Trump team wants to charge for free speech outside White House


They also want to block off 80 percent of the sidewalks outside the White House to protesters, and limit spontaneous demonstrations.

Days after activists stormed Washington, D.C. to protest Trump's nomination of alleged sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the administration is moving to significantly curtail the free speech rights of White House protesters — and even charge them for exercising those rights.

"The Trump administration proposes to dramatically limit the right to demonstrate near the White House and on the National Mall, including in ways that would violate court orders that have stood for decades," the ACLU warns.

The new proposal, drafted by the National Park Service, would restrict nearly 80 percent of the area directly in front of the White House by closing the sidewalk there, which is situated in Lafayette Park.

It would limit spontaneous demonstrations — the kind where citizens mobilize their friends to get down to the White House right now to protest something awful that just happened — and also ban the use of a small stage or sound system unless a permit has been sought 48 hours in advance.

On top of all of that, the park service is also considering charging protesters for things like trash removal and turf damage incurred during the demonstration.

"But of course, the park service does not plan to charge the 45 million non-demonstrators who visit the National Mall every year for the fencing and sanitation their presence requires or for the harm to the turf that they cause," the ACLU points out. "While the park service may be strapped for funds, it cannot balance its budget on the backs of people seeking to exercise their constitutional rights."

The ACLU stressed that such fees could make mass protests on the National Mall, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington speech, too expensive to mount.

No justification was given by the park service for closing all but 5 feet of the 25-foot-wide sidewalk outside the White House to demonstrators.

Any such attempted closure would likely spark a legal battle, since a previous court order allows at least 750 protesters to gather in front of the White House.

The move to silence speech not only comes after activists loudly protested Brett Kavanaugh, but after the 2016 campaign when Trump openly incited violence against protesters.

"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell," Trump told followers at a February 2016 rally. "I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise."

Later that same month, as a protester was being led out of a rally, Trump announced, "He's walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing. I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you."

Members of the public have until October 15 to comment on the park service's proposal — and to tell Trump exactly what they think about not just limiting free speech outside the White House, but also charging for it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.