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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; Banda 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 ) 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; Banda 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; Banda 3/29/2005) Weise and Young will file a lawsuit over the incident (see November 21, 2005).
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)
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 )
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