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Casualty of the new "War on Terrorism"
December 18, 2001 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Casualty of the new "War on Terrorism" FBI visits man who exercises his free speech rights (again).
posted by 4midori (42 comments total)

 
4midori, free speech isn't a right, it's a privilege... and if surrendering free speech will help us beat terrorism then that's a price I'm willing to pay!
posted by skylar at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2001


"It's like we're becoming a police state," Reingold said.

The jist of this story is -- some moron from a gym called and reported the guy to the FBI for saying some stuff about the war critical of the US, the FBI, likely as a matter of procedure at this point, showed up at his house, he told them to leave, and they did.

Though I understand the intimidation that must come with a visit from the FBI, where were his rights violated? Calling this "police state" is silly, this isn't fascism, it isn't even McCarthyism.

Yes, its obnoxious that people feel it their duty to report someone for being "un-american", but I don't have a major problem with an FBI policy of treating every complaint seriously -- going out and talking to someone, and filing a report.

I agree, its quite possible something like this might be a step in a bad direction, but its not there yet -- start talking about police states if they actually take some action on this, or when you start seeing black lists, or harassment.
posted by malphigian at 11:47 AM on December 18, 2001


Watch out, Skylar, a few people around here don't "get" sarcasm.

...It is sarcasm, right?
posted by ColdChef at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2001


i sure hope that was sarcarsm... (Brrrr)


malphigian has a point, the FBI covering its own butt by checking every tip no matter how silly is just that, the FBI covering its butt. However, it's more than just a step in the wrong direction and a visit from the FBI is likely to quash an awful lot of freely spoken dissent. I for one have a big problem with that.
posted by dorcas at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2001


Though I understand the intimidation that must come with a visit from the FBI

start talking about police states if they actually take some action on this, or when you start seeing black lists, or harassment.

intimidation != harassment ?
posted by badstone at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2001


some moron from a gym called and reported the guy to the FBI for saying some stuff about the war critical of the US

This article is a whole lot of nothing, but what is truly scary is that if the FBI must check even the lamest report then its not a police state but a self-policing state full of patriotic paranoids. Now which is worse?

With the authorities I have certain rights, I can sue for false arrest or discrimination but I can't sue Bill the snitch for being paranoid.
posted by skallas at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2001


Yes I was being [CENSORED]. Just a [BLANKED OUT] from me. Everything is fine.
posted by skylar at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2001


intimidation != harassment ?

Its not intentional harassment, but you're right that needs clarification -- if they start visiting you frequently at work, or tailing you all over, or interviewing your boss -- those things are harassment of the sort I'm talking about.

A visit is just a visit, and while it might be scary/intimidating, it does you no actual harm, and it's not like the FBI in any case have said anything about people not being allowed to say these things. Its harmless. The real civil rights issues are elsewhere.
posted by malphigian at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2001


I recommend Bruce Fein's commentary, "Trust...but Verify." (Not the sort of site I'd choose to link to, but politics makes strange allies! and it's no longer available from the Washington Times.) Of the USA PATRIOT Act, Fein writes:

"What strengthens law enforcement correspondingly heightens the risk of selective targeting of unpopular or unorthodox minorities. Moreover, the bedrock right to be left alone is further disturbed...[C]ompelled testimony of ordinary citizens is often frightening and financially draining, even when no crime is unearthed. The same is true if a swarm of FBI agents knock on the door and ask for a "voluntary" interview."
posted by Carol Anne at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2001


If you're intimidated because two young guys in cheap domestic suits come to your door and ask you "Did you say the stuff you said?" then you're either a big scaredy cat, or you lack the courage of your convictions. Either way, you'd be hard pressed to suggest that a brief interview, conducted at your front door, ended at your discretion is harassment or intimidation, especially if it isn't repeated or escalated beyond that level.

