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Wed Aug 29, 2012, 11:59 AM

Security at the RNC: George Orwell Meets a 'Call of Duty' Cityscape



http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/security-at-the-rnc-george-orwell-meets-a-call-of-duty-cityscape/261644/

Security at the RNC: George Orwell Meets a 'Call of Duty' Cityscape

By Conor Friedersdorf
Aug 28 2012, 7:00 AM ET100

At a defining civic event, the establishment is insulated by an army of police officers from protesters camping unseen on a far away corner.

Deep inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the impenetrable fortress where this year's Republican National Convention is being held, my colleagues and various GOP delegates assure me that the venue security I experienced is typical for events of this kind -- that it's been this way ever since 9/11. "This must be your first convention," they say. It is. As a newbie, it feels like an Orwellian police state, albeit one where the men in military fatigues carrying assault weapons are exceptionally polite. Convention veterans are inured to the layers of security checkpoints, the metal detectors, the bomb sniffing dogs, the concrete barricades, the chain link fences, and the virtual absence of protesters. I'll likely feel that way too after a few more days flashing my official credential, emblazoned with a holographic elephant raising its trunk in triumph. It's the new normal.

For now, however, I still find it striking that a community organizer turned president and a Republican Party constantly talking up limited government have collaborated to police and host a civic event literally held beneath multiple hovering police helicopters. Delegates and journalists are welcome, but citizen protesters are so far removed in their permanent camp that they might as well be in another city, save brief forays that bring them momentarily to the far periphery of the secure zone. They have the right to peaceably assemble... over there.

In past years I've always watched the political conventions on television. The atmosphere on the convention floor invariably appears to be festive, with delegates resplendent in red, white, and blue, a series of speeches by familiar figures extolling American values, and broadcast media invested in the notion that their job is to humanize the nominee. Sunday night, I watched from my hotel room as CNN broadcast its deep dive on Mitt Romney. The piece had all the trappings of even-handedness. Neither compliments nor criticisms were broadcast without some balancing statement. The unstated bias was toward narrative biography, as if looking deep into the candidate's past would reveal the true character of the man behind the HD image machine.

What feels different, experiencing the RNC here at the actual venue, is the inescapable, visceral awareness of the sprawling establishment that surrounds the nominee and his running-mate.

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