ragu hoffmanFollowing lunch, President Tim Ernst introduced our guests from Amador Valley High School’s We The People program – teacher Jeremy Detamore, and students Gali Hoffman and Deepak Ragu (who both represented the entire team from Amador Valley). The Thomas Jefferson Chapter SAR and the Jose Maria Amador Chapter DAR made contributions to help send the students to Washington, DC, for the national finals.

President Ernst introduced Jeremy Detamore, who has been teaching the "We The People" program for eleven years at Amador Valley High School. This is the third time he has had the opportunity to take a class to Washington, DC, for the national finals.

 Since Amador Valley High School placed first in the California State competition, they were invited to the national finals. He thanked the Thomas Jefferson Chapter for helping raise money to send the students to the national finals. He explained that the We The People program was created in 1987 as part of the Bicentennial Celebration by Chief Justice Warren Burger and others to encourage the study of the US Constitution. It is a national program to get students immersed in the US Constitution. The goal is for students to take the US Constitution, the Supreme Court Cases associated with it, and US Laws, to formulate arguments based on the Constitution. He said it was one of the best critical thinking courses a student could take.

Student Gail Hoffman discussed how the program was broken into six units:

1. The Philosophical Foundations of the United States,

2. The Founders and the Framers,

3. How the Constitution has been changed to fit the Ideals in the Declaration of Independence,

4. How the Branches of Government Work Together,

5. The Bill of Rights, and

6. Modern Day Democracy.

Student Deepak Ragu said that for the national competition, they are given three questions ahead of time to prepare, and then they participate in a mock congressional hearing using one of the three questions. They give an opening statement for four minutes, and then answer questions for six minutes. They have to base their statements and answers on the US Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions. Jeremy Detamore said, in addition to the competition, they also were able to visit the important sites in Washington, DC. After the finals, their school finished in 14th place out of 56 schools. He said it was a legacy program, with former students coming back to help out with the program and to chaperone the current students.

President Tim Ernst introduced guest speaker Jim Holcomb, a Special Agent with the US Secret Service. He said he has served with the Secret Service for nineteen years – he started in Sacramento in 2000. In 2004, he moved to Washington, DC, and served in the White House under President George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He then taught at the Secret Service Training Academy. In 2014, he moved to San Francisco, and back to Sacramento in 2016. Previous to his job with the Secret Service, he spent twelve years in the US Army as a military policeman.

Agent Holcomb said the Secret Service was founded in 1865 during the War Between the States, when two-thirds of US Currency in circulation was counterfeit. The Southern States (including Southern California) were flooding the Union States with counterfeit money to undermine the Federal Government. President Lincoln signed the law creating the Secret Service before he was assassinated in 1865, and, unfortunately for him, providing protection was not part of their original mission. From 1865 to 1901, the mission of the Secret Service was solely fighting counterfeit money. In 1901, after the loss of three presidents (Lincoln [1865], Garfield [1881], and McKinley [1901]) to assassination, the US government unofficially tasked the Secret Service with protecting the US President. After the second attempted assassination of President Truman in 1950, a law was passed officially tasking the Secret Service with protecting the US President. Their protection service has been expanded to include the President’s immediate family, grandchildren, the Chief of Staff, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the National Security Advisor. They also protect past presidents and their spouses, as well as visiting foreign heads of state. They now protect presidential candidates. Since presidents and past presidents do not come to Sacramento that often, most of the work that the Secret Service does in Sacramento involves investigating counterfeiting, financial crimes and wire fraud. Each year there is about $78 million in counterfeit currency in circulation. The government never takes a loss in counterfeit currency – the last person holding the counterfeit bill takes the loss.

Agent Holcomb passed around some samples of counterfeit bills of varying quality, and then noted that possession of counterfeit money was a felony. He said the most common way to tell if a bill is counterfeit is that it feels wrong. Many counterfeiters print on paper, whereas legal currency is printed on a cotton-linen blend. He said there has been a lot of advances in anti-counterfeiting technology, and most of the countries he has visited have adopted them, while the US has fallen behind. There are Chinese manufacturers who make “motion picture money,” which looks real, but has fine print that it is fake money. In order to lawfully possess fake money, it must be double or half the size of real currency and one sided (if in color), or two sided (if in black and white), but the Chinese do not honor our laws.

The Secret Service also deals with threats against the president or other protectees; they get about 6,700 threats a year. They fall into three categories: 1. Direct Threat (“I am going to kill a protectee”), 2. Conditional Threat (“If the protectee does this, I am going to kill him”), and 3. Crazy/Grey Area Threat (The television is telling me to kill the proctectee” or “Someone should kill the protectee”). Many of the people they deal with have mental problems. It is their job not only to prosecute them, but to figure out where they are on the path to committing a crime. The greatest predictor of whether someone is dangerous is if they have been dangerous in the past. Some people are just loud mouths, and the Secret Service can make their lives miserable by contacting everyone who knows the subject during the investigation. Some people claim they have a first amendment right to make death threats. He tells them that they need to look at the case law related to the first amendment, which shows they do NOT have a right to make death threats. If they want to be a test case to try and get it overturned, he says “let’s do it. We’ll convict you, send you to prison, and then you can have all the appeals you want trying to get the case law overturned.” He said he was not political when serving as a Secret Service agent – he has protected George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, foreign dictators, etc. He said the Secret Service defends Article II of the US Constitution without passion or prejudice. He believes no assassin has the right to usurp the vote of the people.

Agent Holcomb opened the floor to questions. A Committee composed of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, the House Sergeant-at-Arms, and the Secretary of Homeland Security decides when and which presidential candidates are protected by the Secret Service. There are several criteria to be a viable candidate (having enough funds to go the distance, polling at a minimum percentage, etc.). Trump was given protection 12 months before he became president, while Barack Obama received protection an unprecedented 18 months prior to becoming president. It costs $75,000 a day to protect a candidate. After the nominating convention, they add the spouse of the candidate, and the VP candidate and spouse. Normally, unless there is a specific threat, no candidate gets protection more than a year before the election.

If the president is going to speak at an event, they like to have 5 days’ notice so they can send an advance team to the location to gather information and make a threat assessment. They have engineers on standby, an advance counter-sniper team, an advance counter-assault team, airport advance team, motorcade advance team, etc. If the event is overseas, they get 10 days’ notice, which is enough time for places like London, but not enough time in hostile nations, or nations at war. After 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, it is no longer lawful for a candidate to decline Secret Service protection. Spouses can decline, as can former presidents/spouses. At the White House detail, there are three shifts of 8 hours. President Tim Ernst presented the SAR Certificate of Appreciation to Jim Holcomb for his informative presentation on the history of the US Secret Service, and his experiences in the service.

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