Officially, the Secret Service does not concern itself with unarmed, peaceful demonstrators who pose no danger to the commander in chief. But that policy was inoperative in Pennsylvania Thursday when seven AIDS activists who heckled President Bush during a campaign appearance were shoved and pulled from the room — some by their hair, one by her bra straps — and then arrested for disorderly conduct and detained for an hour, reports the Washington Post. After Bush campaign bouncers handled the evictions, Secret Service agents, accompanied by Bush’s personal aide, supervised the arrests and detention of the activists and blocked the news media from access to the hecklers.
The Bush campaign has made unprecedented efforts to control access to its events. Sometimes, people are required to sign oaths of support before attending events with Bush or Vice President Cheney. At times, buses of demonstrators are diverted by police to idle in parking lots while supporters are waved in. And the Secret Service has played an unusual role; one agent cooperated with a plan by the Bush campaign last month to prevent former senator Max Cleland, a Kerry ally, from handing a letter to the agent outside Bush’s Texas ranch. On Thursday, journalists were told that if they sought to approach the seven demonstrators, they would not be allowed to return to the event site. An agent, who did not give his name, told one journalist who was blocked from returning to the speech that this was punishment for approaching the demonstrators and that there was a “different set of rules” for reporters who did not seek out the activists.