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January 6, 2004 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Reading this article in the American Conservative Magazine regarding the Secret Service's use of "Free Speech Zones" drew my attention to the case of USA v. Bursey. (more inside)
posted by ewagoner (34 comments total)

 
Brett Bursey was arrested for holding a "No Blood for Oil" sign amid hundreds of pro-Bush signs at an airport in South Carolina and charged with trespassing. Five months later, a South Carolina judge threw out the charges, saying that you can't charge someone on public property with trespassing. US Attorney Strom Thurmond, Jr. stepped in and filed federal charges against him. The charge: "entering a restricted area around the president of the United States". If convicted, Bursey faces six months in prison and a $5000 fine, but the federal judge denied Bursey's request for a jury trial since this was merely a petty offense. The verdict in Bursey's trial is expected in about an hour, but regardless of the outcome, you may find the contents of the second link above quite interesting.

You may want to specifically look at the two latest briefs from the trial. Bursey filed a brief claiming he is the victim of illegal selective prosecution. Seems straightforward enough -- he is the only one of "thousands" of people within the so-called restricted area to be prosecuted. The logic to Justice Department's response is also straightforward, if not maddening. In short, it claims that the prosecution is not selective since Bursey was told he was in the restricted area and told he had to leave but didn't, so he knowingly violated the restricted area and thus committed a crime. The other thousands of people didn't know they were in a restricted area, and so had no intent and thus committed no crime.

Myself, I'm ashamed by Strom's prosecution efforts, and feel a guilty verdict would only embolden the Justice Department to push further abuses.
posted by ewagoner at 10:05 AM on January 6, 2004


looks like you pretty much wrapped this one up. i'm curious, though, why of all emotions does this cause you shame?
posted by badstone at 10:41 AM on January 6, 2004


it claims that the prosecution is not selective since Bursey was told he was in the restricted area and told he had to leave but didn't, so he knowingly violated the restricted area and thus committed a crime. The other thousands of people didn't know they were in a restricted area, and so had no intent and thus committed no crime.

And, of course, the fact that they as much as admit that they are protecting one type of speech over another means nothing to anyone? That alone should be enough to get them all fired.

"Free speech zones" are unconstitutional, period.
posted by rushmc at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2004


While Thurmond's efforts may meet the letter of the law, it seems so far beyond the spirit of the law and the basic principals that our nation was founded upon that I can't fathom how he could file charges and prosecute with a straight face. It seems clear to me that he believes what he is doing is right and just, and it follows that his superiors, the Attorney General and the President, also believe that. The upper levels of the executive branch of the US government, a government of me, by me, and for me, find it worthwhile to expend so much time and money on something that is so clearly wrong. And that brings me shame.
posted by ewagoner at 10:56 AM on January 6, 2004


Ah, I see. How very... reserved of you. Let me know when you move on to utterly pissed off like the rest of us. :) Also, are you sure that this isn't some wort of web hack - the appearance of such a criticism of the Holy Administration in a conservative magazine, that is?

rusmc -
Neel later commented, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone."
posted by badstone at 11:07 AM on January 6, 2004


Oh yes... if any of you don't want your IP address showing up in the American Conservative's logs, you can read more or less the same article in the San Francisco Gate.
posted by ewagoner at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2004


I saw the American Conservative article a few days and thought about posting it here. I hesitated because I figured some people would simply write it off as typical Bush-bashing and not pay attention. But I'm glad you did, as this is extremely disturbing.

The Secret Service and Justice Department are deciding which free speech is acceptable to be in view of the president and which is not, which is completely unconstitutional. If security is really the issue, then keep EVERYONE away -- period.

Look how many times "freedom of speech" is invoked to defend behavior such as nude dancing or foul language -- which is often quite a stretch. But these incidents we're talking about clearly involve what the framers had in mind: political speech.

So now I'm waiting for the mainstream media to pick up on this story. The SF Chronicle ran a version of the American Conservative article (which ewagoner linked to) a few days ago. (And yes, badstone, it's a real article in a real conservative magzine.)
posted by pmurray63 at 11:19 AM on January 6, 2004


I've seen this article floating around in a couple blogs earlier this week, and the sentiment is the same everywhere - people think it's ridiculous.

