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Context of 'June 29, 2007: ACLU Sues White House over Plans to Squelch Dissent'

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Some 40 residents of Fargo, North Dakota, are turned away from a political rally featuring President Bush and his attempt to drum up public support for his Social Security policies. The residents are unable to attend because their names are on a “blacklist” created by local Republicans with the input of White House staffers. The list is made up of “known progressives” and liberals, and includes Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates, several college professors, the producer of a radio show, the deputy campaign manager for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and two or three high school students. Most of the residents are members of a Howard Dean Democracy for America Meetup group. A few of the blacklisted residents get into the event—Coates is able to procure a ticket from the mayor—but, as Salon reporter Tim Grieve writes, “it’s still an odd way to operate for a president who sells the power of freedom in Iraq and calls for an ‘open, candid’ debate on Social Security back home.” The White House claims the blacklist was created by an “overzealous volunteer” and that it knew nothing of the list until the day of the event. The head of North Dakota’s Republican Party, Jason Stverak, says party officials will try to find out who compiled the list, but: “I don’t know if we’d ever be able to find out what overzealous volunteer it is or anything like that. We’ll talk to people and stuff, but it will be impossible.” [Salon, 2/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Tim Grieve, Jason Stverak, Linda Coates, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event.The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event. [Source: 9News (.com)]Three Denver residents are forcibly removed from a town hall meeting with President Bush after Bush security personnel observed their car had a bumper sticker reading “No More Blood for Oil.” The three obtained tickets for the invitation-only event through the office of Representative Bob Beauprez (R-CO). [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] One of the three, lawyer Leslie Weise, is stopped at the security checkpoint, asked for identification, and told to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, a White House staffer who is not a Secret Service member but is dressed in a dark suit and wears an earpiece and lapel pin, arrives and warns Weise that she has been “ID’d” and that if she has any intentions of causing trouble, she will be arrested. She then moves through the checkpoint and towards her seat. As is later ascertained by witnesses, Casper then consults with other White House event staffers who saw the bumper sticker and tell him that White House policy is to prevent anyone attending a presidential event if they disagree with Bush’s positions. Casper then prevents the three from taking their seats, and escorts them to the exit, putting his hand on the elbow of Weise’s fellow attendee, marketing coordinator Karen Bauer. [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, 11/21/2005 pdf file] The Secret Service denies any involvement in the incident: “The Secret Service had nothing to do with that,” says Lon Garner, special agent in charge of the Secret Service district office in Denver. “We are very sensitive to the First Amendment and general assembly rights as protected by the Constitution.” The Secret Service will mount an investigation [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] , and recommend that Casper be charged with impersonating a federal officer; the Justice Department will refuse to press charges (see August 8, 2005). The three will consider a lawsuit against the Bush administration alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. According to another member of the group, Internet technology worker Alex Young, officials will tell them the next day that they were identified as belonging to an organization called “No Blood for Oil.” Young denies that any of the three belong to any such group, acknowledges that the car they take to the event had a bumper sticker with a similar phrase attached to its rear bumper, and says, “I don’t think a bumper sticker on a friend’s car should disqualify me from seeing the president.” The three belong to the Denver Progressives, described by a Denver ABC affiliate as a “political activist group.” Their lawyer, Dan Recht, says: “They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t dressed inappropriately, they didn’t say anything inappropriate. They were kicked out of this venue and not allowed to hear what the president had to say based solely on this political bumper sticker. The very essence of the First Amendment is that you can’t be punished for the speech you make, the statements you make.” Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse says the Denver incident is just the latest and most egregious example of Bush officials’ heavy-handed attempts to suppress dissent and free speech. “They’re screening the people who are allowed to come and then they’re profiling them in the parking lot,” he says. “It’s quite extraordinary, and disappointing.” [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] Weise and Young will file a lawsuit over the incident (see November 21, 2005).

Entity Tags: Americans United, Dan Recht, Bob Beauprez, Denver Progressives, Brad Woodhouse, Alex Young, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise, Lon Garner, Michael Casper, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

