Correction appended: The caption on the photo that ran with this story misidentified the figure dressed as Uncle Sam as LSA freshman Peri Weisberg. Weisberg was holding the poster. The figure in the costume was Social Work student Joseph Kuilema.
Uncle Sam, an FBI agent and even President Bush himself made an appearance in downtown Ann Arbor Friday afternoon – in character form, of course.
As a continuation of an antiwar rally on the Diag two weeks ago, protesters from the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan Peaceworks gathered outside the Ann Arbor Federal Building on Friday to turn over 176 mug shots of willing antiwar activists to the authorities in a symbolic pre-emptive strike against domestic surveillance.
Authorities, though, refused to accept the photographs.
FBI Special Agent Dawn Clenney said protesters were informed ahead of time that their mug shots would not be received by officials.
Clenney applauded the protesters for exercising their First Amendment Rights, but said the FBI has no need for the photos.
“It’s not necessary, because we are not trying to surveil those people,” Clenney said.
Determined protesters mailed the package of mug shots to Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff shortly after the rally Friday evening.
Phillis Engelbert, Michigan Peaceworks’s executive director, said the FBI’s refusal to accept the photos has not discouraged protesters.
“To us it doesn’t matter to whom the photos go – the message is the same,” Engelbert said. “We hope to send the message that people who oppose the president’s foreign policies are not afraid and will not be silenced by domestic spying.”
The protest was sparked by evidence that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the National Security Agency has been infiltrating pacifist organizations, activists said.
One such organization, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, recently learned its group has been under FBI investigation since 2002, said director Jim Kleisser, who spoke at Friday’s event.
“Because of our position against the Iraq war, we have been under investigation,” Kleisser said. “But if they spied on everyone opposed to the Iraq war, they’d have to watch 180 million or so Americans.”
Michael Steinberg, legal director of Michigan’s chapter of the ACLU, also addressed the protesters.
“We are in a Constitutional crisis,” Steinberg said. “These people are engaged in free speech. They are not terrorists.”
Steinberg said the ACLU will continue to fight domestic surveillance.
“Dissent is the purest form of patriotism,” he said.
The ACLU has two University chapters, an undergraduate branch and a Law School branch.
The ACLU filed suit against the NSA on Jan. 17 in an attempt to halt the spying, calling for a full investigation into the legality of the issue.
“Anybody engaged in dissent now has a legitimate fear that they are being spied on in the name of national defense,” Steinberg said. “That is un-American.”
Michigan Peaceworks has employed more than 30 University interns since its creation.
Members of the “Turn-Yourself-In” guerrilla theater troupe and nearly 80 free-speech advocates rallied with signs that said things like “Proud to Protest,” “Top Secret Spy-In in Progress” and “Can you hear me now, George?”
School of Social Work student Joseph Kuilema, who played the role of Uncle Sam at Friday’s protest, is a Michigan Peaceworks intern. He helped organize the event.
“I think there is a perception that pacifists can be intimidated.” Kuilema said. “We’re not going to be intimidated into surrendering our civil liberties, and we will protest in our own satirical way.”