Donald Trump

Protesting Donald Trump is Now a Federal Crime

As is protesting any candidate with Secret Service protection.

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The Orwellian-named "free speech zones"

Protected by the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act
Flickr/Michael Vadon

on college campus and political rallies are nothing new to regular readers of Reason, and suppressing political dissent with the brute force of government has been a feature of the American system since shortly after 9/11/01, when the Secret Service and local law enforcement entities began confining demonstrators to "protest zones." 

What might be a surprise is the fact that quietly and right under our noses in 2012, Congress nearly unanimously passed H.R. 347 (a.k.a. the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act) which makes it a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to "willfully and knowingly" enter a restricted area or to engage in "disorderly or disruptive conduct" that in any way impedes "government business or official functions."

Signed into law by President Obama, this supposed tweak of a pre-existing law effectively criminalized protest of any person under the protection of the Secret Service, a select group which includes both major parties' front-runners for the presidential nomination. During the general election, the nominees of both parties are automatically assigned Secret Service protection, but Hillary Clinton, as a former first lady, is entitled to a Secret Service detail for the rest of her life, and Donald Trump has had a detail assigned to him since last November. 

Dahlia Lithwick and Raymond Vasvari wrote in Slate that "the law makes it easier for the government to criminalize protest. Period." They also assert the words "disorderly" or "disruptive" could be defined down to mean almost anything with regards to "impeding government business."

And it's not just presidential campaign events where free speech is so severely restricted: 

Today, any occasion that is officially defined as a National Special Security Event (NSSE) calls for Secret Service protection. NSSE's can include basketball championships, concerts, and the Winter Olympics, which have nothing whatsoever to do with government business, official functions, or improving public grounds. Every Super Bowl since 9/11 has been declared an NSSE.

Now that Donald Trump's staff is having local police forcibly remove protesters from campaign events before they even speak, the question has to be asked: Why are the police cooperating with such requests?

In this video, the expelled group of almost exclusively black demonstrators outside the Valdosta State University (VSU) arena tell an officer that they are students of the school and paid to attend the event.

The officer replies, "This is your college campus but this part has been rented out." Another officer tells them he has no idea what the group supposedly did to disrupt the event (and no video evidence has yet emerged showing they did anything except dress in black and wait for the event to start), but that the Trump staff asked that they be removed and that they are free to protest in a designated free speech zone far from the event itself. 

In a letter to the VSU community, interim university president Cecil P. Staton conceded that the removal of the students was "disturbing," but passed the buck entirely by stating that "this was not a VSU sponsored event, but a private function."

In defending the suppression of the basic right of free expression of his students by government forces, Staton added:

The Trump campaign, together with the Secret Service and other law-enforcement officials, had responsibility for such decisions, not VSU. As we reminded the campus via email last Friday, current federal law (HR 347) does not allow for protesting of any type in an area under protection by the Secret Service.

Last month, days before the New Hampshire primary, I reported from the GOP debate in Manchester, where Republican demonstrators and anti-Trump protesters were confined to a "free speech zone" on an icy hill more than a mile from the assembled media. Read the article here or watch the video below.

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48 responses to “Protesting Donald Trump is Now a Federal Crime

  1. Three “Trump is teh SUCKS!” articles in a row! Can we go for four?

    1. It is Thursday, which I believe began in Middle English as “Trump’s Day.”

      1. Drumpfstag.

    2. Holy fuck. It’s illegal for everyone, but let’s throw a TRUMP label on it so we can signal.

      1. There aren’t that many words in the post. Feel free to skip the first five paragraphs, though, to get right to the Trumpness.

      2. Reason’s articles are sucking more and more everyday.

        If they want to be the left’s lapdogs, great. Can’t they at least be entertaining about it? Vice Magazine manages it, and they’re not even pretending to be libertarian.

        More “Elizabeth Nolan Brown goes to the porn convention”, less hack pieces that could be on Vox.

        1. Are they the left’s lapdog or the beltway right’s? Either way, Reason clearly prioritizes immigration above any other issue of law or liberty. I can’t see where else Trump is uniquely bad, except possibly his lack of strong alliances with the various houses of the Imperial City.

          1. I’m not sure why one would think they were anyone’s “lapdog”. Do you really think that the republican establishment or the left gives a shit what some dinky libertarian magazine says?

            I’m as sick of hearing about Trump as anyone and it would be nice if Reason would have fewer posts about him. But I’m not sure why anyone would assume that they have any secret motive. Trump is the big political story right now and he is very un-libertarian in almost every way.

        2. The blog posts may be sucking, but their articles are still generally quite good, I think. I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is a political, current events driven blog. So posts are not always going to be thoroughly thought through and researched. And, like it or not, Trump is the big news right now in politics. So, yeah. A political blog is going to have a lot about him.

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  2. designated free speech zone

    You mean “The United States of America”?

    Fuck off, slavers.

    1. no they mean the moon, and mars, at least until the statists colonize those too

      1. Maybe they’ll make the moon a penal colony and we can turn it into our Libertarian dream someday once we overthrow our Earth-bound overlords.

        1. It will be a harsh mistress.

  3. So is it only a crime to protest Trump, but not Hillary, or Bernie or any other candidate?

    Oh, I see that the article doesn’t really support the headline at all.

    The officer replies, “This is your college campus but this part has been rented out.”

