Recently by Justin Raimondo: Setting the Trap
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought by Steven Howards, a Colorado man arrested by Secret Service agents when he confronted then-Vice President Dick Cheney at a shopping mall and told him he thought the Iraq war was “disgusting.” Howards happened to be in the mall when he noticed Cheney was there, signing books and posing for photographs with mall-goers: he phoned a friend and told him he was going to wait on line for a chance to pose with the Vice President and then tell him what he thought of the war: “I’m going to ask him [Cheney] how many kids he’s killed today.”
A Secret Service agent overheard him and put out an alert to watch for the man in the green t-shirt. Howards got in line, waited for his turn to pose with Cheney, and when it was his turn he delivered his message, to which Cheney replied, rather stupidly: “Thank you.”
What happened next is in dispute: the Secret Service claims he “pushed off” and even “slapped” the VP: Howards says he was merely patting the war criminal on the shoulder. In any case, Howards at first denied touching Cheney at all, later admitting he might have had a brief contact – and this was the pretext for his arrest. The agents followed Howards as he was looking for his son in the mall, and confronted him, as the Christian Science Monitor reports:
“Agent Virgil Reichle flashed his badge and asked to speak with Howards. Howards refused and attempted to resume the search for his son.
“The agent stepped in front of Howards and accused him of assaulting the vice president.
“Howards pointed his finger at Agent Reichle and said: “If you don’t want other people sharing their opinions, you should have him [Cheney] avoid public places.”
“According to the appeals court: “Agent Reichle became ‘visibly angry’ when Mr. Howards shared his opinion on the Iraq war.”
“The agent asked Howards if he ‘assaulted’ the vice president. Howards denied assaulting the vice president.
“The agent next asked whether Howards ‘touched’ the vice president. Howards, again, denied the agent’s accusation.
“Howards was taken into federal custody for assaulting Cheney. According to the appeals court, four agents ‘assisted in restraining Mr. Howards during his arrest.’”
No federal charges were ever filed against Howards: a state prosecutor did charge him, but the charges were dropped. Howards then filed a lawsuit against the two Secret Service agents on the grounds that his First Amendment rights were violated: that his arrest was in retaliation for the content of his speech. The agents claimed immunity from prosecution because they had “probable cause” to arrest Howards because he had touched Cheney and later lied about it: lying to a federal agent is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
This case epitomizes everything that has gone wrong with our corrupt society, because what it dramatizes is the corruption of our old republic into a bloated, decadent empire. You’ll note the two Praetorian Guards, who nowhere deny Howards’ speech prompted them to make the arrest, utilize as their defense the notion that the person of a government official of Cheney’s stature is, literally, untouchable. The mere act of brushing up against him is akin to sacrilege, and vitiates Howards’ First Amendment rights to the point of nonexistence. And that he supposedly lied about it – there’s another violation of the aristocratic prerogative of government officials, whose majesty is so great that it rubs off on their guards and hirelings, who must not be lied to under any circumstances.
In short, the Vice President and his retinue, because they are government officials, are granted immunity from the exigencies of life as it is experienced by ordinary citizens – which includes being lied to, and subjected to speech they may find unpleasant and insulting. Their persons are sacred – untouchable. In the eyes of the law, they are in a class by themselves, over and above the human herd: they are, in short, aristocrats, lords and ladies who must never be forced to endure the coarse obloquy heaped upon them by ignorant peasants such as Howards.
A federal appeals panel dismissed Howards’ Fourth Amendment claim of false arrest on the grounds that since there was physical contact, the arrest was justified – but refused to throw out the First Amendment claim, the Monitor reports, “noting that it is beyond debate whether federal officials are entitled to retaliate against a citizen who expresses an opinion with which the officials disagree.”
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.