Land of the free: wear a button, go to jail


Richard Moore

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Arrested Bush dissenters eye courts
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jul 22, 6:00 PM ET

When school was canceled to accommodate a campaign visit by President Bush, the 
two 55-year-old teachers reckoned the time was ripe to voice their simmering 
discontent with the administration's policies.

Christine Nelson showed up at the Cedar Rapids rally with a Kerry-Edwards button
pinned on her T-shirt; Alice McCabe clutched a small, paper sign stating "No 
More War." What could be more American, they thought, than mixing a little 
dissent with the bunting and buzz of a get-out-the-vote rally headlined by the 

Their reward: a pair of handcuffs and a strip search at the county jail.

Authorities say they were arrested because they refused to obey reasonable 
security restrictions, but the women disagree: "Because I had a dissenting 
opinion, they did what they needed to do to get me out of the way," said Nelson,
who teaches history and government at one of this city's middle schools.

"I tell my students all the time about how people came to this country for 
freedom of religion, freedom of speech, that those rights and others are sacred.
And all along I've been thinking to myself, 'not at least during this 

Their experience is hardly unique.

In the months before the 2004 election, dozens of people across the nation were 
banished from or arrested at Bush political rallies, some for heckling the 
president, others simply for holding signs or wearing clothing that expressed 
opposition to the war and administration policies.

Similar things have happened at official, taxpayer-funded, presidential visits, 
before and after the election. Some targeted by security have been escorted from
events, while others have been arrested and charged with misdemeanors that were 
later dropped by local prosecutors.

Now, in federal courthouses from Charleston, W.Va., to Denver, federal officials
and state and local authorities are being forced to defend themselves against 
lawsuits challenging the arrests and security policies.

While the circumstances differ, the cases share the same fundamental themes. 
Generally, they accuse federal officials of developing security measures to 
identify, segregate, deny entry or expel dissenters.

Jeff Rank and his wife, Nicole, filed a lawsuit after being handcuffed and 
booted from a July 4, 2004, appearance by the president at the West Virginia 
Capitol in Charleston. The Ranks, who now live in Corpus Christi, Texas, had 
free tickets to see the president speak, but contend they were arrested and 
charged with trespassing for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts.

"It's nothing more than an attempt by the president and his staff to suppress 
free speech," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West 
Virginia, which is providing legal services for the Ranks.

"What happened to the Ranks, and so many others across the country, was clearly 
an incident of viewpoint discrimination. And the lawsuit is an attempt to make 
the administration accountable for what we believe were illegal actions," 
Schneider said.

In Cedar Rapids, McCabe and Nelson are suing three unnamed Secret Service 
agents, the Iowa State Patrol and two county sheriff deputies who took part in 
their arrest. Nelson and McCabe, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn., accuse law 
enforcement of violating their right to free speech, assembly and equal 

The two women say they were political novices, inexperienced at protest and 
unprepared for what happened on Sept. 3, 2004.

Soon after arriving at Noelridge Park, a sprawling urban playground dotted with 
softball diamonds and a public pool, McCabe and Nelson were approached by Secret
Service agents in polo shirts and Bermuda shorts. They were told that the 
Republicans had rented the park and they would have to move because the sidewalk
was now considered private property.

McCabe and Nelson say they complied, but moments later were again told to move, 
this time across the street. After being told to move a third time, Nelson asked
why she was being singled out while so many others nearby, including those 
holding buckets for campaign donations, were ignored. In response, she says, 
they were arrested.

They were charged with criminal trespass, but the charges were later dropped.

A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to comment on pending litigation or 
answer questions on security policy for presidential events. White House 
spokesman Alex Conant also declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

But Justice Department lawyers, in documents filed recently in federal court in 
Cedar Rapids, outline security at the rally and defend the Secret Service 
agents' actions.

