Protestors Prepare for Ashcroft's Utah Visit

Protestors Prepare for Ashcroft's Utah Visit

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Civil-liberties advocates are organizing protests to greet U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft when he arrives in Utah on Monday to speak to local police and prosecutors about the USA Patriot Act.

About 30 representatives from a number of Utah organizations gathered Friday afternoon in Salt Lake City to lay groundwork for a demonstration in opposition to the Patriot Act that Congress quickly passed quickly in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

American Civil Liberties Union Utah Director Dani Eyer says the grass-roots unrest is significant.

"This is becoming a kitchen table issue," she said. "If Average Joe Citizen in Utah is bothered by this, the Justice Department is in trouble with the Patriot Act."

Lorna Vogt, director of the Utah Progressive Network, said the act "establishes precedents that are extremely dangerous. ... I certainly hope that those Utahns who are paying attention will take a minute to show up and protest, if nothing more than to stand on the street with a homemade sign that says, 'I love my liberty.' "

The Utah LaRouche movement is the only organization with a city permit to protest on Monday, said Salt Lake City special events manager Shawn McDonough. The others don't need a permit as long as they don't block the sidewalks or parking garages or force people to listen or accept printed information, she said.

Ashcroft is scheduled to appear at 10:50 a.m. He then flies to Boise, where he will speak at 1:55 p.m. at the Boise Depot events center near the Capitol. Another stop is scheduled for Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nev.

Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers have criticized the sweeping measure that gives the Justice Department broad investigation powers. Libertarians have protested at the state Capitol twice. On Tuesday, K-Talk radio host Barbara Jean Whitely and others plan to ask the Salt Lake City Council to join more than 150 local governments and three states that have adopted resolutions condemning the act.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit last month against Patriot Act provisions that grant federal authorities access to people's library records and bookstore purchases, and has previously challenged the government's expanded surveillance powers under the legislation.

Those opposed to the Patriot Act see Ashcroft's tour as welcome news, saying it proves that public opposition to the legislation is growing.

"The good news is that the more Americans learn about the so-called Patriot Act the more suspicious they'll be of pro-government extremists like John Ashcroft," Joe Seehusen, executive director of the national Libertarian Party, said Thursday.

A Justice Department Web site promoting the campaign cites favorable opinion polls as proof that most Americans support the Patriot Act. All U.S. attorneys have been asked to hold town hall meetings and write newspaper opinion pieces defending the act.

Officials have said that opposition to the law is generated by special-interest groups who misrepresent its powers.

Vogt encouraged those attending Friday's planning meeting to counteract that image in any way possible.

"We are not special-interest groups," she said. "We are people, and we need him to see us as people."

Before Congress recessed for the summer, House members passed Idaho Republican Rep. Butch Otter's amendment to cut off funding for the so-called "sneak and peak" section of the act that allows investigators to secretly search suspects' homes.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are discussing the "Victory Act," new legislation sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, which would punish drug dealers connected to terrorists and expand the government's power to seize records and conduct wiretaps.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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