Secret Service Searches Home of Protester
Renee Jensen of Elkins, West Virginia, likes to express herself.
She has put up as many as a dozen signs in her yard over the past year, protesting the war in Iraq, Bush and Cheney, and the crackdown on civil liberties.
Some of her signs have said:
"Mr. Bush, You're Fired."
"Mr. Ashcroft, We Prefer Our America Remain the Home of the Free and the Brave."
"Mr. Cheney, What You Sow You Shall Reap. Those Who Destroy the Earth Will Be Destroyed."
"Mr. Rumsfeld, Human Beings Are Not Just Collateral Damages, but People with Hopes, Dreams, Relationships, and Lives to Live."
"O, Evil Doers, Bush and Cheney Are Destroying America. I Cry Liberty and Stand for Our Constitution."
"Love One Another: War Is Dead Wrong."
Her vigorous exercise of free speech has not been well received.
One day in early January, her signs were vandalized.
"I had gone to the movies, and when I came back, all my signs were stolen," she tells The Progressive. "And one had been turned over, and someone wrote, "We love George Bush" on it."
The mayor of Elkins, Judy Guye, tried to use a city ordinance to make Jensen take her signs down.
"Guye had said she believes Jensen's signs pose a potential traffic hazard, since people driving by her house often stop or slow down to look at them," Paul J. Nyden wrote in an article for the Charleston Gazette on January 16. Nyden pointed out that the mayor, "a Republican, had a pro-Bush sign in her own front yard."
Guye backed off.
But those were the least of Jensen's problems.
In the fall, the Secret Service gave her a call.
"They said they wanted to ask me some questions," she recalls. "I said sure. They said someone called them and said I had signs up in my yard that were threatening the President. I said I did have some signs in my yard, but I wasn't threatening the President. The worst I've ever said was that he's an Evildoer. And this Secret Service man specifically asked me about the sign about Mr. Cheney. He said, "That's from revelations." I said, "Yes, I have no desire to destroy anybody. I'm just quoting out of the Bible." His name, she said, was Agent Brian Atkins.
Then on January 11, she had some unexpected visitors.
"I was actually taking a nap, and there was a knock on my door, there was a West Virginia State Trooper and a Secret Service agent," she says, identifying them as Trooper R. J. Boggs and Agent James Lanham. "They asked to come in. And I let them. And they started interviewing me."
Jensen, who at the time was running for city council, asked why they were there.
"Apparently someone had made a statement that I'd been canvassing door to door and had said I wanted to cut President Bush's head off," she says. "I told Agent Lanham that I was running for city council, but I hadn't started my door-to-door campaign yet and I never had said anything like that."
This didn't satisfy them, though.
"They conducted an extensive interview about my background, my family, and any political organizations I belonged to," she says. "I told them I belong to the ACLU and that's about it."
They continued to pry, she says.
Agent Lanham "asked me several times to sign a form about releasing my medical records, and I refused," she says. "That was kind of annoying. And he asked to search my house. He didn't have a search warrant, but I said go ahead. And they took some pictures of me and some pictures of my signs."
Before they left, she says, "I had to sign a statement that I never threatened the Presidentís life."
The Secret Service office in Charleston refused to give a comment to the Gazette, and a phone call from The Progressive to the Secret Service in Washington was not returned.
Though she hasn't heard from the Secret Service since, Jensen is not happy about the power citizens have to rat their neighbors out for merely expressing political views they disagree with.
"It's very easy for other people to call up the Secret Service or the Department of Homeland Security," she says, "and say things about you and have you investigated."
McCarthyism Watch - The Progressive