ENCINITAS—City of Encinitas and county sheriff’s officials were accused Monday of squashing First Amendment rights after demanding that a local political club pay $15,000 for security to allow a controversial leader of the anti-illegal-immigration Minuteman Group to speak.
Craig Nordal, leader of the neophyte North Coast Republican Club, said the club voted Monday to indefinitely postpone Wednesday’s political fund-raising talk by Jim Gilchrist, leader of the Minuteman Project.
Gilchrist and the Minuteman Project caused a national furor in April when they sent volunteers into the Arizona desert near Tombstone to look for illegal immigrants trying to cross into the United States. Immigration-rights critics called the project vigilantism that was making border problems worse.
Nordal said city and sheriff’s officials were so concerned that Gilchrist would draw protesters to the Encinitas Community Center that they told the club they would have to hire an entire platoon of sheriff’s deputies—48 in all—to provide security. Nordal said the $15,000 price tag was impossible for the club to swallow.
“I don’t blame the city of Encinitas or the sheriff’s department,” Nordal said. “But the effect is that our First Amendment right is being squelched.”
Gilchrist also objected, and blamed the city, the sheriff’s department and protesters who would intimidate people to keep them away.
“It’s a blatant attempt to suppress freedom of assembly,” Gilchrist said. “It’s getting more and more obvious to me that our First Amendment has pretty much been compromised by the people who will kill you, or beat you up, or show up and smash car windows with bricks. This is serious. It’s no longer a country ruled by law.”
Like Nordal and Gilchrist, Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition said he was troubled by the city’s action.
Scheer said it was reasonable for the city to charge groups for security measures if they were holding them on city-owned property.
But Scheer added that there is an expectation that the cost won’t be so high that it discourages events from taking place.
“When the American Communist Party or the Ku Klux Klan go marching down the avenues of New York City, there are police around—and that cost can’t just be shifted to the sponsors of the events,” Scheer said.