The Hightower Report

Punishing thought crimes: Bush cracks down on dissent, and the GOP rejects your right to read


What do Kalamazoo, Evansville, Albuquerque, Stockton, Trenton, Phoenix, Columbia, St. Louis, Knoxville, and Charleston have in common?

All are among the cities where the secret service or police have jailed people for displaying anti-Bush signs during public appearances by his eminence, King George the W. Is this America, the land of the free?

That's what Nicole and Jeff Rank asked themselves this July Fourth as they were taken away in handcuffs by police in their town of Charleston, W.Va. What was their heinous crime? They were guilty of not being Bush supporters.

George W.'s Independence Day trip to Charleston was billed as an official presidential visit, not a campaign rally. Nicole and Jeff – two patriotic, hardworking, taxpaying Americans – were in the crowd, quietly exercising their free-speech rights. They wore T-shirts declaring: "Love America, Hate Bush."

They had proper tickets to the event, they proudly sang the national anthem with everyone else, they were in no way disorderly – but they were not politically correct, so they were summarily arrested, taken to jail, finger-printed ... and charged with "trespassing." Others who were there wearing pro-Bush T-shirts and Bush campaign paraphernalia at this public event on public property were not arrested. It seems that the Bushites define "trespassers" by their political beliefs.

Nicole, who worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Charleston, was promptly told that her services were no longer required. Technically, she wasn't fired, but she was "released" from her job and not reassigned – meaning she no longer gets paid.

But Nicole and Jeff are still not bowing to King George. Despite the financial hardship, they're fighting Bush's absurd, un-American assault on their constitutional right to dissent. They're not the only ones being denied their right to speak out – dissenters all across America are being treated like this. To fight this autocratic lockdown, call the ACLU: 212/549-2500.


After a recent congressional vote on the Freedom to Read Protection Act, one angry member said: "You win some, and some get stolen."

He was a Republican, defying George W., John Ashcroft, and his own party's top leadership in Congress – all of whom lobbied furiously (and unethically) to defeat this act, which sought to ensure one of our most basic American liberties: the right to keep government snoops and bullies from secretly spying on the reading habits of perfectly innocent citizens. What could be more Mom and apple pie than that?

Bush, Ashcroft, and gang, however, had undermined this fundamental freedom with a nasty provision they tucked into their infamous, liberty-busting USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. It allows federal agents to get a secret order from a secret court to walk into any public library or bookstore and demand the records of any and all patrons, without showing anyone – even the court – any evidence that the people being investigated are involved in any criminal activity whatsoever. It's jackbooted autocratic power like this that led to the American Revolution.

And just as in 1776, today's librarians, bookstore owners, writers, and freedom-loving people of all political stripes have risen up against the Bushites' authoritarian, un-American intrusion into our privacy. This grassroots uprising led to the Freedom to Read Act, which would have halted the intrusion.

The good news is that the act passed 219-201. The sad news is that the GOP hierarchy then cheated. They held the vote open beyond the 15 minutes allowed by the rules, taking an extra 23 minutes while the leaders broke the arms of nine Republicans, forcing them to switch votes. This finally produced a 210-210 tie, defeating the act. In other words, the Bushites stole it ... and they also stole an important piece of our liberties.

But we've only begun to fight this insult to democracy. To join the uprising, call the American Library Association: 800/545-2433.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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