Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thinking Spooks

My disclaimer for a recent post on the USA PATRIOT Act goes back a few years. Well, more than a few years...I'm a blogger alter kaker.

Let us step back in time to the thrilling days of yesteryear. There are rednecks, FBI agents, and 25¢ cans of beer. Those who know my wispy, cotton-candy head now may find it hard to believe that I once had long, blond waves — and even back then an earring. Today, you could go into any bar in rural Massachusetts or Idaho and see a lot of blue-collar conservatives who look like that. It was not the norm in South Carolina in the Viet Nam era.

Foolishly choosing to pay my own college way and hiding from the military, I combined summer lifeguard savings with a state academic scholarship and swim-team meal ticket and dorm fees to do just that. That ended up meaning the first Land Grant college (1801) with the first separate college library (1803) and one of the first journalism schools in America, the party school, the University of South Carolina.

A big, blond hippie who wrote pinko college newspaper columns was, shall we say, obvious there and then. It was not exactly a boy named Sue, but I did learn to deal with unpleasant right-wingers in both verbal and physical confrontations. Crush 'em like worms, said I.

However, two experiences in an apartment near campus come to mind immediately when I think of those who take liberties with my liberty. It was the same location and invasions from the left and from the right.

One evening, I returned home. When I opened my door, I found I chum standing there with a revolver pointed at my small intestine. It was the relatively well known radical Brett Bursey. Not only was he prepared to defend himself paranoically from the cops with his pistol — after breaking into my apartment — he had also tied my sheets together to let himself out of the second-floor window if necessary to escape. Recognizing me, he decided not to shoot me, but he left out the front door, leaving me to unknot my sheets.

J. Edgar Hoover pictureSome months later, I returned from a class and saw that the door was open. This time, it was two FBI agents whom I recognized. They were reading my correspondence (pre-email, remember). When I entered, they were as cool as Mission Impossible characters. They dropped the papers and without a word, pushed past me.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a decade later when I asked for my FBI records under the Freedom of Information Act, there was no record. Newspaper chums had verified that I was among the people the spooks followed and photographed at an anti-war coffee house as well as on campus and in demonstrations, but no record. One must wonder how many paper shredders the protectors of our national security must wear out in a decade.

As a minor player in these dramas, I have long ago lost patience with those who would protect America by harrying Americans.

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