THURMONT, Md. (AP) – Plans for a springtime G-8 economic summit at Camp David triggered John Kinnaird’s memories of demonstrations in the neighboring town of Thurmont in 1978, when Middle East peace talks were held at the presidential retreat.
A few dozen activists who waved signs outside the media center at the American Legion post were well-behaved that year, Kinnaird said Wednesday. But he’s worried about the demonstrations that could accompany the G-8 meeting May 18-19.
“Today’s protesters are a different breed,” said Kinnaird, 57, a town commissioner. “They have a propensity to cause mischief and I just hope we don’t have anything like that happen.”
Law enforcement officials and activists say it’s too soon to say how a big a presence they expect to have in and around Thurmont, a Blue Ridge Mountain town of nearly 6,200 people, located about 70 miles north of Washington. Some Occupy activists have tweeted about camping in nearby Cunningham Falls State Park, but park officials say there’s been no rush to reserve campsites since the White House announced Monday that it was moving the meeting from Chicago.
“We’re aware there’s some communication going on out there on social media but there’s been very little activity,” said Lt. Col. Chris Bushman, deputy superintendent of the Maryland Park Service. He said about half of the 149 campsites have been reserved for the G-8 time frame.
There are 51 first-come, first-serve campsites in Catoctin Mountain Park, the national park that surrounds Camp David. Park superintendent Mel Poole said campers might be barred from the park during the G-8 meeting.
“We have closed the whole park on occasion,” he said, including the 30 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That decision would be made by the Secret Service, Poole said.
Beth Emmerling of Occupy Baltimore said she knew of no plans for demonstrations near Camp David.
“People may have booked sites to take advantage of the lovely weather at that time of year but there’s not political connection to that as far as I know,” she said.
Joy Davis, another Occupy Baltimore activist said the group will hold a meeting Thursday to discuss the G-8 summit and a NATO summit scheduled two days later in Chicago.
“Occupy Baltimore people want to take advantage of the G-8’s local move,” she wrote in an email.
At least one large protest group, the United National Antiwar Coalition, is staying focused on Chicago despite the relocation of the G-8 meeting, said Joe Lombardo, a coalition coordinator in Delmar, N.Y.
“It’s very difficult to build a demonstration like this. It takes quite a while,” Lombardo said.
He said the White House moved the G-8 meeting to divide demonstrators.
“We don’t’ think the government should be playing those types of game,” Lombardo said.
Emmerling said G-8 protesters may be dissuaded by the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, a bill Congress sent last week to President Barack Obama. It would broaden federal powers to prosecute those who seek to disrupt government business by engaging in disorderly conduct in or near a building or grounds where the president or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be visiting.
“It changes the landscape,” Emmerling wrote in an email.
She said her group isn’t interested in intentional conflict.
“We are people who simply want our voices and concerns to be part of the global, national and local dialogue,” Emmerling wrote.
Thurmont Police Chief Gregory Eyler said he’ll likely cancel all leave and training time for his 10-member police force for the G-8 meeting. The town will enforce the 10 p.m. closing time of its two municipal parks and require permits for demonstrations, he said.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he’s preparing for traffic congestion on the two-lane roads leading to Thurmont. He speculated that demonstrators who can’t get near Camp David might target Fort Detrick, an Army post in nearby Frederick that includes the military’s flagship biodefense laboratory.
High-profile visitors aren’t new to Thurmont. Longtime residents can recount sightings and meetings with presidents and cabinet officials in decades past, when security was looser.
Bill Blakeslee, the town’s administrative officer, remembers seeing President Richard Nixon and Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev land in a helicopter at the local high school in 1973 when foul weather prevented a Camp David landing.
“I could see through the windows the two leaders of the world chatting, which I thought was pretty neat,” he said.
Kinnaird recalled seeing First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at a soda fountain with her children, and meeting President Lyndon Johnson at church.
“When they were in town, everybody knew about it. Everybody talked about it,” he said.
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