Bluffdale • Privacy advocates and self-described patriots came together on the 4th of July to denounce a government they believe is unconstitutionally spying on its own people.
Wearing red, white and blue and carrying American flags and protest signs, 150 people gathered at the plaza of Utah Veterans Memorial Park after they were bumped from a field near the access road for the new National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center.
After 90 minutes of impassioned speeches about intrusive government, the Constitution and God, about 65 people walked back along Camp Williams Road to an NSA entrance, carrying signs with messages such as “Since When is My Blog a Matter of National Security?” and “The Answer to 1984 is 1776.”
Five Utah Highway Patrol troopers watched the protesters as they tied red, white and blue ribbons to the NSA fence and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NSA has got to go!”
People in several large white SUVs stood watch from behind a second NSA fence. No one tried to stop the protesters.
The $1.5 billion data center being built on the Utah National Guard’s Camp Williams has drawn attention to the NSA’s spying in the wake of the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
He disclosed last month that the agency had obtained warrants to collect and monitor millions of telephone records and calls placed or received on Verizon phones. The U.S. government has defended the practice as vital to national security.
Some of that data could ultimately come to the Utah Data Center, which is expected to open in the fall. NSA has said data will not be analyzed there, but it will be the largest of four NSA sites collecting data, including facilities in Colorado, Georgia and Maryland.
Thursday’s rally was organized by two groups, a loosely knit collection of self-described patriots and the Utah affiliate of Restore The Fourth, which had similar rallies in 100 other communities around the country. The reference is to the 4th Amendment, which protects Americans against unlawful searches and seizures.
It turned out to be a rocky collaboration, though, with a patriot speaker calling on God to curse the new Data Center and the privacy advocates yelling “Talk about the NSA!”
A number of would-be ralliers left early.
“I didn’t come for a big harangue by the tea party types,” said Jay Dewell of Park City.
A couple with five children also left early. “It’s the right cause, wrong message,” said the father, Steve, who declined to give his last name.
The lead-off speaker at the rally was Dane Phillips, a contractor from Las Vegas who said he and all at the rally were called by God to oppose the NSA.
At one point, Phillips asked God to curse the data center and all the electricity and water flowing in and out of it.
“That facility is Jericho,” said Phillips, who runs the website battlehymn.com. “That facility is going to come to the ground … God is going to basically bust it apart.”
A.True Ott of Ogden urged the crowd to study quantum computing, suggesting the government’s ultimate goal is controlling minds. “It’s not just about tracing your emails and phone calls,” he said.
Others, though, like Dillon Graves of Salt Lake City and Dan Garfield of Saratoga Springs, urged people to focus on the central issue: the NSA and privacy intrusion.
“We should be wiretapping our government!” Garfield said to applause.
Shortly after tying a white ribbon to the NSA fence, Ryan Moore of Provo said he was happy the patriots and privacy advocates finally zeroed in on their common cause.
“They were able to focus on the central theme that unites us,” he said.