Wear A T-Shirt, Get Interviewed by the Secret Service
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Wear A T-Shirt, Get Interviewed by the Secret Service

Appleton official ejected from Bush event

By Ed Lowe
Post-Crescent/July 18, 2004

APPLETON — Outagamie County Supv. Jayson Nelson might be new to politics, but he already can attest to the price of freedom of speech.

Nelson, who joined the County Board this year, said he got bounced from the VIP list for President Bush's speech Wednesday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon because of inappropriate attire.

Nelson attended a John Kerry for President rally in Fond du Lac earlier in the day before taking his spot in line outside the Bush campaign venue. The event was part of a daylong Bush campaign bus tour through eastern Wisconsin, including the Fox Cities.

Nelson said he was ejected after being caught sporting a T-shirt endorsing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, though he said it was fully hidden beneath a heavy cotton button-down shirt.

“I have no idea how they knew I was wearing it,” he said Friday.

Whether betrayed by a Republican informant or by a dash of Kerry green above the buttons, Nelson found himself plucked from the line and ordered to shed his outer shirt.

“I don't know if it was because of the way I was dressed,” he said. “I work construction so I wasn't as dressed up like some of the other people.”

Once exposed, the female election worker who singled Nelson out snatched the VIP ticket from his hand and called for police, he said.

“Look at his shirt! Look at his shirt!” Nelson recalled the woman telling the Ashwaubenon Public Safety officer who answered the call.

Nelson said the officer told him, “You gotta go,” and sternly directed him to a Secret Service contingent that spent seven or eight minutes checking him over before ejecting him from the property.

Nelson, who characterizes himself as a Democrat but not a card-carrying one, emerged from the experience “disgusted” and confused.

“I kept asking, did I do something illegal? I was told no (by the Secret Service agents), but that they'd do the same thing at a Kerry rally.”

Nelson said he sought to attend the speech because he “wanted to hear what (Bush) had to say,” not to make a political statement. Still, he didn't discount the possibility that the T-shirt might have gotten exposure inside the center.

Nelson got the ticket through his own political ties — a number were made available to interested members of the County Board.

Lt. Dave Mather of the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department said he wasn't familiar with Nelson's experience or the legal justification for his removal.

“I really don't have any idea, and I'd be guessing if I said so,” Mather said.

A department release said “no large-scale incidents were reported” during the president's visit to the village. Ashwaubenon police ticketed a pair of men for disorderly conduct, one for allegedly throwing a water bottle at a passing bus in the presidential motorcade and another for making a lewd gesture to the pro-Bush crowd.

Nelson's ejection wasn't mentioned in the release.

“I was told that no law was broken,” Nelson said, “but I was nearly treated like a criminal for the terrible crime of wearing a T-shirt.”

Ed Lowe can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 293, or by e-mail at elowe@postcrescent.com

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911:  The Road to Tyranny