Blanking Out Dissent


As the president races around the country, furiously pushing the twin lies that things are getting better in Iraq and that the economy is on the upswing, and ducking the reports that he hid from the draft in a National Guard unit and then went AWOL from even that cushy post, a huge, coordinated effort, largely unreported, is underway to insulate him and the media from any signs of dissent.

The latest evidence of this shameless and brazen trampling of the First Amendment to the Constitution is found in a lawsuit filed yesterday by the ACLU against the White House and the Secret Service on behalf of two West Virginia Republicans, Jeff Rank, 29, and Nicole, 30, who were arrested on July 4 at a Charleston, West Virginia, rally for President Bush, because they refused to remove two home-made T-shirts sporting the circle-and-slash “no” symbol superimposed over the word “Bush.”

According to the suit, filed by the ACLU in federal court, even though the Ranks had tickets to the event, which was held on the grounds of the state capital, and were not being disruptive, city police arrested and handcuffed them, charging them with trespassing, and held them for several hours, on instructions of the Secret Service, the federal police agency that is tasked with “protecting” the president.

Nicole, who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a notorious nest of right-wing loonies, was also temporarily suspended from her job following the arrests.

The charges were later thrown out, and the city council apologized to the Ranks for the incident, saying local police would never have bothered them had they not been ordered to act by the Secret Service. (Bush and the White House had no apologies to offer.)

As outrageous as this incident is, it is hardly isolated or unique. Back last year, I wrote an article in Salon Magazine, Keeping Dissent Invisible (Oct. 16, 2003), which documented how the removal of all signs of dissent from Bush and Cheney public events has been standard operating procedure, with instructions coming from the Secret Service and White House advance teams. Paul Wolf, a deputy police chief from Pittsburgh, PA, where police were instructed to fence off protesters in a remote baseball field during a 2002 visit there by President Bush, stated on the record that his department had been told what to do by Secret Service and White House staff. Around the country, protesters who have been similarly removed from presidential parade routes or rally sites, or arrested by police for simply carrying protest signs, have reported being told that it was “on instructions from the Secret Service.”

Americans need to become aware how deeply antagonistic towards, and dangerous for American civil liberties like the right of free speech and assembly this current administration is.

Our corporate media, whose highly paid and well-groomed reporters prefer to travel with the presidential motorcade and to broadcast promotional soundbites from the president, don’t even see, much less bother to track down and interview the many people who have the courage and principle to come and try to protest. As a result, the average American doesn’t even know that there is a vast sea of opposition to this president and his policies.

Protests, as we saw in the coverage of the Republican National Convention, basically get reported on in the mass media only when there is violence or arrests.

It is significant that the ACLU’s case brought on behalf of the Ranks, though announced in a press release that went out to all major media, was not even reported today in the New York Times, supposedly the nation’s paper of record, which instead devoted most of its campaign ink to covering Bush’s self-aggrandizing speech to a convention of the National Guard and to questions being raised about CBS’s story exposing the sordid story of his Guard “service.”

John Kerry reportedly had his campaign hire a Decatur, Alabama woman who was fired from her private sector job because her boss didn’t like her having a “Kerry for President” bumper sticker on her car. Maybe he should start hiring all the people who are being rounded up, herded into “free speech pens” or arrested at Bush/Cheney campaign events. Besides giving him a lot of local on-the-ground support across the country, it would do wonders for his own tarnished image on civil liberties (Kerry has had precious little to say about the USA PATRIOT Act, for which he himself voted, and its trampling of the Bill of Rights), and would go a long way towards making up for his failure to condemn the use of a “protest cage” by Boston Police during his own nominating convention.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at

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CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.