Reagan Years

1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984
Reagan's Second Term (1981-85)
Bush - Clinton

At the time the round-the-clock vigil began -- on June 3, 1981 -- it was five months after Reagan's first inauguration. People were still allowed to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk.

But Ronald Reagan's "trickle-down" theories required that traditions be rewritten. In January, 1983, Department of Interior Secretary James Watt penned a memo declaring his intent to ban demonstrations from the White House sidewalk AND Lafayette Park. The CCNV folks were arrested for their tents in the park. And the unsheltered peace vigilers were simultaneously arrested on the White House sidewalk, also charged with "camping."

In those days the judges were still throwing camping cases out of court.

After a February-April 1983 campaign by the Washington Times (Reagan loved the Washington Times), new regulations were written banishing vigils from the White House sidewalk across the street to Lafayette Park. But this didn't solve the DOI's problem. The vigil continued. U.S. Park Police and DOI lawyers continued working together to make remaining in the park extremely uncomfortable (even though 24-hour vigils are expressly permitted), using the recently-published "camping" regulation over and over to criminalize what was formerly protected behavior.

During the wee hours of the mornings, when tourists weren't about, U.S. Park Police lurked, threatened, and often arrested the vigilers (sometimes brutally). When drunk marines or Young Americans for Freedom pranksters attacked the vigilers, the police usually were nowhere to be found. In court, several officers lied. At least one friendly officer later apologized for arresting us, explaining he was "just following orders." At that time, their boss was Deputy Chief Lindsey, who took a continuing personal interest in removing the "problem" from the park.

On January 25, 1984, President Reagan said in his State of the Union address,"send away the doubting Thomases." On January 31, 1984, Thomas and Concepcion were arrested. Charges were dropped soon after Reagan was served with a motion for discovery.

DOI lawyer DOI lawyer Richard Robbins closely advised the Park Police how the ever-more-complicated regulations should be interpreted.

In November 1984 Thomas, Concepcion, and Ellen filed a lawsuit trying to put a stop to police misconduct under cover of the DOI regulations. Becoming plaintiffs rather than defendants put them in a slightly more favorable position in the media as well as in court. Police became slightly more circumspect. It took prosecutors four more years and another regulation to find a judge who would reluctantly send the vigilers to prison for three months on "camping" tickets issued by order of superiors.

NEXT: Reagan's Second Term (1985-89)

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