Two days ago, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was effectively chased from a restaurant by protesters screaming at her and her companion. The scene at MXDC Cocina Mexicana was shocking to most of us who have decried the loss of civility in today’s political discourse. One person clearly not shocked was Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Cal.) who defended the protesters and blamed it on Trump’s divisive political rhetoric. While the protest seemed clearly organized, Speier portrayed it as a spontaneous expression of anger by citizens in her interview on CNN. The scene was very disturbing as was the apparent impunity exercised by the protesters in shutting down a restaurant. It now appears that it was a protest by the Democratic Socialists of America and one of those participating was a DOJ employee, Allison Hrabar. Hrabar is reportedly a paralegal specialist and her participation could raise again our long-standing debate over the punishment of employees for comments or actions taken outside of the workplace.
Hrabar is quoted in aWashington Examiner report saying “It feels really good to confront people who are actually responsible, which is what we have a unique opportunity to do in D.C.” That “unique opportunity” could cost Hrabar her job. This was not just a protest but arguably disturbing the peace and trespass.
The legality of the protest is key. Before addressing the more difficult issues speech content, there is the threshold question of the legality of the protest.
There are some concerns on the participation itself. A federal employee is allowed to participate in protests or advocate for changes. They are not allowed to support or oppose a political party or candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group while at work or wearing a uniform. This includes postings on social media during work hours. If she advocated for the Socialist party or made social media protests during work hours, she could have serious ramifications.
A different issue will arise after police find the intern who screamed profanities to President Trump in the Capitol. This was presumably during the course of her duties since she used her intern badge to gain access to the Capitol.
Hrabar dismissed her status as a DOJ employee and encouraged others to engage is such confrontations: “If you see these people in public, you should remind them that they shouldn’t have peace. We aren’t the only ones who can do this. Anyone who sees Kirstjen Nielsen at dinner, anyone who sees anyone who works at DHS and ICE at dinner can confront them like this, and that’s what we hope this will inspire people to do.”
She previously posted anti-Trump comments on social media, though her account has now been made private.