PRESS RELEASE - April 22, 1999

CONTACT: 202-462-0757 - Ellen Thomas


Last week National Park Service workers passed out a "Public Notice" which dictated, "persons demonstrating or otherwise using ... portion(s) of (Lafayette) park ... should remove themselves ... from the area." William Thomas, who has maintained a continuous vigil in Lafayette Park since 1981, says that he cannot comply with that Park Service dictate.

"Just twelve years ago such heavy handed government tactics would have been totally inconceivable." Thomas says. "Thanks to the ever more popular national obsession with security, the concurrent diminishment of freedom, and a judicial system which isn't troubled by the facts of reality, what was once unthinkable has now become standard operating procedure."

According to Thomas, the first time that portions of Lafayette Park were closed was on the occasion of Mikhail Gorbachev's first visit to DC in December, 1987. Shocked by this abrupt departure from the traditional American tradition of democratic ideals, Thomas filed a complaint in the District Court. He urged the Court to enjoin the closure, claiming that the Gorbachev visit presented no additional security concerns than the visits to the White House of many hundreds of other foreign dignitaries. Additionally, Thomas claimed that the closure violated Code of Federal Regulation requirements for park closures.

"The government argued that this was an 'extraordinary circumstance' which would probably never happen again, and that the closures were only going to be for periods of ten or fifteen minutes, while Gorbachev was actually entering or leaving the White House." Thomas recalls. "I said that it was like letting the camel get his nose into the tent, and that if the Court let them get away with it, they would just keep pushing and sneaking further into the tent." The Court compromised, allowing the police to close sections of the park, and exclude the demonstrators, but allowing the demonstrators signs to remain in the closed areas.

Thomas feels that time has proven the accuracy of his predictions. "This will be the seventh time this year that the government has closed portions of the park. Not only that, instead of for 'short periods of time,' this time they're going to do it for a far longer period."

"President Reagan used to teach that the Evil Empire was centered around Moscow's Red Square." Thomas said, "Unlike Lafayette Park, where 'people are free to demonstrate, and express their opinions,' Reagan used to say, the Evil Empire had no respect for the sanctity of free expression. Today, if Mr. Reagan can still think, he might be very disappointed to realize that 'secret police, mindless bureaucracy' tactics' are now at work in Lafayette Park." Thomas claimed.

Thomas says that he considers the closure to be illegal, and that he will remain at his usual demonstration location, because, "To do otherwise would be to capitulate to tyranny."

Thomas Arrest April 23, 1999, 12:30 p.m.
Letter to Stan Lock, National Park Service, April 19, 1999
Closure Announcement | 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue