Safety Measures Won’t Loosen Without Leadership

It’s too bad Lane County officials see a need to begin security screenings for public meetings. They received what they referred to as a credible threat to incite violence at a meeting, so metal detector gates and security wands will be used until further notice.

It’s doubly unfortunate because those changes came just days before a man was detained by Springfield police for videotaping a government building and a school, in what looks like a national effort that uses pranksters to promote anarchistic freedom.

Springfield police detained the man while he was livestreaming their confrontation. Viewers of Black Coat Media’s livestream responded by flooding the police department with more complaint calls than local officials ever recall receiving — more than 600 over two hours.

It’s too bad because safety measures are very difficult to rescind. The ratchet progresses easily in the direction of more security but not easily at all toward openness, trust and freedom. We don’t know how to unring that bell, to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

It’s part of a genuine global trend. No remedy has yet been found. Osama bin Laden struck a chord. People love their freedom, but if you can make them feel afraid or attacked, those freedoms will be quickly traded for more security.

Putin and his trolls are devising new ways to hit our soft underbelly. They’ve learned how to color our free expression with a frightening tint of violence. Once we become suspicious of our neighbors, our freedoms will be dismantled from the inside.

It’s as if Putin’s strategists sought a way to replicate our 9/11 panic, but with less danger or cost. They devised a plan to crash our planes without planting terrorists aboard. If they could incite passengers to start a riot for more snacks or legroom, no one would notice while they remotely steer the plane during the chaos.

Chaos never used to frighten us. Dissent is one of the strengths of a democracy. First Amendment protections expose us to a wide range of opinions, which inoculates us against the most unsavory views. Openness has been our strength. Sunshine is our disinfectant.

But now we have shadowy groups like Black Coat Media. They take our liberty, mix it with suspicion, and shake vigorously. We drink their poison cocktail and it blurs our vision. All we see are two choices. We need authoritarian control to keep us safe, or we must protect ourselves from inevitable anarchy. No and no.

President Franklin Roosevelt famously assured Americans that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In that speech, he gave our adversaries the playbook now being used against us. When people are afraid, they’ll barter their freedom. The ratchet tightens one notch at a time.

Lane County Commissioners cannot be happy that their meetings have been drawn into this regression. By all reports, those coming to attend last week’s board meeting took the extra precautions in stride. Those charged with running the extra layer of security did their best to keep things light and neighborly.

That’s a step in the right direction. Here are three more steps in that direction. As soon as it is safe to do so, county authorities should share with the public everything they can about the threat to incite violence that was made and how they determined it was credible.

Since the threat has already heightened concerns, our leaders must complete the work that was begun by others. The Lane County Board of Commissioners should articulate and agree how and when the additional precautions will be removed. Concerns cannot remain heightened forever. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Finally, and this step can be taken immediately, commissioners and meeting officials should consent to be wanded and checked, just like everyone else in the room. If additional security is necessary, the hassle should be shared equally. Make Harris Hall a safe place; not a protected place. Security may be necessary, but segregation never is.

We must return to first principles. The strength of self-governance is in our solidarity. It all began, and still does, with three words: “We the people.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at