After publishing this report I was contacted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The individual involved never returned my call. Instead I heard from Brian Hale who said he had been with Director Morton at the event recently held at the University of Virginia and discussed in my report. He told me that ICE in fact had nothing to do with contacting activists, that in fact Ed Ryan (who had contacted local residents from an ICE email address) actually worked for Federal Protective Services which used to fall under ICE and still has some ICE email addresses. I asked Hale, regardless of department, why any branch of Homeland Security was using our money to contact us in a manner that intimidated people out of exercising their First Amendment rights. Hale told me to ask Federal Protective Services (FPS).
I reached Rob Winchester at FPS. I asked him about the January 20th MovetoAmend.org "Occupy the Courts" events held here in Charlottesville, Va., and around the country. He said that FPS inspectors had tried to facilitate events in order to get them permitted and make them legal. Some of the events, he said, were on federal property. The intent had been dialogue and not intimidation. If people were intimidated, he said, he apologized for that.
I told Winchester that the street corner where the Charlottesville event was held is routinely used for demonstrations without permits or authorizations beyond the First Amendment, and that we have never had a problem, but that the FPS contacts instructing people to inform authorities of their plans by certain deadlines and so forth had in fact intimidated people out of exercising their rights.
Winchester replied that at one location elsewhere in the country some people had "been pushing against the barricades." I didn't ask what the barricades were doing there. In another location, he said, "our folks were laughing and joking with the people there." Mine was the first report of any intimidation, he said.
I pointed out that people who are intimidated by FPS contact do not phone in to the FPS to report that they feel intimidated. Winchester said that he understood and would pass this along as "lessons learned." I thanked him for his apology and for understanding. But this is clearly a work in progress. Many would like to be free to hold rallies without the presence of a militarized federal force, regardless of whether that force is joking and laughing with us. Many would like to be left alone to exercise their First Amendment rights undisturbed rather than fund Big Brother to the tune of $75 billion per year, no matter how benevolent the intentions. The problem is not Ryan or Winchester but the system they have made themselves a part of.
My advice to intimidated activists is to not leave me the only person phoning in to complain. Phone in. Phone every day. Ask for a meeting to discuss the problem. Call 202-282-8000.