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ACLU questions police methods at Nazi rally

Omaha World-Herald, USA
July 24, 2004
Martha Stoddard • Saturday July 24, 2004

LINCOLN – ACLU Nebraska is questioning why law enforcement officials took mug-shot style photographs of participants in a National Socialist Movement rally Saturday and also asked supporters and opponents to identify themselves on videotape.

The civil rights organization filed an open records request Thursday with the Nebraska State Patrol and the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office for the tapes, photographs and related information.

Tim Butz, ACLU director, said the practices raised issues about rights to free speech and free assembly. He said he is especially concerned about future uses of the material.

“That has a chilling effect on free speech, and it affected both sides equally,” he said. “Did they turn it over to their intelligence unit? Is it entered into their database, or is it just for liability?”

Gary “Gerhard” Lauck, a self-described neo-Nazi from Lincoln, raised similar concerns.

“It just doesn’t seem to me that people practicing free speech should be photographed . . . (and) have files kept on them,” he said.

Jeff Schoep of Minneapolis, commander of the Minnesota-based Nazi group, said he has not encountered such requirements at other rally sites.

At the Lincoln rally, speakers and others allowed on the State Capitol steps were required to fill out forms with name, address, date of birth, employment and other information.

Nebraska State Patrol troopers then photographed each of those people sitting on a chair, with their names and dates of birth displayed on a board.

Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins said the forms were used to check for outstanding arrest warrants, then returned to the participants. She said she doesn’t know what happened to the photos.

Neither action should raise First Amendment issues because they were requirements for security, not requirements for speaking, she said. A National Socialist Movement representative agreed to the conditions at a June meeting with Capitol security officials, she said.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said people wanting to enter areas set aside for supporters and opponents were videotaped and asked their names. But they were allowed to enter even if they refused to give names, he said.

Wagner said the tapes helped public safety by alerting people that they could be identified if violence broke out at the rally. He said the tapes will be reviewed for intelligence purposes, then be destroyed.

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