Let’s discuss intimidation, it’s applications in the US legal systems, examples of intimidation and remedies available to victims of the offence.

Intimidation is the voluntary behavior that would cause a person of reasonable apprehension to fear injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior caused the victim to experience fear or panic.

Threat, criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury. “Threat of harm generally involves a perception of injury…physical or mental damage…act or instance of injury, or a material and detrimental or loss to a person. A terrorist threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to commit felony or misdemeanor on others. In United States intimidation is a serious criminal offence in many states.


Intimidation may result from the type of society in which individuals are socialized, as human beings are generally reluctant to engage in confrontation or threaten violence. Threatening behaviors may be a concept as a maladaptive outgrowth of normal competitive urge for interrelational dominance generally seen in animals.

Intimidation may be employed consciously or unconsciously, and a percentage of people who employ it consciously may do so as the result of selfishly rationalized notions of its appropriation, utility or self-empowerment. Intimidation related to prejudice and discrimination may include conduct “which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety…because of a belief or perception regarding such person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.

As in all behavioral traits, it exists in greater or lesser manifestation in each individual person over time, but may be a more significant “compensatory behavior” for some as opposed to others. Behaviors theorists often see threatening behaviors as a consequence of being threatened by others, including parents, authority figures, playmates and siblings. For self-defence, use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it the force is necessary to defend themselves or another against the immediate use of unlawful force.

Intimidation can occur as a physical contacts, powering countenance, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, making someone feel lower than you, purposeful embarrassment and/or actual physical assault. “Behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd proportions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

Intimidation as a criminal act in United States jurisdiction

In Montana, Intimidation is defined as follows:

45-5-203. Intimidation.

(1) A person commits the offence of intimidation when, with the purpose to cause another to perform or to omit the performance of any act, the person communicates to another, under circumstances that reasonably tend to produce a fear that it will be carried out, a threat to perform without lawful authority any of the following acts:
a. inflict physical harm on the person threatened or any other person;
b. subject any person to physical confinment or restraint; or
c. commit any felony

  1. A person commits the offence of intimidation if the person knowingly communicates a threat or false report of a pending fire, explosion, or disaster that would endanger life or property.
  2. A person convicted of the offence of intimidation shall be imprisoned in the state prison for any term not exceeding 10 years or be fined an amount not to exceed $50, 000, or both.

Several states have a crime called “ethnic intimidation”. For example, the law of the state of Michigan reads:

750.147b Ethnic intimidation.

Sec. 147b.

(1) A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, does any of the following:

a. Causes physical contact with another person.
b. Damages, destroys or defaces any real or personal property of another person.
c. Threatens, by word or act, to do any act described in subdivision (a) or (b), if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act described in subdivision (a) or (b) will occur.

(2) Ethnic intimidation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $5, 000.00, or both.
(3) Regardless of the existence or outcome of any criminal prosecution, a person who suffers an injury to his or her person or damages to his or her property as a result of ethnic intimidation may bring a civil cause of action against the person who commits the offence to secure an injunction, actual damages, including damages for emotional distress, or other appropriate relief. A plaintiff who prevails ina civil action brought according to this section may recover both of the following:

(a) Damages in the amount of 3 times the actual damages described in this subsection or $2, 000.00, whichever is greater.
(b) reasonable attorney fees and costs.

In California, making criminal threats is a wobbler and may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under California Penal Code 422. A felony threat is a strike under California’s three strikes law. Crimes closely related to intimidation are menacing, coercion, terrorizing, and assault.

Intimidation examples

  1. Peel off individuals

threatening individual members or would be members of your group with the loss of their job or loss of respect in the community. The purpose of this tactics is to weaken your group’s ability or desire to act.

  1. Refusal to deal with leaders

Treating leaders of your group as nuts, or trivializing them as a bunch of “tree-huggers” or “extremists”. This is designed to reveal weakness in your leaders and to isolate them from the other members of your group.

  1. Isolate the Group

Getting public officials, community leaders, or opinion makers (newspaper editors, from example) to criticize the group’s actions, or paint its leaders as radicals. This tactic is designed to keep you too busy defending yourselves or fighting amongst yourselves to do anything productive.

  1. Divide and Conquer

Making a deal with one of your allies, giving them something they want that is less than your group will accept. The purpose of this tactic is to leave your group standing alone and looking radical or extreme.

