Next Monday, January 21, over 3,000 law enforcement officers and some 13,000 military troops will descend on the Washington Mall. The occasion is not a coup but the presidential inauguration, which will prompt the kind of militarized police mobilization that is a hallmark of National Special Security Events (NSSEs).
In addition to the large uniformed presence, there will be horses, high-tech weaponry, and mobile checkpoints reminiscent of the street scenes outside this fall's Republican and Democratic national conventions. Protest policing around the RNC and DNC is the subject of a new report by National Lawyers Guild (NLG).
“All too often at National Special Security Events, we see law enforcement vilify protesters and trample the First Amendment in an effort to justify massive security spending and lasting crackdowns,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. “Our report offers a primer on the evolution of police tactics at NSSEs, which is essential to understanding the show of force that will usher in this president’s second term.”
Created in 1998 under President Bill Clinton, the NSSE designation requires federal and local law enforcement agencies to collaborate on event security under the management of the Secret Service. Each year since has seen at least one and as many as five NSSEs, including presidential inaugurations and nominating conventions as well as major sporting events and meetings of international banking bodies. The security efforts surrounding the events have come to be characterized by ballooning security budgets, the preemptive disruption of political activists, and restrictive local ordinances.
The NLG report outlines the way law enforcement agencies propagated the narrative of an anarchist terrorist threat before the RNC and DNC to justify $50 million security budgets and ordinances limiting protests in each host city. For instance, in the week before the RNC, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security released an intelligence bulletin warning of violence by “anarchist extremists.”
The conventions saw no protester violence but, in a disturbing development, the DNC left Charlotte with an anti-protest ordinance on the city’s books. The ordinance allows a city manager to invoke sweeping powers which tighten permitting, suspend probable cause for searches, and ban the possession of a host of household items. The ordinance did not expire at the DNC’s end as similar ordinances for past NSSEs have done.
In advance of the upcoming presidential inauguration, the National Park Service has revoked the permit for a major demonstration at Freedom Plaza, limiting the protesters to a 10-yard wide strip of sidewalk.
The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.
(212) 679-5100, ext. 15
This statement originally appeared on nlg.org on January 16, 2013.