Bush’s S.S. Grills 14 Year-Old
By Stephen S. Pearcy
Clearing House" -- --
Two super-sized adult male U.S. Secret Service (“S.S.”) agents
banged on the front door at 14 year-old Julia Wilson’s home last
Thursday during school hours, but Julia wasn’t home. Predictably
(except to the S.S. agents), the straight-A student was in her
microbiology class at school.
But Julia’s mother, Kirstie, was home. When she opened her front
door, she was a little taken aback, not only by the sizes of the
agents and the official nature of the visit, but also by their
questions and demeanor after she welcomed them inside.
The S.S. agents told Kirstie that they were investigating her
daughter’s role in setting up a MySpace Web page. In particular,
they were troubled because the Web page included the creation of
art (pictured above) that the agents felt was extremely
threatening to the life of the President of the United States.
The agents told Kirstie that since the art included the words,
“Kill Bush,” and since it was accessible to anyone on the
Internet, there was a very strong likelihood that
someone—possibly a terrorist from a foreign country—might see
the image and be inspired to act upon it. Thus, they reasoned,
even if Julia only meant to be funny, the art put the President
in grave danger. Many people are saying, “Nonsense!”
The agents proceeded to ask Kirstie if she or her husband were
members of any organizations whose goal is to overthrow the U.S.
government. Kirstie assured them that neither she nor her
husband, Jim Moose (a Boalt Hall graduate and name partner at a
reputable Sacramento law firm), were extremists of any sort.
The agents seemed anxious to speak with Julia, but after peering
around the upscale Land Park house a bit (for Julia?) and
receiving assurance from Kirstie that Julia would be home from
school in an hour, the agents agreed to return later—at least
that’s what they led Kirstie to believe.
The S.S. agents left and made a beeline directly to Julia’s
school, C.K. McClatchy High School, the alma mater of U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (‘54) (and my mother
Notwithstanding that Julia posted the artwork on MySpace when
she was 13 and removed it last summer, and that the President
had come to Sacramento twice while Julia’s art remained
inconsequential, the agents had suddenly determined that time
was of the essence. They ordered school officials to have Julia
promptly removed from class and brought to the school office,
where they proceeded to grill her about her art.
‘Bout that art
In the context in which the art was presented on a 13 year-old’s
MySpace website, many attorneys, including my wife and me, agree
that no reasonable person could regard the image as a credible
threat to the life of the President. Indeed, the image is lawful
in every respect and is protected by the 1st Amendment (that’s
why we can show it here).
Aside from the fact that it’s Constitutionally protected, many
people have said that they found it to be funny, and in that
Call me risky, but I’m willing to wager double or nothing that a
4 ft. x 8 ft. reproduction of this piece at an anti-war
demonstration would cause people driving by to honk, laugh, wave
and give thumbs up all day long. I think it might even be a
smash, so much so that the t-shirts would sell faster than they
could be printed.
I don’t know about you, but I think Julia’s art makes a
political statement that the vast majority of the people on the
planet Earth would find appealing, albeit in a humorous way
Recently, when Al Franken came to the Crest Theater in
Sacramento, I was there with a large sign that said, “Impeach
Bush.” When a couple of old guys (who wore the hats of WWII
veterans) walked by me, one said, “Impeach? Hell, kill the
bastard!” Several people standing nearby broke out in laughter.
I laughed too, just like I did when I first saw Julia’s art.
Seriously folks, this kind of thing is not unpopular humor. Of
course, maybe that’s precisely what concerns the S.S.
There’s a difference between deciding whether something is right
or wrong and deciding whether something’s unlawful. Julia’s
parents know that Julia did nothing unlawful, but they didn’t
like the image because it included the word kill. Even Julia
decided, long before the S.S. ever contacted her, that she
didn’t like the image with that word. Although right or wrong in
this case was simply a matter of taste, we don’t need to look
too far for people who routinely and quite comfortably use the
Our young students might not be so quick to use the word kill if
our political leaders would stop using it in their rhetoric. A
major battle between the Republicans and Democrats has been to
convince the public that the opposing party will be “softer on
terror” than the other. To gain the public’s confidence,
politicians have been trying to outnumber their opponents in the
use of the word kill in their speeches.
George Bush uses the word kill in just about every speech these
days. Donald Rumsfeld talks about killing. Cheney wants to kill.
John Kerry says we need to capture and kill the terrorists. Bill
and Hilary Clinton now routinely use kill. Virtually every major
speech that any of these leaders has given lately has included
the word kill.
So is it any wonder that some of the bright 13 year-olds who
actually pay attention to these speeches might also start using
Meanwhile, back at school
Many critics of the S.S.’ creation of a “sense of urgency” to
contact Julia believe that it was tactically intended to send a
chilling message to other students. Many lawyers, activists and
free speech advocates believe that the goal of the S.S. was to
generally deter young people from being too critical of the
President. And what better way to send a chilling message to
students than for the S.S. to pull a student out of class at a
large public school?
In the school’s office, the S.S. agents interrogated Julia,
reducing her to tears at many points. They demanded to know
whether she or her parents belonged to any subversive
organizations, and they often raised their voices, especially
when they detected that Julia was either scared or didn’t
understand their ambiguous questions.
To the extent that the agents’ actions were calculated to deter
Julia’s lawful political expression, their investigative conduct
infringed upon Julia’s 1st Amendment right to free speech. It is
one thing to investigate a matter, but it is quite another to
use the investigative process to deter lawful political
expression. In this case, there is a legitimate cause for
concern about the latter.
For Julia’s parents, the most troubling aspect of the
investigation was the fact that the S.S. agents conducted the
interrogation with Julia alone without first giving her parents
an opportunity to be present. Parents in California, and
throughout the U.S., have expressed similar concerns recently,
particularly now that law enforcement agencies have been given
such carte blanche discretion and expanded protections through
legislation and Supreme Court precedent.
Two recent bills in California proposed changes in the law to
require that parents have an opportunity to be present during
police questioning. Neither bill was passed, but the calls for
change are increasing.
I spoke with Julia and her parents last weekend, and I learned
that this entire event has made them more determined than ever
to draw public attention to the injustices that are being
perpetrated by this corrupt administration.
Jim and Kirstie’s immediate concern related to their rights as
parents to be present at the school-facilitated discussion,
especially since it had the potential for significant
consequences for Julia. Their broader concern, however, was
about the direction this country has been headed under a
Republican leadership. They plan to be more politically active
Similarly, Julia is now more determined than ever to organize a
student anti-war group, and she is convinced that George W. Bush
is the worst president ever.
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