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July 23, 2003

We don’t mind people reading, as long as they aren’t blatant about it
Posted by Teresa at 06:34 PM *

From Creative Loafing, a disturbing story about Marc Schultz, an ordinary guy who had the FBI show up and start questioning him on account of something someone saw him reading in a Starbuck’s. This wasn’t terrorist activity. It wasn’t sedition. He was just reading an article while he drank his coffee:

I’m nervous now, wondering how I must look: average, mid-20s, unassuming retail employee. What could I have possibly been carrying?

Trippi’s partner speaks up: “Any reading material? Papers?” I don’t think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: “I’ll tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about. So that’s why we’re here, just checking it out. Like I said, there’s no problem. We’d just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if we can’t, then you may have a problem. And you don’t want that.”

You don’t want that? Have I just been threatened by the FBI? Confusion and a light dusting of panic conspire to keep me speechless. Was I reading something that morning? Something that would constitute a problem?

The partner speaks up again: “Maybe a printout of some kind?”

Then it occurs to me: I was reading. It was an article my dad had printed off the Web. I remember carrying it into Caribou with me, reading it in line, and then while stirring cream into my coffee. I remember bringing it with me to the store, finishing it before we opened. I can’t remember what the article was about, but I’m sure it was some kind of left-wing editorial, the kind that never fails to incite me to anger and despair over the state of the country.

I tell them all this, but they want specifics: the title of the article, the author, some kind of synopsis, but I can’t help them — I read so much of this stuff.
I have to wonder what kind of idiot thinks people who read left-wing articles are automatically suspect, and phoned in the tip to the FBI. Here’s the offending article.

I also have to wonder what the bleep the FBI thought they were doing. It didn’t matter what Schultz was reading. Unless it’s grossly offensive, he has the right to read it.

These are the guys who’re supposed to be enforcing our laws? (via Linnea Anglemark)

Comments on We don't mind people reading, as long as they aren't blatant about it:
#1 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:07 PM:

I posted this story on my blog, which gets a lot of conservative readers who come over from a technology site I write for. The conservatives who've bothered to comment on this over on my blog seem to think there's nothing to be alarmed about.

I am truly baffled by this attitude.

#2 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:09 PM:

Please read an essay titled "Due Notice to the F.B.I." by Bernard DeVoto, published in 1949, and included in his book The Easy Chair. The more things change ...

#4 ::: Martial ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:44 PM:

Nitpicky, but it used to mean something when I lived in Atlanta and still had the energy to fight the power: Caribou Coffee isn't Starbuck's.

And because it isn't, because it's the place where all the anti-corporate radicals get their caffeine (well, Caribou or Aurora), it is even stranger that Mr Schultz should be targeted...

Inconvenience = security. And where exactly does the intimidation fit in the equation? People who are afraid don't feel safer, dammit.

#5 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:47 PM:

"I also have to wonder what the bleep the FBI thought they were doing."

Er, threatening a seditionist?

Have you read some of what Ashcroft has been saying is unAmerican/siding with the terrorists?

I think the Feds probably knew exactly what they were doing.

My brother lent me some Babylon 5 DVDs. I had to finally stop watching them--it was too too scary. From the new government department (nightwatch = Homeland Security) to the actions of the government. The parallels were terrifying.

#6 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 08:50 PM:

I'm amazed he talked to the FBI guys at all, much less allowed them to search his trunk.

No matter how innocent or patriotic you are, there's too much risk in speaking to these people. Now that the rule of law is a dim and fading memory to federal law enforcement personnel, silence is always a better approach.

#7 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 09:17 PM:

"I also have to wonder what the bleep the FBI thought they were doing."

I imagine they have to check out the tip. Kind of like the cops have to check out 911 calls in person.

I think the key phrase in this article is "the sight of a dark, bearded man".

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 01:52 AM:

The only words that come to me are: Holy crap!

What kind of weasel was it reported this guy?

(Answering self: The kind of weasel who'd work for the Stasi, or who in a few years will have wall full of framed Certificates of Extraordinary Vigilance from Homeland Security's Legion of Patriots.)

#9 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:32 AM:

"No matter how innocent or patriotic you are, there's too much risk in speaking to these people."

Frankly, I think *not* speaking to them is a good way to go if you want to be disappeared without access to a lawyer.

