Patricia Nell Warren

More on the Candidate Security Flap

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | February 23, 2008 8:42 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, campaign security, Dallas, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, terrorism

Suspension of weapons security before the 2/20 Obama rally in Dallas, and allegations by Dallas police that the Secret Service allowed security to lapse, was briefly reported in mainstream media. But the story hasn't gotten explosive network attention. I first heard about the incident from my activist friend John Selig, who lives in Dallas and called me to say that the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram had broken the story. Dallas was buzzing about it. John had made a few phone calls, and said he was told by someone in Obama's organization that the security lapse had been mentioned on CNN. I didn't spend the last 24 hours watching CNN for the story, but it isn't even featured on the CNN website.

However, the UPI jumped on the story. It also went the route online, with Huffington Post, TruthOut and quite a few notable blogs. But mostly the network news focused elsewhere -- on the death of a Dallas police officer in a accident during Clinton's motorcade, as well as ongoing analysis of the Texas debate and developing security issues at the U.S.'s Serbian embassy, not to mention Jennifer Lopez giving birth to twins, the upcoming Oscars and other items of a tabloidy nature.

Some background on campaign security is helpful, to see what a tangled web it can become. Ordinarily the Secret Service doesn't provide protection for Presidential candidates unless their campaigns request it and meet certain criteria. According to a Washington Post story in May last year, the Dept. of Homeland Security did order the Secret Service onto security detail for Obama. The Post said, "The security detail was prompted by general concerns about the safety of a prominent black candidate. Although there was no direct threat to Obama, several factors raised concerns, including some racist chatter on white supremacist Web sites." This DHS decision, and other Secret Service commitments, have put a strain on Secret Service resources and budget, the Post said.

It's also important to know the different layerings of campaign security operations. The DHS would be concerned about overall security, including any terrorist threat directed at a crowd, not just the candidate. Secret Security is chiefly concerned with putting "suits" around a candidate's person. A lot goes on with hidden cameras and radio communications that the public never sees, as the Secret Service keep an overview on the area and people who might look suspicious to them. Additional security details can be done by private security firms hired locally by the candidate's campaign organization, to do things like operate metal detectors and check backpacks. Finally, an interface with local law enforcement is mandatory under DHS rules.

The Star-Telegram said there were reports that weapons security was similarly suspended at some previous campaign events as well, including other Obama appearances. The reason for doing this was allegedly that long lines of people had piled up, waiting to get into the building, and the weapons check was going slowly. So somebody made the decision to let people go in without checking them, ensuring that the house would be full before the event started. My business partner Tyler St. Mark, who consulted for political campaigns in past years, says that a candidate's campaign manager is most always a party to security decisions.

Late last night John Selig posted a comment to my original blog, including an eyewitness account from a friend of his, Barry Bragg, who actually attended the Dallas rally for Obama. Bragg also talked to me this morning. He said that the long lines had built up because the security forces (who wore badges reading TSA and looked to be a local security company) had only one check-point going. Bragg emailed John, "It seemed as if the huge crowd was going through one entrance and one metal detector, which was not nearly enough for that size group."

According to the Star-Telegram, the Dallas police told the paper that the order to stop checking came from "federal officials." However, according to Tyler St. Mark, a decision to hurry people to their seats could also come from someone in a campaign staff who was in charge there at the rally venue, and who was worried that TV cameras might show empty seats for Obama's appearance.

The Secret Service are denying that an order was actually given to halt weapons security. They insist that what they did was their routine MO for this campaign, part of a "comprehensive plan." Imagine the uproar around U.S. air travel if security checks were similarly suspended for the last few people boarding an airplane.

Perhaps certain major media have chosen to low-ball the story in hopes of not putting ideas into the head of some angry person with a gun out there. Certainly many Americans feel ouchy about even discussing violence against a Presidential candidate. For months I have been feeling a spooky underground attention on this subject, with politically minded friends expressing their concern to me in hush-hush tones but little being said about it in the media. Older Americans' have live memories of that horrific moment when candidate Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968. One Bilerico reader emailed me privately to say that he even hesitated to post something publicly, for fear of feeding into an atmosphere that might prompt violence against a candidate.

Obama's organization has not made any public comment, that I know of, so perhaps they are feeling their own reluctance to feed a news frenzy. Hillary Clinton has her own Secret Service detail, a courtesy provided for all former First Ladies, and I'm wondering what decisions have been made, if any, to suspend weapons checks at her own events.

When all is said and done, I note the OMG shock of many Americans when they first heard about this security lapse. Yesterday the Star-Telegram reported that "comments were flooding in." One person who contacted the newspaper said, "This is sickening and those in charge should be fired!!" The news has hit especially hard on the sensibilities of Obama's LGBT supporters, who are still feeling devastated by what an angry person with a gun did to 15-year-old Lawrence King just a week and a half ago.

My one personal experience with candidate security (running for city council in West Hollywood last year) certainly didn't have any life-and-death issues around it. But I'm flabbergasted that this routine MO, if that's what it was, happened to a Presidential candidate, given the volatile nature of the world we're living in. And I think we DO have to talk about it, to make sure that things get tightened up.

Whatever the reasons or excuses for the pullback of security -- routine, lack of resources, etc. -- this strange story comes back to one basic fact. The whole brouhaha started because some members of the Dallas police department were upset at seeing weapons security lifted during the last hour. The Star-Telegram got wind of their concerns and staff writer Jack Douglas went to work. Now that this security loophole is public knowledge, presumably things will get tightened up.

And one more thing. If funding for the government's end of campaign security is that tight, the Bush administration should scratch around and find some money that is being wasted on cronyism and pork somewhere, and divert it to the Secret Service budget. Security is one of those things that you can't dare to do halfway.

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I do not think it is a matter of giving any one ideas, since the crazies already will have more than enough. I would like to believe that America has grown enough that we will not see any problems, beyond the bigots not voting for him, but then, that may be wishful thinking on my part.

I think the racists will vote with ballots, and not bullets, in this election.

John R. Selig | February 23, 2008 10:30 PM


For any readers who question the need for intense security for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and any other progressive candidates , I invite you to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) website

The SPLC maintains a 2006 Intelligence Report 2006 Map of Active Hate Groups by State on their site. Be prepared. This is extremely frightening. The extent of hate in our country is more deeply routed than most of us know. According to the SPLC maps there are hate groups in every state in the country with the exception of Rhode Island. Here is the Map Link:

The SPLC state maps split the hate groups into Black Separatist, General Hate, Neo-Confederate, Racist Skinhead, Christian Identity, Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi and White Nationalists and shows the locations of each group by state. Go to their map site and click on a state for details. There is also an accompanying table that identifies the groups and chapters by city.

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. The SPLC’s list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports. Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing on their site does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm and is located in Montgomery, Alabama. Today, SPLC is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups. The SPLC legal department fights all forms of discrimination and works to protect society's most vulnerable members, handling innovative cases that few lawyers are willing to take. Over three decades, it has achieved significant legal victories, including landmark Supreme Court decisions and crushing jury verdicts against hate groups. The SPLC has extensive material on hate against many groups including LGBT folks.

After visiting the SPLC site, I don’t think sane person can question the need for extensive security for presidential candidates (especially any that happen not to be white, male, Christian or heterosexual!

I can't believe there hasn't been more said. Giving them ideas? They already have them.