Washington Times March 16, 1983

by Gene Gotz
Washington Times Staff

Police are denying there is any new policy, but the street people and the clutter of protest signs have disappeared from in front of the White House.

William Thomas, an anti-nuclear protester, has been swept away by police three times since last Friday. And others, such as Concepcion Picciotto, another anti-nuke regular who plastered her signs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, have vanished from the scene.

The U.S. Park Police deny there is any new crackdown, but there has been a near feud involving the police, the courts and various Lafayette Park protesters for at least two years, and sources have told The Washington Times that the cluttered sidewalks in front of the White House have been a topic of discussion lately among the Secret Service, the Park Police and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"It has been an ongoing problem," sadi Sandra Alley, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

"Hundreds of thousands of people come to Washington, the nation's catipal, and for many of these it is a once in a lifetime experience.

"We must protect the rights of these persons who visit the capital, as well as theose who demonstrate. But I don't think I'd call it a crackdown."

Thomas was arrested Friday and charged with arson, when, according to Metropolitan Police, he poured a flammable fluid on a three-sided wooden structure and set fire to it.

Thomas, who police say has "no fixed address," was warned shortly before his arrest by Park Police that the presence of the structure, in which Thomas sometimes sat, was in violation of the law. Thomas claims it is a sign and, therefore, protected by First Amendment rights.

After the warning, Thomas moved his structure toward the Old Executive Office Building. when he ignited it, he was arrested by D.C. police because he had moved into their jurisdiction.

Thomas phoned the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday morning and reported he had been arrested Friday, Sunday and yesterday in front of the White House, ACLU spokesman Arthur Spitzer said.

After Friday's arrest, General Services Administration employees showed up in front of the White House to haul away Thomas' several protest signs.

"He's been a regular protester at the White House sidewalk close to two years." Spitzer said. "He did say when he called that he has to make more signs." The ACLU does not have a view whether Thomas' rights are being infringed or not. "We have never represented him in court."

The Washington Times printed two editorials in February berating, "the garbage that passes for protest signs" in front of the White House and calling for "an act of Congress if necessary" to clean up the mess.

Neither the Park Police nor anyone else would acknowledge yesterday that a concerted cleanup was under way. But with the arrest of Thomas three different times, the other protesters along Pennsylvania Avenue have departed.

It is the first time, old White House watchers said, at least since before the Vietnam War, that strollers can get a clear view through all parts of the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue.