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NATO Summit caught in spin cycle on both sides

Andy Thayer leads NATO Protesters news conference City Chicago Central Hearing Facility before appeal hearing review City's rejectianti-NATO protest permit

Andy Thayer leads NATO Protesters in news conference at City of Chicago Central Hearing Facility, before appeal hearing to review City's rejection of anti-NATO protest permit refiled by activists after the G8 Summit was cancelled, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: June 15, 2012 8:07AM

The First Amendment needs its own No-Spin Zone.

On the run-up to the NATO summit, free speech is being held hostage. While the summit kicks off this weekend, the war of words has been under way for months. Chicago needs a cease-fire on the distortions, disclaimers and declarations that have filled the public conversation.

For this longtime journalist, free speech is a precious standard. Yet the frenzied and hyperbolic rhetoric around NATO is freely spinning out of control.

I am bleary-eyed from reading the outraged press releases from the professional protesters. My ears ache from the righteous retorts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who declares, in effect, “Don’t worry uh-bout it.”

Both sides will say, claim or charge anything to win the war. The spinning, posturing and distorting have produced so much hot air that there is no room for a thoughtful debate about the balance between liberty and safety.

While protest groups say they merely want to peacefully demonstrate, some predict mayhem. Take Andy Thayer, a lead organizer for the Coalition Against NATO/G-8, who covets his niche as a lifelong dissident and the city’s chief complainer.

In a recent newspaper op-ed, he charged that Chicago has “an international reputation for police violence.” President Barack Obama “thinks nothing of doing away with habeas corpus, thinks nothing of assassinating citizens abroad,” he told last month. “We know he’s not going to give a damn about the First Amendment.”

Thayer has rationalized his fight with City Hall this way: “Why should people respect the law, if the law does not respect them?”

The National Nurses United group is coming to town — with an attention-deprived rocker in tow. After learning the nurses’ group added a concert by Tom Morello, guitarist for the aptly named Rage Against the Machine, to a rally on May 18 at Daley Center Plaza, the city threatened to revoke their permit and move them to Grant Park. The group said Friday the city will let them rally at Daley Plaza.

Morello, whose stage name for solo gigs is the Nightwatchman, declared to the media, “We won’t be silenced and we won’t be stopped,” adding, “See you in the streets.”

He tweeted, “Why is Rahm Emanuel so afraid of The Nightwatchman??”

I don’t know if he is afraid, but Emanuel should be dizzy from his own spinning. His NATO Host Committee released a dubious study that the summit would bring the city $128 million in “short-term” benefits. The mayor and his minions have claimed that days of highway and street closures and tie-ups and the presence of massive security will add up to a “minor” inconvenience. And Emanuel says it all won’t cost taxpayers a cent.

Regular Chicagoans are caught in the middle. They just want to get to work, play or get out of town, in droves.

No one knows — or can spin — how it will all go down this week. That’s what we should be afraid of.

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