All American adults know that they have the freedom to express themselves freely, and if some wingnut calls the authorities because they were offended by completely legal, if controversial, opinions, who, exactly, is at fault? The wingnut, surely -- but if the authorities do not follow up on the report, they will surely bear much responsibility if the loudmouth ends up doing something that might have been foreseen and prevented with a little bit of investigation.

But if that little bit of investigation causes the loudmouth to suddenly clam up, who is at fault? If you let something stop you from doing what is entirely your right to do, no one can be blamed but yourself.
posted by Dreama at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2001



"if that little bit of investigation causes the loudmouth to duddenly clam up, who is at fault?"

Oh, definitely the "loudmouth" is to blame here. How dare he express himself without the backing of major oil companies or moneyed political dynasties.
posted by dorcas at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2001


dreama:

If you're intimidated because two young guys in cheap domestic suits come to your door and ask you "Did you say the stuff you said?" then you're either a big scaredy cat, or you lack the courage of your convictions.

what's with the ad-hominems?

Either way, you'd be hard pressed to suggest that a brief interview, conducted at your front door, ended at your discretion is harassment or intimidation, especially if it isn't repeated or escalated beyond that level.

i don't believe reingold will be pursuing legal action accusing the FBI of either harassment or intimidation, for the article states that "The only thing Reingold has done to date is file an affadavit with an attorney to commemorate the FBI visitation" and "Reingold isn't sure what recourse he has now, if any." in that case, he needn't be hard-pressed to suggest anything, for it's his right to feel intimidated if he likes.
posted by moz at 12:32 PM on December 18, 2001


That last remark intimidates me. I demand that you recant.
posted by aramaic at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2001


Interesting writing choices in the article:

Reingold works out every day at a gym in San
Francisco, and has done so for the last six years.

(what gym?)
...

Reingold confronted the gym about his privacy
having been violated, but the gym manager at the 24
Hour Fitness Center on Folsom Street in San
Francisco never officially responded. When I called
the club, manager Chris Robinson responded to
inquiries with a chilly, "No comment." Calls were also placed to the FBI, but were unreturned.

is "the club" the same as "the gym"? Is "24 Hour Fitness Center on Folsom Street" the gym where he works out?

Never does it explicitly say that the 24 Hour Fitness Center is actually the gym where these alleged conversations took place. And no gym is named until halfway through the article. Why?

So what we have here is a guy who claims to work out at a gym [in San Francisco] and who claims that some FBI agents (he forgets their names) contacted him.

I know I'm being picky, but there are no facts in this story.
posted by squinky at 1:01 PM on December 18, 2001


I love this part of the story:
Reingold firmly believes that had he been Arab or Muslim, it would have been much worse for him. He's certain he would have been taken in for more vigorous questioning, maybe even jailed. Then, he said, he'd have to decide which was worse, fascism or racism.
What a blowhard. I'm tempted to report him again.
posted by rcade at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2001


This whole story seems hokey. Maybe this guy made the whole thing up.
posted by klint at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2001


Poor writing is right

Reingold is a 60-year-old retired phone-company worker from the Bay Area who's old enough to withdraw from his IRA without penalty.

The former implies the later, the later adds nothing to the story...did the editor have a minimal word count for your assignment Emil, what grade did you get, was that with or without the curve?
posted by Mick at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2001


Why would he make the story up? For attention? For his political views, if so, then it failed because the story doesn't focus on it. And for those of you who think it's not a big deal because nothing happened, remember the report.

What did they say to that?

"That they had to write a report," said Reingold. "And I said, 'I'm sorry.' And they said, 'But we really have to write a report.' At that point I just closed the door, and that was it."


That means that his name is somewhere, on some law enforcement database. Maybe it won't matter to him at this age, but what if it was a younger person, who later on would have to get some sort of security clearance for something. Then the name would be red-flagged. Then it would matter.

