Crowd Control or Message Control?


Over at SCOTUSblog, there is an interesting analysis of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.  The case, Wood v. Moss, stems from a 2004 incident in Jacksonville, Oregon, where President George W. Bush was campaigning for reelection. When President Bush deviated from plans and chose to dine in the outdoor patio area of a hotel restaurant, Secret Service agents and local police had to improvise so as to maintain a secure perimeter around him. 

Both pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators had congregated near the hotel, and the two groups had been separated by police officers. Anti-Bush demonstrators alleged that the Secret Service and police officers allowed the pro-Bush group to remain closer to the president than the opposing group, thus denying the opponents an equal opportunity to be heard.

I have, on occasion, been assigned to work with the Secret Service when a president or some other protectee has visited Los Angeles, and I can report on what a nerve-wracking experience it can be. The public has a perception that there is an invulnerable ring around the president wherever he goes, and I shared this perception until I participated in a protection detail. Vulnerabilities are everywhere, particularly when a protectee is outdoors and within sight of an unscreened crowd. Those vulnerabilities are multiplied when the protectee veers from the approved plan, forcing the Secret Service to assess and respond on the fly. Courts have given the Secret Service wide latitude – but not immunity – when considering questions of public access to venues where the president may be appearing, but the decision in this case may narrow that latitude.

There are 15 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. user_1700 Coolidge

    The man was having dinner. Why does anybody have to exercise their free speech rights at that particular moment?  (I know, rhetorical question …)

    • #1
  2. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart

    Don’t Leftists have anything better to do with their time. This seems completely pointless, even for them.

    • #2
  3. raycon and lindacon Member
    raycon and lindacon

    Been in and out of the Secret Service perimeter using a press pass with a photo of a friend who looked nothing like me.  Coffee and donuts give immediate access to even guys like me.   Imagine how easy it is for nut cases or terrorists to do their dirty work if the Secret Service cannot act on the fly.

    • #3
  4. user_3130 Member

    The president is a citizen.  Why should his rights be curtailed?

    The protesters are citizens.  Why should their rights be curtailed?

    And yet who will have to give into another is what sometimes must happen.  I’m glad I don’t have to decide this one.

    • #4
  5. Shoshanna Member

    As it happens, I was in Jacksonville that day and witnessed much of what occurred.  Without debating the legal points, I think it should be pointed out that all of this took place at a small, historic hotel/restaurant located on a quiet, narrow street in this little Gold Rush town, and there simply wasn’t all that much room or available access for protesters of any stripe.  

    I remember the Secret Service and their automatic weapons on all the rooftops, and the bizarre, Kafkaesque atmosphere they lent the scene.  The patio in question is off the street, but in no way secured from it– nor was it ever intended to be– and I’d imagine that making it impregnable would be quite a challenge.  Anyone who has ever been in Jacksonville would know that attempting to turn this into an issue of fairness is ludicrous in the extreme.

    I hope President Bush had a great meal, and that it wasn’t too badly disturbed by the protesters.  The restaurant in question had a fabulous chef that that time– sadly, they no longer do, which is why I refrain from naming the place.

    • #5
  6. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur

    Wood vs Moss? I think moss usually wins over wood.

    • #6
  7. Sisyphus Member

    An office seeker is an office seeker, and a POTUS is a POTUS, with no more special right to an undisturbed meal than anyone else who trades on their celebrity or holds public office. I do not envy the Secret Service their duty in this case, but they routinely are charged with maintaining venue “hygiene” and shoving their client’s political opposition to the back or out of sight entirely. It was astoundingly hypocritical under Clinton, where “spontaneous” outdoor event locations would be perimetered and managed several hours before their inspiration arose.

    The “three stones” incident was the rule, not the exception.

    • #7
  8. Member

    I’m  not seeing how the court could even possibly find standing for the protestors. They were not denied the right to protest, only required to do so from a different location. There was apparently no permit issued, so they were not guaranteed access to any specific location. There is no “right to equal access” to the President. There is no right of ANY access to the President. We routinely shut down highways and airports to protect the President. Being told to move back a few yards doesn’t come close to that.

    The anti-Bush protesters were moved back because they had line of sight on the President’s position, while the pro-Bush demonstrators had a building between them and the President. That’s a difference in access and security threat that you don’t even need to be an expert to understand.

    Further, these men were acting in their official capacity as protectors of the President. There is no grounds for personal liability. They were acting as agents of the United States Government on official business, and any case either criminal or civil should rightly be against The United States of America, not the agents personally.

    • #8
  9. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    The Left only gets concerned about the issue when its a Republican POTUS.

    • #9
  10. user_358258 Member

    I’ll be glad when we don’t have kings anymore.

    • #10
  11. user_4462 Member

    Since when is there such a thing as an equal right to be heard?  Where is that one written?

    • #11
  12. Devereaux Member

    My personal sense is that we have become rather obsessive with this whole concept of “protecting the president”. We have other important elected officials yet we only spend this prodigeous effort on the president. ?Is he really that important (well, perhaps today with Joe Biden in the wings one can make that case).

    My sense is that we need to tone down the whole secret service thing. But that hardly addresses the issue in this suit. Which on the face of it seems silly.

    • #12
  13. user_428379 Thatcher

    Looking at the comments, I have a different question.  Leaving out protesters and this particular court case, is it right that the Secret Service is able, using its law enforcement powers, to cordon off public areas, especially on the fly, over one person regardless of who he is?

    I have read about the kind of disruption the movement of the president entails.  I don’t care about Washington, D.C., it’s a company town.  But when I read about the traffic jams in Los Angeles when the president arrives, I just shake my head.  Nor do I like the stories of Air Force One disrupting commercial traffic both in the air, and when it’s on the ground at a particular airport.

    It’s unseemly for an elected official (as opposed to a dictator) to treat the public this way.

    • #13
  14. Member

    Devereaux and Al Sparks

    I understand where you are coming from, but the United States really does have a legitimate interest in securing the safety of the President. He is, more so than any other person, the representative of the United States to the world. He is our head of state, our chief executive. Unfortuantely, heads of state quite routinely are threatened by those who oppose their policies, want to make a name for themselves, or are just crazy.

    The repercussions of the President being captured or killed would vastly outweigh the inconveniences and losses associated with maintaining his security.

    True, measures are sometimes taken to the absurd, like shutting down an airport for four hours so the Prez can get a celebrity haircut on Air Force One . . . It’s an abuse and the President should be taken to task when he deliberately places himself in situations that force the Secret Service to go to extremes to do their job.

    It’s the President who is responsible when these things happen, though. Impact is usually fairly minimal until he departs from the Secret Service’s plan and they are forced to improvise.

    • #14
  15. Umbra Fractus Member
    Umbra Fractus

    The lawsuit is absurd. It’s a simple, indisputable fact that a crowd of people who dislike the president so much that they are willing to take to the streets for the express purpose of shouting at him might pose more of a security risk than the ones who like him.

    • #15

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.