successful inaugural weekend.”
In response to Bishop’s planned bill to protect North Carolina officials, Udai Basavaraj emailed a statement to The News & Observer that criticized the senator’s propositon.
“Sen. Bishop seems to feel the need to propose laws that limit the freedom of expression of individuals and attack the First Amendment,” Basavaraj wrote. “He, like Trump, is a bully and bullies use positions of power to attack those without power. Now that those bullies are being exposed, they want laws to protect them.”
Basavaraj wrote that if Bishop is truly interested in democracy, he would repeal House Bill 2 “and every piece of tox legislation that was passed during the December Special Session.” Instead, Basavaraj wrote, Bishop chose to attack him.
Bishop did include statements about Basavaraj in his email proposing the bill to protect North Carolina officials. Bishop wrote that Basavaraj had a GoFundMe page to raise money to attend a socialist event in Chicago last year and another to raise money to take members of the International Socialist Organization to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration last weekend. Basavaraj also has hosted an ISO meeting at UNC-Greensboro, Bishop wrote.
“If Sen. Bishop was really interested in protecting the working class in this state maybe he could start by proposing a law that makes it illegal for an elected Senator to attack a private citizen,” Basavaraj wrote in his emailed statement.
And Basavaraj said McCrory deserved the treatment shown in his video.
“That was nothing compared to the way he and his posse cornered, marginalized and shamed millions of tax payers in this state with vicious legislation and made North Carolina and its legislature the laughing stock of the nation. McCrory is an epic fail, a sore loser and he's still fired.”
Bishop declined to comment on Basavaraj’s statement.