ACLU Sues White House over Denver Bush Event
On March 15, the ACLU filed a complaint against three current or former White House staffers, alleging that they illegally ejected the Denver 3 from Bush's town hall meeting in Denver on March 21, 2005.
The three staffers are Steven Atkiss, then-deputy director of White House Advance; James O'Keefe, lead advance person for the Denver event; and Greg Jenkins, then-director of White House Advance.
"The President does not have the authority to ignore the First Amendment simply because he disagrees with someone's views," ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen said. "There has been a consistent pattern from the White House of handpicking which Americans are allowed entry to public events. That is unacceptable."
White House Role Exposed in Booting Activists from Bush Event
March 7, 2007
President Bush’s staff likes to protect the boss from any sign of protest while he’s on the road. Usually, local law enforcement has to play the heavy, often under orders from the Service Service. This gives the White House deniability.
Usually, local law enforcement has to play the heavy, often under orders from the Service Service. This gives the White House deniability. But that deniability has begun to unravel as a result of testimony in a court case involving two Colorado protesters.
But that deniability has begun to unravel as a result of testimony in a court case involving two Colorado protesters who are suing over their expulsion from a Bush event back on March 21, 2005.
Alex Young and Leslie Weise (along with Karen Bauer) had tickets to attend Bush’s public townhall meeting on Social Security at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver. But they were not allowed to stay for the event because Weise’s car had a bumper sticker on it that said “No More Blood for Oil.”
On November 21, 2005, Weise and Young sued the two bouncers who tossed them out of the event, as well unknown defendants identified as “federal employees” or persons “acting at the direction of federal employees.” Weise and Young alleged that their First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
On October 30, 2006, Judge Wiley Daniel denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.
And so the case has proceeded. Lawyers for Weise and Young took depositions from the two men who threw them out.
“In sworn legal depositions, bouncers Michael Casper and Jay Bob Klinkerman for the first time named the White House officials who they say ordered the Denver Three to be excluded,” the Denver Post reported on March 3. The paper said those officials are Steve Atkiss and Jamie O’Keefe. Atkiss, who was deputy director of White House advance, “now serves as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection chief of staff,” the paper said. O’Keefe, it adds, is still a White House staffer.
In an interview with the Denver Post, Atkiss defended his actions. “Certainly, if there’s an indication somebody’s primary intent is to cause trouble, we are looking to avoid trouble,” he told the paper. “If it became obvious and apparent somebody is there to create a fuss, there was an effort made to ensure that didn’t happen.”
(The White House did not return a call for comment for its part or O’Keefe’s late at deadline time on Wednesday.)
This revelation that the White House has a policy of excluding people from events based on their potential to disrupt confirms Weise’s worst fears.
“It is shocking and disturbing,” she tells me. “If you have a viewpoint different than the Administration’s on any one of their policies, and God forbid you display it on your bumper sticker, you can be excluded from a taxpayer-funded public event.”
Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs, agrees.
“The security staff certainly has the right to eject persons who try to shout a speaker down, block him from being heard, or otherwise cause a disruption,” he says. “But ‘potentially’ disruptive is not a legitimate reason to exclude persons from a public event. This is especially true in this case, where our clients were apparently labeled as ‘potentially’ disruptive simply because they were perceived to disagree with the President.”
Weise says she and Young are suing not just for themselves but for others.
“Ours is not an isolated incident,” she says. “This happened to other people in other places. Our goal is to expose this illegal policy and to prevent this President and any future Administration from violating citizens’ peaceful rights to free speech in America.”