First Amendment and Bush ‘Town Hall’

These people got ejected from a Bush “town hall meeting” on Social Security because of a bumper sticker on their car: Secret Service investigating removal of three from Bush visit. What's interesting here is that it's possible the Secret Service didn't do it but someone else, possibly pretending to be a Secret Service agent did the evictions. (See also this fuller account at Daily Kos.)

  • If the Secret Service had anything to do with this, it violated the law and the Constitution
  • If the evictions were by private citizens misrepresenting themselves as government officials, they committed a crime
  • If the evictions were by private citizens being intimidating, it could be a crime or civil offense (e.g. assault, threats, depends on state law)
  • It's conceivable that there might be a way for private citizens to artfully mislead people and give the impression they are secret service agents without actually making actionable mis-statements (“Sir? Could you please come this way? I need to talk with you. I'm sorry, but you will have to leave. Security. I'm sure you will understand.”) I just don't know enough about the relevant law to be sure.

Update (3/30): The Washington Post has more on the story:

As described by Recht, a man in a blue suit told the three they had to leave and “in a physical, forcible way” escorted them out, refusing to explain why. Mackin said local law enforcement is in charge of policing civil disobedience at such events, although the Bush advance team is often seen asking disruptive people to leave.

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10 Responses to First Amendment and Bush ‘Town Hall’

  1. Barry Freed says:

    Someone should push this and ask to see credentials.

  2. Ironic says:

    So what?

    Why is this a story?

    A man asked some people to leave a Bush rally. They don’t know who he was.
    Or his name. Or who he worked for. He just said, you have to go. So they left willingly.
    Without making a scene. No ruckus. Although, long after the fact, they went to a lawer to complain.

    They were secretly protesting Bush by wearing “stop the lies” tshirts underneath their real shirts,
    which they never removed. They were inwardly outraged. No one knew.

    Is there any more appropriate picture of the Democrats in 2005 than this one?

  3. Mojo says:

    Ironic; I’m hoping you were actually trying to be ironic and you just did it poorly because I’d hate to think you’d missed the point this badly. First, it wasn’t a “Bush rally”. The campaign is long over and this wasn’t funded by Bush. This was an official government event to discuss a vital public policy issue. Second, they didn’t complain “long after the fact”. It happened less than two weeks ago. I’m also very confused as to why you think their failure to “make a scene” when accosted by what they thought were officials makes them less credible. Only rabble rousers have credibility? My favorite part is your attempt to justify their removal because they were “secretly protesting” against the President. In case you missed it, the Constitution guarantees free speech even if other people know about it! Thought crimes aren’t even close to the edge.

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  5. robert the red says:

    The WP says they forcibly escorted out. One other report says they were grabbed by the arms.

    Isn’t this assault, a criminal matter? What legal authority did this person have to force them to do anything?

  6. ironic says:

    mojo, i think you are a little confused.
    1) if you think that george bush “town hall meetings” and other such things are “official government event(s) to discuss a vital public policy issue”, then either you don’t watch the news or you aren’t paying much attention. people are screened at these things. (that’s the point of this article.) but it’s not anything new. (that’s the point of my post.) you probably aren’t aware, but the current administration has actually spent a lot of money producing commercials, making PR campaigns, etc. this is a staged event, mojo. the people in these meetings are preselected, the questions are prewritten. I hate to tell you this, but this is not “an open debate on social security” that was going on. It was a whistle-stop, a rally, a marketing device.
    2) the people asked to leave, did so quietly. apparantly they didn’t ask who this person was, who he worked for, if he had ID, etc. they didn’t inform anyone there that they were being forced out.
    if you think that someone that requests some information from a officious individual who’s getting physical (“and you are…” “I’m sorry, do you have any identification?”) is a “rabble rouser,” then…well, I’m not sure what to tell you. In your version they either are led out quiet as mice or they are screaming rabble. Can’t they simply ask what’s going on? Why don’t they know if this person was a government official or a private individual?
    3) You write “My favorite part is your attempt to justify their removal because they were ‘secretly protesting’ against the President.” I’m glad you enjoyed that part. But I’m not trying to justify their removal. We don’t even know who removed them. There is nothing in what I wrote that could even remotely be described as “trying to justify” what happened.
    I am simply pointing out that people who wear protest t-shirts under their regular shirts, and never reveal that they are wearing the protest t-shirts…umm…are secretly protesting. res ipsa.
    you will probably disagree with that, of course.
    4) these people were wearing protest t-shirts and had a protest bumper sticker. i am not sure why you characterize that as “thought crime.” these are actions. putting a bumper sticker on your car…that’s not a thought, is it? it’s an action. now, does the constitution still protect these actions as speech? sure. and that’s a nice argument. they can line up with the dozens (hundreds?) of other people in the last year that have been ejected from government events for similar behavior when they make it.

  7. Mojo says:

    Ironic; I think I understand now. Yes the administration is using taxpayer funds to propogandize under the guize of a public discussion of an issue (that’s what a Townhall meeting is). Yes, people are being barred from taxpayer-funded events in punishment for exercising (or planning to exercise) their free speech rights. But, because this kind of thing happens quite a bit these days, people should quit talking about it.

  8. ironic says:

    heh. it sounds harsher when you say it. :p
    but that’s basically how i see it, yeah.
    i just don’t expect anything different until we get a new administration, i think.

  9. Ignorance is Strength says:

    “i just don’t expect anything different until we get a new administration, i think.”

    Not “until”. “If”.

  10. ironic says:

    if a republican gets elected in 2008 i would have to leave the US to keep my sanity, i think.

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