As I write this op-ed, I primp for the mirror — looking for the most flattering pose — for my mug shot. Now, don’t get the wrong impression; I haven’t been arrested and charged with a federal felony — yet. Nor is the preparation done in anticipation of a guest stint on “America’s Next Top Model” — but as a common sense reaction to Obama’s predictable signing of the latest assault on the Bill of Rights — namely — H.R. 347 (and it’s companion senate bill S. 1794); aka the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.” Sounding more like an appropriations bill authorizing monies for federal grounds landscaping — this bill, better known to those in the DC beltway as the ‘Trespass Bill’ — potentially makes peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The legislators responsible for bringing this legislative excrement to life are Representative Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) in the House of Representatives and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT.) leading the Senate version.
H. R. 347 makes protest of any type potentially a federal offense with anywhere from a year to 10 years in federal prison, providing it occurs in the presence of elites brandishing Secret Service protection, or during an officially defined ‘National Special Security Event’ (NSSE). NSSEs , ( an invention of Bill Clinton) are events which have been deemed worthy of Secret Service protection, which previously received no such treatment. Justified through part of ‘Presidential Decision Directive 62 in 1998; Bill Clinton created an additional class of special events explicitly under the authority of the U.S. Secret Service.
Past NSSE events included the funerals of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and the national security concern that was Superbowl XXXVI. Other NSSE protected events include the Academy Awards and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I suppose presidential candidates, no matter how insane they may be are deserving as much security protection as Brad and Angelina’s sex life. The dangerous part of this ‘executive order’ lies not in the triviality of a SuperBowl receiving taxpayer funded Secret Service protection — but in the convenience manufactured for any President desperate to hide deliberations of groups like the G-8, the G-20 and the World Trade Organization. The classification of such events as NSSE — insures the rich and powerful against any pesky accountability or transparency to the unwashed minions — namely the US public. HR 347 & S. 1794 insulates such events as the G-8, WTO and presidential conventions against tough questions and politically justified protests.
The House vote tally which took place 02/28/12, was 338 for and 3 against. The three dissenters were Rep.Paul Broun R-Georgia, Rep. Justin Amash R-Michigan and Rep. Keith Ellison D-Minnesota. Rep. Ron Paul was reported earlier as having voted against the bill, but that was based on the original vote conducted 02/28/11. Rep. Ron Paul ABSTAINED on the final vote.
Rep. Amash explains:
… 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. The bill 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 its illegal. (It expands the law by changing “willfully and knowingly” to just “knowingly” with respect to the mental state required to be charged with a crime.
Amash is correct in noting that the omission of the word “willfully” represents an unfair burden to the citizen. In legalese, this omission creates a situation where anyone can be charged with a federal felony for ‘trespassing’ on grounds shared by a person or group receiving Secret Service protection (including NSSE’s); EVEN IF THE ‘TRESPASSER’ HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF SUCH PROTECTED PERSONS BEING PRESENT. In theory, anyplace where there is a protest could also be the setting for mass felony charges against constitutionally protected behavior such as the right to protest.
So, Amash as one of the three dissenters has no problem with criminalizing protest on the ‘royal’ grounds of the Congress or the White House, or even a hotel hosting a fundraiser where legislative aristocracy are protected by the Secret Service — his objection lies with the average tourist unwittingly stumbling onto ‘hallowed’ ground occupied by legally anointed royalty from our government.
This bill can be found in pdf form here.