Hate crimes

Why Libertarian-Leaning Reps. Massie and Amash Voted Against the House's Anti-Lynching Bill

Lynchings are already illegal. But the law would give prosecutors more power—including what amounts to an expansion of the federal death penalty.


Why would two libertarian-leaning legislators vote against an anti-lynching law? Because lynchings are already illegal, and the law would further federalize crime and give prosecutors more power—including what amounts to an expansion of the federal death penalty.

On Wednesday, the House passed H.R. 35, the Emmet Till Antilynching Act, by a vote of 410 to 4. Those opposed included libertarian-leaning Reps. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R–Ky.); the other two voting "no" were Rep. Louie Gohmert (R–Texas) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R–Fla.).

The Senate version of the bill passed unanimously last year. There are slight differences between the new bills, but The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are optimistic their version the legislation will be quickly passed by the Senate. Supporters of the measure expressed incredulity that it took so long to pass federal anti-lynching legislation:

Some of the bill's backers turned their fire on the four House members who dared to vote against it:

But they weren't voting "FOR lynching." As Amash notes, killing people because of their race is already a federal hate crime:

What H.R. 35 does is criminalize a conspiracy to violate existing federal hate crime laws or certain sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It would also attach to these conspiracies the same punishment as the underlying crimes themselves, except in the case where the current crimes come with a maximum sentence of fewer than 10 years. In that case, the conspiracy to commit those crimes would be punishable by up to 10 years.

This, as Amash notes in a Twitter thread explaining his vote against the bill, would effectively expand the federal death penalty, which he would like to see abolished:

Amash also argues that the bill criminalizes conspiracies to commit crimes that the Constitution leaves to the states, thus doubling down on the federalization of criminal law. That, he points out, has not usually been a great development for the people anti-lynching legislation is supposed to protect.

Massie likewise raised constitutional concerns about the bill, while making the broader case against hate crimes as their special kind of criminal law.

"I voted against H.R. 35 because the Constitution specifies only a handful of federal crimes, and leaves the rest to individual states to prosecute," he tells Reason. "In addition, this bill expands current federal 'hate crime' laws.  A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice.  Adding enhanced penalties for 'hate' tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech."

Gohmert took a different tack, arguing—contra Massie and Amash—that the bill doesn't do enough to punish lynching at the federal level.

"A version of the bill released on January 3 of this year stated that anyone who assembles with the intention of lynching or who causes death by lynching 'shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.' The bill we voted on today does not include this clause," Gohmert argued in a statement. "Such a hateful crime deserves a severe sentence, and I could not in good conscience vote on a bill that addresses lynching on such a low level."

For his part, Yoho told Newsweek that H.R. 35 was federal overreach and that hate crimes should be handled at the state level.

There's good reason to be concerned about expanding the number of things the federal government can prosecute as hate crimes, given how zealously the feds use such laws to stick people with harsh sentences they would never have gotten at the state level.

A good example is the case of Tiffany Harris, a black New York woman who was arrested in December 2019 after slapping three Jewish women while saying "fuck you, Jews."

Harris was initially charged with a number of crimes by New York officials, the most serious of which was assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. If she were convicted under New York's hate crime law, she could get up to four years in prison.

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened in Harris' case, charging her with three hate crimes that could add an additional 10 years to any sentence she gets at the state level. Federal officials argued that additional punishment was necessary to deter a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

"Federal hate crime laws invite this sort of capricious, politically motivated intervention, which is especially troubling given their weak constitutional basis," wrote Reason's Jacob Sullum at the time.

The anti-lynching bill that passed the House yesterday, whatever the good intentions behind it, will invite more federal prosecutions of this kind.

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  1. Federal laws that criminalized what had always been common law state level crimes were passed because Southern States were refusing to enforce the law when the victims were black and the perpetrators white. It was an inelligant solution to a serious problem.

    So, the question to ask the people pushing this law is, “what states are refusing to prosecute perpetrators of lynchings?” If there are any, that is pretty big news. If there are not, then what the fuck is the point of this?

