Civil liberties are debated at post office
It’s an unusual sight in Jamestown. Typically, the only people seen soliciting in public are chorus members selling raffle tickets or eighth-graders peddling ducks. But Monday, two men, both supporters of political activist Lyndon LaRouche, posted up on the sidewalk near the corner of Narragansett Avenue and North Road. It’s a prominent place to be seen in town, especially when you have sandwich boards splattered with the image of the U.S. president donning a Hitler mustache.
LaRouche is a 90-year-old Democrat who seven times between 1976 and ’04 ran for the party’s presidential nomination. The LaRouche movement has been around since the 1960s, and its followers have a reputation of being confrontational.
Earlier this week, resident Bob Tamboe says he gave the two visitors a taste of their own medicine.
“They claimed they had a civil right to be there,” said Tamboe. “I agree. But I was going to beat them at their own game.”
Tamboe, 58, is a highschool English teacher who has lived in Jamestown since 1988. While driving by the Four Corners Monday, he noticed the protesters strategically placed under the shade of a large tree in front of the federal building. Tamboe remembers there being a similar setup in the same location last year.
This year he saw the signs – literally. A number of them were sprawled on the sidewalk with Barack Obama’s face. On each photo – about a half dozen – an Adolf Hitler mustache was affixed to the president’s upper lip with the word “Impeach” below his chin. There was another sign, this one with a photo mocking George W. Bush, edited to make him look like Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman. It read, “End the Bush era reign of terror.”
What caught Tamboe’s eye was the Obama likeness to the Nazi leader. “I had to say something,” said Tamboe, a veteran who served with the U.S. Navy and Army Reserves. “There are World War II veterans who go by that intersection. There could be Holocaust survivors who see that sign.”
Coincidentally, Tamboe had just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he visited the Holocaust museum.
Tamboe said at no point did he question the protesters right to be on the street. He said he didn’t curse, raise his voice, or threaten them in any way – something Tamboe alleges wasn’t the case for both sides.
Earlier in the day, police arrived when an elderly resident called about the demonstration. Officers found the protesters to be peacefully exercising their First Amendment right and took no action.
When police arrived the second time, it wasn’t a call for the protesters, but a call from them. They complained Tamboe was harassing them.
“Once the LaRouche guys told me to leave, I knew I was there for the day,” Tamboe quipped. “They threatened to get a restraining order on me. At one point I gave them the number to the police station. I said it’s 423-1212. I even offered them my phone.”
When police arrived, they spoke to the protesters first. Tamboe said he overheard one of the demonstrators tell police the Jamestowner was trampling his civil liberties.
The officer approached Tamboe next.
“The police officer was very professional,” Tamboe said. “He said I had the right to ask questions, just as the guys had the right to be there. So I told the officer that I wasn’t going to leave until my questions were answered, or until they left.”
Tamboe wanted three questions answered: Was the mustache meant to resemble Hitler’s? If so, why not just put a swastika on the American flag? And third, what was their plan if Obama were to get impeached?
Tamboe said it took the demonstrators about an hour to admit to the first question, but they never addressed the other two. “Before you want me to sign something,” he said, “I think it’s fair you answer a few questions.”
According to Tamboe, the officer said if they hadn’t answered his questions already – it had already been nearly two hours by this time – they probably wouldn’t. Tamboe stood his ground. Finally, the two LaRouche supporters packed up and left town.
“I have no problem with someone coming up to me and saying, ‘Let’s impeach Obama,’” said Tamboe, who considers himself an Independent who has voted in both Republican and Democratic presidential primaries in the past. “I have no problem with people calling him a dictator. My problem was the light-heartedness of putting a Hitler mustache on someone who, like it or not, represents the United States. I think that is reprehensible.”
According to Tamboe, drawing a Hitler mustache on the U.S. president is the same as etching a swastika across Old Glory. Tamboe says he was just as upset following 9/11 when people modified Bush photos by putting a burka and hijab on him, making him resemble Taliban.
Tamboe said he didn’t insult or threaten the protestors, but he claims they did both. He said they told him he needed mental help, and at one point, one of the demonstrators walked around the table to the opposite side. Tamboe said he took a few steps back.
“I find it sad they called the police on me for doing the same thing they were,” Tamboe said. While he admitted it’s hypocritical, Tamboe said it’s more than that. “With this group, it’s ignorance. They have a belief that they are entitled to spread their ideology, but anyone who disagrees is wrong and doesn’t have the civil liberty to oppose them. They aren’t being intellectually honest with themselves.”
Tamboe, while there for two hours, took the time to read the literature given to him, which consisted of five double-sided pages, all authored between May 6 and July 31. According to the handouts, the activists had two goals: impeach Obama and restore the Glass-Steagall Act. The law limited affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms. It was passed during the Great Depression and repealed in the late ’90s.
According to one handout, “The day Glass-Steagall is reinstated is the day we foreclose on the Wall Street bastards whose blatantly stated intention has been to kill you, the people of this nation.”
Another handout was devoted to impeaching Obama. It alleged eight impeachable counts, including starting a preemptive war against Libya without congressional approval; violation of the Fifth Amendment through the murder of American citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki; crafting a health-care plan that would lead to inadequate surgical and medical services; and conspiring to commit the United States to an international genocide policy.
The allegations for the Libyan war and the murder of al-Awlaki, according to the handout, were prima facie and required no investigation to make the case.
“Some of the stuff was outrageous, but I didn’t disagree with everything,” said Tamboe. “They actually had some good ideas. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to get into a discussion about the issues.”
While both Tamboe and the protesters had themselves an eventful day, legally it was nothing more than an inconsequential discussion between two parties.
“They were just engaging in a conversation,” said Police Chief Ed Mello, who confirmed that no permit was needed because the protesters weren’t obstructing the sidewalk or selling anything. “It’s their constitutional right.”
“It’s what makes this country great,” said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.
A protester declined an interview with the Press. When asked if he were allowed to give interviews, he said, “I don’t want to. Call the number on the bottom of the paper and they can give you an official statement.”
Alan Demers from the La- Rouche Political Action Committee’s
Boston office said these events aren’t isolated. “There are quite a few people out there who harass us,” he said. “If they don’t go away, sometimes we have to call the police.”
Demers indicated that cases like this happen often, and while he couldn’t speak specifically about the incident, he said receiving similar phone calls about confrontations between protesters and residents were common.
Before the protesters left, they took one last shot at Tamboe. Instead of being insulted, Tamboe was flattered.
“I asked them what kind of training they had,” he said. “I figured if they couldn’t handle me, they must have a tough time. They told me they never met anyone like me before. I took it as a compliment. I thought that was cool.”