On June 24, mere hours after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade and upended abortion rights in America, a truck driver sized up a bunch of protesters crossing the road in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and put his foot on the gas.
The victims — all of them women — were amongst the previous few people in a bunch of about 100 attempting to cross a busy downtown intersection safely via the crosswalk. They described the attack as a slow-motion horror show: A visibly irritated driver maneuvered his truck across the automotive in front of him after which beelined it through the intersection, directly toward the protesters.
He slowed down as his bumper met with the outstretched arms of the ladies still within the crosswalk. But he didn’t stop.
“We made eye contact at that time. And I saw hate. Just hate,” said considered one of the ladies, who asked to stay anonymous for her safety. She spoke through tears as she continued, “He screamed at me to maneuver, and I remember shouting ‘No,’ and he began driving. And that’s once I knew I used to be going to get run over.”
The driving force — whose identity police haven’t made public — pushed forward, bowling the ladies over before he left the scene, witnesses said. Several were hospitalized, including one woman who suffered a concussion and one other whose ankle had been rolled over.
Multiple high-profile members of the community attended the march and witnessed the attack, including an area bartender, a city councilwoman, a county prosecutor (who had his wife and two young daughters in tow), and a journalist. Initially, witnesses thought they might need an open-and-shut case in front of them: They’d witness statements from community leaders, footage of the incident from multiple angles, and so they all saw the identical thing.
But within the hours and days that followed, they learned the identical harsh lesson that many other communities had learned in the previous couple of years: The system was set as much as support the motive force in this case, not the protesters they hit.
In 2021, Iowa Republicans passed a bill that effectively eliminated civil liability for drivers who hit protesters on the street, and increased various penalties for protesters. The bill was championed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose own SUV driver struck a Black Lives Matter protester in the warmth of the 2020 demonstrations (state police blamed the protester). While it stays to be seen how those laws might affect the case in Cedar Rapids, two women who’d been hit by the truck wondered aloud in interviews with HuffPost whether or not they might face charges as a substitute of the motive force.
“We made eye contact at that time. And I saw hate. Just hate.”
– A victim of the June 24 attack in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
It’s unclear whether charges can be filed in any respect. Cedar Rapids police made contact with the motive force the day of the attack, but declined to press charges on the time, a department spokesman confirmed. The county attorney, Nick Maybanks, saw your complete incident, but he told HuffPost that his latest role as a case witness meant he needed to recuse himself as prosecutor. (He forwarded the case to Black Hawk County Attorney Brian Williams, who said his office hadn’t passed through any evidence yet, let alone made any charging decisions.)
The sobering reality now coming into focus is that the attack on this community isn’t particularly unique or surprising. Taken alongside recent incidents of political violence across America, the Cedar Rapids attack is an almost insignificant data point on a densely packed timeline.
In reality, vehicular assaults against protesters amount to a crisis in their very own right. Incidents have skyrocketed because the summer of 2020, when thousands and thousands of protesters took the streets to exhibit against police violence and bigotry following the murder of George Floyd by an officer in May. Data collected by The Washington Post proved that those protests were overwhelmingly peaceful — no injuries or property damage were reported in greater than 96% of events — and yet protesters across the country were met with vitriol, authoritarian crackdowns and physical violence from then-President Donald Trump and his administration.
Trump called them “vicious dogs” and “thugs,” and deployed federal troops to events, where they attacked protesters and disappeared them in unmarked vans. Fox News, meanwhile, was churning out disinformation and lies surrounding those rallies, using isolated footage and even doctored images to fabricate a false sense that entire American cities had fallen to BLM and antifa.
And the vilification worked. On a regular basis people really looked as if it would wish to kill protesters: The Boston Globe analyzed 139 cases of vehicles ramming protesters in only 16 months following Floyd’s death, resulting in greater than 100 injuries and three deaths. The Grand Rapids community remembers that era well, because their state was home to no fewer than 4 vehicular attacks against protesters in 2020 alone.
Today, political violence is an everyday feature at civic events, and never just at far-right and MAGA rallies. Gun violence is an ever-present threat across the country, and even on the rare day where a mass shooting doesn’t occur, droves of armed demonstrators and militia groups show as much as political events to make sure that the specter stays. Meanwhile, far-right street gangs just like the Proud Boys at the moment are mobilizing to all manner of community gatherings in service to the proper wing’s various grievances.
When the GOP was up in arms about LGBTQ issues, armed Proud Boys rushed drag events, and their fascist cousins in a bunch called Patriot Front threatened community Pride celebrations. When the right-wing conspiracy theory of the day was that The Walt Disney Co. was grooming children, Proud Boys showed as much as Disney events and threatened attendees, calling them “pedophiles.” And when Roe was overturned and liberal demonstrators filled the streets, the Proud Boys and heavily armed members of varied militia groups showed as much as intimidate the crowds. These incidents are accelerating as election season draws nearer.
This appears to be the brand new normal in America. Politically charged violence, having gone unchecked for years, isn’t any longer a fear but an expectation for a lot of politically lively Americans. For Grand Rapids residents, it’s not a matter of if, but when.
“Obviously that is going to occur again,” said one other woman struck by the truck, who asked to not be named. “I don’t know if it’ll be in Cedar Rapids, but it surely happens in all places, on a regular basis, so it is going to occur again, and the general public response can be predictably terrible.”
She paused, then continued: “Knowing that, what I’m attempting to work out now could be, what do you do after this happens? What do you do?”
Andy Campbell is the writer of “We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a Recent Era of American Extremism,” coming to bookstores on Sept. 20.