Everything has consequences post 9/11. That, I think is the moral of this story.
posted by Rastafari at 1:45 PM on December 18, 2001


Congress passed a law in 1917 called endearingly the "Espionage Act". It states in one clause that any person speaking against the actions of the United States in a time of war can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison. American citizens have been tried, convicted and given hefty prison terms for "...any discussion, comment, or citicism of the acts or policies of the government..." in War time. (my knowledge of the Espionage Act comes by way of reading Howard Zinn's "A people's History of the United States")

It matters little wether the article is well written or not. Or wether you think you would stand firm in the face of "two young guys in cheap domestic suits " who ask cryptic questions about the knowledge of your rights. They're FBI and actually could of hauled the guy off to jail for what he said. Reingold has good reason to be intimidated, he got off 'easy'.
posted by fiery at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2001


No, they couldn't have, since war has not been declared.
posted by NortonDC at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2001


Casualty.
posted by fidelity at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2001


Well, fiery, I'm here to test the "Espionage Act" waters for myself. I do hope I get off easy too.

George Bush is a coward, an idiot, and smells bad. He is leading this country down the path of destruction. The war is a fraud, and American lives are being put at risk solely for oil profits.

I expect a knock on my own door any day now from a nice young Repugnican in a blue suit and flag lapel, come to install a nice new 1984-style "television" set in my alcove, courtesy of GW "Big Brother" Bush and his idiot followers.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:09 PM on December 18, 2001


hmmm, never before has gym-room penis envy escalated to the point of involving the FBI.
posted by machaus at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2001


Rooting for the terrorists. Still very much rooting for the terrorists at this point. Just wanted to throw that out, in case anyone was wondering if I'm still rooting for the terrorists. Yes, I am. Rooting for them.

(Holds hastily drawn sign above the 405 freeway overpass: "Run Osama Run")
posted by hincandenza at 3:59 PM on December 18, 2001


You know, hincandenza, I've often wondered: what do you think happens when the terrorists win? This is a serious question.
posted by darukaru at 4:07 PM on December 18, 2001


fold_and_mutilate, you joke, but it happened on kuro5hin. A person posted a hypothetical set of steps on how to infect the VP with a deadly virus, and the person that posted the comment got a visit from the feds.
posted by mathowie at 4:25 PM on December 18, 2001


mathowie: There should be a difference, in that the kuro5hin user was posting about a specific, if hypothetical, political assassination, while fold_and_mutilate is only being critical of Bush- and thus shouldn't warrant FBI investigation. The FBI and Secret Service always investigate the former (even when said by major figures, like a couple of years ago when Jesse Helms hinted that if Clinton visited NC, he'd get a very rude welcoming- the Secret Service and FBI noted and investigated that, despite it being a Senator that said it.). However, if fold_and_mutilate (or me, for that matter) get a visit simply for criticizing leadership or current policies, we all have a lot to worry about.

darukaru: Seriously? Obviously, I'm not really rooting for the terrorists- what they did is wrong, wrong, wrong, period. However, my increasing worry is that we'll become the worst kind of Nationalist state; god forbid that America ever fall under the sway of a modern day Hitler possessed by visions of worldwide domination, what with us being the strongest military, economic, and nuclear power the planet has ever seen. My fear is if that happened, if America started a World War to take over, we would win. And when I see evidence that we as a nation are become paranoid, xenophobic, and Nationalistic- as the posted link, and many other examples, are showing- it deeply worries me that these are the first signs that we are headed down that path.

I love this country, and believe in every part of me that even for all our worst faults, we are still the greatest country in history. But the best parts of America that make me feel that way seem to be the most under attack these days- the diversity, the prosperity, the humanity, the fervent belief in centuries-old civil liberties that even today seem forward thinking. These are the parts of America that I cherish, the best parts that comfort and console me when I read the painful truth about the shady side of our history, the actions in our past and present that don't make me feel proud to be an American. I don't want this country becoming primed for some charismatic Fascist to charm his way into power in 10 years simply because we all pissed away quaint and seemingly trivial notions of civil liberties, freedom, or political and democratic accountability through a community of free and diverse speech- only to find that when we really need them it's too late. I worry that in clamping so hard on free speech and other civil liberties, we are in danger of becoming exactly that which we profess to fear or loathe. The possible future America of my worst nightmares is hinted at in these episodes, and it scares me. I hope in the deepest part of me that they are just that- irrational fears, unnecessary worries. But if they aren't, if they are prophetic visions of a future Fortress America- then maybe the terrorists, or someone, should win. Because if you take away the best parts of America, the dark underbelly that's left isn't worth saving any more than the Taliban.
posted by hincandenza at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2001


