W. Thomas
POB 27217
Washington, DC 20038
April 19, 1999

Stan E. Lock
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive SW
Washington DC 20242

Dear Mr. Lock,

For nearly eighteen years now we have been maintaining a vigil in Lafayette Park. During the entirety of that period there has never been a single suggestion that we posed any threat to the security of anyone. On April 16, 1999 we received a Notice To The Public, over your signature, informing that portions of Lafayette Park "will be closed to the public ... on Friday, April 23 ... through Sunday, April 25." We have several problems with this proposed closure. First, the closure is going to interfere with our long-term, First Amendment activity. Second, in pertinent part, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides:

"Except in emergency situations a closure, designation, use or activity restriction or condition, or the termination ... which is of a nature, magnitude and duration that will result in a significant alteration in the public use pattern of the park area .... shall be published as rulemaking in the Federal Register." 36 CFR §1.5 (3)(b).

As preparations for this NATO birthday celebration have been in progress "for months," the proposed closure can hardly be considered an "emergency":

According to the Washington Post Jim Rice, the FBI special agent who supervises the agency's terrorism task force stated: "I get paid to be paranoid and think of everything that can go wrong. I also have to think of how to counter all the things that can go wrong. This is a fairly unique event. We've been preparing for it for months." See, April 14, 1999 enclosure

Initially it is important to remember that paranoia has long been recognized as a serious form of mental illness. Arguably, Mr. Rice may have thought he was just being funny, but that's arguable. Perhaps 36 CFR §1.5 (3)(b) requires park closures to be "published as rulemaking in the Federal Register" to afford interested parties ample opportunity to challenge the sanity, or simply sound judgment, of supervisory special agents who might be exercising official power on a patently irrational, or merely unsound, basis.

In light of their present activities in the Balkans, NATO operatives may have heightened security concerns surrounding their birthday fete. Still, it is difficult to imagine how a blanket 24-hour, three day closure of the areas indicated in the Notice To The Public is anything other than a gross overreaction. One needn't be a "security expert" to realize that Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed to all but police vehicles for several years now. Further, it has been repeatedly proven that the overwhelming number of police stationed in Lafayette Park is
sufficient to close the entire park in minutes. Thus, between April 23-25 if there are actually periods when there are identifiable security concerns, such as when NATO dignitaries are actually present, the areas of concern could easily be secured. Conversely, in the absence of any actual security concern a blanket closure of the area would seem at best, "paranoid," or at worst, a totalitarian police state abuse of power.

On the one hand you have security, on the other we have freedom. However, once security is allowed to run amok, freedom is lost. And that is not only my opinion, but one which is gaining widespread popularity:

"The time has come, says Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), to have a 'national conversation' about the need to make federal architecture secure during perilous times and yet to keep it vital and open." See, enclosed article, "A Capital Under Security's Siege," Washington Post, Saturday, April 17, 1999; Page C1.

In the sense that I tried to begin a "national conversation" about paranoid security back in 1987, perhaps I was just ahead of my time. As you may recall, it was a mere twelve years ago, upon the visit of then-Premier of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, that the idea of closing Lafayette Park first occurred to security experts. At that time I considered the idea to be a perhaps well-intentioned, but terribly ill-advised attack on democracy. Consequently I filed a complaint in the Federal District Court to challenge the closure.

At the hearing on December 7, 1987, Steven Harrison of the Secret Service and then-Deputy Chief Langstrom of the Park Police testified that the closure was an extraordinary event, likely never to be repeated, and that the closures would be limited only to intervals of a few minutes when Mr. Gorbachev was actually passing on Pennsylvania Avenue. Based on those representations the court allowed the closure, but ordered that our signs could remain in the closed areas even though we had to leave during the short periods of Mr. Gorbachev's coming and going. If memory serves me correctly, on that occasion the area was actually closed only twice, for about ten minutes each time.

In hindsight we can now see that the "extraordinary event" of 1987 has mushroomed into an ordinary, increasingly more intrusive event. So far, in the first four months of this year major sections of the park, much larger than the area closed in 1987, has been closed to the public at least seven times.

In light of the foregoing, I request that you reconsider your plans and effectuate actual closures only during periods when actual security threats exist. Additionally, during periods when a closure might actually be reasonable, I request that our signs be permitted to remain within the closed areas, consistent with previous court orders.



W. Thomas

enclosures: Washington Post April 14, 1999 and April 17, 1999