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Free-Speech Zone

Washington, D.C.
Mar. 18, 2004

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From The American Conservative magazine:

" When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up 'free speech zones' or 'protest zones' where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.

"When Bush came to the Pittsburgh area on Labor Day 2002, 65-year-old retired steel worker Bill Neel was there to greet him with a sign proclaiming, 'The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.' The local police, at the Secret Service's behest, set up a 'designated free-speech zone" on a baseball field surrounded by a chain-link fence a third of a mile from the location of Bush's speech. The police cleared the path of the motorcade of all critical signs, though folks with pro-Bush signs were permitted to line the president's path. Neel refused to go to the designated area and was arrested for disorderly conduct; the police also confiscated his sign. Neel later commented, 'As far as I'm concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone. If the Bush administration has its way, anyone who criticizes them will be out of sight and out of mind.'

"At Neel's trial, police detective John Ianachione testified that the Secret Service told local police to confine 'people that were there making a statement pretty much against the president and his views' in a so-called free speech area..."

The feds have offered some bizarre rationales for hog-tying protesters. Secret Service agent Brian Marr explained to National Public Radio, 'These individuals may be so involved with trying to shout their support or non-support that inadvertently they may walk out into the motorcade route and be injured. And that is really the reason why we set these places up, so we can make sure that they have the right of free speech, but, two, we want to be sure that they are able to go home at the end of the evening and not be injured in any way.' Except for having their constitutional rights shredded.

"Marr's comments are a mockery of this country's rich heritage of vigorous protests. Somehow, all of a sudden, after George W. Bush became president people became so stupid that federal agents had to cage them to prevent them from walking out in front of speeding vehicles..."