State legislatures have passed silly and nonsensical laws before. There have also been jokes about governments attempting to subject activity which is inherently criminal to non-criminal regulations (sort of like an airline imposing a “bomb fee”), as if a criminal organization which has no trouble committing repeated acts of theft and murder will be deterred by a bureaucratic nonsense.
Well, it seems that, in
I can see it now: an underground, ultra right-wing
organization determined to destroy the federal government assembles in
Just in case you’re thinking of forming a subversive organization, the official registration form can be found here, for your convenience.
I really have to wonder what the person who drafted this statute was thinking. Clearly, no one could seriously think that a terrorist organization would bother to follow this law.
Maybe this means that real terrorist groups aren’t the target. Perhaps this is simply a money-grab, or an attempt to chill the expression of groups with very extreme views, but which are mostly non-violent. Under this law, the government could try and make a case that such groups are “subversive organizations,” and that they failed to register. It’s an easy way to collect a $25,000 fine.
It’s also probably unconstitutional, if this is the true intent of the law. At the very least, it would probably be unconstitutional as applied to groups which aren’t really subversive, especially if it could be shown that it chilled their constitutionally-protected activities in South Carolina (such as giving speeches, distributing literature, holding meetings, etc.). This law could be a very effective way to do this.
Suppose an extreme right wing organization, which believes
that the current federal government is illegitimate, wants to protest somewhere
They would have to weigh the options of registering as a
“subversive organization” – even though they don’t believe themselves to be
one, which would seriously discredit their message (assuming anyone outside the
organization actually took them seriously), or they could go in, and fail to
register, risking the state declaring them a subversive organization, and
imposing a large fine. This might discourage them from going to
For most people, this is not a big deal. After all, who
wants to listen to the ravings of a bunch of paranoid wingnuts, or neo-Nazis,
or extreme leftists, or any other fringe group? But it is sometimes forgotten
that that the right to free speech, if it means anything, must protect
unpopular views. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that ideas like equal rights
for African-Americans, or women’s suffrage were considered pretty far out
there. It’s entirely possible that groups advocating these positions would have
been punished by laws such as this one, had they existed at the time.
BY: Rusty Shackleford