Whaddya think this is, a free country? We've gone beyond the point where noncompliance is safe.

#10 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:33 AM:

Stefan Jones writes; "(Answering self: The kind of weasel who'd work for the Stasi, or who in a few years will have wall full of framed Certificates of Extraordinary Vigilance from Homeland Security's Legion of Patriots.)"

Yeah, part of George Bush's "Thousand Points of Night" campaign.

#11 ::: S. Addison ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:47 AM:

Elizabeth - a friend of mine who is a huge fan of the movie "Brazil" and normally watches it at least once a month has given it up in the past year. She says it's just impossible to find it even darkly funny any more. I mean, "Be Safe: Be Suspicious"? "Suspicion Breeds Confidence"? Ha. Ha. Ha.

I say we blame Gilliam for dreaming such a twisted future into existance.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 03:35 AM:

You don't have to comply, you don't have to stonewall. Smile and say you'll be happy to cooperate with them, but you'd just feel better having your lawyer present. Then get your lawyer.

Never talk to them when there's no other witness present. They can claim anything happened in the course of an unwitnessed conversation.

#13 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 04:16 AM:

Gilliam has a lot of antecedents (which is by no means a criticism of BRAZIL); re the wall signs, one would certainly be the wartime posters warning the citizenry not to talk too much. The ones from London Transport* at least had a sense of humor, one in particular showing two ladies gossiping on a bus, while Hitler and Goering sit one row back. While ours tended to show grim scenes of torpedoed ships with legends like SOMEBODY TALKED! or the immortal LOOSE LIPS (etc.)

Of course, there -was- a war on, with, you know, a definable enemy (not a tactic defined as an enemy), limited objectives, an exit strategy, and the sorely missed George Catlett Marshall, who is a useful reminder that people are often measured against the persons who defame them. (Historical footnotes available on request.)

*I have a minor obsession with LT posters, particularly E. McKnight Kauffer's, a large collection of the postcard reprints and a few full-size. It's obsessive behavior. Now that we're blaming British Intelligence for everything bad that happens on earth that isn't Gray Davis's fault, I'm probably in trouble.

#14 ::: S. Ann Ran ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 06:41 AM:

You don't have to comply, you don't have to stonewall. Smile and say you'll be happy to cooperate with them, but you'd just feel better having your lawyer present. Then get your lawyer.

Why do I now feel incredibly lucky to be able to say, "Sirs, I am under 21, I would like to call my father to come here"? And have him show up, for besides being my ever-lovable daddy, he is also my lawyer. For my father, aside from saying the usual 'things you should never do' has also told my sister and I what the cops/feds are and are not allowed to do.

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 09:04 AM:

This is appalling. We are not in a free country anymore; that's been true for a long time, but now more and more people are becoming aware of it.

I think maybe the title "Weapons of Mass Stupidity" was what set off the Weasel/Bozo who tipped the FBI. So add to "Flying while Muslim" the new American crime of "Reading in Public while Looking Sort of Vaguely Dark and Foreign-Like, You Know?"

Given that it was a leftie coffee-shop, it may not have been a random customer who was the weasel in this case; it may have been an agent, or less exotically, a paid informer. The latter aren't paid for saying "nothing happened" - only for coming up with something worth following up.

#16 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 09:04 AM:

I don’t think under 21 gets you anywhere these days, except not into a bar. under 18, maybe.

#17 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 09:05 AM:

Allow me to speak up for the thought police, for a moment -- I suspect someone saw part of the title ("Weapons of Mass Stupidity") and a few references to anthrax and the like (as well as the "dark, bearded", possibly ethnic reader), and flipped out. It sounds like the FBI were perfectly polite. They're not going to do anything. They don't make a practice of hauling away Counterpunch readers. The poor saps assigned the job of following up on reports, no matter how stupid, aren't to blame; it's the numbskull who is so terrified that he or she felt obligated to call the cops on a New Times reader who's really at fault.

TNH's advice, of course, is perfectly good.

#18 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 10:33 AM:

Steve, I cannot entirely agree. One of the things I struggled against when I was inside the "black box" was the tendency of law enforcement officials to treat all "tips" as something that needed to be looked into without any other corroborating circumstances. Given the limited resources available, that usually meant that something more valuable would not get the attention it deserved.

