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Update on Homeland Security Sticker Hassle


On February 16, we reported on an incident wherein Dwight Scarbrough, a local federal employee, veteran and longtime peace activist, was shaken down and shook up by a pair of Homeland Security Agents who didn't like the look of Scarbrough's antiwar bumperstickers (BW, Feature, February 16, "Red State, Meet Police State"). The agents said Scarbrough's stickers violated regulations prohibiting the posting of signs on federal property, and threatened to cite him if he did not remove them or move his car. Scarbrough replied that his car, his stickers and his opinions were all protected by the Hatch Act, a federal statute establishing the personal rights of all federal employees, but he moved his car to another parking lot regardless. In the ensuing weeks, both a whole lot and a whole lot of nothing has happened in the case.

On the "nothing" front, Scarbrough has continued to park in the same spot, with the same stickers on his truck. He's even added another prominent message to his tailgate, reading "Help save America in 2006. Stop the lies, stop the spying, stop the dying. Impeach Bush and Cheney" in 4-inch high letters. But while Scarbrough may seem to be asking for trouble, he told BW he hasn't had any more run-ins with federal agents.

Scarbrough's attorney, Michael Bartlett of the local firm Nevin, Benjamin and McKay, said of the lack of additional action, "Hopefully, that's some indication that they simply had made a mistake."

Scarbrough's coverage has, however, turned the former submariner into a minor celebrity. After doing a round of national radio shows, and after the story in BW got covered by the magazine The Progressive (we hear there's a forthcoming story in Playboy as well), Scarbrough said he has received numerous letters and e-mails, almost all of which were supportive. "Even if they don't agree with what I say, they at least acknowledge that we have a right to free speech," he told BW.

On the government's side of things, getting information has proven little easier than it was the first time around. We finally chatted with Carl Rusnok, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, who would only say of the incident, "The officer that originally talked with this gentleman interpreted the laws as he saw them, and that's what's done in the field on a daily basis by all law enforcement." He said that the case had been referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boise "to determine if anything further should be done."

On February 28, the local online news blog Boise Guardian reported that not only had the U.S. Attorney's Office been handed the case, but also that "a spokeperson said the Homeland Security folks have been verbally advised that Scarbrough's actions are protected speech under the Hatch Act." When interviewed by BW, U.S. Attorney's Office public information officer Jean McNeil said the Guardian's striking claim was the result of a misunderstanding.

"I don't know whether I misspoke or whether there was a little misunderstanding on [Guardian editor Dave Frazier's] part," McNeil said. "On the one hand, our interpretation is that under the Hatch Act and the regulations that go with it, government employees have the right to display bumper stickers and signs on their personal vehicles. And I also confirmed something that he had been told by the Department of Homeland Security, that there had been discussion between our offices. And then I think he just put two and two together. I didn't mean to characterize that they had been verbally advised." Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Maloney and Marc Haws would also not comment on the specifics of this case to BW.