If the facts that gave rise to this lawsuit (reg. req.) are as described in the complaint, then it’s pretty disturbing. Last June, a Colorado man named Steven Howards approached Vice President Cheney in a public place, and told him “I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible,” or “words to that effect.” A few minutes later, a Secret Service Agent cuffed Howards and had him hauled off to jail. (The charges were later dropped).
There’s not much in the news coverage to suggest that Howards, who was taking his eight-year-old son to piano practice at the time, behaved in a threatening manner, unless one thinks that telling public officials what they don’t want to hear is inherently threatening.
There is quite a bit of evidence, however, that that’s exactly what the Secret Service thinks. Some of it is documented in this study, under the heading “Free Speech Zones.” The agency has evolved from a necessary protective detail for the president to a sort of palace guard with apparently very little regard for those not under its protection. That’s the fault of the agency’s leadership, to be sure, but ultimately the buck stops with the people they answer to.