The one major failure that occurred on my watch was not a failure in my department, although it still haunts me to this day (there's always a feeling that one could have done something more). As far as I know, and I know that I don't know everything but think I know more than most, that is exactly what happened: some moron insisted on equal weighting of all tips received instead of following up on things that remained suspicious after the initial examination.

Basically, the FBI wants to be seen to be doing something, civil liberties be damned. If I hadn't walked past his grave, I'd be thinking that J. Edgar was dancing in his tutu over at DoJ last week. Maybe we should have his grave exhumed...

What really saddens me the most about this kind of nonsense is that it demonstrates to me that the terrorists have achieved a major victory: they are making us act like them.

#19 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 12:33 PM:

The other thing we have to remember is that, for a lot of people in the States, reading anything other than the sports section of the local newspaper is seditious in itself. I don't laugh as hard at Bill Hicks' "Whatcha readin' for?" routine as most, because I've received exactly that sort of harrassment for daring to be caught with a book in a public place. My personal favorite was the cop in Lewisville, Texas (a town just north of Dallas and in which I was trapped during my high school years) who insisted upon searching my bag because he saw me in a Denny's reading and drinking a soda and figured (his admission) that I was up to no good.

My next-favorite was actually getting lectured to at a job by my supervisor because I read during my lunch and breaks instead of joining everyone else to gossip. Honest: I actually had my job threatened if I didn't drop the book and join the crowd of fiftysomething hens cackling in the back. I just looked the supervisor in the eye and said "Fine. I quit." and tried to walk out. (I still had my job, but only because the boss couldn't afford to go one day without a full complement of jacket pressers, and he dropped his "request" when he saw I was serious.)

Sadly, I've seen and heard similar stunts all throughout Middle America. Reading is something that you do in high school, under duress, and you never read again once you graduate and enter the workforce. Anyone who would willingly read anything other than the "Limbaugh Letter" is obviously touched in the head or planning something, and needs to be watched.

(Yeah, I know: pretty vile subject to bring up among a crew of readers. Just don't look surprised when some cop stands over you at the Denny's and smirks "Waaal, looks like we've got ourselves a reader.")

#20 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 01:11 PM:

Paul, I'd find this alarming picture of non-reading in America more convincing, and more alarming, if people reading books weren't the most common sight to be seen on mass transit in greater Boston. Sure, some people are reading newspapers instead, or magazines, or papers from work. Some people have their hands full keeping children or pets in line. Some people even just sit or stand there, doing nothing but waiting to get to their stop.

But, most commonly, people have open books in their hands, and "Whatcha readin?" is the beginning of an attempt to find out whether the questioner should be adding the book in question to _their_ reading list.

I feel no particular temptation to regard a Denny's Lewisville, TX as the measure of American life, and I suspect your supervisor may have been less concerned about the terrible subversive nature if _reading_, than he was overly-invested in a simplistic notion of teamwork and conviviality in the workplace.

#21 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 01:31 PM:

Seven or so years ago, I was sitting in a courtroom in Lake City, AR waiting to have my moment before the judge so I could pay a speeding ticket. The case before mine was a drug charge. The accused (beard, long hair) took the stand to give his side of the story, which was that he was alone with two deputies. They asked if he had any drugs or weapons. He said, no. They asked if they could search him. He said, sure. No problem. So they did. And lo and behold, one of the deputies put his hand into the guy's pocket, and when he pulled it out, an ounce bag of marijuana fell on the ground at their feet.

Naturally, the judge refused to let him continue this line of testimony. The Assistant DA then got to question him. Since he wasn't allowed to offer his explanation, that the pot was planted on him by the cops, his lawyer advised him to take the 5th.

Naturally, the judge refused to allow him to take the 5th. "You can't take the 5th in MY COURTROOM!"

That young man was found guilty and went to jail.

Of course, this changed the nature of my planned defense - namely, that I had not yet reached the 35 miles an hour speed zone when I was clocked doing 50 miles an hour. I knew this because, when I saw the police car, I immediately looked at the speed limit 35 mph sign that I had not yet reached, then looked down and saw that I was under the speed limit for the particular stretch of road I still occupied (55 mph). Since the judge didn't allow that the police could a) make a mistake; or b)make a mistake on purpose, I pled guilty and paid the fine.