Just as Bush's news is "filtered" for him, his sights and sounds of America are "filtered" as well. It's not like he hasn't heard a peep about it, but think about this - if everywhere you went, you, the public figure, saw nothing but support and positive people surrounding you, what would be your impression of that?
posted by djspicerack at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2004


Oh yes... if any of you don't want your IP address showing up in the American Conservative's logs, you can read more or less the same article in the San Francisco Gate.

Now you tell me....
posted by whatever at 11:21 AM on January 6, 2004


The American Conservative article is well-written, though it cops out at the very last minute by raising the specter of a liberal boogeyperson:

Is the administration seeking to stifle domestic criticism? Absolutely. Is it carrying out a war on dissent? Probably not—yet. But the trend lines in federal attacks on freedom of speech should raise grave concerns to anyone worried about the First Amendment or about how a future liberal Democratic president such as Hillary Clinton might exploit the precedents that Bush is setting.

The recent, slow erosion of First Amendment rights with respect to political dissent isn't something that's governed by partisan fault-lines--it's more a characteristic of the incumbent administration protecting its position.

(On preview, and slightly off-topic: though I'm surprised to find myself linking favorably to the writing of Antonin Scalia, his dissenting opinion in McConnell v. FEC addresses this same issue with respect to election-time speech, and is worth a read, if only because it gives the lie to the popular impression that the strict constructionists on the Court always vote in favor of whatever benefits the Republican Party most.)
posted by Prospero at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2004


local rag article on Bursey. (his own rag is available here)

"In Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740-1990, author James Hammond Moore describes Bursey as 'an instigator of anti-war incidents such as burning a Confederate flag and selling Viet Cong flags on campus.'"
posted by shoepal at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2004


The American Conservative article is well-written, though it cops out at the very last minute by raising the specter of a liberal boogeyperson

Not that what you're saying isn't true, but you can also look at this as an easy way to commuinicate the importance of this shit to conservatives. Let the boogeyman work for you, man.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2004


IJR's got it right this time. Just like the whole independent prosecutor mess...
posted by trharlan at 11:58 AM on January 6, 2004


Verdict's in: Bursey fined $500.
posted by badstone at 12:11 PM on January 6, 2004


That herald tribune article makes NO mention of the other 'pro-bush' people standing alongside him. he sounds like a wild man who snuck into a restricted area.
posted by darkpony at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2004


And that's the AP story. That's all she wrote, as far as the mainstream media is concerned.
posted by Ptrin at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2004


It really is shameful--and I don't think that people just accepting the herding and removal to out-of-sight areas is helping at all--what's going to happen here in NY in September during the Repub convention? Is the whole island going to be a restricted area? Will protestors be sent to Queens or New Jersey?
posted by amberglow at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2004


That's one of the most disturbing pieces I've read on what's happening in America at the moment.
posted by Blue Stone at 1:10 PM on January 6, 2004


shameful, disgusting, brutish, and unamerican. bush etal are traitors. but their crimes pale in comparison to those of the Great American Sheep, whose intellect - begummed by waves of "infotainment" and hollywood pipedreams - cannot acknowledge the problem because it might distract them from their distractions, or because they're too busy chasing the "american dream" of crushing the dreams of others and living off the cash flow.
posted by quonsar at 1:14 PM on January 6, 2004


djspicerack: Just as Bush's news is "filtered" for him, his sights and sounds of America are "filtered" as well.

More important than George not seeing this stuff (one hopes he makes policy based on rational advice rather than signs seen walking to the plane) is that TV and those personally present do not see the protests. Often this kind of protesting gets joe public at least discussing the issue.
posted by Mitheral at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2004


Here's what the local press has to say about the verdict. A bit more than the AP, but it does bring up (what I think is) the prosecution's strongest point: Bursey didn't have a (presumably purchased) ticket, whereas everyone else did.
posted by ewagoner at 1:27 PM on January 6, 2004


Why in the world would someone who wants to do harm to the pseudo-president or anyone else in a similar situation draw attention to him or herself by holding up a sign like Bursey's? If the Secret Service thinks that moving people like him further away is how the job ought to be done than we (the American public) surely are not getting our tax dollars' worth from them.
posted by billsaysthis at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2004


last i looked, admission tickets were not required for assembly in a public place, like, say, a taxpayer-funded airport terminal. and all the skyscrapers falling in the world should not change that. enough with the excuses - is this america or did 9/11 change all that too? in fact, it did not - these foul practices are not new - one of my earliest posts here (an egregious self link!) related how the democrats confiscated our public square for a gore rally a few years ago. only those with tickets were permitted in. like i said above, offer the Great American Sheep a spectacle, he'll overlook a few salivating wolves in order to partake.
posted by quonsar at 1:53 PM on January 6, 2004


Tickets ? Oh I tought the last Prez from cinema was Reagan. It would be fun to discover some "supported" paid to attend the event :) Ahh the beauty of scamming your own supporters under the pretext you're being helpful you're not being scammed.

