An anti-Trump protester, who was in a Starbucks within the public space inside Trump Tower, says she was detained by the Secret Service and subjected to invasive questioning after unfurling a banner.
In a piece in the Washington Post, Philadelphia resident Melissa Byrne — who says she is a former Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporter and "like any good political operative, run on coffee" — called her interrogation "bananas."
Byrne said that she had brought an anti-Trump banner inside the tower with her, and after sipping some java, hung it over a rail overlooking the Trump Tower atrium that was still within Starbucks. She was detained by NYPD officers.
"Since Starbucks is a public place and I was a paying guest, I knew I hadn’t violated any laws. At worst, I could be banned from the building," she said. "I expected from past protest actions that I’d be given a warning and a request to leave. I clearly and politely explained to the NYPD officers who detained me that the protest was done and I was heading out."
Byrne was then cuffed and brought to a room off the atrium with 10 NYPD and Secret Service officers, where she could see Trump campaign materials were stored.
She listed a portion of her conversation and some of the questions she was asked:
NYPD: “Why would you come to the president’s home to do this?”
Byrne: “It was wrong for the president to support white supremacy.”
NYPD: “Don’t you respect the president?”
Byrne: “I don’t respect people who align with Nazis.”
Secret Service: “Do you have negative feelings toward the president?”
Secret Service: “Can you elaborate?”
Byrne: “He should be impeached and should not be president.”
Byrne also says she was asked if she had been inside the White House (she had, as a tour guide); whether she had mental health disorders or ever had suicidal thoughts, was threatened with a felony and asked to sign a waiver so the Secret Service could obtain her medical records.
When Byrne asked for a lawyer, she was told she could be held longer, then released with a ban from Trump Tower.
"It was clear right away that these officials wouldn’t see me the way I see myself: as a reasonably responsible, skilled nonviolent political operative who works on a mix of electoral and issues campaign," she wrote. "To them, I was clearly a threat to national security. It felt like an interrogation on 'Homeland'."
But her experience with the Secret Service didn't end there.
So @SecretService is canvassing my neighbors. Of course I go outside to see if I can see them. Make sure to grab some good Ethiopian.— Melissa Byrne (@mcbyrne) August 17, 2017
Byrne said that the Secret Service canvassed her neighborhood in West Philadelphia a couple of days later, going so far as to question a woman she had never met. The woman later contacted her on Facebook to share the encounter with her, relaying that they had asked whether this woman knew Byrne and if she was a threat to the president. Apparently her neighborhood choice paid off. “Since I live in West Philly, she replied that the only threat lives in the White House and that the president is racist,” Bryne wrote in her piece.