The USA Unpatriotic Act

I wish I could say an incident last week was the first time the rights-robbing USA Patriot Act has been used to prohibit me, as a working journalist, from doing my job.

Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway Ranger who threatened me with arrest if I photographed him subjecting attendees of FloydFest to unreasonable search and seizure is only the latest time the Act has been thrown in my face and used to cover up the acts of a government that’s out of control.

Since its passage in the aftershock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act has been used, and abused, by the FBI to harass American citizens and destroy the foundations of freedoms that used to define this country.

Most members of Congress admit they initially voted for the act without even reading it. Last minute revisions were rammed through by then-attorney general John Ashcroft, who was acting from a mandate from President George W. Bush to “do whatever you can to make sure nothing like this (the 9/11 attacks) ever happen again.”

Ashcroft’s bill gave police virtually unlimited powers, allowed the FBI to wiretap citizens without court review or approval and opened the door for Bush’s controversial warrantless domestic spying program that a federal judge and has ruled unconstitutional but still has to get through a conservative Supreme Court stacked with Bush appointees.

Vast areas in and around Washington suddenly became off limits for photography. Photographers were banned from shooting in Union Station, on the Washington Metro and in areas where a federal building might be in the background.

Amtrak cops arrested independent filmmaker Jem Cohen for shooting footage out the window of a train enroute to New York – something he has done for years. The New York Times told Cohen their photographers are routinely prohibited from taking photos of public places in the Big Apple, so often in fact that they no longer considered what happened to him to be news.

Indian filmmaker Rakesh Sharma was arrested and detained for four hours for shooting footage on the streets of New York.

In Northern Virginia, Park Police on the George Washington Parkway stopped to question me for shooting skyline photos of the Nation’s Capital. Even after I identified myself as a working journalist and produced identification (including a Department of Defense press pass) they tried to confiscate the digital image cards from my camera, saying I needed “written authorization” from the Park Service Superintendent’s office. I stood my ground and they backed off.

In October 2002 I was shooting kids in Halloween costumes at Tyson’s Corner Mall in Northern Virginia, something I had done at Halloween for nearly 10 years. Two security guards approached, ordered me to stop, and escorted me to the security office. Even though I was on assignment to cover a story about parents bringing their children to the Mall for trick or treating, I was ordered to leave the property.

I hoped we had left all that behind when we moved from Washington to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia in late 2004. I grew up along the Blue Ridge Parkway and have photographed many stretches of the highway that stretches from Front Royal, Virginia, to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

Until last week, no Blue Ridge Parkway employee has ever interfered with my ability to photograph there, not until a member of the “Criminal Interdiction Team” out of Asheville, North Carolina, threatened me with arrest if I shot pictures of him searching a car belonging to attendees of a summer music festival.

Assistant Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett says his CIT officers “don’t remember” encountering a photographer while on duty last week. In the news business we call that a “non-denial denial.” Not remembering is the oldest cop out in the book (pun fully intended).

Don’t worry Ranger Stinnett. Your officer may have trouble remembering but I don’t. When someone who carries a gun threatens me with arrest, I remember him very well.

I think you will also find the sheriff of Floyd County, VA, Shannon Zeman, has a clear memory of the night last week when a member of the CIT unit pulled him over and treated him like a criminal. Zeman says the officers were “rude and abusive,” something the sheriff would never tolerate from his deputies.

Virginia State Trooper Andrew O’Connor, another respected member of law enforcement around these parts, says he was shocked and dismayed at the behavior of the CIT Rangers.

Stinnett promises a “full and complete” investigation into the incident. I’m not holding my breath. Stinnett is also the one who sent the CIT team up from Asheville to harass attendees of FloydFest and the one who says he doesn’t consider 177 traffic stops along a five mile stretch of road over two-and-a-half days “excessive.” In fact, he calls the effort “low intensity.”

Congressman Rick Boucher doesn’t consider the effort “low intensity” and he does consider the actions of the CIT team “excessive.”

