Demonstrators Might Have to Pay a Fee to Protest on the National Mall

The National Park Service says there's an "enormous cost" to managing large political protests.


Pacific Press/Sipa USA/Newscom

Is free speech still free if you have to pay for it? That's the question to ask after the National Park Service (NPS) unveiled 14 regulations it's considering implementing for demonstrations and special events in the Washington, D.C., area.

According to an NPS press release, the agency hands out about 750 permits for "First Amendment demonstrations" in the D.C. area every year, plus 1,500 more for special events. The NPS handles events on the National Mall, next to the White House, and at popular monuments around the city.

The agency now says it wants the groups organizing such events to foot the bill. "The federal government and taxpayers shouldn't be required to underwrite the cost of somebody's special event, whether it's a concert, wedding, or gathering of some sort," NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst tells WAMU, Washington's local NPR station. Apparently, that includes political protests too. "There is an enormous cost to putting on or assisting with some of these larger First Amendment demonstrations," Litterst says.

The NPS notes it "has the authority to recover all costs of providing necessary services associated with special use permits." Currently, the agency charges fees for special events, but not "if the proposed activity is an exercise of a right," like free speech. Those rules could be changing for the first time since 2008, though it's not a done deal yet. Starting Tuesday, the public will have 60 days to comment on the rule changes.

Charging demonstrators fees to protest isn't the only notable proposed change. The agency might also require structures bigger than podiums to have a permit, in addition to banning events at various memorials in the city and establishing security zones in the area surrounding the White House.

Acting National Capital Regional Director Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini thinks the proposed changes will help maintain the First Amendment rights of "groups wanting their voices heard."

"The role the National Park Service plays in facilitating these groups' First Amendment rights—regardless of their views—is not something we take lightly," she say in the NPS's press release. "These proposed changes would provide much needed clarity to regulations while ensuring those unalienable rights remain."

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  1. They should call it a tax. Half the country thinks we should be paying more taxes, so it will likely be more popular.

    1. Don’t worry about calling it a tax right now. The SCOTUS will do that once it gets challenged in court.

    2. Ask what they’re protesting first. That way you can either call it a tax or a tariff depending on the group. Then everyone will love it.

      1. Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.

        1. set grid coordinates for … Bob Dole.

  2. The agency now says it wants the groups organizing such events to foot the bill.

    If I organize and event by saying “show up” and people show up, how do they enforce billing on this?

    1. Bitcoin.

    2. They can’t, obviously. But most of these events are organized so they can make use of porta-potties and platforms and extra security and stuff like that. If a bunch of tourists just want to hold up signs that’s fine. But good luck getting a dozen people out to your Million Woke March when everyone knows there won’t be any porta-potties.

      1. I don’t know about that, judging by past behavior. I suspect a lot of them would just shit right on the grass. And then blame capitalism for the smell.

        1. Hey our reps shit all over our Constitution, so why shouldn’t the people shit outside their windows?

        2. Seems to work for San Francisco.

      2. Serious question, during the marches on the national mall in the 60s and 70s, were there porta potties?

  3. On the other hand, should I have to pay for the clean up of all the discarded pussy hats? The answer is no. They’re women; how could they not have cleaned up after themselves? No wonder they can’t land a husband. What were we talking about?

  4. No we already fucking pay you.

    1. ^^^This guy^^^

    2. This guy gets it.

      Yes, the NPS and taxpayers should foot the bill. That’s how this works.

  5. How about imposing the fees only upon demonstrators / groups which seek to limit the sweep of the FA?

    Thus, for example, if BLM or the ACLU wants to protest, they must pay the fee.

    1. Make everyone show an ID and establish their identity. That is what they want for the internet. Why not the same thing for public demonstrations?

      1. There wouldn’t be any million man marches!

      2. “They”

        1. The entire Democratic Party.


          Mandatory location verification. The paper suggests forcing social media platforms to authenticate and disclose the geographic origin of all user accounts or posts.

          Mandatory identity verification: The paper suggests forcing social media and tech platforms to authenticate user identities and only allow “authentic” accounts (“inauthentic accounts not only pose threats to our democratic process…but undermine the integrity of digital markets”), with “failure to appropriately address inauthentic account activity” punishable as “a violation of both SEC disclosure rules and/or Section 5 of the [Federal Trade Commission] Act.”

          I know you think the Democrats and Progressives are above reproach, but sometimes it is not just evil conservatives who are wrong. It is horrible I know.

          1. But what does this have to do with the 43% of republicans who want to ban flag burning?

          2. The entire Democratic Party.

            And they run the National Park Service?

            1. The National Park Service runs the internet?

            2. That doesn’t make any sense. The “they” in the sentence was the protestors not the park service.

          3. Huh, it’s like the democrats are obsessed with ID and walls.

  6. If it’s a right wing protest, make the Russians pay. They’re probably the ones really organizing it anyway. If it’s a left wing group, the Soviets.

    1. All others are organized by the Mensheviks.

  7. Make it a security deposit.

    Don’t want to pay; pick up your own trash and leave the park in as good a condition as you found it.

    1. Or, when busted for littering, perform “community service”.

    2. I could get behind this. And it gives an incentive for the park service not to charge ridiculous fees for cleanup. If you charge too much, people will just hire an outside contractor and get their deposit back.

    3. Win Win. Of course “good condition” will never be subjectively applied.

      1. Only if you hire the right cleaning companies.

  8. Why protest on the mall when you can smash windows and set cars on fire in downtown D.C. for free?

  9. “First Amendment demonstrations”

    A bit redundant, unless she’s talking specifically about pro- or anti- first amendment rallies.

    1. anti- first amendment rallies.

      But enough about antifa.

      1. I can’t quite crack those nuts. Where did they come from? They’re not at any of my cocktail parties.

  10. >>> “The federal government and taxpayers shouldn’t be required to underwrite the cost of somebody’s special event …


  11. The best part of free public spaces is paying the fees.

  12. Is free college still free if somebody has to pay for it? Is free healthcare still free if somebody has to pay for it?

    1. a generational delineation creates opposite answers to those.

  13. Someone should organize a demonstration to protest these fees.

    1. Will there be porta-potties?

      1. There will be punch and pie.

        1. Yeah, but both the punch and the pie will be dirty.

  14. This makes perfect sense from the authoritarian point of view. I’m sure the powers that be will have the ability to wave the fee when they want allowing favored groups free access.

    Control who can and who can’t via access fees.

    1. Permits are typically already required for protests. This should include cleanup fees and extra law enforcement costs.

      I lean toward not having any notice or fees for protests and all cleanup and law enforcement costs come out of taxpayer money. Better secures the 1st Amendment rights.

  15. I can’t help but feel that this is cause Spencer and his ALT-Right basement dwelling Goobernuggets are planning a march.

    1. Didn’t read the article, but I’d say that’s exactly why. The interesting part is that I hear only 400 are expected to show up for their rally but it’s likely many more will show up to counter-protest. In that case, why should the people organizing be expected to essentially underwrite the fees that their opposition should be paying to protest them?

  16. Freedom of Assembly

    If it requires security be deployed, that’s what we pay government for in the first place.

    1. I suppose having the government consider not doing stuff that’ll cause protests is out of the question then?

  17. Well, The Left does leave an ugly mess in its wake.

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