13 October, 2006

homeland security interrogates 14 year-old girl - a vivid civics lesson

". . . Julia Wilson . . . learned a vivid civics lesson Wednesday when two Secret Service agents pulled her out of biology class at McClatchy High School to ask about comments and images she posted on MySpace."

She is described as ". . . a 14-year-old girl with a heart on her backpack and braces on her teeth, a freckle-nosed adolescent who is passionate about liberal politics and cute movie stars."

The Bee reporters say it was two Secret Service agents in the sentence above, but later write that "Julia's mother, Kirstie Wilson, and an assistant principal at [Sacramento CA's] McClatchy High said two agents showed them badges stating they were with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security. Federal law prohibits making serious threats against the president, and Julia and her parents say what she did was wrong."

Her "serious threat against the president" that both she and her parents all now agree was terribly "wrong?" It looks suspiciously like a young girl's exercise of what used to be known as an american's 1st amendment rights. She moderated an anti-Bush MySpace page which at some point during the past year posted an objectionable image/text:

Beneath the words "Kill Bush," Julia posted a cartoonish photo-collage of a knife stabbing the hand of the president.
. . .
The MySpace page under question was a group page, similar to an online club. Most of the groups Julia is a part of are fan clubs for movie stars like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ewan McGregor. The group that got her in trouble was called something like "People who want to stab Bush" -- Julia said she doesn't remember the exact name because she soon changed it. After an eighth-grade history lesson in which she learned that threatening the president is against the law, Julia said she changed the group name to "So Bush is an idiot but hey what else is new?" The group primarily consisted of her teenage friends who share her liberal political interests, Julia said. She deleted the group page over the summer when she decided that MySpace was juvenile and taking up too much time.
That's it. 'Threatening' artwork that appeared at some unspecified date for an unspecified short period of time, that was clearly no longer on the web — this requires two agents from the secret service and homeland security to take time for a school visit in order to adequately investigate & assess the degree of threat involved?


They need two thugs-in-suits to send a warning to those who dissent with but the flimsiest pretense for an excuse. A message. Big Brother is watching . . .

A talking-to. Which was heard loud and clear. Which can come at any time after the 'offense' — it's never too late. Her parents' major complaint seems to be that the agents didn't wait for Julia to come home, but went to her school, yanked her out of class, and interrogated her outside their presence:

"I was more than happy to have them talk to her about the severity of what she did. But I wanted to be here with her," Kirstie Wilson said.

McClatchy Assistant Principal Paul Belluomini said he usually does not notify parents when law enforcement officials come to school to interview students. "Parents usually interfere with an investigation, so we usually don't notify them until it's done," he said. Sacramento City Unified School District policy calls for parents to be notified but doesn't say whether it should happen before or after a student is interviewed. State law doesn't require parental notification.

After asking the agents to come back in an hour, her mother sent a"text message instructing her to come straight home from school".

"... there are two men from the secret service that want to talk with you. Apparently you made some death threats against president bush. Dont worry youre not going to jail or anything like that but they take these things very seriously these days," Kirstie Wilson wrote.

"Are you serious!?!? omg. Am I in a lot of trouble"? . . .

Kirstie Wilson called her husband. While they were on the phone, she received another text message from her daughter: "They took me out of class."

It was a 15- to 20-minute interview, Julia said. Agents asked her about her father's job, her e-mail address, and her Social Security number. They asked about the MySpace page she had created last year as an eighth-grader at Sutter Middle School. "I told them I just really don't agree with Bush's politics," Julia said Thursday. "I don't have any plans of harming Bush in any way. I'm very peaceful; I just don't like Bush."
Imagine yourself as a suburban mom receiving a text-message from your 14 year-old daughter in this context that reads they took me out of class.

Who are we?

"I don't condone what she did, but it seems a little over the top to me," said Julia's father, Jim Moose. "You'd think they could look at the situation and determine that she's not a credible threat."

. . . Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Julia Wilson's post did not sound like a "true threat" to the president, making it political speech that is protected by the First Amendment. "The courts have to distinguish between political rhetoric and hyperbole and a real threat," Brick said. "A reasonable person would have to interpret what was said as indication of a serious intent to commit harm."

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said in the current political climate, "the threshold that brings (agents) in has gotten lower . . . It's a cautionary tale for kids who are on MySpace that putting something on MySpace like 'Kill the President' is not the same as saying it on e-mail or over the phone," Scheer said. "The government is not systematically listening to all phone calls or going through e-mails, but it probably does search the Internet."

If this sends them into such a paroxysm of paranoia, just imagine what Gabriel Range, the British writer/director of the film Death Of A President must have done to their sphincters. While ". . .a White House spokesman said: 'This does not dignify a comment (sic)' [on the movie]" one wonders if an investigation or at the least an 'open file' dignifies it.

This isn't the first Sacramento area child taken out of class by two federal agents. On Sept 27, 2005, 16 year old Munir Mario Rashed was pulled out of his computer class & sent to his school's main office where two FBI agents were waiting to question him about terrorism (from A Nation of Snitches?):

In a private room, the agents asked the student to recount an incident that had occurred two years earlier in a math class. He told the agents that his teacher had reprimanded him for having scrawled the letters ‘PLO’ on his binder. The teacher said that anyone who supported the PLO was a terrorist.

During math class that spring, another student saw the letters "PLO" doodled on a piece of paper in Rashed's three-ring binder. Rashed, whose grandfather came to the United States from the West Bank in the 1930s, said he told the student PLO stood for Palestine Liberation Organization. "I was trying to explain what it means," Rashed said Thursday. "The teacher butted in and said it's a terrorist organization and anyone who supported them was a terrorist. I took offense to that. I don't belong to the PLO, but I believe what they are doing is the right thing.

"I felt that I have the right to draw whatever I want," Rashed said of the doodle.
How does a drawing rate a humiliating school visit by the FBI?

After the June arrest of suspects in a terrorist investigation in Lodi, the FBI received a complaint alleging not only that Rashed had the letters "PLO" on his binder, but that there were pictures of suicide bombers on his cell phone. That prompted the FBI to act, said Karen Ernst, a special agent with the Sacramento office. . . . The agents asked him a series of questions, Rashed said, including whether he was born in the United States, whether he knew what "PLO" stood for and whether he was aware of the arrests in Lodi.

"I said of course I know. I said, 'If you watch the news, you know.' I told them in that school we read the newspaper every day," he said. He said Thursday the only pictures he has on his cell phone are ones of a mosque.


Anonymous Nezua Limón Xolagrafik-Jonez said...

that's what happens when you see enemies everywhere. you end up seeing enemies everywhere.

5:03 PM  
Blogger janinsanfran said...

Yikes -- I knew about the PLO story, but I hadn't heard about the MySpace girl.

As the ACLU says, the remedy for bad speech is more speech. Wonder if a high school of kids might dare fill up their internet sites with their fantasies about what "ought" to happpen to Bush? Not as threats -- just their fantasies. I wonder...

7:50 PM  
Blogger Arcturus said...

Local tv news showed the image last night - it's a fully integrated piece of graphic art. A circle-with-diagonal-slash NO sign over his face, the words "kill bush" & a cartoonish rendering of a blade going into his hand.

Jan: as in "rendered unto . . ."?

8:23 AM  
Blogger Arcturus said...

from the Mercury:

"Julia Wilson is planning to post a new MySpace.com page, this one devoted to organizing other students to protest the Iraq war.

"'I decided today I think I will because it (the questioning) went too far,' she said."

9:49 AM  

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