ST. PAUL, Minn. — Fearing demonstrations from Ron Paul delegates here at the Republican National Convention, the party has created a “black-hat” squad to track the Paulites and other potential troublemakers to make sure they don’t cause a scene on the convention floor.
Identified by their black baseball caps emblazoned with a white star, squad members keep an eye on delegates they fear might cause a scene. The squad is empowered by the convention managers to take delegates’ credentials and kick them off the convention floor — a step one convention official said would be unprecedented.
Squad members have made “their presence known, to let all people know big brother’s watching them,” said a Republican official familiar with the squad who has been involved in the last 10 GOP conventions.
Convention spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
The black-hat squad is on the lookout for T-shirts, unauthorized signs and anything else that could cause a disruption, according to people familiar with the operation who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Convention leaders always have been vigilant about outsiders gaining unauthorized access to their events, but this time the danger comes from within: Mr. Paul, who sought the Republican presidential nomination, won dozens of delegates to the convention and has hundreds of other supporters who are credentialed to attend.
What’s more, Mr. Paul’s supporters have been creative about getting attention for themselves.
“Here they have a vocal group who are actually in the building who want to make a statement,” the official said.
So far, Paul delegates and backers have remained subdued. On Wednesday night the only disturbance in the hall came from two demonstrators from Code Pink, the anti-war organization. They apparently gained access to the arena with press credentials but were scooped off the floor quickly by the black-hat squad, among others.
In addition to the black hats on the floor, there are also convention aides with yellow hats, who are the rapid-response team to handle disturbances; those with red hats, who are the floor managers; and those with white hats, who serve as ushers, helping with seating and passing out papers.
The floor and security managers include both lobbyists and longtime Washington political operatives.
The black hats’ power comes from their authority to revoke credentials. The fine print on the back of each credential says: “This ticket is a revokable license. Tickets may be revoked from persons engaging in inappropriate or disorderly behavior, or for any other reason deemed necessary by security personnel and/or the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Paul’s spokesman, Jesse Benton, said Republican Party officials warned Paul supporters not to cause a commotion.
“There have been some overtures to our political guys and our delegates that if they acted up, they would be removed,” Mr. Benton said.
He said the Paul campaign has identified 260 delegates and hundreds of alternates to the convention who support Mr. Paul even though, by the rules of the convention, they are bound to other candidates.
Republican officials asked the campaign for a list of those supporters, but the Paul campaign declined, Mr. Benton said.
Mr. Paul conducted his own counter-convention in Minneapolis on Tuesday and made his way through the press areas of the Republicans’ event Wednesday. But he will not visit the convention floor this week. Mr. Benton said Mr. Paul and his supporters were unable to reach an agreement on rules for his visit.
Mr. Paul, who as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, is entitled to a pass and wanted credentials for a few staffers. But Mr. Benton said convention officials wanted to control Mr. Paul’s access and did not allow his staff on the floor, insisting that they have a party escort.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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