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Brett A. Bursey, convicted, Jan. 6, 2004, affirmed, Sept. 14 2004, affirmed, 416 F.3d 301 (July 25 2005) (“No war for oil”).

The State (Columbia South Carolina)

The State (Columbia South Carolina, January 13 2004)

As Court Ruled, Bursey’s Free Speech Not Trampled

J. Strom Thurmond Jr., Guest columnist

Ever since local activist Brett Bursey was arrested at Columbia Metropolitan Airport during a visit by President Bush on Oct. 24, 2002, he has been on a relentless campaign to convince people that his First Amendment free speech rights were callously trampled by the government.

Bursey claimed he was singled out for arrest and prosecution solely because he was carrying a sign that expressed opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq. He has even gone so far as to insist that the Secret Service conspired to violate his First Amendment free speech rights by trying to isolate him and other protesters at a remote location so the president would not be exposed to their unfavorable messages.

But there’s a problem with Bursey’s version of the events of that day: When given the opportunity to prove that there was any merit to any of these wild claims, he could not do it.

Because of his antics at the airport, Bursey was charged with violating a federal law that prohibits unauthorized people from entering or remaining in an area the Secret Service has restricted for the security of the president of the United States.

During the trial in federal court before Judge Bristow Marchant, Bursey’s attorneys had the chance to subpoena and question everyone who had any information about what happened at the airport that day, including Secret Service agents, local law enforcement officers and Bursey’s fellow demonstrators. He was allowed to assert defenses based on his claims of selective prosecution and unconstitutional enforcement of the law, and his attorneys argued these issues at length.

He had a virtually unlimited opportunity to present whatever evidence he wanted in an effort to prove he had been wronged by the government.

End result? After the two-day trial, Judge Marchant issued a detailed, 13-page order in which he flatly rejected each of Bursey’s claims, and he did so for the most basic of reasons: Bursey had simply failed to produce any evidence to support any of them.

And despite Bursey’s wild claims to the contrary, Judge Marchant found that the law enforcement officers who dealt with Bursey that day did nothing wrong — their actions were both reasonable and lawful, and they never violated his constitutional rights. Based on the trial testimony and the judge’s order, here’s what actually happened that day:

As part of its effort to protect the president, the Secret Service designated certain areas at the airport as secure, which meant that only authorized people would be allowed to enter or remain in those areas when the president arrived. This secure area included the area around the Doolittle Hangar, through which the presidential limousine would travel when the rally ended. Law enforcement officers, including Secret Service agents, were posted in and around these areas to control access and to make sure no unauthorized persons remained in them.

Before the president’s arrival, people attending the rally were allowed to walk through the secure area to get in line and to pass through metal detectors before entering the Doolittle Hangar. Since the airport remained open for a time, cars were allowed to pass through the secure area and drive to the main terminal.

About an hour before Air Force One landed, Bursey arrived at the airport and began holding up a sign that read “No War for Oil.” Bursey was approached by a Secret Service agent and a SLED agent and was asked to leave because he was located in the secure area and no one was going to be allowed to remain there when the president arrived.

Over the next 30 minutes Bursey argued with the officers and refused to leave. Bursey was told the Columbia Metropolitan Airport Police had designated an area for demonstrators that would have placed him closer to the president than where he was standing, but he rejected this alternative. He was told that if he had a ticket he was free to get in line and attend the event, but Bursey made it clear that he did not intend to attend the rally.

It was clear to the officers that Bursey did not intend to leave the secure area under any circumstances. Interestingly, during this time Bursey was joined by several fellow demonstrators, and all of them left when they were told they would be arrested if they remained in the secure area.

As Air Force One approached Columbia, the secure area was cleared of all unauthorized people, including those who were attending the rally. Bursey still refused to move, and since he wouldn’t leave voluntarily, the police had no choice but to arrest him.

Given these facts, it’s obvious that this case had nothing to do with free speech and didn’t involve any violation of Bursey’s constitutional rights. Everyone at the airport that day was treated the same regardless of whether they were a supporter of President Bush or if they were there to demonstrate against him and his policies. The only exception of course was Bursey, who, unlike every other person who was there, refused to follow the lawful orders of law enforcement officers. Bursey was the only person at the airport that day who broke the law, and for that reason and that reason alone, Bursey was the only person arrested.

Free speech is alive and well in South Carolina, which is clearly proven by Bursey’s ability to discuss his imagined plight in detail in both local and national media. And the citizens can rest assured that while the U.S. attorney’s office remains prepared to protect and defend that very important right, we also stand prepared to vigorously prosecute those, like Bursey, who intentionally violate the law.

Mr. Thurmond is the U.S. attorney for South Carolina.

Copyright © 2004 The State


Source: The State, archives.

By CJHjr: Formatted (xhtml/css), bold-face, links, text {in braces}, highlighting.

Response: Brett Bursey, “Prosecuted for politics, not security” (The State, Columbia South Carolina, Jan. 31 2004):

“Mr. Thurmond said:

“He has even gone so far as to insist that the Secret Service conspired to violate his First Amendment free speech rights by trying to isolate him and other protesters at a remote location so the president would not be exposed to their unfavorable messages.”

I couldn’t have said it better.”

This case: United States v. Brett A. Bursey (D.S.C., No. 3:03cr309), criminal information filed, March 7 2003, jury trial denied, June 4, magistrate bench trial, Nov. 12-13, verdict, Jan. 6 2004 (guilty, $500 fine) (Bristow Marchant, U.S. Magistrate Judge), district appeal docketed, Jan. 13 2004, affirmed, Sept. 14 2004 (Cameron McGowan Currie, U.S. District Judge), circuit appeal docketed, Oct. 7 2004, affirmed, July 25 2005, 416 F.3d 301 {altlaw, 64kb.pdf, 64kb.pdf}, rehearing denied, Sept. 8 2005 (4th Cir., No. 04-4832), petition for certiorari, docketed, Dec. 14 2005, denied Jan. 17 2006 (U.S., No. 05-767).

In my opinion, this document is not copyrighted and may be freely copied. This, because writings by U.S. government officials in the course of their duties are not copyrightable. Here, political hammer, J. Strom Thurmond Jr., appointed by George W. Bush, is attempting to defend his decision, to prosecute a political critic, Brett Bursey, and thereby menace, deter, silence like-minded onlookers, no threat to the person of the prosecutor’s Great Leader, but a political threat, yes, to his schemes, his public standing.

Charles Judson Harwood Jr.


Posted May 6 2004. Updated March 2 2008.


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