Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill would criminalize commentary that advances white supremacy if it influences someone to commit a hate crime
A bill introduced in Congress earlier this month would expand the definition of “hate crime” so wide it could potentially include content that is found to have “inspired” a racially-motivated crime.
Critics of the legislation sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) have argued that it imperils Americans’ freedom of expression by holding the threat of criminal charges based on others’ behavior over their heads.
The “Leading Against White Supremacy Act of 2023” sets out two new offenses, the first being “white supremacy inspired hate crime” and the second being a related conspiracy charge.
To be guilty of the latter, one need only “publish material advancing white supremacy, white supremacist ideology, antagonism based on ‘replacement theory,’ or hate speech that vilifies or is otherwise directed against any non-white person or group” to social media. What happens after that determines whether a crime is committed.
If the offending content is “read, heard, or viewed by a person who engaged in the planning, development, preparation or perpetration of a white supremacy inspired hate crime” — apparently even if that person was a complete stranger who misinterpreted the message — the creator is guilty of conspiracy.
Alternately, as long as the content was posted where people “predisposed to engaging in any action in furtherance of a white supremacy inspired hate crime” might stumble upon it — or even people who might be “susceptible to being encouraged to engage in” such actions — the creator is guilty.
A contributor to the conservative RedState blog observed that the bill failed to define critical terms, including “replacement theory” and “hate speech” while apparently widening the definition of “conspiracy.”
“Replacement theory” takes its name from “The Great Replacement,” a far-right theory alleging white people are being deliberately supplanted in their societies by other races. The theory was referenced in the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019.
Arguing that Jackson Lee’s bill would “be used to quash valid political criticism against any non-white person or group,” the RedState writer pointed out that “vilifying” a person does not even require making racist or even false statements about them — just unpleasant ones.
Several commenters on Twitter added that because the bill only protected nonwhite people from “hate speech,” it was technically racist itself and thus unconstitutional.
Jackson Lee’s bill is unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled House, leading others to suggest it was simply a PR stunt. The bill currently has no co-sponsors.