In January, a woman from Project Veritas calling herself Laura Lewis attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Staten Island led by Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner.
Laura Lewis secretly recorded her conversations with the demonstrators, including Erica, and the footage was later used to make a “hit job” about Al Sharpton:
— ANIMALNewYork (@ANIMALNewYork) February 25, 2015
I was present on the night that Laura Lewis and Project Veritas infiltrated our peaceful protest. It was the day after MLK Day. On MLK Day itself, the memorial for Eric Garner on Staten Island was suspiciously burnt to the ground. Erica Garner was publicly shaken by the event:
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) January 21, 2015
Heeding Erica’s call, many people came to Staten Island the next night to help rebuild the memorial. This is the demonstration to which Laura Lewis and Project Veritas showed up.
As we gathered outside the ferry terminal in Staten Island, Laura Lewis started talking to a group of protesters I was standing with. I immediately thought Laura was a provocateur.
She praised violence and property damage as being more effective than peaceful protesting, said the police officers killed in Brooklyn the previous year “had it coming,” and asked leading questions to try to get us to agree with her.
The fact that this paid provocateur was unable to get a single protester to condone violence is a testament to the peaceful principals of this movement.
The “worst” thing she captured was Erica saying Al Sharpton is “All about that…” and rubbing her fingers together.
Still, when the video was release and widely covered by the mainstream media, it was deeply disturbing to many protesters, including myself.
We all felt violated that someone would disguise themselves as a protester and demonstrate among us with an intent to entrap us.
We also feared her actions would harm the movement, both by pitting people against each other, and by causing people to be suspicious of one another going forward.
Her actions clearly lacked journalistic integrity and were morally bankrupt, but they also may have been a federal crime.
While most federal laws protecting our constitutional rights apply only to the actions of State actors, there are a few that apply to private citizens as well:
42 U.S. Code § 1985 – Conspiracy to interfere with civil rights (Emphasis added)
(3) Depriving persons of rights or privileges
If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws; or if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States; or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy; in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.
So, if people go in disguise for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, other people of their rights, and do in fact deprive them of exercising those rights, the person who was deprived of their rights can sue any of the conspirators for damages.
If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to remind you that we have a right to peaceably gather in public space and redress the government for grievances.
I believe a strong argument can be made that people like Laura Lewis and Project Veritas – and any provocateurs that embed themselves in a movement and cause division and/or advocate or perpetrate any action that causes a protest to be dispersed or prevented – those people intend to and succeed in depriving people of their First Amendment rights.
Physically breaking up a protest would surely be depriving those protesters of their rights. Should breaking up a protest with psychological manipulation be any different?
Furthermore, if provocateurs succeed in causing a peaceful protest to turn violent, or commit an act of violence themselves, which cause the police to break up a gathering or prevent gatherings in the future, that provocateur has indirectly deprived the protesters of their rights.
The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson last week, resulting in a protest being broken up and a curfew being considered, is only the latest of countless examples.
While the actions of Laura Lewis and Project Veritas may not have caused enough damage to the movement or any protesters for anyone to sue them, protesters should know that their legal protection to peaceably gather extends to recourse against infiltration, public or private, and potential provocateurs should know that their actions are not only morally bankrupt, but potentially federal crimes.