Don’t Joke About the President: The Secret Service Will Get You

A true story about how the Secret Service interrogated comedian Daniel O’Brien, who is the head editor at Cracked magazine, based on jokes that he made about current and former US President’s daughters:

[Special Agent Mike Powell] I just mean I’m not some, I don’t know, government dud. Believe it or not, I’ve got a sense of humor; most of us do around here. I know it’s a comedy website, I know you’re doing jokes. It just so happens that it’s my job to pay attention when certain … concepts are brought up online. That article, combined with your fascination with fighting presidents … well, that’s the kind of thing I need to know about.”

[O’Brien] “You just go around the Internet tracking down people who say potentially threatening things about the president?”

[Special Agent Mike Powell] “Unfortunately yes. Doesn’t matter how big or small the website is, I gotta follow up on everything.”

[O’Brien]  “On the whole Internet? That sounds just awful.”

Special Agent Powell laughed. “It sure is. What happens next is you’ve got to go to our downtown LA office for an interview. I won’t be there, my office isn’t in California. You’ll be meeting with two other guys, Agents … I don’t know their names offhand. Whatever.”

Well, from this alone we know one thing: the Secret Service is not watching terrorists. They’re watching you and I. Daniel O’Brien previously wrote a book titled How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran the Country. It is not a political trestle on resisting government. It’s a comedy that is about how to win in fisticuffs against dead US Presidents. This book, plus the article titled 6 Helpful Tips for Kidnapping the President’s Daughters, was what drew the ire of the American security apparatus.

Even worse, Cracked was forced to delete the article by the Secret Service. Cracked was served with a subpoena to remove the comedy short. O’Brien has also reported that his passport has been flagged and that, five times out of six, he is selected for special screening. This is how paranoid the American leadership is.

I would now like to divert attention to a different man: The President of Uruguay, José Mujica. This man has been dubbed the world’s poorest president. He is 78 years old, lives in his own home (he refuses to live in the presidential palace), drives an old Volkswagen Beetle and he has only one bodyguard. Despite being a former guerrilla — one who was shot multiple times by the police and put into a literal hole instead of a prison — he lives as a free man and the leader of a free nation. He does not need government thugs harassing people who are critical of him. There are few, perhaps no, legitimate threats to his life.

This is the President of Uruguay on an average day, José Mujica.

This is the President of Uruguay on an average day, José Mujica.

I mention this to illustrate the fundamental difference between Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and José Mujica. This is an example in the legitimacy of government. A government is legitimate when the people approve of it. And when the people approve there is no need to form an ongoing police state to protect government officials. Even after retirement, Clinton, Bush and other politicians are required to have a 24/7 Secret Service security detail. This is how many people hate them. And by “hate” we can really say people who found them to have committed evil, illegal, or illegitimate acts. The very fact that they cannot live as José Mujica does, a free man in his own home, is yet another testimony to the illegitimacy of the American government. American politicians rule by force and, as such, it is only due to heavy security that they are not removed from the government by force.

Back to the story of O’Brien. A phone call was not sufficient. He had to be interrogated at the Secret Service Office of Los Angeles. O’Brien wrote, “Once I got to the Secret Service’s LA office, it didn’t take long to realize that I’d been completely set up. Agent Powell’s job was to lull me into a false sense of security to ensure that I’d go to the office with my guard down.” He was in for a rough time.

The first thing the agents did was imply that he would be punished at his workplace for the article. They became upset when they discovered that O’Brien was among the top ranks and would not be punished. They wanted him to be fired for the anti-authoritarian comedy that he wrote.

Then the Secret Service agents began an intimidation attempt. They had O’Brien’s articles, many from years ago, ready for critique. Actual dialogue. O’Brien colloquially dubbed them Agent Hardass and Agent EatShit:

“This article is funny,” Agent Hardass said.”

“That was my question,” Agent Hardass said sharply. “Was this article supposed to be funny?”

“Oh, uh, yes. Yeah. I’m- That’s my job. Comedy writer. Champion of ch-”

“Funny. I don’t know. Humor’s subjective,” Agent EatShit said. He would know, right?

And this:

“Are you a terrorist?”

“Definitely not a terrorist; ask my mom.”

“OK, I will. Please write down her number.”

By the time I finished writing this, I began to suspect it was parody and I’d been duped. But, no, Reason contacted O’Brien and confirmed it to be a true story. Techdirt also confirmed and speculated that this is evidence that the government is, in fact, scanning data far beyond the search for terrorists. So, beware. If you are a comedian who makes jokes about the President and his daughters your comedy can be censored with a subpoena and you can be interrogated by the Secret Service.

Oh, and guess what: the censored article is archived here.


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