RNC pushing Secret Service to move protest area farther from convention site

Park about a quarter-mile away from Fiserv Forum likely to be designated protest area during RNC

Protesters in matching purple shirts march on the sidewalk behind a leader in a neon vest.
A group organized by the Service Employees International Union Wisconsin marches to the Fiserv Forum, the location of the Republican presidential primary debate, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Republican National Committee is pushing the United States Secret Service to move the security perimeter for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this July to put more distance between protesters and attendees.

A Thursday letter from Todd Steggerda — an attorney for the RNC — to the director of the U.S. Secret Service called on the agency to move the security perimeter to encapsulate Pere Marquette Park, the site that will likely be designated for protests during the week of the Republican National Convention.

Steggerda said if that doesn’t happen, the current plan will, “heighten — rather than obviate or diffuse — tensions and confrontation, creating an increased and untenable risk of violence.”

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“Your failure to act now to prevent these unnecessary and certain risks will imperil tens of thousands of Convention attendees, inexcusably forcing them into close proximity to the currently planned First Amendment Zone,” the letter said. 

A protester holds a sign that says "Working Families' Lives Matter."
A group organized by the Service Employees International Union Wisconsin marches to the Fiserv Forum, the location of the Republican presidential primary debate, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The letter said in order to “alleviate safety risks,” the U.S. Secret Service should “expand a small portion of the Security Perimeter approximately one block to the East to encapsulate the Park (Pere Marquette Park).”

Protesters would not be allowed within the security perimeter, which will be officially set by the U.S. Secret Service at a future date.

The RNC will take place July 15-18 and is expected to bring 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee. Past political conventions have drawn large crowds of protesters from around the nation. Organizers with the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024 expect thousands of people to attend a protest on the first day of the convention.

Pere Marquette Park was designated by the city as the protest site for the Democratic National Convention in 2020. The park is about a quarter-mile away from where the RNC is being held at Fiserv Forum, and one block away from Baird Center and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena, where other events will be held during the convention. 

Pere Marquette Park, at 900 N. Plankinton Ave, Milwaukee. Google Maps

The RNC is seeking a new “First Amendment Zone” at Zeidler Union Square, a park about a half-mile from Fiserv Forum. Doing so will create a “protective physical separation from the anticipated demonstrators,” according to the letter.

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief of communications for the U.S. Secret Service, said the agency has had discussions with the RNC and with Michael Whatley, the chair of the Republican National Committee, ahead of the convention. 

“There’s an immense amount of planning, there’s an immense amount of discussions that go back and forth,” he said.

“Our security perimeters are based on public safety metrics, including protective intelligence, risk, and threat assessments. Our model is designed to ensure the highest level of security while minimizing impacts on the public,” Guglielmi said in a statement. “Demonstration zones for the convention are designated by the host city, not the Secret Service.”

protesters hold a banner as they march down the street
Pro-life protesters make their way toward the Wisconsin Center on the first day of the DNC on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Guglielmi said there’s a security team in Milwaukee working to set the security perimeter and locations for security checkpoints. He said the agency will release more specific details closer to the date of the event.

“We are constantly working with the RNC’s planners and even the chairman’s office to try and make sure that the security plan for the RNC both encompasses the safety objectives and as well, accomplishes individual’s rights to assembly,” Guglielmi said. 

Omar Flores, a leader with the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024 , said the group has hosted other “family friendly” marches in the area, as he said this one will be.

“If they don’t want to face people that are disagreeing with them, they shouldn’t have come to Milwaukee,” Flores said. “If they’re scared, they should just stay home, because we’re going to be exercising our First Amendment right.”

Protesters will be forced to march along a predetermined parade route and use a city-owned speaker’s platform when marching within the general security zone, according to a city ordinance.

But Flores has voiced concerns that his group would be forced to share a stage with other protest groups who may have opposing political viewpoints, which he said “increases the chance of conflict.” Because of that, the group is planning its own parade route.

“We want to be within sight and sound — Pere Marquette Park is neither of those,” Flores said.

Zeidler Union Square would also be too far for them to be heard, Flores said.

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