Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Rally Squads" to stop anti-Bush demonstrations

Late last week, the federal government settled a lawsuit with a pair of Texans who were arrested in 2004 for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July event in Charleston, W.Va. That's right, friends, $80,000 (of your taxpayer dollars) will be paid out to Jeff and Nicole Rank, whose suit against Gregory J. Jenkins—former deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance—has been dismissed.

White House spokesman Blair Jones managed to turn lemons into lemonade with the statement last week that "the parties understand that this settlement is a compromise of disputed claims to avoid the expenses and risks of litigation and is not an admission of fault, liability, or wrongful conduct." ...
Because, you see, what the Ranks did wrong was attend an open-to-the-public, taxpayer-sponsored Independence Day speech by the president on the grounds of the state capitol, sporting homemade anti-Bush T-shirts. Their shirts had a red circle and a diagonal bar covering the word Bush. (His said, "Regime change starts at home," on the back; hers said, "Love America, Hate Bush.") The Ranks neither said nor did anything to disrupt the speech, but when they refused to remove their T-shirts, they were, at the direction of White House event staff, handcuffed, booked, photographed, and fingerprinted, charged with trespassing, and held for several hours in jail. (The charges were subsequently dismissed, and the city of Charleston has apologized.)...
But the best thing to have emerged from the Rank litigation was the official—if heavily redacted—Presidential Advance Manual (dated October 2002), which, although stamped "SENSITIVE" and not to be "duplicated ... replicated ... photocopied or released to anyone outside of the Executive Office of the President, White House Military Office or United States Secret Service,"

There is so much that is entertaining in the Advance Manual, it's hard to know where to begin. Sure, it's not a surprise anymore that it is official White House policy to use staff to foster "a well-balanced crowd," with well-balanced evidently defined as a subtle melange of those citizens who adore the president and those who revere him. The key to achieving such a balance, according to the manual, lies in "deterring potential protesters from attending events" and "preventing demonstrators." Nor should anyone be surprised that the president is to be shielded from dissent at taxpayer-funded presidential appearances and at "rallies, roundtables and tours" in equal measure. Only those individuals and groups that are "extremely supportive of the Administration" (emphasis theirs) will be seated in the area between the stage and the main camera platform.

The manual cautions that event staff "must decide if the solution would cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone," but it's also full of ingenious ideas for dealing with a flare-up of dissent. Among the White House tactics are the subcontracting of censorship to event "rally squads" composed of helpful "college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities." (What, no mathletes?) These obliging rally squads can then "use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform." The use of a "long sheet banner ... in strategic areas around the site" is similarly smiled upon. Lest you believe that the Big Brother sheet represents the full extent of the speech suppression, however, the manual provides that, "As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event."

The Advance Manual's finest moments come in its urgent, earnest drive to protect not just the television cameras but also the president himself from the ugliness of the dread "demonstrators." Certainly, "if it is determined that the media will not see or hear" demonstrators, event staff can ignore them. But event staff must involve themselves in "designating a protest area preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route." In other words, all this suppression of dissent isn't just to create a puppet show for the cameras. It's also about sock puppets for the president, who—if he could just be shielded from the mean T-shirts—might still believe his approval ratings soar into the mid-90s. ...

It's disturbing enough to learn from the Advance Manual that the White House has adopted an official policy of shouting down or covering up dissenting viewpoints with large sheets in order to deceive Americans at home into believing the president is universally adored. But that this official policy also exists to protect the tender sensitivities of the president himself is beyond belief.

Check out the White House document here

Oh I knew I should have removed my shirt at the Senate Office Building so could go through the metal detector! It would have been ever so much more fun than removing my anti-Bush buttons! Then, at least, I could have been arrested for indencent exposure!


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