When many of the world’s hot spots seems to be spiraling into further violence, Colombia offers hope.
Nicole and Jeff Rank were arrested on Independence Day, 2004, for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts. They were on the grounds of the capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, where Bush was giving a speech.
Amidst others who were wearing pro-Bush shirts, the Ranks were wearing shirts with Bush's name having a line through it. On the back of one of their shirts was: "Love America, Hate Bush."
They were singled out by White House event staff and local law enforcement, who told them they would have to leave. When they didn't, they were arrested for trespassing. The city of Charleston, in a matter of days, realized its error and apologized to the Ranks.
But feeling that the White House was behind their arrest, they, with the help of the ACLU, sued the then-head of the Office of White House Advance.
In the process of the lawsuit, they uncovered a White House manual that gave instructions on how to handle protesters. (See "White House Manual for Silencing Critics".)
This manual says:
"As always, work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route."
The document also recommends drowning out protesters or blocking their signs by using what it calls "rally squads." It states: "These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."
The document also offers advice on how to recruit members for such squads: "The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities."
On August 16, the ACLU announced that a settlement had been reached, with the government agreeing to pay the Ranks $80,000 to make the case go away.
"This settlement is a real victory not only for our clients but for the First Amendment," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. "As a result of the Ranks' courageous stand, public officials will think twice before they eject peaceful protesters from public events for exercising their right to dissent."