WASHINGTON – Some of President Bush’s supporters seem to be going overboard in their efforts to stifle dissent when he comes to town to talk about changing Social Security.
In Denver, three people say they were booted out of a presidential event last week even though they never uttered a peep, apparently because their car bore a bumper sticker denouncing the war in Iraq.
In Fargo, N.D., last month, local Republicans developed a blacklist of more than three dozen residents, including a city commissioner, who were to be banned from Bush’s visit.
White House officials say they have nothing to do with the exclusions, which they blame on overzealous supporters.
“We welcome a diversity of views at the events,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday, although in fact participants at the events are carefully screened and dissenting voices are rare.
There was no welcome mat for Alex Young and his two companions when they showed up to see Bush on March 21 in Denver. Bush was there for one of a series of “conversations” about his plan to change Social Security.
Young and his friends, Karen Bauer and Leslie Weise, had barely gotten in the door before they were unceremoniously shown the exit by a man who refused to explain his actions. They thought he was a Secret Service agent because he had an earpiece and an official-looking lapel pin.
Young said he was later told by Secret Service officials that he and his friends had been ejected by a local Republican volunteer who’d been spurred to action by the bumper sticker on their car: “No More Blood for Oil.”
Complaints about tight restrictions at Bush’s events have become common. His presidential campaign used tight crowd-control screens last fall, and similar tactics now seem to be employed at official presidential stops, which unlike campaign events are paid for by taxpayers’ dollars.
During Bush’s Feb. 3 visit to Fargo, the local newspaper published a list of about 40 local residents who were supposed to be barred from the White House-sponsored event. City Commissioner Linda Coates, a Democrat, was on the list along with her husband, Mike, but she got in anyway.
In Denver, Young, a 25-year-old information-technology worker, acknowledges that he and his friends had initially intended to protest Bush’s appearance. All wore “Stop the Lies” T-shirts under their outer clothing. They had planned to expose their shirts while shouting the slogan.
“It was kind of juvenile. When we got inside, we decided not to do that,” he said.
Young said the man who ejected him had no way of knowing about the aborted protest because they kept their opinions to themselves during their brief time at the event. They got tickets to Bush’s appearance through Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., who handed them out without asking about party affiliation.
Still unclear is precisely who was behind the decision to eject the three people. Colorado Republican Party officials, the Secret Service and a spokesman for Beauprez all said they had nothing to do with it.
White House spokesman McClellan said: “My sense is that the volunteer felt that these individuals were coming to the event to disrupt it. If people are coming to the event to disrupt it, naturally they are going to be asked to leave.”