    1. Both Republicans and Democrats are scrambling for the black vote. Imagine being a Republican and voting “NO” on this bill? It would be a PR fucking disaster of epic proportions. The Democrats, moreover, are doing everything in their power to keep “those niggers voting Democrat for the next 200 years,” so this bill is just more frosting on their cake of racial delusion.

      Nobody with an political relevance can afford to say no to this stupid bill, even though it is pointless and achieves nothing.

      If you don’t vote for it, the implication is that you are in favor of lynching.

      It is a game of chicken, except it is a stupid game and the results are predictably … stupid.

      1. I know. And that is exactly what is going on. And it is one of the symptoms of how stupid and irrational politics is.

        1. And how else are they going to pretend that lynchings are still a thing?

          1. This is MAGA country, bitch. Lynchings are totally still a thing. Just ask Juicy Fruit.

            1. Damn frenchies

          2. Just ask Jessie Smollett.

        2. I was finally starting to believe that we were on the cusp of entering a new era where politicians were considering trying to appeal to the black electorate with reasonable things like employment and economic stability.


          It’s some form of reparations and virtue signaling all the way and nobody can afford to pull the emergency break and stop treating blacks like misanthropes with no agency whose very existence depends on the largess of an infinitely expanding government.

          1. To be fair, Democrats don’t have any reasonable political achievements like low Black Americans unemployment or economic stability.

            Acting like the Democrat Party is protecting those Black slaves from pesky Abolitionist Republicans is all they have.

            1. To be fair, black unemployment lowered precipitously during Obama’s presidency and has simply continued since Trump became president.

              1. Only after it necessarily skyrocketed because of Obama’s awesome policies and business friendly regulations.

              2. To be fair, the economic fortunes of American blacks were advancing rapidly until Democrats and progressives started “helping” them; then, their economic progress stalled, drug use among minorities skyrocketed, and the black family disintegrated.

                1. I think you all might like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9wWF1_YFBA. There are some black conservatives who are trying to break free of this victim mentality.

        3. It certainly shows how fucking stupid democrats are.

        4. This law would be like creating double secret probation for lynching. Which just gotta have.

    2. I member when GWBush let racists drag old black men behind trucks and didn’t even arrest them. I think he threw them a BBQ at the Governor’s Mansion

    3. There very well might be specific cases where local jurisdictions will not prosecute or will prosecute in a problematic way in some given situation. I don’t know how “newsworthy” this is though no I did not research all the cases in the country and have specifics ready.

      The “point” is symbolic. Laws are sometimes symbolic. And, the findings section of this law underlines symbolism is key here. If the law is problematic, symbolism isn’t enough to support it. But, I doubt (especially the likes of Gohmert) are consistent there.

      Just to note it, the law references freedom of religion and other rights, plus as noted in the debates, lynching over our history was not just done to black people. Supporters of this law also come at it from this vantage point.

    4. “…then what the fuck is the point of this?”

      I know that’s rhetorical, but “pandering” covers a LOT of ground.

    5. Well it is entirely possible that North Carolina is one. Lennon Lacy a black HS student was found hanging in 2014 in a trailer park that is almost entirely white. The local coroner ruled it a suicide. The FBI investigated (at the request of the local NAACP – not their own initiative) and stated they found no evidence of a homicide. But their investigation would currently be limited solely to a trail showing the actual murder – not a conspiracy to commit murder.

      Even in the old days – with every state covering up and abeting lynchings, it would have been near impossible for the feds to identify the actual person who puts the rope around a neck in the middle of a lynch mob – and then to parse that person’s hate crime aggravation of a sentence for murder.

      Amash should be ashamed and should know better. His explanation is ignorant bullshit. And yes – I understand the problems re both death penalty and federalizing crimes that should be state-level.

      1. Edit – the FBI stated they found no evidence of a ‘homicide within the scope of the Hate Crimes Act of 2009’. Which is obviously much narrower than ‘is this a homicide or a suicide’.

