Sunday, March 04, 2012

Protests Near Secret Service Protected Folk Effectively Outlawed




Brian Doherty | March 1, 2012

In case you question the value of having a Justin Amash or a Ron Paul in the House of Representatives, they were two of only three votes against H.R. 347, the "Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011."

As reprinted in this angry Salon blog post, Rep. Amash's reasons for objecting:

a more truthful moniker for HR 347 would be the "First Amendment Rights Eradication Act". As Representative Amash lamented 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... [And to] show you the extent to which the public is misled and misinformed about the legislation we are voting on, read one prominent media outlet's coverage of the same bill: http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/212873-house-approves-white-house-trespass-bill-sends-to-obama The report mischaracterizes not only current law but also the changes proposed by the bill."

Full text of the bill, which includes all its penalties for attempting or conspiring to do the forbidden disruption as well. Those penalties are:

The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is--

‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if--

‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or

‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and

‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.

And the laws own language on how you run afoul of it:

In this section--‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area--

‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;

‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or

‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and

‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’.

Russia Today with more about how this law could be abused:

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well....

In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection....

With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring.

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