The October 2002 Presidential Advance Manual reads like something from a banana republic. It recommends preemptive strikes and partisan "rally squads" to stomp out dissent.
The Bush administration has used the advance manual liberally to stifle constitutionally protected free speech.
The manual, which includes the notice “Sensitive – Do Not Copy,” is clearly not something the White House wanted made public. It came out as part of law suits filed by people excluded from taxpayer-financed presidential appearances because they disagreed with George W. Bush.
The manual was what drove the exclusion of the so-called Denver Three from a White House Social Security Forum in the city in March 2005. In that case, three people were tossed because they arrived in a car with a bumper sticker that said “No More Blood for Oil.” The three had tickets to attend and never demonstrated, but were removed from the public event before the president arrived.
Meanwhile, it’s now clear that the Denver Three and several other people at several other public forums fell victim to a White House strategy meant to stifle dissent.
The advance manual recommends making people secure tickets beforehand to see the president. The manual further recommends keeping a list of names of who will attend.
“People who are obviously going to try to disrupt the event can be denied entrance to the VIP area between the stage and the main camera platform,” the manual advises.
However, the manual confides, “this does not mean that supporters without tickets cannot be given tickets at the door…”
The manual calls for volunteers “at a checkpoint before the Magnetometers in order to stop demonstrators from getting into the event. Look for signs that they may be carrying, and if need be, have volunteers check for folded cloth signs that demonstrators may be bringing to the event.”
The manual calls for shunting demonstrators off to an area where neither the press nor the president will see them.
Worst of all, in a tactic creepily reminiscent of brown-shirted Hitler Youth, the White House manual also recommends gathering “rally squads” to surround demonstrators. The rally squads use signs and banners favorable to the president to block demonstrators from view and then shout “supportive chants to drown out the protestors.”
The rally squad instructions in the presidential advance manual are particularly detailed and particularly troubling. The rally squads are to be drawn from “college/young Republican organizations, local athletic teams and fraternities/sororities.” The manual encourages rally squads to man particular areas of the venue looking for demonstrators. At big events, the manual says, there should be at least one squad roaming “throughout the perimeter looking for potential problems.”
There are plenty of potential constitutional problems with this strategy, lawyers for protesters now argue. That’s one reason why the White House just settled a lawsuit brought by a couple forced from a presidential rally in West Virginia for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts.
The Presidential Advance Manual is a smoking gun that could also lead the Department of Justice to settle a pair of lawsuits brought by two of the Denver Three. It proves that the Bush administration conspired to crush dissent at what were billed as public, non-partisan presidential appearances.
Instead, dissenters’ free speech got checked at the door.
Presuming they could get past the eager Republican volunteers doing everything but a cavity search.