ACLU Defends Six Men Arrested During Protest at President Bush Rally

October 14, 2004 12:00 am

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‘Smoketown Six’ Stripped to Thongs to Re-Create Human Pyramid Image From Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal

Smoketown Six

Less than two minutes after forming the human pyramid, police officers forcibly dismantled the group and took them away in handcuffs. View the video

LANCASTER, PA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania on Monday will lead the defense team representing six men who were arrested after they stripped down to thong underwear and formed a human pyramid in anticipation of President Bush’s motorcade procession through Lancaster County. The men attempted to re-create the infamous image that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

“These young men were arrested and removed from sight for no other reason than the fact that their presence would have resulted in an embarrassing visual for the president,” said Paula Knudsen, an ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney who is representing one of the protesters. “These arrests were motivated by politics, not law. The actions of these men are clearly protected under the First Amendment and we hope to see them acquitted of all charges.”

The men, dubbed the “Smoketown Six” by local media outlets in reference to the small town where the July 9th arrest took place, planned to reconstruct the Abu Ghraib image to express their disapproval of U.S. military actions in Iraq while using a visual that would be difficult for the president to ignore. In order to ensure they were acting within the law, the men positioned themselves along the Old Philadelphia Pike where a few other protesters and many supporters were instructed to go and wore thongs no different in design from those worn on beaches. At no point did the men treat the demonstration as a joke or disruptive event.

Within two minutes, local police officers moved in to forcibly dismantle the pyramid before the motorcade arrived at the destination. The officers handcuffed the six men but a seventh demonstrator ran from the scene and has not been identified. One of the men, Ben Keely, 22, had his arm twisted and was forced to the ground and handcuffed so tightly that his left hand remained numb well into the following evening. Each of the six men arrested were charged with “disorderly conduct.”

“It is a sad day when you can get arrested in America for expressing your political feelings,” said Lancaster resident Tristan Egolf, 32, a published author and one of the Smoketown Six. “The only crime committed was the officers’ violation of our First Amendment rights.”

The Smoketown Six case begins trial on Monday, October 18 at the Court of Common Pleas in Lancaster County. In addition to Egolf and Keely, the other defendants are Jonathan Kohler, 21, Russell Willard, 18, Adam Willard, 21, and David Obryant, 21. All six cases have been consolidated into one trial, however each of the men is being represented by different counsel. The ACLU’s Knudsen is representing Egolf and the other men are represented by Lancaster attorneys Mike Winters of Gray Patterson Cody & Taylor, Dwight Yoder of Gibble Kraybill & Hess, Robert Wee, Alan Goldberg and Frank Willa.

The ACLU is currently involved in a similar case in West Virginia, where Secret Service agents and White House staff ordered local police to arrest a couple who wore anti-Bush t-shirts to an official presidential visit to the state Capitol building. Jeff and Nicole Rank were initially charged with trespassing but the charges were later dropped and the couple received a public apology from the Mayor and the Charleston City Council. On behalf of the Ranks, the ACLU is now suing the Secret Service and a White House official. The lawsuit seeks damages and a public admission that the agents acted illegally by ordering the arrests.

The Smoketown Six trial comes on the heels of a federal judge’s order that the government turn over or identify all documents relating to the treatment of prisoners held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas, including Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. This order is the latest development in the ACLU’s nearly year-long effort to compel the government to comply with their request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

View a video clip (high bandwidth required) of the Smoketown Six demonstration.

More information on Rank v. Secret Service

More information on the torture FOIA

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