Editorial: Sending armed troops to peaceful protests a dangerous idea

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The Los Angeles Times

During a visit last week to Columbia University, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) warned that if the wave of protests against Israel’s U.S.-funded war in Gaza on college campuses, including UCLA and USC, is not contained quickly, “there is an appropriate time for the National Guard. We have to bring order to these campuses.”

How troubling that the man who is the third in line to the presidency seems to think that it’s OK to silence largely peaceful student protests by sending in armed troops.

It’s a terrible idea, with a deadly history in the U.S. It was the Ohio National Guard that killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others at a rally against the Vietnam War at Kent State University in 1970. Since then, there have been uncountable examples of armed responses to nonviolent activities ending with innocent people getting hurt or killed.

Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have called on President Biden to deploy the National Guard to quash pro-Palestinian protests. Republican state lawmakers in New York want Gov. Kathy Hochul to deploy the National Guard to Columbia University. And more than two dozen Republican senators signed a letter urging the Biden administration to “restore order to campuses” by using federal law enforcement, prosecution and deportation against “the outbreak of anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist mobs.”

Never mind that they are unfairly assigning racist motives to thousands of people protesting the killing of more than 34,000 Palestinian people, most of them women and children. It’s clear that these Republican politicians are less concerned with the wave of antiwar protests than using them for their own political ends.

Johnson also threatened to use his power as speaker to punish colleges that don’t eject protesters by withholding federal education funding. “If these campuses cannot get control of this problem, they do not deserve taxpayer dollars.”

This kind of tough talk is especially rich coming from a man who has shown no interest in cracking down on the most serious threat to our democracy: President Trump’s lies, and his supporters’ use of violence to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

To the contrary, Johnson played a key role in helping Trump try to overturn the election. He has suggested the Jan. 6 insurrectionists who participated in the attack on the Capitol were innocent people who “just happened to be walking through the building ” and wanted to blur their faces from video so they could not be charged with crimes.

It seems that his send-in-the-troops mentality applies only to some Americans.

Part of living in a free society is accepting the right of others to speak out and protest, even when you don’t agree with them.

How someone in power responds to 1st Amendment rights being exercised in criticism of the government says a lot about what they value. Republicans’ eagerness to deploy armed troops to quash peaceful protests suggests that they don’t really believe in free speech after all.