WASHINGTON - Not that they're worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn't want any.A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country.
Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.
But that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."
The "Presidential Advance Manual," dated October 2002 with the stamp "Sensitive -- Do Not Copy," was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004. The techniques described have become familiar over the 6 1/2 years of Bush's presidency, but the manual makes it clear how organized the anti-protest policy really is.
The lawsuit was filed by Jeffery and Nicole Rank, who attended the Charleston event wearing shirts with the word "Bush" crossed out on the front; the back of his shirt said "Regime Change Starts at Home," while hers said "Love America, Hate Bush." Members of the White House event staff told them to cover their shirts or leave, according to the lawsuit. They refused and were arrested, handcuffed and briefly jailed before local authorities dropped the charges and apologized. The federal government settled the First Amendment case last week for $80,000, but with no admission of wrongdoing.
The manual demonstrates "that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. "Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it's not a favorable one."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that he could not discuss the manual because it is an issue in two other lawsuits.
The manual offers advance staffers and volunteers who help set up presidential events guidelines for assembling crowds. Those invited into a VIP section on or near the stage, for instance, must be " extremely supportive of the Administration," it says. While the Secret Service screens audiences only for possible threats, the manual says, volunteers should examine people before they reach security checkpoints and look out for signs. Make sure to look for "folded cloth signs," it advises.
To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming' throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems," the manual says.
"These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators," it says. "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."
Advance teams are advised not to worry if protesters are not visible to the president or cameras: "If it is determined that the media will not see or hear them and that they pose no potential disruption to the event, they can be ignored. On the other hand, if the group is carrying signs, trying to shout down the President, or has the potential to cause some greater disruption to the event, action needs to be taken immediately to minimize the demonstrator's effect."
The manual adds in bold type: "Remember -- avoid physical contact with demonstrators! Most often, the demonstrators want a physical confrontation. Do not fall into their trap!" And it suggests that advance staff should "decide if the solution would cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone."
The staff at the West Virginia event may have missed that line.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company