My Free Speech Zone: From Sea To Shining Sea

Yesterday afternoon, I headed north to Loveland to join a small but dedicated group of protesters outside Donald Trump’s rally at the Budweiser Events Center–located on the grounds of the The Ranch (Larimer County Fairgrounds).

I’ll let the Loveland Reporter-Herald’s Pamela Johnson explain what happened next:

Larimer County sheriff’s deputies escorted one protester from the Donald Trump rally in Loveland on Monday after he led people with signs out of an enclosed “free-speech area” to stand on the sidewalk so people driving past could see their signs.

Alan Franklin, political director with ProgressNow Colorado, as well as a handful of other protesters said the deputies and mounted members of the Sheriff’s Posse corralled them away from the curb, coming very close to them with their horses, and threatened arrest if they didn’t return to the fenced-off free-speech zone.

“I consider this to be a very big violation of the First Amendment,” said Franklin after he was kicked off the grounds of The Ranch events center complex. “These folks done screwed up.”

He was the only protester forced to leave, though others were threatened with arrest if they did not return to a designated free-speech area, which they did.

So, here’s the deal: unbeknownst to myself or other non Trump supporters who showed up outside his rally, the Larimer County Sheriff’s office had set up a “free speech area” completely removed from the scene. This small fenced-off area was 20 feet or more from the sidewalk next to the access road for the event, and so far from the line for rally attendees that a bullhorn wouldn’t even reach them.

This wasn’t an acceptable situation, so I proposed to the few folks then in attendance that we walk down to the sidewalk where more people could see us. Pamela Johnson picks up the story from there:

He and a handful of other protesters walked about 20 feet from the free-speech area to the sidewalk along the road that leads to the parking lots inside the events center complex. That is where deputies and posse members ordered them back to the protest area.

Several protesters said the officials told them they had to be in the designated area because it is on “private property” and “private public property,” which fired up Franklin. The protesters, he said, were being peaceful and not belligerent when deputies confronted them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really familiar with this concept of “private public property” the Larimer County Sheriff and posse kept insisting applied to our situation. I didn’t have a chance to discuss it with the deputy the posse called in, though, as apparently his only job was to enforce the “request” from the horse-mounted posse that I completely exit the “private property” of the Larimer County Fairgrounds.

But as it turns out, and as I explained to every cop on the scene that I was pretty sure of, that’s not right:

Deputies on scene would not explain why they asked Franklin to leave or answer the question of why they would say the county events center is private property. They referred inquiries to Sheriff’s Office spokesman David Moore, who said Sheriff Justin Smith would answer questions Tuesday.

County Commissioner Steve Johnson, however, when reached by phone, looked into the private-public property issue. The Ranch is public property, he said…

“So while I agree with the deputies’ actions and believe the time, manner and place of assembly can be regulated reasonably … the justification that it is private property, if that is in fact what they said, does not conform with our understanding,” Johnson said after consulting with County Attorney Jeannine Haag.

The problem is, the assertion we were on “private property” was the only pretext for ordering us back into the “free speech area.” No one was obstructing vehicle or foot traffic. The armed volunteer horse-mounted posse assigned to patrol the “free speech area” were openly hostile–they might as well have been wearing Trump buttons. The Sheriff deputy who threatened me with arrest for trespassing and escorted me to my car was polite, while repeatedly insisting that free speech is important. His actions spoke much louder.

Obviously, this is a pretty large problem and I’m considering the next steps. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, a politically activist conservative elected sheriff with (I assume) a well-formed opinion on the presidential race, needs to fully explain the actions of his deputies and the policy that was followed in my case (or not followed).

Freedom of speech and assembly is about as fundamental as it gets, and those rights do not appear to have been respected yesterday.

31 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Voyageur says:

    Both parties have long used "free speech zones" at

    their conventions.   Police have the responsibility to prevent violence of the type that has broken out before between trumpers and protestors.   Nothing I read here shows me that Larimer County exceeded the measures Denver and others have taken to keep order at such rallies.   You have the right to express your opinion.   You don't have the right to start a riot.

    • Bright Bart says:

      What riot?

      • Voyageur says:

        A lot of them fright fart.  Remember severl Trumpers beating up black protesters?  In New Mexico, protesters broke out of the free speech zone and started beating up Trump supporters.  Alan is wrong to claim that political party events are public.  They are private events even if held on public property.  No one is restricting alan's freedom of speech, just when and where hecan bellow his heart out.  So, there is no such right to infringe on the right of others.  Hold your own rally and you can be as belicose as you like.  But don't infringe on my right.  The cops did a fine job and deserve a round of applause.

  2. Pseudonymous says:

    Time, place, and manner restrictions on free speech can be legal (funny that the commissioner had that particular language right at hand) if they:

    – Serve a significant government interest
    – Are narrowly tailored to achieve that interest
    – Are neutral as to the content of speech
    – Allow other channels of communication

    Although the fairgrounds are public land, they aren't necessarily open to any speech at any time.  It also shouldn't go without mentioning that this same reasoning works to support so-called "bubble zones" established around abortion clinics.

    Now, none of that should be construed as indicating that I think these cattle pens are proper, they're pretty ridiculous, and harmful, but this one was likely legal.  If only you knew someone at the ACLU…

  3. exlurker19 says:

    ACLU, baby, ACLU.

    • Moderatus says:

      Why? Voyageur is correct. Progress Now paid hacks have no right to start riots.

      • bullshit! says:

        Who the hell is starting a riot?

