GOP lawmakers push for legislation to protect drivers caught in threatening protests

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A tanker truck drives into thousands of protesters marching on 35W north bound highway during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd on May 31

When liberal demonstrations erupted across the nation in 2020, fueled by hatred of President Donald Trump and a frenzy of sympathetic media coverage, protesters tried to win converts to their causes by blocking important roads … while drivers were trying to use them.

This resulted in serious injuries and even deaths as drivers, fearing being caught in the middle of violent mobs, tried to escape without leaving their vehicles.

Republican politicians nationwide are now trying to halt the practice of road-blocking, the Associated Press reports, proposing increased penalties for demonstrators who run onto highways and legal immunity for motorists who hit them. The bills are among many introduced in Legislatures with the aim of lessening the disruptive power of demonstrators.

“It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others,” said Rep. Kevin McDugle, who authored an Oklahoma bill granting criminal and civil immunity to people who keep driving when cornered by crowds on the road. “The driver of that truck had his family in there, and they were scared to death.”

He was describing an incident in July 2020 in which a pickup pulling a trailer plowed through Black Lives Matter rioters on Interstate 244 in Tulsa. Three people were seriously hurt, including a man who fell off an overpass and was paralyzed.

Violent demonstrations by both left-leaning and right-leaning groups have sparked new debate about what is acceptable as free speech and what goes too far. In addition to blocking roads, Black Lives Matter demonstrators have taken over parks and defaced property with paint, a huge crowd protesting fraud in the 2020 presidential election stormed the U.S. Capitol in January. Local authorities have been stuck trying to keep order amid escalating conflicts.

Legislators in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah and about a dozen other states have introduced new counterprotest measures.

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