One of the most egregious violations of Constitutional rights during the Bush Administration has been the establishment of the extremely inaptly named “free speech” zones. The Secret Service has worked with local police to create areas out of sight of and up to a half mile away from Bush appearances for anyone deemed a protester. If anyone refuses to be removed to these locations, they are arrested. Only anti-Bush demonstrators are restricted to the zones. Bush supporters are left alone.
When Bush went to Pittsburgh on Labor Day (September 2) 2002, a retired steel worker Bill Neel refused to go to a free speech zone and was arrested. His crime? He was carrying a sign which read: “Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” Neel famously commented, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone.” In throwing out the disorderly conduct charge against him, state district court judge Shirley Rowe Trkula wondered, “I believe this is America. Whatever happened to “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it?”
Anti-free speech procedures were codified in a Presidential Advance Manual of October 2002 written by a White House staffer Gregory Jenkins. The manual recommends: 1) using the Secret Service to work with local police to “designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or mortorcade route”; 2) ticketing as a means of “deterring potential protestorsfrom attending events”; 3) the formation of “rally squads” made up of but “not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities” whose job is to use “signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform” and “lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors”; 4) and finally, “As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site.”
Also in October 2002, Brett Bursey a veteran protestor was arrested in Columbia, South Carolina for holding a “No war for oil” sign. Bursey was standing in a crowd of people with pro-Bush signs but he was the only one directed to go to a “free speech” zone half a mile away. On asking, he was told that the reason he was being removed was because of the content of his sign. A local charge of trespass was dropped since Bursey was standing on public property, which is not a crime in South Carolina. At this point, US Attorney Strom Thurmond, Jr. charged Bursey with violation of an exclusion zone around the President. It is not clear where this exclusion zone was nor why Bursey was the only one in the crowd so charged. A US Magistrate Bristow Marchant denied Bursey a jury trial, found him guilty, and ordered him to pay a $500 fine. Bursey appealed and lost.
On July 4, 2004, Jeffery and Nicole Rank were arrested in Charleston, West Virginia for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts with Bush’s name with a circle around it and a line drawn through it. The back of one bore the message “Love America, Hate Bush" and the other "Regime Change Starts At Home.” They refused to cover the t-shirts or leave and were removed in handcuffs. Nicole Rank was also temporarily suspended from her job at FEMA. Charges of trespass were later dismissed and the city of Charleston extended an apology. The ACLU took up their case suing the Secret Service and Gregory Jenkins. On August 16, 2007, the Secret Service settled with the Ranks for $80,000 but did not admit fault.
On March 21, 2005, three Denver residents were ejected from a taxpayer funded townhall meeting for arriving in a car that had a bumper sticker “No more blood for oil”. A Republican volunteer Michael Casper in a sworn deposition (as part of an ACLU suit) said he was directed to remove the group by Steven Atkiss, then Deputy Director of White House Advance, and the lead advance staffer for the event James O’Keefe. The White House had for 2 years refused to say who was involved in the incident.
In June 2006 at the Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, Steven Howards approached Vice President Dick Cheney, called the Administration’s policies in Iraq disgusting, patted the VP on the shoulder, and left. 10 minutes later he was arrested and told he would be charged with assault. In fact, he was charged with misdemeanor harassment, a charge which the county district attorney dropped because the government did not wish to pursue the matter. In late 2006, Howards filed a civil suit. 5 Secret Service agents involved to various degrees either as witnesses or in the arrest were deposed. Their accounts were widely variant and some of them stated that there was an effort to harmonize the assault story for the purposes of engaging in a coverup of the incident.
These are only a few of many similar incidents. The Secret Service seems to make no distinction between protecting the President from physical harm and shielding him from political embarrassment and accountability. As for the First Amendment with its guarantees of free speech and peaceful assembly, the White House and Secret Service would not know it if it bit them.