Secret Service head says RNC security plans not final as protesters allege free speech restrictions


MILWAUKEE (AP) — The head of the U.S. Secret Service said Thursday that security plans for the Republican National Convention are still being determined as protesters blasted restrictions they claimed will violate free speech with just weeks until the event.

Roughly 30,000 visitors are expected in Milwaukee next month when former President Donald Trump is slated to become the Republican party’s official presidential nominee. Largescale demonstrations are expected, but how close protesters will be allowed to the downtown Fiserv Forum convention site is up in the air. Top RNC officials have expressed safety concerns and protesters have sued the city of Milwaukee over rules laying out where demonstrations will be allowed.

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said law enforcement agencies have been making safety plans for more than a year, including working with businesses on potential impact and creating a secure zone around the convention site. She said further details would come in two weeks.

“We’re fully prepared,” she told reporters at a briefing with Milwaukee police and fire officials. “We realize that there most likely will be demonstrations but we’re prepared to address those.”

Cheatle said she is in communications with RNC officials but sidestepped direct questions about their safety concerns. RNC leaders have sent a letter to the Secret Service asking officials to keep protesters back farther from the site than had been originally planned, arguing that an existing plan “creates an elevated and untenable safety risk to the attending public.”

In March, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approved rules that, among other things, requires people protesting within the convention’s general security zone to march a specified route. But the route and other details regarding demonstration sites aren’t yet public.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s spokesman Jeff Fleming said the city hosted online signups for groups to demonstrate and more than 70 groups have done so. He said final details will come within weeks.

“Milwaukee has few restrictions on demonstrations throughout the city — so if a group wants to hold up signs and chant on a street corner a few blocks from the convention location, the city will make reasonable accommodations,” he said.

The Coalition to March on the RNC, which makes up dozens of organizations, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit over the ordinance on Wednesday. They allege Milwaukee’s rules governing parade and protest activity violate the First Amendment by unlawfully limiting where protesters can parade and exercise their right to free speech.

“Milwaukee has been rolling out the red carpet for the Republican National Convention and all its attendees, spending millions on their security,” Tim Muth, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement Thursday. “But sadly, the city does not appear to demonstrate that same commitment to protecting the First Amendment rights of people who want to express opposing views on the streets of Milwaukee during the RNC.”

Earlier this week, Cheatle was in Chicago for a security briefing on the Democratic National Convention, which the city will host in August. More visitors — roughly 50,000 — and protests are expected. Protesters there have voiced similar concerns about restrictions and filed lawsuits. Chicago police say they’re prepared to handle crowds and are undergoing specialized training in de-escalation and First Amendment issues.

Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said officers were ready for the RNC and will get help from law enforcement agencies in other cities and the National Guard if needed.

“This particular event, to us, is nothing different than any other event that’s gone on in the city of Milwaukee,” he said.

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