I’ve previously reported on the vanishing right to peaceably assemble, now two more rights supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment are on the verge of being killed. On March 1 HR 347 was submitted to the White House for President Obama’s signature. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent and had only 3 “nays” in the House (42 Representatives did not vote). Justin Amash (one of the three to vote against the bill) posted on his facebook page; “Current law makes it illegal to enter or remain in an area where certain government officials (more particularly, those with Secret Service protection) will be visiting temporarily if and only if the person knows it’s illegal to enter the restricted area but does so anyway. [H.R. 347] expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal.”
In addition to making it illegal to unknowingly trespass in an area that has been deemed “restricted” it is now illegal to heckle and possibly even question a “protected” person if law enforcement or Secret Service deems your action as “disorderly or disruptive conduct” and you are “within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds… that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.” This bill, which will likely become law, will essentially codify into law the use of “free speech zones” and criminalize activity such as asking Rick Santorum if he has ever googled himself.
It is being reported that HR 347 will also “seriously diminish the right of American citizens to petition their Government for a redress of grievances by outlawing protests where key government officials or other VIP’s may be nearby.” A violation of this law gets you either a fine or up to 10 years in prison; both if you dare to exercise your right to bear arms during your protest – as Chris (last name withheld) did during a 2009 protest in Phoenix, Arizona – even if you harmed no one.
Update by Stephen VanDyke: Stephan Salisbury over at Antiwar.com has a great article on the militarization of U.S. police against protesters with the “weaponizing of the body politic.” The psychological impact isn’t impressing anyone but the rubes though:
Day after day, I would cover Occupy Wall Street and day after day, I would get hassled by members of the New York City Police Department. They didn’t like it when I asked questions about their Sky Watch tower — a two-story-tall, Panopticon-like structure outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight, sensors, and multiple cameras that spied on the park. They got angry when I counted their dozens of police vehicles around the plaza’s perimeter, or when I asked questions about the unmarked white truck that just happened to have a camera mounted on a 40-foot pole protruding from its roof.
They trailed me, took pictures of me, demanded my identification, and repeatedly confronted me. One cop even declared my reporting “illegal.” But I couldn’t help myself. Watching the NYPD was like gawking at a car wreck. I was reminded of the police response to the 2004 Republic National Convention, but on steroids. To take just one example, back then, the NYPD had around 9,000 steel barricades to pen in protesters around the city — enough, that is, to stretch from one tip of Manhattan to the other. More than seven years later, the approximately 150 steel barricades that formed a cordon around Zuccotti Park were part of a NYPD inventory that could enclose the entire island in a formidable ring of steel.
So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.
But why drone on? We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.
The eternal war between liberty and security is never easy to maintain from either side. It bears repeating that the internet has been the greatest tool for libertarians.