“This situation is intolerable and unacceptable,” Rep. Boucher told me Monday. He promises to call in the director of the Blue Ridge Parkway and demand an investigation. Boucher says he will recommend that traffic enforcement responsibility near the FloydFest site be taken away from the Park Rangers during the event and turned over to the Virginia State Police

According to federal records, the CIT is funded, in part, by grants from the Department of Homeland Security – the same Department of Homeland Security that so often invokes the USA Patriot Act to routinely revoke freedoms once considered untouchable in America.


  1. remoran

    Can we survive 16 months of the BA and the atrocity known as the Patriort Act and Homeland Security, a term better reserved for Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. Maybe we should all become Howard Beales and stand up and say “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” and then actually do something about it.

    It’s no wonder many of the pols did not read the Patriot Act bill as their real job is to get reelected and to continue taking money under the table. The FFs never intended congress to be a full time job, something that still applies today given the amount of “work” these bozos get done during the year. Public financing of campaigns is the only way out but congress has to vote that in. Never happen, never will so will we continue to get hosed by our wonderful government until the people decide to have a revolution to restore the Constitution back to it’s original glory.

    Postscript. Jefferson advocated revisiting the Constitution every 20 years to make changes as needs warrant. Why doesn’t the public demand that this process be started up to enable peaceful change to happen “as needs warrant.”

    Never stop questioning.” Einstein

  2. Dionysis

    This is not unexpected. The Chimpenfuehrer and his proto-fascist lackeys have from the beginning orchestrated the demise of our democracy. This treasonous ‘Patriot Act’ was pulled off the shelf ready to go in no time after the false-flag ‘terrorist attack’. Unless and until the Wimpocrats start actually defending and protecting our Constitution, we can expect a further slide into authoritarianism and despotism. Have you read Chimpy’s recent Presidential Directive giving him essentially dictatorial powers?
    When you have these junior SS types such as you encountered, coupled with the Christo-fascist mercenaries of Blackwater, you have the makings of a 1984 scenario.
    Those who care about our democracy had better get off their lazy butts and start crying out loudly to their elected representatives. This may, or may not, be helpful, but I for one will go down swinging.

  3. JoyfulC

    The one bright light in your account of your run in with the “fun cops” is that at least it appears that your representative’s door was open, he took complaints seriously and took immediate action. It should never have happened, but at least you were able to do something about it.

    But was the guy who threatened you with the park service? the CIT? or a Blueridge Parkway Ranger?

  4. old_curmudgeon

    Can we survive 16 months of the BA…Seriously remoran, you don’t really think this is going to go away after this Administration’s term is complete, do you? Have you ever heard of any subsequent administration UNDO the crimes of the previous one? Why should THEY give up power the last guy had? Seriously. The only way things can be UNDONE might be to impeach this administration and then prosecute and imprison them for the crimes they’ve committed and then maybe, just maybe the subsequent administration might UNDO the noose and return to us those liberties they’ve taken from us. But I’m not holding my breath – on either the impeachment or the return of the soul of the America experiment. But, that’s just this old curmudgeon’s opinion.

  5. Carl Nemo

    Thanks Doug for your updates on your American Gestapo editorial. It heartened me to see that there’s going to be some retribution concerning this nonsense. The park service would have been better off going with state troopers from the start. Troopers in general are consumate professionals because they have to deal with all types of personas during the course of the day. It also provides them with some lucrative overtime opportunities too by covering the festival duties. Arranging for CIT personnel from NC sounds like some good ol’ boy arrangement between the Park Service and whoever runs the CIT org in NC. There’s probably some dirt-digging to be done as to why they contracted such an “intense” organization to handle the festivities; i.e, “overkill”!

    I’ve been busy this AM gathering information on contacts etc. The head of the Congressional sub-committee that oversees funding for the Dept. of the Interior under which the National Park Service falls is Norman Dicks-Democrat from the 6th Congressional District of Washington State. His district also happens to be the area in which Olmypic National Park is located.

