Thursday, August 23, 2007

Theater on a Grand Scale

Washington Post Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Want to wear a t-shirt protesting Bush? Want to hear one of his speeches, but don't really support him with the blind fervor of the neo-con right? Well, the organizers of those events have some pretty detailed instructions on how to deal with you, a "potential protestor". S

A White House manual from 2002 has recently come to light. The secret document gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country. And you thought that this sort of thing was covered under Free Speech, right? Nah, every single appearance by the president is carefully choreographed, carefully screened, and ever-so-carefully presented to the public.
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. [...]

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."
So, dissent and the expression of opposition to the president must be carefully shielded from Bush. I've been searching the news sites and can't find reports of this sort of thing from previous presidents. Protest has always been part of our political system, protesters have always shown up at presidential speeches, and their opposing views have never been squelched like this. We didn't have "free speech zones" set up before -- only now, when the president is attempting to garner unprecedented power to himself and is so unpopular that even the die-hard base is starting to question things. Can't let him see that people don't love him. Can't let him see that not everyone thinks he is right and righteous.

So what to do when those pesky citizens want to express their opinions? Well, set up your own operatives to shout them down, wave supportive signs, and keep a weather eye out for anyone who might disagree. Apparently, the actual supporters aren't excited and vocal enough for the producers of these moments of grand theater. They have to place shills in the audience to make sure that the watching public thinks that there are active supporters. Bush only performs for Potemkin audiences.
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.

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."
Theater. Grand theater, but requiring a level of disbelief that not many people can summon anymore. I'd rather see the latest Harry Potter movie. At least everyone there knows that it's fiction.

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