What we are seeing is a man with a small town judicial mentality operating the justice department and the FBI with the same attention to the details of the law and constitutional rights. I don't want to knock anyone's love of their own small town, but I have lived in several. They are great places to live, so long as you don't piss off the cops or the judges. You get on the wrong side of the law, or even on the wrong side of someone who is the sheriff's fishing buddy, and you are screwed.

#22 ::: CatharineStacimer ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 05:45 PM:

Obviously they're taking their constitutional duties properly by going after readers, not the press. The original BoR doesn't say anything about 'abridging the freedom to read.'

Or it could be they're starting to follow the new streamlined Bill of Rights with the "guarantee that activities not specifically delegated to the states and people will be carried out by the federal government (Amendment VI)"


#23 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Elisabeth, About Babylon 5 and Bush.

#24 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 09:12 PM:

Lis: remember "Nixon 49, America 1"? Boston is the one place I chose to live in, but I suspect it's just as unrepresentative of the U.S.
as Lewisville TX.

(Or maybe it is, considering the Boston Globe's series this week observing that municipal police across the state still ticket blacks more often than whites. (State police were found to ticket all categories uniformly.)

I'd like to think this is the sort of thing that can happen in Atlanta and not here. But I can't even think that; the FBI here seems to have been mostly so results-oriented it protected violent criminals in hopes of convicting others, but there are also suggestions coming out that they twisted testimony and/or intimidated witnesses who could have brought down their pets.

(spacewaitress: the conservative attitude is hardly surprising; most of this country shows signs of believing that the innocent have nothing to fear from increased ]enforcement[.)

#25 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 06:24 AM:

We now take control of your blog for an urgent message on civil disobedience against friends of the Republican Party.

How to force congress to pass a prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part B

Now you have the opportunity to repeal HR 1/ S 1 the Republican prescription drug plan and replace it with a prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part B

Call Eckerd Pharmacy Corporate Headquarters at 1-800-325-3737 and tell them unless they can get the congress to pass
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Call CVS Pharmacy Corporate headquarters at 888 607-4287
and tell them unless they can get the congress to pass a prescription drug benefit under Medicare part B covering 80 percent of medication with no extra premium, no extra deductibles, no means test, no coverage gaps, you will not buy from them and you will tell your friends also not to buy from them.

Call Walgreens Pharmacy Corporate headquarters at 888 289 2273 and tell them unless they can get the congress to pass a prescription drug benefit under Medicare part B covering 80 percent of medication with no extra premium, no extra deductibles, no means test, no coverage gaps, you will not buy from them and you will tell your friends also not to buy from them.

Also read and sign the petition at

which covers a comprehensive progressive agenda.

How to stop the Republican initiated governor recall.


Several Republicans will run for Governor of California in a recall election. They have every right to run for governor.

Because the Republicans have decided to do this recall action I have a right to decide not to buy a car alarm called the Viper from Directed Electronics, a company that one of the candidates Darrell Issa works for.

I have a right to tell others not to buy products from Directed Electronics for this reason and call them at 1 800 876 0800 and demand that they get every Republican candidate to withdraw or they will lose alot of sales. So if you want to stop the Republicans from running, call Directed electronics and call car alarm dealers that sell the Viper and let the civil disobedience begin.

Also boycott the Terminator 3 and tell the local movie theatre manager why.

Also read and sign the petition at

which covers a comprehensive progressive agenda.

Please tell others.

#26 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 09:50 AM:

Time to devowel?

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 11:21 AM:

Jon: no, outright deletion IMO. This is pure spam. I would agree with bits of it, if it weren't a complete non sequitur.

#28 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 01:08 PM:

Something like twenty years ago in San Francisco, there was a fairly notorious child disappearance. All over the city, fliers were tacked up on telephone poles, reading "Do you know where Kevin Collins is?" Kidnapping was suspected[1] and the FBI was called in to investigate.

Enter Terry Floyd, prankster and funny guy, who wanted to throw a party. He sent out printed invitations to his friends, and part of the printed invitation was the phrase, "We know where Kevin Collins is!" The party took place, and a good time was had by all.

Then there came a ring on Terry's doorbell. Two men in bad suits were there to talk to him. They were FBI agents, and they were there to talk to him about Kevin Collins. Terry explained to them about the party invitation.