Thank you.
posted by darukaru at 5:40 PM on December 18, 2001


Of course, no one knows what was in the report to the FBI that started this whole mess, which seems kind of relevant to the matter at hand. For that matter, we don't know exactly what Barry Rheingold said to start all of this.

If someone calls up the FBI and says "Hey - this guy at my gym claims he knows something about the terrorist acts of Sept 11th and the conspiracy behind them - you should go talk to him," what's the FBI supposed to do? Granted, it seems like a long shot, but maybe he does know something. So they send out a couple junior agents to talk to the guy, and he turns out to be a nutcase, so the agents shrug their shoulders and leave.

The guy even says that the FBI agents were nothing but courteous and friendly. What would you (hincandenza, fold_and_mutilate, Rastafari, et al.) have preferred that the FBI do?
posted by jaek at 5:56 PM on December 18, 2001


jaek, the FBI is irrelevent. Someone- an American citizen- felt it necessary to call the FBI about these statements simply because they weren't pro-Bush or pro-Government enough. That's the chilling part.
posted by hincandenza at 7:05 PM on December 18, 2001


The guy even says that the FBI agents were nothing but courteous and friendly. What would you (hincandenza, fold_and_mutilate, Rastafari, et al.) have preferred that the FBI do?

I would apply the 'probable cause' standard which the police use as a standard procedure before launching into a formal investigation. Probable cause exists when the officer has either (1) personal knowledge, or (2) trustworthy hearsay from an informant or other person. Otherwise, anyone who has a grudge against anyone can call the FBI -- which is what I think happened here -- after which a report will be created, which, as I pointed out earlier, means having your name is some law enforcement database for no reason.

I don't want my name there for some stupid reason like this, do you?
posted by Rastafari at 7:41 PM on December 18, 2001


Rasta-

Maybe he made it up because of his politics, maybe for attention, maybe both. Regardless, the claim that the FBI agents just left after he slammed the door in their face seems sketchy to me. He doesn't have their names and no one else saw it happen. Worse is that the paper reported the story entirely based on what some guy says happened even though they have no sources to verify it. Smells like sensationalism to me.

Whether this true or not there are verified stories of this sort of thing happening. And yeah: it's fucked up. All I'm saying is that I'm not buying this particular story.
posted by klint at 8:37 PM on December 18, 2001


I'll never forget those people bush and ashcroft killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge. *damn killers*
posted by Mack Twain at 8:49 PM on December 18, 2001


Someone- an American citizen- felt it necessary to call the FBI about these statements simply because they weren't pro-Bush or pro-Government enough.

According to who, exactly? Perhaps Rheingold said something threatening about the government or the president. Perhaps someone at the gym misheard him. In any case, there's only one source to this story, and it's a publicity-hungry blowhard. Why is everyone falling all over themselves to believe him?
posted by rcade at 8:54 PM on December 18, 2001


rcade: why is everyone... believ[ing] him?

Because we have no particular reason not to- although admittedly, there's no evidence supporting this besides the man's testimony, there's nothing contradicting it either. And this type of story isn't exactly novel, as it's being covered in MeFi before. Like I said before, I'm less troubled by the FBI showing up- it's their job, if someone says a threat was made- than the fact that other American citizens are calling these things in.

