ACLU of Nebraska Charges State Patrol and FBI with Violating Free Speech Rights of ACLU Official

Affiliate: ACLU of Nebraska
October 5, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Nebraska
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LINCOLN, NE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska today said that it has charged a state patrol official and an agent of the FBI with making “thinly veiled threats” that were designed to intimidate or coerce Executive Director Tim Butz from exercising his First Amendment rights. Butz has filed a complaint with the State Patrol over the matter, and is planning a similar filing with the FBI’s Office of Professional Accountability.

The complaint arose from a Sept. 22nd showing of Unconstitutional, a new documentary by producer Robert Greenwald and director Nonny de la Pena. The film is highly critical of the USA Patriot Act and other post-9/11 policies that violate civil liberties.

Following the film showing and discussion to an audience of 75 people in North Platte, Nebraska, Butz talked to several people who had additional questions about the movie. The last two people to talk to him approached him together and began to criticize the movie. They called Butz a “liar” for some of his comments supporting the film.

“One of the two men claimed that he was an FBI agent, while the other called my presentation by a barnyard epithet and told me that I ‘shouldn’t come out to these small towns and scare people and stir things up.’ From their aggressive demeanor, it was clear that they did not want to talk about the film, they wanted to send a message of intimidation,” Butz said.

“We expect the police to safeguard our rights, and they take an oath to do so. In this case, two law enforcement officials sought to abridge the free speech rights of those who would criticize the Patriot Act,” he added.

“Let’s be clear on one thing: these are not rookie officers who were making observations about a film – they are seasoned officials who represent a statewide police agency and the major federal law enforcement agency,” Butz noted. “Clearly they don’t want this film shown or for there to be public debate on the matter. They want the ACLU to stay out of their town.”

Note: In prior coverage of this story, there was mention of a second State Patrol official being involved. In a September 23 article, The North Platte Bulletin identified the two men who talked to Butz as being State Patrol Lieutenants Greg Vandenberg and Norm Liebig. The Bulletin has since informed the ACLU that the second man was actually an FBI agent and not Lt. Vandenberg. The ACLU of Nebraska has retracted its complaint regarding Lt. Vandenberg, and told the State Patrol that he was named solely based on his identification in a news article. Lt. Vandenberg was not involved in any manner with the encounter experienced by Butz.

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