Bush administration and dissent

Written by  //  March 24, 2008  //  Media, Rights & Social justice, U.S.  //  No comments

This piece published in December 2003 was forwarded to us recently with the comment: This is one of the most chilling articles I have ever read–and it’s five years old (but still true). Bush will long be known for exercising his own form of McCarthyism.
We are surprised that there is not more current discussion of this deeply troubling trampling of the right of dissent.

“Free-Speech Zone”
The administration quarantines dissent.

By James Bovard
(The American Conservative Magazine) On Dec. 6, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft informed the Senate Judiciary Committee, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty … your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and … give ammunition to America’s enemies.” Some commentators feared that Ashcroft’s statement, which was vetted beforehand by top lawyers at the Justice Department, signaled that this White House would take a far more hostile view towards opponents than did recent presidents. And indeed, some Bush administration policies indicate that Ashcroft’s comment was not a mere throwaway line.
When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up “free speech zones” or “protest zones” where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.
Is the administration seeking to stifle domestic criticism? Absolutely. Is it carrying out a war on dissent? Probably not—yet. But the trend lines in federal attacks on freedom of speech should raise grave concerns to anyone worried about the First Amendment or about how a future liberal Democratic president such as Hillary Clinton might exploit the precedents that Bush is setting.

December 15, 2003 issue
Copyright © 2003
The American Conservative

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