You might get harassed like Tucker Carlson for giving to a cause you believe in

November 9, 2018   •  By Eric Peterson   •    •  ,

Have we passed the point of civil disagreement in this country? If the scene that played out in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday was any indication, things are not looking good.

A group of 20 or so protesters showed up outside the home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. They began pounding on the front door, yelling through a bullhorn, and chanting, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!” In a since-deleted video, one protester was overheard saying she wanted to “bring a pipe bomb” to Tucker’s home.

Tucker’s wife, Susan Andrews, was the only person home at the time. She feared a break-in and locked herself in the house before dialing 911.

The protest appeared to be organized by a D.C.-based group with a history of this kind of action. The group also recently made headlines for protesting Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his wife at a restaurant, forcing the couple to leave.

If this behavior wasn’t bad enough, the group also blasted out on Twitter the addresses of Carlson’s brother and a close friend.

These actions have drawn near-universal condemnation from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, incidents like this are occurring far too frequently.

It was only a few weeks ago when a deranged individual mailed pipe bombs to CNN, George Soros, and other prominent left-leaning targets. As for Tucker Carlson, the threat of pipe bombs caused him to say, “I probably won’t open another package sent to our house from now on.”

It’s an understatement to say that no one should have to fear going to their mailbox because of their political beliefs.

This kind of harassment demonstrates the need to protect the privacy of Americans who support political causes. A targeted effort may make it possible to track down public figures like Carlson. Unfortunately, it is far easier to track down average Americans who donate to candidates, parties, and political committees. Many politicians want to also invade the privacy of those who give to advocacy groups or even charities.

These government officials are surprisingly comfortable exposing Americans’ private information and political beliefs and then letting the chips fall where they may. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested he likes the idea of silencing those who want to speak. As he put it, favorably, the deterrent effect of such laws “should not be underestimated.”

Legislation has been introduced at both the federal and state level to require those donating to certain nonprofit organizations to be listed in a government database along with their address, phone number, and a variety of other personal information. This information would be publicly available on a government website, where activist groups of all stripes (and temperaments) would have instant access to it.

Is it so hard to imagine left-wing groups using this information to harass supporters of the National Rifle Association? Or conversely, right-wing groups targeting supporters of Planned Parenthood?

These scenarios don’t seem so far-fetched in the current political climate. Even in relatively calmer times, some used this politically sensitive information to punish people with different beliefs. One woman who gave just $500 to John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign found herself targeted by a domestic terrorist group angry at her employer for contracting with a firm it wanted to put out of business. Her address was printed along with an intimidating message: “Now you know where to find them.”

The woman later wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining that she no longer donates to political candidates at a level where her contributions would be publicized.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to host a television show with millions of nightly viewers. But we can all imagine the horror we would feel if our significant other called us and told us that an angry mob showed up outside our home. We can imagine the helplessness we would feel as we prayed the police get there in time to protect our loved ones.

This isn’t a scenario anyone should have to face — certainly not for the “crime” of expressing political opinions.

Americans have good reason to want to protect their privacy. The government should not be exposing them to more danger.

Eric Peterson (@illinoiseric89) is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for Free Speech in Alexandria, Va.

Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson