A Philadelphia-based activist and organizer says that after she unfurled a banner at Trump Tower in New York before President Trump’s Tuesday news conference, Secret Service agents knocked on her neighbors’ doors and asked if she was a threat to the president.
Melissa Byrne, who has worked for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and MoveOn.org, dropped the “Women Resist White Supremacy” banner on behalf of the feminist organization UltraViolet and the Working Families Party before Trump entered the lobby and delivered his controversial remarks on the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Byrne said she was escorted out by New York police and the Secret Service, questioned for about an hour, and sent home with no charges.
She said she was surprised when a neighbor sent her a Facebook message Thursday that two men who identified themselves as Secret Service agents had come to her door with questions.
“They said, ‘Your neighbor was at a protest at Trump Tower,'” neighbor Malissa Durham, a lawyer, recalled in an interview, “and they were assessing whether she was a threat to the president.”
Byrne said that a second neighbor also reported receiving a visit from agents. No one from the Secret Service has contacted her personally, she said.
“I find it really insulting. I’m a committed nonviolent organizer, and they’re making it seem to the neighbors that I could be a threat,” she said. “Luckily, it’s West Philly, so people don’t like Trump.”
A spokesman for the Secret Service neither confirmed nor denied the claims, writing in an email that “as a matter of practice the Secret Service does not comment on the means and methods of protective operations or investigations.”
Ronald Kessler, a former reporter for the Washington Post and Newsmax who has written two books about the Secret Service, was skeptical of the assertion. He said the agency generally only investigates people who make threats against the president.
“The Secret Service is very, very respectful of the right to protest and freedom of speech,” Kessler said. “There’s no way they would be doing anything with someone who unfurls a banner.”
Byrne said she had worked with people under Secret Service protection and was cleared to volunteer at the White House in the past. She said that she recently participated at a protest at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J., but that her participation drew no attention from federal agents.
She called herself “a nonviolent, normal, political person” and said such scrutiny was abnormal. “I think it’s important to document that.”