    Sounds to me like, if a campaign rents a facility, they have the ability to control who attends, right? Now, denying admission to someone who bought a ticket should mean they get a refund, but I don’t see any larger issues here, at all.

    You are conflating a private party’s ability to control who attends their event in a private (at least for the event) space, with a state actor’s ability to impose prior restraint on speech in public spaces.

    1. Agreed. However, this should be covered by regular trespassing laws and not require major federal legislation

    2. People expect this sort of behavior from progressive statists like democrats. Not ostensible conservatives. Oh wait, we have a progressive statist running as a conservative now don’t we.

    3. They did pay for tickets. That complicates it a little bit.

      The main point stands, I think. Yes, of course people who rent a facility for an even have the right to control access. But if they can also be arrested for protesting in a public space outside the facility, that’s a problem.

  4. We’re getting greater every day!

  5. They just keep on “tweaking laws” and “fixing loopholes”, making sure that all the proper stamps and signatures are in place to increase executive power. It will be interesting to see whether Congress continues to cooperate under President Trump. My money is on “Yes!”

    1. My money is on “Yes!”

      I won’t be taking that bet.

  6. “suppressing political dissent with the brute force of government has been a feature of the American system since shortly after 9/11/01…”

    And long before that as well.

    As in the Alien and Sedition Act signed into law by John Adams in 1798.

  7. Unsurprisingly, Bernie “I hate Citizens United” voiced no objections to this. Amash and Ron Paul voted against it.

    1. Just because Bernie denies rights of free expression to corporations does not mean that he thinks that individual dissidents should enjoy such rights.

  8. Not a fan of this law, but the people who rent facilities for their events are entitled to the exclusive use of those events, even if that inconveniences loser lefties and other non-employed protestors.

  9. Yep, I still hate libertarians. “Fuck freedom, don’t you know Trump is speaking? And he rented the space. Thus, jack-booted ejection of people for, ahem, wearing black shirts, and in fact anything short of murder is A-OK!”

    1. No surprise that Tony is opposed to private parties controlling who can attend their events in space that they have rented.

    2. What the hell are you on about? Who said anything remotely like that?

    3. According to Trump, he could have murdered them and he wouldn’t lose support.

  10. I initially parsed “Protesting Donald Trump” as a description of the man, and thought that Donald Trump, a protesting person, was now a federal crime.

  11. “Land of the free”…

  12. Whew! At least Lee Harvey Oswald wouldn’t have violated this one.

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  14. I’ll say what I want, where I want, when I want.

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  17. I disagree with the whole concept that allows to you disrupt my life because you are mad.

    Idiots like this author think it is OK for someone block a road I am using or to block my use of sidewalk or shutdown my place of work.

    Those are acts of violence and are not peaceful protest.

    Try to go around some dickhead sitting in the road and other will jerk will jump in front of your car… and for some reason if you hit them you are in trouble…

    Toss all of the B@$T@R$D$ in jail and fine them big time…

  18. “Congress shall make no law” unless they feel like it?

  19. Who cares about those animals? Not me. I would be glad to see them all mowed down by police.

  20. Morons. Just as you cannot walk into a theater and about “Fire!”, you’re right to free speech does have limitations and is subject to local regulations…always has been. Protesting Trump is not illegal, but protesting Trump in an area that is restricted IS a crime. In some cases, you also have to have a permit. Without the permit, your protest could be illegal. This is not new, either. Finally, protesting is one thing. Throwing things at people, attacking them, punching them, etc., IS illegal.

    1. Just as you cannot walk into a theater and about “Fire!”, you’re right to free speech does have limitations and is subject to local regulations…always has been.

      Aaaaandwe’redone.

      You aren’t making the point you think you are when you trot out this hoary ol’ chestnut.

  21. Your information is somewhat inaccurate. The government had been setting up protest zones long before 9/11. They had them set up when Clinton made his bid for the Presidency in 1992.

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  23. From what I read, this law does not criminalize protests, only disruption. On what basis do you claim there should be a right to disrupt the rights of others, what in a more civilized era we called “disturbing the peace” or “trespassing.”

    You seem to have bought the story that the only way to protest shut someone down, and that is wrong, wrong, wrong. A protest used to be turning out a lot of people with signs, to make a point about the popular will, and maybe bear witness. Now, it is shouting others down and shutting them out, and that is the side you are taking.

    Your position encourages mob action like in Chicago last Friday. Think about it– if there is a right to disorderly conduct and disrupting others, what’s left except everybody disrupting everybody else?

    You want street fights like Germany in 1932? Because that’s what’s coming due to attitudes like yours.

  24. Its not *now* a federal crime. Its been a federal crime since 2012, according to this article. Trump may be the biggest douche in the history of American politics, but he is acting within the limits of a law that Obama enacted.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

  25. This sounds like perhaps a legal slippery slope, however in the case of Donald Trump, he generally hosts private events. In this case, as long as the private event is indeed private, mutually from the owners or organizers of said location, protesters should be allowed to be kicked out.

    The issue lies in the defining of “restricted area” because this could potentially be public places, but in the case of a university, there are many private events, and they are generally seen as controlled and regulated by said organizers.

    In my opinion, Trump perhaps should’ve chose a legally private property, and done a rally there, however, as we are working within the lines of crony capitalism and govt. reaching beyond their basic duties it creates an issue that in my opinion, can’t be solved currently, and I’m leaning towards being able to kick protesters out, as long as it is a private event or property.

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