When I arrived at the southwest corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue early on the morning of January 20, 2009, I looked expectantly across the street to the northwest corner of 9th & Pennsylvania, where I expected to see Ben Masel holding a “Stop Government Spying” banner. Masel is a veteran inaugural protester on issues of civil liberty whose spirit hasn’t been daunted by inclement weather before. I thought we would wave and smile and have a good time, but as you can see in this picture, Masel wasn’t there, and he didn’t show up all day.
It wasn’t until I returned to Columbus this afternoon that I found out why. At a security checkpoint for entry, Ben Masel and his banner were turned away. Masel recounts the incident on his Facebook page:
The US PARK SERVICE officer: “You have a right to hold that banner on the Parade route, but that doesn’t mean you can take it through THIS checkpoint.”
I was given 3 choices, dump it in that bin (trash,) leave, or I take it from you and you go to jail.
the officer refused it before he could have seen the text, tho they may have known by monitoring my web postings, and shown my picture.
I am really disappointed to read this, considering the kind and even solicitous manner in which I was treated by the National Park Service staff. Park Service coordinator Robbin Owen came out to meet me personally, made sure that a Secret Service agent was at the gate not just to let me through but to escort me to my designated position, introduce me to police officers at the spot, and even have a NPS lawyer approach to ask if I had everything I needed and whether I had been treated well. More than one park service ranger came up to me to chat, share their stories, and say nice things about my “Congratulations, Mr. President. Remember the Oath of Office: Preserve, Protect and Defend the Constitution” banner. One park ranger coming in from Hagerstown, Maryland smiled at me, gave the thumbs up, and said, “We at the Park Service love the Constitution too.” I felt very well-treated and even encouraged by the National Park Service; my rights to political speech were fully respected.
Given the respect shown to me by the National Park Service (and the cooperation of other agencies), I am shocked to hear about what happened to Ben Masel. Why was his demonstration against government spying programs blocked? Why was he turned away? What accounts for the difference in treatment? Is the fact that Ben Masel did not have a permit a contributing factor, even though sign-holders without permits are fully within their rights to bring signs to demonstrate at the Inauguration?
I do not know the answers to these questions. Someone should try to find out what is behind this.