Security and Protestors Ruined Inauguration for Many

My anecdotal observations of poorly arranged security measures making it impossible for some to enjoy the inaugural festivities were apparently a widespread occurence, as this front page story in this morning’s WaPo makes clear:

Tickets in Hand Were No Assurance of Access

Some people who had wonderful tickets for the inauguration never reached their seats because of the lines at security. Some shuddered at the protesters’ shouts and scrapped or shortened their festivities. And some said that although they’d traveled across the country, the chaotic combination led them to settle for a view of the inauguration from in front of a TV. “It was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw in my life,” said Rob Miller, 38, a Bush supporter from Orangeburg, S.C., sporting a big, black Stetson while standing in line yesterday at Dulles International Airport. “It got to be so much you couldn’t enjoy it. We had great seats for the inauguration — in the red zone — but we could never even get there because of the lines.”

As revelers from across the country checked out of their hotels and filed through the Washington region’s airports yesterday, they shared the usual inauguration stories — of the speech, of the sense of history and power, of the cold. But it seemed that many visitors would remember the nation’s 55th inaugural celebration as well for the sight of sharpshooters on rooftops, for the burdensome security checkpoints and for the masses of riot police and shouting protesters. “They need a new law for these protesters: ‘You cross the line, you do the time,’ ” said Kenneth E. Boring, 80, still apparently irritated by the experience as he waited to leave Reagan National Airport.


Many students who flocked to Washington for the event seemed struck by the fact that this piece of history was intertwined with pat-down searches and a sense of imminent danger. Nicholas Whittington, 13, of Baltimore, Ohio, and Courtney Marinak, 14, of Jupiter, Fla., came to the inauguration with the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. They ended up watching the parade on a television inside the National Press Club building, trapped indoors, they said, while protesters jostled with police outside. They weren’t able to leave the building until 5 p.m. “We had to walk like five miles around the parade route because of the road closures,” Nicholas said, recounting another of the day’s setbacks.

I had no problems with security for the swearing-in, but only because the Red standing section was relatively small. The larger sections had impossibly long lines. That, combined with street closures and the closure of the Metro stations nearest the ceremony made it very difficult. Further, for an event that required walking around huges lines of people, there were no signs directing people to the proper place and most of the security personnel, brought in in massive numbers from all over, were well intentioned but poorly equipped to direct people.

As I noted yesterday, my party decided not to endure the long lines to get to the parade. The setup for that was simply moronic. Even though the parade was scheduled to start ninety minutes after the swearing in ceremony (and actually started more than an hour late) and only a mile or so away, there was no easy way to get from point A to point B. Our tickets were at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd St. To get there required walking from 2nd St. down to 14th St. to cross Independence Avenue (all the intervening roads were closed) and then standing in a 2 hour plus line to begin the walk back down to 3rd St.

I don’t mind tight security for these events. Unlike airports, this is an entirely voluntary event for those in the attendance and the concentration of dignitaries, including POTUS, made this a very legitimate, specific, high value target. Given the number of people expected, though, better planning should have been done to get people through the procedure.

The protesters were a different matter altogether. A guest poster will be photoblogging that for you here shortly. My take was that I don’t mind people being allowed to assemble to hold up signs and such stating there opinion. It is simply unconscionable, however, to allow them to impede others who have every right to attend an event they’ve paid good money and often traveled long distances to see. Further, they have no right to use bullhorns and other amplification devices to get their message out. This applies to anti-Bush protestors, anti-abortion protestors, and religious zealots. People have an absolute right of free expression but not a right to ruin events for others.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent says:

    There are no absolute rights.

    Freedom of religion does not extend to permitting polygamy or human sacrifice.

    Freedom of speech does not include slander or incitement to riot.

    Freedom of press does not include libel.

    And so on.

    There are always tradeoffs between different rights held by different people. They’re unavoidable, and they guarantee that no right is absolute.

    Besides which, obstructing someone who is not trespassing isn’t “expression.” It’s assault.

  2. ken says:

    James, part of the ‘show’ your tickets entitled you to experience, beside the crowds and long lines, was the protestors themselves. If they didn’t use bull horns you never would have been able to hear them. If you didn’t want to hear them you could have stayed at home.

    Although I think it is a truism that most people who use bullhorns to get their message out have very little worthwhile to say it does add to the color and drama of the day. It is part of the package we call freedom. Enjoy it.

  3. anjin-san says:

    Give the administrations record of sanatizing any event involving Bush, I am inclined to err on the side of giving protestors more lattitued instead of less.

    It is ironic that Bush devoted so much of his speech to “freedom” while his admin makes liberal use of “free speech zones” to keep protest away from the president and party events. Thus we can have nice Stepford moments for the news, untroubled by dissent. (Dems have used them as well, shame on them).

  4. LJD says:

    Yeah, that’s all well and good, but the goal of some of these protesters is not to “express” rather to obstruct and ruin an event because they disagree with something.

    Whether you like the President or not, people need to hear his speech. We don’t need people yelling at the top of their lungs “No blood for oil” and splashing attendees with red paint. If I paid top dollar for a ticket and couldn’t get in, I would be pissed.

  5. Michael A. Shea says:

    I read that some Republicans who wanted to see the parade in person gave up on the long lines and left. Must be frustrating! Kind of like showing up to vote at a heavily Democratic precinct in Ohio and giving up rather than waiting hours just to vote.

    If we have to trade-off someone’s rights, I think we should accept limits on “The Right to Watch a Parade” before we accept curbs on the right to vote.