Do you have a son or daughter who was killed or maimed in Iraq? Do you have an elderly mother who can't get her medication under the new Medicare prescription drug program? Do you lie awake at night, imagining a nuclear device exploding in the hold of a ship in an American harbor because of the lack of port protection by the feds?
Well, I have good news for you.
You are safe from vegans.
Yes, that's right. A Homeland Security detective and a uniformed cop employed by DeKalb County arrested two vegans in December 2003 following their animal cruelty protest outside a HoneyBaked Ham store on Buford Highway. It seems that the vegans -- Caitlin Childs and Christopher Freeman -- noticed that they were being photographed by a man in an unmarked car parked across the street. They approached the car and wrote down its license plate number.
This is what they said happened next: When they left, they were followed by the man. So they pulled over. The detective was joined by a DeKalb County uniformed cop. The two demanded that the vegans turn over the piece of paper on which they'd recorded the tag number. When Childs refused, she was handcuffed and searched. Both were arrested. The piece of paper was confiscated, along with Childs' house keys; neither were ever returned.
Last week, the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit for false imprisonment, false arrest and harassment. DeKalb County officials, who created the Homeland Security Department a few years ago, have refused to comment.
This is one of those incidents that should only occur in a film jointly made by Michael Moore and Monty Python. But, according to the ACLU, there is plenty of similar spying occurring all over America.
As is true for many baby boomers, this is déjà vu of the absurd all over again for me. When I was a freshman at William and Mary during the height of the Vietnam War, I was a member of the notorious Students for a Democratic Society. We were idealistic to say the least. Knowing how conservative the school's administration was, rather than organizing protests explicitly against the war, we created "a silent vigil for peace in Vietnam." We stood silently in front of the student center several times a day.
The idea, hatched by my friend Kate, was that people on both sides of the issue could participate in a demonstration that advocated peace. Of course, it wasn't interpreted that way at all. Every time we took our positions, we were subjected to savage verbal attacks by other students and townies.
In one of the most worrisome moments, the boyfriend of one of the participants pulled up to the demonstration in his truck and threw a metal Army recruiting sign into the middle of the plaza we surrounded. We were horrified because Mike, a veteran, had returned from Vietnam with a footlocker literally packed with primo weed. We hated for politics to come between us and our free source.
The school administration and the local government seemed to be effectively stymied by our inclusive welcome of anyone wanting peace in Vietnam, even if it meant peace by bombing the country back to the stone age. At least we thought they were stymied.
When we returned from Christmas vacation, many of us had shared a similar experience. Our parents had been anonymously mailed pictures of us participating in the vigil. It was never clear who sent the pictures, but the theory was that the FBI had infiltrated our SDS group and received help from the school administration in snitching to our parents about our naughty politics. Very J. Edgar Hoover.
My parents didn't approve of my anti-war position, but my mother was more appalled by my appearance. "Why do you have to dress like Ralph David Abernathy?" she asked me, as if the pics had been mailed by GQ. My mother used to say the freedom riders of the Civil Rights Movement would have been treated better had they dressed nicer. Yes, she meant it.
So, soon after I returned to school from Christmas vacation, I received a wardrobe of demonstration wear assembled by the woman who had outfitted me at Buckhead Men's Shop as long as I could remember. It all looked like the kind of stuff you'd wear to a quail plantation for a Brooks Brothers photo shoot.
I never dreamed the day would recur when the government would again spy on citizens exercising free speech. Most of the parents who received pictures of their children protesting the war during my freshman year were outraged -- as the entire country eventually became over the corrupt culture of domestic spying that produced the constitutional crisis called Watergate.
Are the cops bored? Do they really expect to accomplish anything by spying on vegans in front of meat stores? What is the logic here? Are 11 vegans threatening to hijack a tractor-trailer full of pigs and crash it into the corporate headquarters of HoneyBaked Ham?
I'm scared, I really am.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.
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