      2. Iow, no, no states are not enforcing federal hate crime laws, since all you have is a red herring case about a suicide. Apparently, whenever a black person apparently commits suicide, even absent evidence of homicide, the federal government should prosecute a nearby white person just to be sure?

        You should be ashamed of yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about and it shows. No one who purports to oppose the federal use of the death penalty can justify voting for this.

        1. This particular case was first examined by a pathologist (hired by the local NAACP) who found the absence of evidence of SUICIDE. The only evidence of suicide the coroner presented was ‘his uncle had recently died’. The evidence against suicide was he was hanging by belts that weren’t his, wearing shoes that weren’t his (and that apparently disappeared between the crime scene and the morgue), with no platform/box that he would have had to stand on to put his head in the noose and then kick away – in the middle of an all-white trailer park a couple miles from his house (odd place for a black kid to go to commit suicide don’t you think). And oh – the major recent events in his life according to his family was not really his uncle’s death but that he was being hassled for ‘seeing a white girlfriend’.

          This stinks to high heaven of the cover-up of a lynching or go-along-to-get-along incompetence – esp since it occurred in one of the last three counties in NC where ‘coroner’ was an elected position. In this case – coroner owned convenience stores and asst coroner was fireman.

          Shitting on about the death penalty is actually the red herring here. Wanna get rid of the federal death penalty, then get rid of it directly. Don’t trash the fucking Constitution – 14th amendment – equal protection under the law – just because states may want to violate it for the most serious crimes.

    6. “So, the question to ask the people pushing this law is, “what states are refusing to prosecute perpetrators of lynchings?”

      Maybe that’s not the question. Maybe the question is what states are willing to apply the death penalty for lynching. Those supporting the bill want harsher punishment, those opposing don’t.

      “If there are not, then what the fuck is the point of this?”

      A death penalty for lynchings.

  2. Good luck explaining nuanced thinking to the mob

    1. I think the “mob” understands this very well.

      Democrats and the media are fucking liars so more and more Americans dont want them in power anymore.

      Remember, this was started by Democrats in the House, Propagandized by the media, and not fought by scared Republicans.

    2. David Leavitt should not be doing any political analysis. Leavitt to others, David.

  3. Four people in power in our AMERICAN government still vote FOR lynching.


  4. I understand the logic here and when it comes to Rep. Amash his impeachment vote provides some respect and trust in his consistency. Still, I looked it up, and he voted for a national abortion prohibition. I would be interested in his logic there since the libertarian argument is that regulation of medicine is mostly a state function and when the “partial birth abortion” case came to the Supreme Court, the Cato Supreme Court Watch volume (as well as National Review earlier) had a take on how it was unconstitutional.

    If the death penalty is the problem, the logical thing to do is to support an amendment to the bill to remove it. I’m sure many of the House Dems who strongly supported this bill would get behind that. As to concern for federalism, the law as a whole has enough legitimate federal hooks. The basic historical concern for a lynching law was basically refusal of local jurisdictions to protect people from lynching. But, in respect to racial lynching, there really to me remains at least a good argument that Section 2 of the 13A alone provides a constitutional authorization.

    Bottom line, this is clearly a messaging bill and the historical wrongs of lynching cited makes that clear. It is a lot more valid there than the average such thing. In practice, I doubt it really will have much of an effect, both good or bad, but yes voting against it isn’t “pro-lynching” (though Gohmert is not someone whose evenhanded respect for precedent I would rely on).

    I would like to know how consistent these people were when things that are red meat for conservatives were up to a vote.

    1. But isn’t abortion just lynching babies?

      1. indeed, instead of racism, it’s ageism.

    2. I can’t speak for Amash, but on a national abortion prohibition, I can understand and respect some logic for it, even though I disagree. If you see a fetus as a person with the same rights as any other person, then a federal prohibition would be needed to prevent local and state governments from getting the issue “wrong”. If fetuses have a right to life and the local/state governments won’t protect it, then the constitution requires the federal government to do so.