New Mexico residents who wish to attend a public relations event featuring President Bush are quizzed about their support of Bush’s policies before being given a ticket to the event. Staff members for Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) interrogate prospective attendees about their feelings towards Bush and his Social Security policies. David Alire Garcia of the Albuquerque Journal writes: “Welcome to the brave new world of over-the-top media manipulation. No critical questions, no spontaneity, nothing left to chance.” Domenici spokeswoman Shaye O’Donnell says that Democrats or others who might not support the president are still given tickets, though she later admits that she herself knows nothing about how tickets are distributed. Neither does Lisa Breeden, Domenici’s communications director, who says: “I really don’t know anything about this. If that happened, it was not done by our office. That would have had to have been through the White House, I guess.” According to Breeden, people who called the office asking for tickets were asked for names and phone numbers, and that information was passed to the White House advance team. The White House team then gave Domenici’s office a list of those who would be allowed to receive tickets. Breeden says a private political consultant handled the communications between the White House and Domenici’s office. [Washington Post, 4/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Lisa Breeden, Bush administration (43), Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, David Alire Garcia, Shaye O’Donnell, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The White House attempts to explain the apparently illegal refusal to allow citizens who may disagree with President Bush to attend his rallies and public events (see February 3, 2005, March 22, 2005, and March 21, 2005) by alleging that bands of liberal protesters are conspiring to disrupt those events. “There is an active campaign underway to try and disrupt and disturb his events in hopes of undermining his objective of fixing Social Security,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy, referring to Bush’s recent swing through the US to whip up public support for his plans to privatize Social Security. “If there is evidence there are people planning to disrupt the president at an event, then they have the right to exclude those people from those events.” Others disagree. Representative Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO) says through a spokesman: “He is the president, and regardless of affiliation, everybody should have the opportunity to go and see the president. It shouldn’t be the job of anybody to make sure the crowd is 100 percent sympathetic.” White House officials counter that all they are doing is attempting to prevent threats and disruptions. If they believe an individual will attempt to disrupt an event, they say, they will have that person removed before anything occurs. Linda Coates, a Fargo, North Dakota city commissioner who was prevented from attending a February Bush rally when her name turned up on a “blacklist” maintained by the White House, says the Bush administration is going far beyond protecting Bush from hecklers and security threats. “These events are clearly so carefully crafted that they can’t be considered ‘open forums’ anyway,” Coates says. “They are pep rallies. This is a new thing in terms of having an administration that tries to have absolute tight control on public perception of events and of reality.” American Enterprise Institute political analyst John Fortier says the tightly controlled events are part of the Bush administration’s “permanent campaign.” He adds: “I don’t know if it is working, but I don’t fault it too much that these rallies aren’t open forums for debate. When the president goes out to the country, it’s meant to be on his turf.” Diana DeGette (D-CO) says that the strategy isn’t working. “In politics, the best way to win support for a controversial policy is to sell it to people who are still undecided,” she says. “It appears that this White House has so little confidence in the president’s Social Security privatization plan, however, that administration officials are not allowing even undecided Americans into the president’s events.” Duffy denies that Democrats or other possible Bush critics are denied access to Bush’s rallies and events, but refuses to give details about how citizens are screened or chosen to ask questions of Bush during these events. Duffy does say: “There are steps being taken to ensure the president has a degree of order at these events. I think the president of the United States deserves to have a level of respect when he holds town meetings or any other forum.” In previous events, prospective attendees were:
bullet turned away for wearing T-shirts supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry;
bullet pressured to volunteer for the 2004 Bush presidential campaign;
bullet told to fill out questionnaires asking for names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and pledges of support for the president;
bullet preemptively banned due to membership of Democratic organizations;
bullet and quizzed as to their support for Bush and his policies.
Mark Udall (D-CO) says through a spokesman: “The president would be better served if he were to listen to dissenting views at these town hall meetings. It would probably help him make the changes he needed to better his policy on Social Security.” [Fox News, 4/22/2005]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Bush administration (43), John Fortier, Diana DeGette, Linda Coates, Trent Duffy, George W. Bush, Marilyn Musgrove, Mark Udall

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Justice Department refuses to prosecute a White House event staffer who impersonated a Secret Service agent while improperly ejecting three people from a town-hall event featuring President Bush. The staffer will later be identified as Michael Casper (see March 21, 2005). The Secret Service recommended that Casper be prosecuted for impersonating a federal officer. The White House has refused to identify Casper, merely calling him a “White House volunteer.” US Attorney William Leone says: “Criminal law is not an appropriate tool to resolve this dispute. The normal give and take of the political system is the appropriate venue for a resolution.” Eight of Colorado’s nine US representatives have condemned the ejection. Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO), a longtime Bush ally, says, “I really do believe in free speech, and if you try to quell people it just makes them more determined.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/23/2005; OMB Watch, 8/8/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Marilyn Musgrove, Michael Casper, US Secret Service, William Leone

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado files a lawsuit on behalf of two Denver residents whom the organization says were unlawfully removed from a town hall event featuring President Bush because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car (see March 21, 2005). The incident denied the plaintiffs their First Amendment rights, the ACLU argues. ACLU attorney Chris Hansen, representing the two plaintiffs, says, “The government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions.” The president should be willing to be in the same room with people who might disagree with him, especially at a public, taxpayer-funded town hall.” The lawsuit claims that plaintiffs Leslie Weise and Alex Young “were removed from the event solely because of their perceived political views.” Weise says: “What was supposed to be an historic opportunity for us to attend an event with a sitting president quickly turned into a humiliating and frightening experience. We had every right to attend the president’s event, and have decided to fight back to protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans.” White House event staffer Michael Casper, who the plaintiffs thought was a Secret Service agent during the incident, is named as a defendant, along with Denver resident Jay Bob Klinkerman and five as-yet-unidentified White House event staffers. The legal director for ACLU Colorado, Mark Silverstein, says: “We believe that our clients were expelled from this public meeting on the basis of a policy formulated in Washington and implemented throughout the country. This case is not just about two people, it is about protecting the rights and liberties of every single American.” The ACLU says similar events have happened in Arizona, North Dakota, and New Hampshire. [American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, 11/21/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jay Bob Klinkerman, Alex Young, American Civil Liberties Union, Leslie Weise, Bush administration (43), Michael Casper, Chris Hansen, Mark Silverstein

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) files a lawsuit against former White House staffer Gregory Jenkins. The lawsuit accuses Jenkins, who planned public events for President Bush, of concocting a policy designed to stop potential dissenters from getting near the president during public events. According to the lawsuit, Jenkins “unlawfully excluded individuals perceived to be critical of the administration,” thereby “cleansing” public forums of dissent. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of four plaintiffs, two West Virginia citizens who wore T-shirts critical of Bush’s policies to a Bush event, and two Denver residents whose car had an anti-war bumper sticker (see November 21, 2005). According to the 2002 Presidential Advance Manual for planning presidential events, which Jenkins apparently helped create, the White House employs numerous strategies for countering dissent at rallies and events. The manual reads in part: “The formation of ‘rally squads’ is a common way to prepare for demonstrators by countering their message. This tactic involves utilizing small groups of volunteers to spread favorable messages using large hand held signs, placards, or perhaps a long sheet banner, and placing them in strategic areas around the site. These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squad’s task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protesters (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site. The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities.” [Wired News, 6/29/2007]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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