After it was made clear that in fact he did not know where Kevin Collins was, Terry asked them how many of the leads they were following were as thin as this one. The reply: "All of them."

[1]It later transpired that Kevin Collins' home situation was a bad one, and that rather than having been kidnapped, he had run away from an abusive father. He very likely came to a bad end, but he hadn't been kidnapped.

#29 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Lis, the funny thing is that Boston and Portland (OR) are both very reader-friendly cities. I won't dispute that. The difference, as Bill Hicks pointed out, was between "Whatcha readin'?" and "Whatcha readin' FOR?" (And to finish the quote, "You know, you've stumped me. What am I reading FOR? Maybe so I don't become a fucking Waffle House waitress."

As for the supervisor allegedly promoting convivality, all I can say is "bollocks". Considering that the company insisted that all employees had to clock out for breaks and lunches, that time period fell under being MY time, and threatening any employee with termination for reading would only make sense if I was still on the clock at the time. This slob wasn't worried about employee relations (considering that I was first exposed to the comment "Let's frag the lieutenant" thanks to one of my fellow grunts after the supervisor had left following one of his incessant lectures on the importance of working smarter); he was just threatened by employees who might have ideas of transcending their station.

Either way, I'd love to live in a literate town such as Boston, as opposed to a town whose official slogan is "Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?" Anyone needing a cranky tech writer should give me a buzz.

#30 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2003, 11:36 AM:

This comment thread is probably dead, but:

Unless it92s grossly offensive, he has the right to read it.

I can't believe nobody has called this out. He has the right to read it, and not to be bothered by the authorities for that matter, no matter how offensive it is. Isn't that what we spent the '60s establishing?

#31 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2003, 01:59 PM:

Meanwhile, we have the Secret Service dropping by a newspaper office to question a Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist. Here's one story about it:

Associated Press
Jul. 23, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - The Secret Service used "profoundly bad judgment" in seeking to question a Los Angeles Times cartoonist over a political cartoon depicting a man pointing a gun at President Bush, a senior House Republican said Tuesday.

And here's the cartoon itself:

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2003, 08:00 PM:

Language Hat, what I had in mind was grossly offensive material in a typeface large enough to be read by other patrons. Most likely that'd be a headline. I've seen some I wouldn't appreciate seeing waved about in a restaurant I was running. I'd probably ask the reader to switch to a different article.

I will defend to the death your right to read material I personally wouldn't read in public. Furthermore, nothing set in type so small as to be unreadable by others at a normal social distance can be objectionable for any reason.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2003, 08:03 PM:

The previous message was from Teresa, not Patrick.

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2003, 08:53 PM:

T --

Were you perhaps thinking of someone reading the captions under the pictures in Teen Sluts In Bondage while standing on line?

#35 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2003, 08:49 AM:

Oddly enough, I took grossly offensive to be something like 'that particular page of the newspaper got soaked with chicken blood two days ago, and it's been warm'.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2003, 10:08 PM:

I trust we'd know it if we saw it.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2003, 11:30 PM:

I think the word is 'patently'. Patently offensive. Something that any reasonable person would find offensive and/or expect most other people to find offensive.

I personally find crucifixes grossly offensive (they are an extremely distasteful image to me and I try not to look at them) but not patently offensive (I know that most people are not offended by them, and don't particularly expect anyone to share or even understand my feeling). Therefore I will never have one up in my home, but I don't assume people are being deliberately rude if they wear, carry, or have one on their wall.

On the other side, a couple months back I seriously considered buying a truly remarkable piece of art. The image itself was startling (even disturbing, without being at all representational), but it was the art material...let's just say it was a painting, largely reddish-brown, with cracked sections; some bits were more intensely red, having been varnished before they dried. That can't be patently offensive unless you know what the art material is for sure. And I think the average person would find it only mildly distasteful even so, but some would refuse to be in the same room with it.

I, on the other hand, was planning to hang it over my bed. Why didn't I? It was too expensive.

#38 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2003, 12:07 AM:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

It was true 244 years ago, and even more so today. It's truly frightening to see so many people be absolutely OK with things like the Patriot Act.

Speaking of frightening, has anyone read Ann Coulter's latest written piece of excrement? I honestly don't think I've ever read a book so antithetical to what I grew up thinking America stood for. What was _I_ thinking?

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