      Again, I don’t support this view, but I can understand why some people see it that way.

    3. Abortion can be considered a form of commerce, I guess. Ron Paul voted for a federal PBA ban.

  5. Why would two libertarian-leaning legislators vote against an anti-lynching law?

    Because libertarians are racists. It’s like you people don’t watch the news.

  6. Illegal to murder. Illegal to conspire to murder. Illegal to murder hatefully. Illegal to conspire to murder hatefully.

    How about we close these loopholes?

    Illegal to hatefully conspire to murder.
    Illegal to hatefully conspire to murder hatefully.

  7. The Chron has this as held up in the dastardly GOP committee!

  8. They voted against it because their leaders told them to


    1. What leaders told them to? Amash is an independent.

    2. No, their leaders voted for it. Learn how to read first, then comment.

      1. “They voted against it because their leaders told them to (vote against it).” That’s how I interpreted the post. If that’s not what he meant, then he should learn to type in proper English.

  9. Emmet Till wasn’t lynch. He was murdered. Lynchings are an extrajudicial execution that are performed in public by/in front of a group. Till was killed in secret by a few and his body hidden. That is a murder, not a lynching. He was beaten to death. Lynchings were typically hangings, burnings or group shootings (firing squad).
    The last actual “lynching” in the US was Moore’s Ford, in GA, in the 1940s.

    1. “Wasn’t lynched”

  10. And the federal beast keeps growing…

  11. Great now with this and the PACT Act, you can lynch your pet and the FBI will have to get involved.

  12. The only lynching I am interested in is season 4 of Twin Peaks.

  13. Congress’ failure to act on lynching will forever be a stain on the institution, but living up to the founding principles of our nation means fully coming to terms with the sins of our past. https://t.co/qjdGBvmW2T

    — Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) February 27, 2020

    178 billion people were lynched last year alone. Joe Biden introduced the first anti-lynching laws in 1302 when he was a U.S. Senator.

    1. Guess it doesn’t like plain links. The Babylon Bee is on it!

  14. It seems that only less than 5% of Congress (both houses) is not full of sh!t.

  15. Gosh, Amash was a liberal hero for about… five minutes.

    1. He’s not a liberal.

  16. Same with hate crimes, it is already a crime, putting hate in front of it does nothing.

  17. Maybe there are still some criminals out there so dedicated that they’d be willng to do something that’s already illegal three different ways, but even those maniacs will surely stop if there’s a fourth law criminalizing the same actions…

    Thank god for all the heroes in the legislature who have the courage to enact another layer of prohibition on things that are already redundantly illegal at both the state and Federal levels. How could any society ever function without sich visionaries at the helm?

  18. Lynchings are already illegal. But the law would give prosecutors more power—including what amounts to an expansion of the federal death penalty.

    When I think of federal prosecutors the first thing that definitely comes to my mind is “they don’t have enough power.” /s

  19. Aren’t these the same four bastards who voted against making poaching of animals on the extinct species list a federal crime?

  20. According to Wikipedia, other than Brandon McClelland*, no one has been lynched in the United States since 1989 and since 1913 there have been exactly five lynchings (including McClelland). Clearly this is an epidemic of our time.

    Now let’s talk about the death of Brand McClelland. From Wikipedia:
    Further investigation revealed that McClelland was last seen alive with two white men, Paris, Texas, residents Shannon Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both of whom had long criminal histories with Finley being accused by the victims’ family of having ties to white supremacist groups. McClelland had apparently known Finley and Crostley since they were all children and the two white men and McClelland were considered to be friends and had been working together earlier that evening hanging sheetrock.