They contend the GOP obtained exclusive rights to use the park and that donation
takers were ignored because they were an authorized part of the event. They also
say McCabe and Nelson were disobedient, repeatedly refusing agents' orders to 

"At no time did any political message expressed by the two women play any role 
in how (the agents) treated them," they wrote. "All individuals ... subject to 
security restrictions either complied with the security restrictions or were 
arrested for refusing to comply."

Defenders say stricter policies are a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
and a small price for ensuring the safety of a world leader in an era of 
heightened suspicion and uncertainty.

But Leslie Weise says law enforcers are violating citizens' rights to voice 
objections within earshot of the president.

Last year, in Denver, Weise and two friends were evicted from a Bush town hall 
meeting on Social Security reform.

Weise, a 40-year-old environmental lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mother, 
opposes the war in Iraq and the administration's energy policies. Like friends 
Alex Young and Karen Bauer, Weise did some volunteer work for the Kerry 

In the days before Bush's March 2005 town hall meeting, the trio toyed briefly 
with the notion of actively protesting the visit. But they said they decided 
against it because they had heard of arrests at Bush appearances in North Dakota
and Arizona.

After parking Weise's car, the three, dressed in professional attire and holding
tickets obtained from their local congressman, arrived at the Wings Over the 
Rockies Air and Space Museum. Young cleared security, but Weise and Bauer were 
briefly detained and told by staff they had been "identified" and would be 
arrested if they tried "any funny stuff," according to court records.

After finding their seats, they were approached again by staff and removed 
before Bush began speaking. Days later, Weise learned from Secret Service in 
Denver that a bumper sticker on her green Saab hatchback ‹ "No More Blood for 
Oil" ‹ caught the attention of security.

"I had every reason to attend that event, just as anyone else in the room had 
that day," said Weise. "If we raised security to a higher level just because we 
had an opinion different from the administration, I think that goes far beyond 
what is appropriate for this country."

Lawsuits by protesters are not always embraced by the courts. In Pennsylvania, a
federal judge dismissed a suit challenging the arrests of six men who stripped 
down to thongs and formed a pyramid to protest the Abu Ghraib scandal when Bush 
paid a visit to Lancaster.

The judge ruled the authorities acted with probable cause and are entitled to 
qualified immunity, shielding them from liability. The ruling is on appeal.

Such efforts to segregate or diminish dissent are hardly new to American 

The ACLU has sued several presidents over attempts to silence opposition, as in 
1997, when President Clinton tried to prevent protesters from lining his 
inaugural parade route. And during the tumultuous 1960s, it was not uncommon for
hecklers and protesters to be whisked away or managed at a distance from rallies
and events.

"In my mind, it all started with Nixon. He was the first presidential candidate 
to really make an effort to control their image and disrupt public interruption 
at events," said Cary Covington, a political science professor at the University
of Iowa.

But political experts say the 2004 Bush campaign rewrote the playbook for 
organizing campaign rallies.

At the Republican National Convention in New York City and at other campaign 
stops, security segregated protesters in designated "free speech zones" set up 
at a significant distance from each rally. To get into events headlined by Bush 
or Vice President Dick Cheney, supporters were required to obtain tickets 
through GOP channels or sign loyalty oaths.

Political experts agree Bush 2004 went to greater lengths than Kerry officials ‹
or any past campaign ‹ to choreograph a seamless, partisan rally free of the 
embarrassing moments that attract media attention.

Gone are the days of candidates facing down hecklers or reacting to distractions
like, the man who donned a chicken costume and pestered George H.W. Bush in 1991
after he balked at Bill Clinton's invitations to debate.

Anthony Corrado, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, said 
ticket-only events are an effective tool for rewarding legions of volunteers who
work the phone banks, raise money and build support.

"In my view, the Republicans did a much better job of linking field volunteers 
with their schedule and events," Corrado said. "I had never seen it done to the 
extent it was on 2004 on the Republican side. And my guess is we'll probably see
a lot more of it all."

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information 
contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or 
redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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