Anyway...it seems a very nice example of double standard application. You enjoy a (somehow reduced) freedom of speech , but not freedom of being audible. But friends can be audible , opposer must not be ; so scream as much as you like, nobody heard your screaming. That's so Guantanamo Bay.
posted by elpapacito at 1:56 PM on January 6, 2004


quonsar-- "last i looked, admission tickets were not required for assembly in a public place, like, say, a taxpayer-funded airport terminal."

What about a baseball stadium?
posted by trharlan at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2004


wow. that hits the relevance nail right on the head, tr!
posted by quonsar at 2:35 PM on January 6, 2004


It seems clear to me that he believes what he is doing is right and just, and it follows that his superiors, the Attorney General and the President, also believe that.

Irrelevant. The reason we have had the system that we have is to thwart "well-intentioned" individuals who choose to subvert the system to impose their idea of what is right upon the rest of us. The sheer gall of this group in bypassing, ignoring, and dismantling the checks and balances is the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my lifetime.
posted by rushmc at 3:04 PM on January 6, 2004


So it looks like the rule of thumb is this: if you're going to blow up the Big P, you should carry a placard praising him, not decrying him.

Thank the SS for letting that cat out of the bag. Sheesh.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:08 PM on January 6, 2004


quonsar: aren't tickets required to be in close proximity to the Presidential Inauguration? That credential allows you to stand in a public place, and one that will be free to anyone the following day, during a restricted time.

Same thing. The ticket is merely a credential to allow access. Setting up temporary restricted areas is common where the President is concerned. TFRs are really annoying, but you get used to them, when you fly. This is just the same, but on the ground.
posted by dwivian at 4:51 PM on January 6, 2004


Some advice to those who can afford it, and wish to change the system.

If charged similar to Bursey, plead guilty and ask to be punished under the full extent of the law. You'll never change anything by letting the court throw out the charge. or by getting a small fine or time served.

Gandhi was able to topple a nation by never giving in, and trying to change unjust laws by accepting the law as the law, and showcasing the inconsistencies.
posted by CrazyJub at 5:25 PM on January 6, 2004


Gandhi did end up dead.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:23 PM on January 6, 2004


Another related post.
posted by neurodoc at 11:31 PM on January 6, 2004


Why do local police take orders from the SS, especially when those orders are so obviously illegal? Can these alleged "Officers of the Law" be prosecuted? Clearly they set themselves up as enemies of the people and violators of the Constitution. Such behavior should not be tolerated from pigs who eat at the public trough.

The administration controls the SS. Okay. They do not control your local police, or at least, you should not tolerate their attempts to do so.

Free Speech Zones my ass! I don't care what clever sophistry some prosecutor invents to make things appear legal. This is supposed to be government by the people and for the people, not by sophistry for the sooo fisticated.

They don't want to hear dissent? Fine, shove the dissent roughly up their asses!
posted by Goofyy at 7:23 AM on January 7, 2004


The "Dissent Liberation Act" of 2006 will legislate the
preemptive temporary home arrest up of known dissidents living within a twenty mile radius of areas visited by the president and vice-president.

Secret Service agents will prevent dissidents from leaving their homes during a twenty four hour window of time bracketing said visits.

During which period, the agents will encourage these temporarily restrained dissidents to exercise their free-speech rights by writing letters-to-the-editor of local newspapers (which will be subject to occasional light censorship for reasons of national security). Agents will provide complimentary educational DVD's such as "Free Speech and National Security: Your rights and responsibilities", as well as complimentary breath mints, mini tubes of toothpaste, and bars of "Freedom Soap".
posted by troutfishing at 5:49 AM on January 8, 2004


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