2001 Inaugural Protests: Illegal Domestic Spying Operation Exposed

  • Background

    This litigation, brought by the Partnership for Civil Justice also on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, first exposed the use of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces against political dissenters, and revealed that the District of Columbia police department has been carrying out an illegal ongoing domestic spying operation in which officers are sent on long-term assignments to pose as political activists. To date, the plaintiffs have secured critical constitutional rights decisions that have been published, and which serve to establish and protect the First Amendment interests of all. Through hard-fought discovery litigation significant information has been obtainted regarding the illegal conduct of local and federal law enforcement against persons engaging in First Amendment activity.

    The case challenges what have become systematized mechanisms of government disruption of free speech and assembly to criminalize dissent, including the tactics, deployment, and use of Civil Disturbance Units by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department acting in conjunction with federal law enforcement authorities, against peaceful protesters. The tactics include the unconstitutional use of police lines to surround activists and detain and arrest them against their will, and the unconstitutional use of plain clothes or undercover intelligence agents to disrupt lawful protest, including the use of violent agents provocateurs as part of "intelligence" operations at the Bush Inauguration.

    The litigation has been featured on NOW with Bill Moyers and in the movie Unconstitutional.

    This litigation arose when in advance of Bush's first Inauguration, it became apparent that the government was refusing to provide demonstrators access to space along the parade route and was reserving to itself the unfettered discretion to obstruct, delay and prevent demonstrators from approaching the parade route through the use of an unprecedented gauntlet of checkpoints. The Partnership for Civil Justice filed suit.

    Judge Gladys Kessler, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, referring to the checkpoints as "odious" and connoting "a presence which is totally inconsistent with . . . our way of life" required that the Government conform its conduct to the requirements of the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

    Upon motion by the plaintiffs, Judge Kessler also struck down as unconstitutional a requirement of the District of Columbia that persons wishing to engage in free speech activities first gain permission from the Chief of Police.

    However, while requiring certain standards be met and requiring representations in Court from representatives of federal and local law enforcement, Judge Kessler did not prevent the government from using the checkpoints. On the day of the Inauguration, despite the representations made to the Court, local and federal police agencies, also acting in concert and joint action with the private Bush/Cheney Presidential Inaugural Committee, carried out widespread violations of the free speech rights of people who came to express their viewpoint in opposition to the incoming administration.

    In advance of the Inauguration the DC MPD infiltrated organizers meetings, including at home, deploying police to pose as long-term members of political groups. The infiltrators not only reported on the organizing activities and meetings of lawful political assembly, but also proposed that illegal conduct be carried-out by the activists.

    On January 20, 2001, tens of thousands of people from across the country converged on Washington, D.C. and braved driving rain and cold weather because they felt compelled to demonstrate against the policies of George W. Bush. More demonstrators were present for Bush's Inauguration than at any other since Richard M. Nixon's second swearing-in.

    At a primary entry and check point to the Parade route and the location finally given by permit to protestors, the private Bush-Cheney Presidential Inaugural Committee working jointly with the D.C. Police and federal law enforcement officers prevented activists from entering, creating a highly provocative situation, in order to stop activists from being along the route of the Presidential motorcade.

    At another location along the parade route, government agents provocateurs carried out felonious assaults, beating and pepper spraying peaceful protestors in order to disrupt their demonstration and assembly activities.

    Elsewhere, hundreds of protestors who were marching to get to the parade route were surrounded on all sides trapped, and detained and falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers with violence and force.

  • Legal Information

    International Action Center v. United States of America, et al.
    U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

    As a consequence of this federal court litigation, the MPD will now undertake significant changes in its police practices and training programs with regard to demonstrations.

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  • Press Coverage

    Police Agree to Protester Reforms

    The D.C. police department agreed to pay $685,000 and take steps to protect protesters from police abuse and ensure their rights to settle a lawsuit over the treatment of demonstrators at President Bush's inauguration in 2001.

    Civil Rights Group Settles With Police Over Inauguration Protests

    Civil rights lawyers representing protesters at President Bush's 2001 inauguration announced a settlement Tuesday with District of Columbia police that includes changes in department policies for handling demonstrations.
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