|Going through a U.S. Port of entry Wednesday this week a Customs and Border Patrol agent questioned me “have you ever been arrested?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you think what you did was funny?”
“No,” I said, as my blood began to boil.
I wanted to say, “In fact, it’s very serious when one stands falsely accused, and when US Attorneys resign in disgrace for prosecutorial overreach and misconduct.” But I did not say that for reasons I will get into below.
“Are you done with all that stuff?” The agent said under his breath with a soulless bravado and without even looking me in the eye.
“Yes,” I said, even though I am just getting started with video journalism.
I have filed FOIA requests for each of the three detentions I have faced by customs agents in the last six months. Thanks to the good people at Judicial Watch, we received a response. The last one was almost entirely redacted. You can read that, here.
We speculate all of this is retaliation from DHS to our expose showing how easy it to evade border security; I dressed up like Osama Bin Laden in August and walked across a narrow tiny sliver of the Rio Grande, with no Border Patrol agents around. The undersecretary for DHS testified before Congress about how on earth that could happen.
“Why didn’t they stop James O’Keefe when he came across the Rio Grande River,” asked Senator McCain.
Francis X. Taylor, Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, replied under oath, “I cannot answer that question.”
So the actual reasons why they couldn’t stop the man dressed like Bin Laden were, you could say, “redacted,” just like the information in our FOIA requests about my detentions.
Yesterday I was detained again (that’s two days in a row) going through customs en route to JFK. I was taken into a room and had my bags dumped out on the table. Usually they do this, but this time, the agent actually demanded the password to my phone that was locked, and preceded to inspect the contents of my iPhone. You could say, they were “tampering” with my phones. So why did I give them the password?
Refusing a consent search in my situation has consequences that affect other people now. I wish it was so simple, for me to miss an international flight available only once a day, miss fundraising meetings later, a speech and a previously scheduled important investigation stateside at Project Veritas to prove a point nobody will be able to see or hear. (In my case, if there’s no recording, it didn’t happen — an impossibly high standard, but that’s another story).
The federal government can manufacture reasons to arrest me all day long. I wanted to say things to Agent Diaz like “Does DHS target all journalists? Or just the ones you don’t like?” That would have just upset him and, based on previous experiences, landed me in a cell overnight. If you don’t believe it, read Breakthrough. I don’t have to make “all this stuff” up, Agent Diaz, I’ve lived it.
Others will ask, “Why didn’t you videotape it?” Well, my iTalk app recorder was on, until they asked to see my phone. Then I promptly turned the recording off. As you may recall in New Orleans I did videotape the entire episode, and when they found the cameras suddenly they started to shackle my waist, hands and legs. They then had me brought up on bogus felony charges, leaked my personal information to the press and the judge had my evidence destroyed, all before I could call my lawyer. The press didn’t give a damn. In fact, they celebrated the ordeal. The damage was done.
And I don’t know what’s more shocking, the fact all of this continues to happen because of my occupation, or the fact that my political opponents celebrate the retaliation — thinking whatever moniker is used to describe citizens reporting on government abuses (activist vs journalist) somehow justifies the government filing bogus charges against people they don’t like. Support for unjust retaliation probably says more about our critics than it does about our Government.
We live in constant fear of surveillance, constant fear of doing something that might upset powerful people, afraid to be out of line, almost all of us are afraid to speak up, donate to causes we believe in and some of us are even afraid to not conform, let alone rebel. It’s a fear I never understood, until they restricted my travel for four years and now throw my clothes on the floor every time I visit an airport. If and when my critics ever go through what I’ve been through, then I am willing to hear lectures about whether or not I should consent to a search from a federal agent.
These lessons and more have taught me the Government can stop one man. But they can’t stop us all.
I realize the best use of my time now, is not spending my nights in jail on principal, but rather spending my time recruiting and training 100 other young people who are not afraid, people like our college investigative journalist Laura.
Laura is willing to put it all on the line for a cause she believes in. She is jeopardizing her 4.0 GPA and honors degree because she’s not afraid of what her college will do to her. She only has one interest and that is exposing the truth. Her university has violated her due process rights, accusing her of “disruptive behavior” for doing a report on her university staff’s sympathy towards ISIS.
So because the university faces external criticism, and the publicity was unpopular, Laura faces a Kangaroo Court where a Dean casts herself as a victim and accuses Laura of creating a “hostile,” “disruptive” work environment because she videotaped some interviews with staff. Then her own university seemed to assert jurisdiction over criminal matters and accused her of “violating the law,” even though Florida case law clearly spells out the opposite. The university hopes, like my DHS predicament, it’s “mission accomplished.” Put the student in a manifestly unfair and untenable position — until the will breaks and she bows down to the authority that supposedly holds her destiny in her hands. But they don’t know Laura. We do. Her will is unbreakable.
Laura is fighting for her due process rights, a revolutionary act in a time of student compliance and conformity. She has a hearing currently scheduled for Monday, April 20th and Project Veritas is doing everything we can to stand behind her so that she wins the day; and other truth seekers on college campuses are inspired to follow in her footsteps. I know many of them will be deterred if she does not graduate.
I don’t want to speak for Laura, but I don’t think she’ll mind me saying, in her heart, she realizes the principles at stake facing this country are more important to her than a college liberal arts diploma stamped by people running Kangaroo Courts and violating students’ due process rights.
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I have been spending my airplane time reading the history of muckrakers from 100 years ago, including the autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. In 1904, during the time of his great endeavors for McClure Magazine which galvanized reform in cities across the country, Steffens wrote,
“Democracy with us may be impossible and corruption inevitable, but [this reporting], if it has proved nothing else, has demonstrated beyond doubt that we can stand the truth; that there is pride in the character of American citizenship; and that this pride may save us yet.”
I believe with my heart and soul that this type of journalism will ultimately galvanize citizens to do the right thing, and the powers that be to stand down, so long as we get behind citizens who are falsely accused and we unite together in supporting the rights of citizens to investigate and expose waste, fraud, abuse and dishonesty in order to make a more ethical and transparent society.
I urge you to stand with Laura; thank you for your support of Project Veritas.