    By the time the police impounded the truck allegedly used, there were signs that it already had been washed, but despite this, police found blood and other physical evidence on the undercarriage of the truck and the blood was identified as belonging to McClelland. The police affidavit for Finley’s arrest alleged that McClelland was walking in front of the truck when Finley ran him down, and dragged him at least 40 ft until his body popped out from underneath the chassis. Finley’s estranged wife and another of his friends said the defendants told them that, after an argument about who was sober enough to drive, McClelland got out, and Finley bumped him with the truck until knocking him over, and then drove over him and dragged his body under the truck. The two men were charged with killing McClelland and both subsequently pleaded “not guilty.” The prosecutor cited a lack of evidence in dropping murder charges in June 2009 and the two men were released.

    Whatever you want to believe happened there what definitely did not happen is McClelland being strung up to a tree in what was obviously beyond all doubt an intentional murder. Someone could make a compelling argument that three friends were drunk and two of them, being drunk and not of sound mind or judgement, unintentionally ran over the third and then tried to cover it up. Manslaughter certainly, but not murder and not in any way a “lynching” (unless we are to believe the evidence-free accusations of “white supremacy” and just accept that lynching black people is just what white supremacists do… even when said people are their coworkers and friends, with those friends’ own vehicles. Maybe they just can’t help it?) And THAT is most likely why Shannon Finley and Chares Crostly were released is because the prosecutor goofed and stuck them with a murder charge he couldn’t prove wasn’t manslaughter. Whether one of the two men (probably Finley since he admitted to driving the truck) killed McClelland doesn’t seem to be in much doubt, but it turns out that reasons matter and murder requires some amount of intentional desire to harm. I’m not saying that McClelland was definitely killed by accident. For all we know it could have been a stone cold murder. But that’s something that courts need to prove over an assumption of innocence.

  21. I agree with Amash on everything here except the death penalty. As a libertarian, I see no violation of libertarian principles in supporting death for murderers.

    1. Abolishing the death penalty is about the gross incompetence of the State in its administration. Over 10% of death row inmates have been exonerated by additional evidence, mostly DNA. A 10% error rate for something like this is absolutely unconscionable.

      1. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There simply should be a higher standard for death sentences that go beyond the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In the many cases where a person’s guilt is obvious due to witnesses, DNA evidence, a confession, etc., those people should be executed.

      2. Why not allow military commissions to try federal capital cases?

  22. I can’t believe some idiot on another thread told me that Amash was just doing this for attention. Yeah, having people think you’re a racist is such good attention, right? Amash voted this way out of principle.

  23. He’s not a liberal. Democrats who thought he was one of them, as well as Republicans who think he’s a traitor, are both wrong and stupid.

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  25. Whatever motivated Amash, this is the hill he stupidly decided to die on, and die on it he will. While his reasoning on this vote is technically correct, voters will punish him for it severely. Let’s just hope that his seat won’t flip.

  26. Honest question: How does the bill define “lynch”? Because my dictionary defines it as extrajudicial execution. Making it a federal crime would require that the feds rein in police. Or is this just a meaningless gesture aimed a specific type of execution by a small group of people against another small group of people?

    1. I jabe mo issue with the military reining in the police.

      The flaw with this bill is that it did not give military commisions exclusive jurisdition over lynching cases.

      Military commissions ahould have exclusive jurisdiction over lynching accusations. Furthermore, the federal judiciary- including SCOTUS-would be denied appellate jurisdiction. Appellate review would be the sole province of the military chain of command.

  27. Lynching should only be legal if you are hanging congressmen.

    1. I believe you may have stumbled upon the reason for this ridiculous bit of legislation. It isn’t minorities they are worried about getting lynched. Perhaps they have read the writing on the wall and are trying to head off the torches and pitchforks at the pass. That, my friend, is food for thought.

  28. Bottom line is, this is stupid law. Lynching is homicide, so, as already pointed out, it is already illegal. The only reason to pass an “anti-lynching” bill is politically motivated and serves only nurture the already bloated “racial” mentality our culture has developed. Hey! How about some new laws about buffalo hunting or bow and arrow control?

    1. Buffalo Bill and them Duke boys hardest hit.

  29. Because murder is a state crime.
    Federal crimes are limited to piracy, treason and counterfeiting.

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