    One of the posters to Doug’s American Gestapo article complained about his family and 159 others being stopped upon entering Olympic National Park on July 7th. The enforcement agent bragged how they had cited 60 park entrants and considered it a “productive” day. So if that poster is monitoring this continuing saga here’s the links and the office numbers for Norman Dicks sub-committe chairman. You can’t email reps outside of your district. They are too busy to answer non-constituent emails, but that doesn’t stop you from making an old fashioned phone call and registering your complaints. Remember 10-10-987 then dial the number; only 3 cents per minute. You’ll have provide some information about yourself, the incident and a return number in the event they want contact you for further details concerning an incident. Do not, and I say this emphatically “hide” from your government; i.e, be afraid to identify yourself your address, phone number etc. When people do this; you’ve let them win.

    I also urge folks to use Norm Dicks-D number to also complain about Floydfest incident too. Remember the more complaints that come in, the more intense the spotlight that’s shined upon abuse and to hopefully change the Park Service culture concerning how they treat visitors and handle park events.

    The National Park Service just received some plush funding for 2008. The way these government agencies are controlled is via their funding. Stab them in the “budget”; ie., the wallet and then they begin to situp and pay attention. This Patriot Act pap that came out of the CIT officer’s mouth evidently represents the Ashville, NC CIT culture and their attitudes concerning law enforcement and “head-busting”. It sounds like a truly dreadful community to me.

    Carl Nemo **==

  6. Sandra Price

    I think it is time we simply got used to living in a police state; once it starts, it is impossible to pull back. Other nations have gone through this and whether they survived with any freedoms might be why so many want to move to America.

    Just wait until the North American Union ia passed by the White House and Congress and you will all see that it is useless to argue with Big Daddy. Big Daddy has no political positions except for complete control. Will Big Daddy be known as Big Momma in 2009? No difference, folks! It is written in the stars and probably somewhere in the bible.

  7. gene

    Sandra your starting to sound like a “manic-depressive”. NOW where did I here that before or should I say “welcome to the club”. And (yes) its very well documented in the bible.

  8. Hal Brown

    We often go to Boston. Sometimes I bring my Nikon SLR but when I don’t feel like carrying it I bring my new 8 megapixil shirt pocket camera (with a 5x optical zoom).

    Everywhere people are taking pictures. I see $2,000 Nikons and Canons and $200 digitals and people using cell phone cameras.

    Don’t these lunkheads know it is both a losing battle on First Amendment grounds and as a practicality to stop both journalists and ordinary mortals from taking pictures of whatever they want to? (Not only that, the camera and printer lobby want people to buy and use their products.)

    If I want to take a picture of, say a Coast Guard cutter or of a liquid natural gas tanker in the harbor and don’t want to make a cause out of getting hassled or arrested, I just position my lovely wife in the foreground.

    If I happen to see some power obsessed brownshirt violating someone’s civil rights and want to take pictures, I can easily do so by aiming my little camera while holding it at hip level. It even takes sound videos.

  9. jpn4022

    Sounds like it’s time to ‘release the hounds’!
    Actually, by calling your Congressman and his (somewhat amazingly) responding this quick, you already have released the hounds.
    Now, if they will keep after it…too often things die away, people forget and nothing happens.
    Keep us up to date as to what happens.
    I moved to Texas after being raised in Central NY, and was immediately, and am still amazed at the attitude of the local cops here in Texas.
    “I **AM** THE LAW. You peon citizens have no rights.”
    Now, the ones I’ve encountered may be the exception, but there’s been enough of them, from enough jurisdictions that I’ve dealt with, and read in the news about, that it makes me think it’s more the norm.
    Remember Buford T. Justice? Take away the humor of the old Jackie Gleason character, and you kind of have the mentality.
    In other parts of the country, if I treated police with courtesy & respect, you got that kind of attitude back. Not here.
    And what I see with other kinds of “security” is worse. Airport, university, other pseudo-police, who may actually be true police, seem to have an inferiority complex where they pump themselves & their authority up to assure us civilians they are important people.
    I’ve even run across an Army MP who chased me down in traffic and who attempted to “arrest” me for what he (mistakenly) viewed as a traffic violation. If he were paying more attention to the fact that, first, we were not on an Army base (therefore he has NO jurisdiction) and second, was paying more attention to the street signs instead of my legal driving, he’d have noticed that he was wrong about the speed limit.
    And it’s getting worse since the Patriot Act.
    And people just allow it to happen.