By Harold Pease Ph. D
Perhaps the most offensive display at the Bundy Ranch Standoff was the posting April 1, by the BLM representatives of a sign FIRST AMENDMENT AREA for protestors. This coming days before the standoff certainly demonstrated their foreknowledge of impending opposition. An expandable red plastic three-foot-high wall encircled the area. In other words, those verbalizing disagreement with the BLM’s heavy-handed confiscation of Bundy cattle could only express themselves within this restricted area or risk being arrested.
Such was offensive to participants who promptly added to the sign “1st AMENDMENT IS NOT AN AREA” and thereafter refused to do their protesting where allowed by the government. Besides the area was too far away from the action causing the protesting. A sympathizer posted on the Internet a map of the United States with the words FREE SPEECH ZONE written over the length of the nation from California to South Carolina; this was the Founders interpretation and reverenced as so until more recent times.
Dave Bundy was the first to be arrested for taking video footage from a state highway of BLM agents rounding up his family’s cattle refusing to remain in the restricted area. Video footage now available showed that armed snipers had their guns trained on the family during the incident. Family members were told that they, “had no first amendment rights except for up by the bridge where they had established an area for that.” One does not have to wonder why the Bundy ordeal attracted freedom buffs from as far away as Connecticut.
I first heard of free speech zones during the George W. Bush Administration when there were so many demonstrations against invading Iraq. College campuses initiated the zones in what appeared to be designed to intentionally limit opposition. They were always too small and if more than one zone were allowed they were separated, seemingly to minimize the size of the opposition. A nephew, in San Francisco demonstrating against the war, was arrested because he could not fit within one of the small circles. He and hundreds more, also unable to fit within the approved dissent areas, were taken to warehouses somewhere in the city and housed until all were processed. He was confined for three days. The slow processing he considered intentional punishment for his dissent. I have spoken out against these 1st Amendment areas since. They do not exist in a free country.
The First Amendment clearly states that, “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Since Congress is the only entity that can make law as per Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution and since they have never passed such a law; the Executive Branch has no authority to “pen” dissent.
Unfortunately such has been altered by recent court decisions “stipulating that the government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not content—of expression,” hence the origin of free speech zones—decidedly a court perversion. “Though free speech zones existed in limited forms prior to the Presidency of George W. Bush; it was during Bush’s presidency that their scope was greatly expanded” (Wikipedia). After September 11, they were common. President Bush used the Secret Service to make certain such were not near where he might speak or pass by, a procedure closely emulated by President Barack Obama. Dissent is therefore noticeably reduced and less likely to be filmed. If such had been used against Martin Luther King, Jr. the Civil Rights Movement may never have gotten off the ground. Those refusing to dissent only in the government’s “proper” areas are charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, or trespassing. If the approved dissent areas are far from the president (some a half mile away) he may never know that the people are unhappy with him.
For the Bundy friends and neighbors, the governments “First Amendment Area” had the same shape and similarity as a cattle pen where the people would be cordoned off and neutralized. How can this be seen as petitioning the “Government for a redress of grievances?” No government! This is nothing more than a ploy to reduce dissent and the more regimental that you are, as in the case of the Bundy Standoff, the more you will use it. Court approval or not it is clearly unconstitutional. The Founders would have called it tyranny.