Anyway, he might be lying (maybe the FBI was never there, maybe he did make a real threat but recanted when they showed up), might even be making the whole thing up- but do you have evidence of this? The FBI won't comment, after all, nor will the gym owner/manager. So lacking even their explicit denials, we may as well believe him until further information comes forth.
posted by hincandenza at 10:48 PM on December 18, 2001


I don't like the FBI visiting random citizens any more than anyone here, but it's hard to see investigation of a tip as harassment. For all we know, the idiot who sent in a tip was a) playing a practical joke, b) exercising a grudge, c) flat-out lying about what Reingold said ... need I go on? We don't know what was in that tip.

I've never had it actually happen to me, but I've known one or two people who've had to at least speak with the FBI about "computer crime", which boils down to they said something in a newsgroup and some moron flew off the handle and turned it -- literally -- into a federal case. So this isn't really something completely new.

Reingold wasn't taken downtown for questioning. He wasn't fingerprinted. He wasn't arrested. He wasn't hauled before a judge, or locked up. The Constitution protects us against those things happening without probable cause; it does not protect us from ever answering questions. There are specific circumstances under which a person's avoidance of the police or refusal to answer questions become probable cause for further investigation, and none of those happened here.

The most annoying part of the article is where the reporter says "more than the 5000 Arab immigrants" are being questioned, then cites a database of 450,000 tips. One may imagine that not every tip is followed up. (We don't know how many are even coherent or include the right information.) But 450,000 people have not been arrested.

This is a pretty wide dragnet; but the crimes in question are pretty enormous crimes. If we say that citizens can't even be bothered to follow up tips that were turned in to the FBI, how the fuck are they to investigate? Would you all prefer phone taps and Carnivore?
posted by dhartung at 12:24 AM on December 19, 2001


we are still the greatest country in history

Et tu, hincandenza! Do you realize how stupid and alienating that remark is?

It assumes you can know all history.
It assumes you can actually say one country is greater than all the others.

This is the worst American fault of all. It encourages a stupid, competitive, point-scoring and pointless, ignorant and childish sort of game where one guy mentions Egypt or Greece, or Rome and the other guy goes: "Yeah, but what about Rome, or Greece, or Egypt".

America is a great country. Leave it at that. Making all other countries in history less great just makes America seem, well, much smaller and parochial than it is.

All the worst dictators and the most rabid nationalists, no matter how pathetic their country might be, maintained and maintain that it is "the greatest in all history".

Not the company I imagine you - and a lot of Americans who naively fall for that arrogant claptrap - would like to be in.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:30 AM on December 19, 2001


This is eerily similar tothe story about the guys who wanted to buy 4000 stamps without the flag. I think the point has been made that the FBI has no choice but to investigate these matters if they receive a tip-off. That is unfortunate, but they can't afford to let any possible lead go. What is astonishing is how easy it is to make an anonymous tip in order to harrass someone. There is such an offence in the UK as wasting police time, and whoever made the complaint is damn near guilty of that in my view.
posted by salmacis at 1:33 AM on December 19, 2001


I am prepared to relinquish all of my so-called privileges including free speech to make america the place I knew in the fifties.
posted by johnnyboy at 5:00 AM on December 19, 2001


Have you ever read "The Way We Never Were", johnnyboy?

MiguelCardoso, I respect your statement above... as it was one which I never really considered until I read it...

Americans do as a generalization seem to feel that they are citizens of "the greatest nation the world has ever seen", and using superlatives so freely, does have a way of turning people off. Great nation? No doubt. Greatest nation? That's just arrogant and condescending.

Thanks for the perspective.
posted by canoeguide at 5:21 AM on December 19, 2001


So lacking even their explicit denials, we may as well believe him until further information comes forth.

I think that's a reckless way to handle a single source of no known credibility, especially for the reporter who wrote the story. Absent any outside confirmation, I would have never written that story. Rheingold's statement about how he would have been locked up by racist fascists if he was Arab-American smacks of a guy fishing for an excuse to feel aggrieved.
posted by rcade at 6:16 AM on December 19, 2001


The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,
can be judged by the way it's animals are treated
- Ghandi
I guess Ghandi had'nt heard that nations can't be great?
posted by Mack Twain at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2001


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