        Not much of a freedom guy when the chips are down are you?

      • BlueCat says:

        Please prove that Progress Now pays anybody to show up at a demonstration. Or retract. 

      • spaceman65 says:

        Of course, to stop speech because of fears of a riot requires speech that is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and that is likely to incite or produce such action.  Absent that, the speech cannot be regulated based on its content.  The time, place, and manner restrictions can be implemented, but these so-called "free speech zones" are often too restrictive.  I'd probably litigate this one.


  4. Voyageur says:

    Then litigate!   You'll lose.  As to Progress Now, where was their belief in "free speech" when they refused to let la senadora Aquilar even talk to them before selling out Coloradocare? Look like some mighty big hypocrites are seeing their chickens come home to roost.

    • mamajama55 says:

      I agree that PNC acted hypocritically on Coloradocare.

      I disagree that "free speech zones" are necessary or appropriate. To treat people as criminals by literally fencing them in / walling them off from possible or feared confrontations, is to preemptively deny their first amendment rights.

      The Larimer County police would have more realistically feared violence from Trumpers; if they were trying to prevent violent confrontations, those would have been the people to fence in and surround with police.

      • Voyageur says:

        Ohh, so only the uber left has the right to peacefully assemble?  What clause of the constitution is that?  

        • mamajama55 says:

          You're in your contrarian "Present ludicrous arguments as though your opponent has made them" mode, so in my one-handed typing mode of choosing my battles, I'll leave you to it.

          • Voyageur says:

            You seriously proposed that Republicans be excluded from the rally they organized and paid for!  Free speech for the left only.  Then you think I parodied your views?  Even Alan didn't demand total supression of Trump's views. Have a nice hate.

            • mamajama55 says:

              Um, no. I Did not "seriously propose that Republicans be excluded from the rally they organized and paid for! ", nor that free speech should be "for the left only", nor did I advocate "total suppression of Trump's views", and I challenge you to show that I wrote anything close to that. You can't – because you're just making shit up as usual.

              What I implied was that, if public safety is the policing concern, as it should be, that they should put more resources on containing the proven violent Trumpers – like the guy who punched a 69 year old woman, or these 20 violent incidents prior to July 2016. There's actually a map. There have been comparatively few and milder incidents of anti-Tump protesters attacking Trumpers.

              What I had in mind was"protective" fencing and police surrounding the entrances /exits and lines of Trump rally attendees.  People would still be free to yell and be provocative, on both sides, but there would be a physical barrier.. But if you consider that "hate", Vger, go for it.

              And don't expect a reply to the next wild proposal you accuse me of making.Done.


        • bullshit! says:

          V'ger has some kind of weird hard-on for dissing Progress Now. That's the only thing that makes sense. And WTF does Colorado Care have to do with anything?

          This conversation is strange. I suspect ulterior motives.

          • BlueCat says:

            V doesn't have ulterior motives. He's just has a proud grumpy old contrarian streak. I agree with him that the left gets picky and choosy/hypocritical about about free speech, disagree with him about zones. 

            • BlueCat says:

              To be clear I disagree that they should exist. Don't disagree that they shouldn’t be only for righties. 

              There is a liberal segment that really only supports liberal approved speech, a segment that thinks college kids should be protected from anything that might ruffle their feathers and that telling a little girl that she looks pretty at grandpa's birthday party in her new dress is a horrible thing to say, even if you also compliment her on her terrific math and science scores and the goal she scored in her last soccer match. 

              This stern humorless segment, who also seem to believe only righties behave badly and no, say, young Bernie supporter ever did, gives me the creeps as much as righties who want to shove their religion down my throat do. 

              The best defense against stupid, wrong, racist, bigoted free speech is free speech, not imposing blocks on free speech.

              Of course the constitution doesn't grant us the right to use government to impose or attempt to impose religious belief via government institutions like public schools, the military, etc so blocking that is not a free speech issue. Most other stuff this side of yelling fire in a crowded theater is.

              I say… no zones, create reasonable security in the very immediate vicinity of the event to allow participants to safely enter and participate and let the games begin. Deal with bad behavior only when and if it occurs.

              • Voyageur says:

                That is a reasonable position, BC, if applied evenly, as you propose.   But the current protest zone system is also fair if evenly applied.  I saw it up close at the Democratic National Contention in 08 here.  They used the same system in Philadelphia and Cleveland this year.

                Yes, a more robust confrontation has its appeal.   But we live in a country with an estimated 200 million guns floating around, with random terrorist attacks by native born citizens,   There is something to be said for keeping the hotheads separated and limiting the violence to the relatively mild beatings and stoning we've witnessed on the campaign trail.

                Free speech doesn't allow the Westboro Baptist Church to spit on a dead soldier's coffin, though it does allow them to spew their hate a safe distance away.  That's fine with me.

  5. exlurker19 says:

    Ooh, I got Moddy to climb out of his funk to type lies and V'geur is working hard again to prove he never took a class in logic.  Good day, good day.  Too bad I've got so much to do today. Asta pasta as my daughter says.

    • Voyageur says:

      Lurker has clean hands here because she protested vigorously at the Hillary rallies when the right wingers were restricted to their own free speech zones.  You did, didn't you, Lurker?  Mind linking me to anything you wrote about that?  What, you neglected to do that?  Asta hypocrite as my son says.

  6. taterheaptom says:

    Tiny bubbles

    In a box of cheap booze

    Make me feel grumpy

    And contrarian too… 

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