The $80,000 Anti-Bush T-Shirts

A Texas couple was arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at an event where the President was scheduled to speak. Justice prevailed Thursday when the government settled the lawsuit for $80,000.
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Last year, I wrote on HuffingtonPost about a young Texas couple who had been arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July event in Charleston, West Virginia, where the President was scheduled to give a speech.

Jeff and Nicole Rank, of Corpus Christi, Texas had stood quietly in the crowd, wearing hand-drawn T-Shirts with Bush's name on the front and the international "No" symbol. They didn't yell, they didn't cause a fuss. Yet they were forcibly removed from the event by a phalanx of law enforcement officials at the behest of Bush operatives.

It was another egregious example of how little the Bush White House genuinely respects freedom of speech.

Can't spoil a Bush photo op, can we? Nonetheless, the Ranks' wrongful arrest made national news, and the ACLU decided to handle the couple's case against the U.S. government for a violation of their civil rights.

Well, justice prevailed (sort of) on Thursday, when the government settled the lawsuit for $80,000.

Leave it to a mealy-mouthed White House spokesperson named Blair Jones who said that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing. "The parties understand that this settlement is a compromise of disputed claims to avoid the expenses and risks of litigation and is not an admission of fault, liability, or wrongful conduct."

Come again? What "disputed claims?" There was nothing illegal in the Ranks' behavior on that Independence Day in 2004. They had every right to attend the speech, to wear anything they wanted. It was not a political event. It was open to the public. And yet, many in the crowd were wearing pro-Bush apparel, buttons, and the like.

According to the Associated Press, "the ACLU said in a statement that a presidential advance manual makes it clear that the government tries to exclude dissenters from the president's appearances. 'As a last resort,' the manual says, 'security should remove the demonstrators from the event.'"

The Bush administration simply can not admit to any wrongdoing or mistake-- large or small. Whether it's Iraq, Katrina, or that minor incident in Charleston, this White House lacks all accountability for its deplorable actions. Bush himself is the worst culprit who is immune to any and all self-criticism.

I am thrilled that the Ranks won their lawsuit. It marked a victory for the real America. Too often since 9/11, we have been exposed to the toxic, phony patriotism employed by the rightwing industrial complex. "You are either with us or against us" is their favorite mantra, and is used with great success to pummel their political opponents. This false, harmful dichotomy needs to be retired -- forever.

P.S. Here is the interview I did with the Jeff and Nicole Rank which appeared on HuffingtonPost, and which is excerpted from my book, "Patriots Act: Voices of Dissent and the Risk of Speaking Out." At the time, Nicole, worked for FEMA's Mid-Atlantic regional office, and Jeff was a marine biologist about to start his first year of law school.

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