  1. Let’s you and him fight

Getting your group to fight with one of your allies (using the divide and conquer strategy), or sponsor a new group in the community to fight with your (another isolate the group strategy). The idea here is to weaken your energy and credibility in the community.

Intimidation tactics can be overt: threats to retaliate legally, economically or (in very rare cases) physically, against your leaders, members, or your whole group. Intimidation can take the form of legal action, but your opponents are far more likely to threaten legal action than to actually take you to court.

Most of the campaigns of intimidation and fear are more subtle, such as name-calling, covertly organizing a “counter-group” to polarize your community, trying to weaken your group by making you respond to rumors and lies about your group and “divide and conquer” tactics to split you from your friends and allies. On the next page are some basic principles from dealing with all kinds of intimidation and harassment.

Remedies to intimidation
  1. Deal with the problem immediately

Rumors and fear spawned by an opponents intimidation tactic can spread rapidly through your group (and your community), peeling off members and supports and poisoning the spirits of those who stay in the group. It’s like treating a snake bite: the faster you stabilize the patient and purge the poison, the less trauma you’ll have to deal with.

  1. Take people’s fear of intimidation seriously

Never belittle or minimize anyone’s fears or the potential threat, even if there are no overt or proven instances of intimidation. Your opponents are trying to spread fear because it is one of the main reasons people don’t join citizens’ groups or take action to help you win. You need to identify the reasons for people’s fear and help them deal with it. Ask, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” Then figure out how you could respond to this worst-case scenario. Our fears usually subside when we discuss them out loud; naming them is the first step to overcoming them.

  1. Discuss exactly is going on and why openly in your group

Intimidation tactics depend on the spread of rumors and on a group’s failure to bring the problem to the surface. Name-calling, nasty rumors and other kinds of intimidation often make our upstanding, law-abiding members feel guilty – we must have done something wrong to provoke this trouble – if they don’t know why it is happening. Members may begin to think, “maybe this group is to radical”, or “i don’t know if it’s worth it, to have my neighbors think I’m a look”. But if you talk about what’s going on and why – your opponent is desperately trying to shut you up because you are taking effective actions – your group can feel a sense of accomplishment instead of guilt and fear, in the face of intimidation tactics.

  1. Turn it around – fast – by exposing the tactic publicly

Responding to intimidation is necessary. you want to use your opponents’ momentum and power against them.

A cool company used its connections to cancel the grazing leases of the president of a citizens’ group. The company was retaliating for a letter the group wrote to prospective coal customers, criticizing the company’s proposed mine. The citizens’ group complained about the tactic to the press, in testimony before Congress, to every public official who might ever make a decision about the mine – and in another letter to the prospective coal customers letting them know just what kind of company was trying to sell them coal.

  1. Use the opportunity to strength your group

The best defense against intimidation tactics is for the group to stick together and to stand behind all of its members. The best result of an opponent’s attempt to intimidate you is to emerge stronger, key resolute, crisis tested. A strong, democratically-run, active organization is the least vulnerable to intimidation tactics.

  1. Stick to your positions, be proud of them, and don’t back down

Don’t be defensive about what you stand for and why you are fighting. that is exactly what your opponent is trying to scare you into doing. If you believe in what you are fighting for, an important part of your counteroffensive is to reassert what you stand for, and why it’s worth fighting for. This is a good time for your group to review its organizational mission and goals, so you don’t forget the vision and values that unite you.

  1. Respond boldly, with action

Serious attempts at intimidation require more than a letter-to-the-editor in response (it’s a good idea, but just not enough in itself). Some physical action is called for – maybe a rally, with flags and uniforms and patriotic songs, in support of the First Amendment. The effects of intimidation tactics can be paralyzing your response needs to get people back on their feet.

  1. Know your friends and ask for help

When trouble comes, it’s important to rally your friends around you (especially if your opponent is trying to divide you from them). An action with your allies and supporters shows your opponents that you are united, that the tactics of division have failed.

  1. Know your opponent, and increase the pressure

If you haven’t already done it, compile a list of your opponent’s sins and misdeeds. When you counterattack publicly, this list of wrongdoing will validate your position, and reduce your opponent’s credibility.

  1. Stick together, and stick with the democratic process

An attack on any member of your group is an attack on the whole group. Your opponent wants to spread dissension in your ranks. This is no time to fight with each other. Involve everyone in analyzing the problem, planning your response, and fighting back. You don’t want hero’s who take all the heat, or dictators who make all the decisions.

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