Innocence of Jackbooted Thugs

Today may be Constitution Day but given the repeated assaults on this document and those who take their liberties seriously, today doesn’t seem like much of an occasion to be celebrating. Over at The New York Post, Andrea Peyser refers to the treatment of the no longer obscure film maker Nakoula Basseley by the very government that is supposed to protect his individual rights as “appeasing thugs by trampling rights.”

In an episode as shameful as it is un-American, obscure LA filmmaker Nakoula Basseley. Nakoula was picked up by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies acting like jackbooted thugs.

Nakoula was paraded in front of a hostile media, his face hidden behind a scarf reminiscent of Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man,’’ and delivered into the hands of federal authorities for interrogation. Ostensibly, officials wanted to know if a cruddy, little film Nakoula created on a tiny budget violated terms of his probation for financial crimes — because he was forbidden to use the Internet.

Okay, so maybe the film maker violated his probation but I can’t help but think that if he wasn’t on probation, the government wouldn’t find some other law he would have violated. It’s not too difficult to trump up charges against any person living in this “free” country as there are over 27,000 pages of federal code and more than 4,500 possible crimes…surely he would be guilty of committing at least one!

As despicable as the actions on the part of the government are though, what I have a difficulty with is the cheerleaders in the media supporting the government’s actions rather than standing up for Nakoula Basseley’s First Amendment rights or at least questioning the authorities as to whether this was really about his probation violation.

Nakoula Basseley isn’t the only target of the government in this case, however. Peyser continues:

The government also went after YouTube, asking the Google-owned company whether “Innocence’’ violated its terms of usage. To its credit, YouTube refused to take down the film’s trailer in the West, although it yanked the offensive video from several Arab countries.


“Innocence of Muslims’’ tests an American value that liberals and conservatives alike claim they revere: the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech, no matter how rude and obnoxious. If you don’t like a work of art — as I despise the famous photo of a crucifix dunked in urine — you have every right to complain. You don’t have the right to burn the infidels who put it there.

Yet under the administration of President Obama, the United States has gone down a dangerous path by appeasing the horde.

“Appeasing the horde” may be part of the Obama administration’s motivation for going after this YouTube video but I think it has as much to do with deflecting responsibility from his disastrous Middle East foreign policy* in an election year. Whatever the administration’s motives, these heavy handed tactics ought to be challenged and exposed by anyone who cares anything about free speech/expression. Kudos to Andrea Peyser for writing an article in such a high-porfile newspaper as The New York Post to expose this assault on this 225th anniversary of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention. Sadly, she shouldn’t be too surprised if the jackbooted thugs knock on her door next.

*Though in fairness to Obama, many of the problems that exist in the Middle East pre-date Obama. His policies are only the latest disasters

  • Brad Warbiany

    You know, on this sort of thing, I look to Popehat. As a pretty libertarian fellow, an absolutely ARDENT defender of freedom of speech, and a lawyer and former federal prosecutor, I think he’s got both the right worldview and the right context to best understand these sorts of things.

    And he’s looked at this through that lens, and isn’t overly upset about Nakoula being brought in for questioning:

    It is possible that someone in the Obama Administration made a call or leaned on someone in probation, either nationally or in the Central District of California? Yes, it’s possible. Evidence, please. If it happened, I’d like to see a Congressional inquiry into it. But probation offices acting on their own upon a high-profile event involving a probationer is common. I suspect some offices have Google alerts set up; I’ve seen DUI arrests reported in the paper result in almost immediate action by federal probation officers.

    (Emphasis added)

    Essentially (and Popehat mentioned this elsewhere), Nakoula’s previous conviction involved fraud, aliases, and use of the internet. The terms of his probation specifically referenced aliases and use of the internet. And yet it appears that he is “Sam Bacile”, i.e. an alias, and that he arranged and financed this film as Sam Bacile, and was in the process of promoting it, as Sam Bacile, through the internet.

    If someone finds a smoking gun tying the administration to this action, by all means they should be castigated for it as anti-free-speech thugs. But based on what I can see up front, there are a lot of much simpler explanations for why he was questioned, and I’m going to go with Occam’s Razor until there’s actual evidence otherwise.

  • MingoV

    Popehat gets this one wrong. It wasn’t probation officers who brought Nakoula in for questioning, it was Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies. The video that triggered this response was released six months ago. Nakoula’s involvement with that video had been known for days, and his home was under police protection. He was readily available for questioning during normal business hours. Is there anyone stupid enough to believe that the usual probation office response to a possible “computer use” parole violation is to assemble a team of Sheriff’s deputies at midnight, invite a gaggle of reporters and photographers, and direct a caravan of vehicles to the parolee’s home to bring him in for questioning in the wee hours of the morning?

    A second point: Sam Bacile was used as a pseudonym (which is common among writers and actors), not an alias. Nakoula was not living a double-life with a second name. I think too many people are trying to ascribe benign motives to the politically-directed thuggery.

  • mgd

    I agree with MingoV here. Being called in for voluntary questioning should involve, as a first step, a telephoned request during business hours to visit his probation officer’s office–not being frogged-marched by five deputies after midnight. I’ll cede the argument about whether he would have been brought in at all had he a dunked a crucifix in urine rather than blaspheme the Prophet; however, you’ll have to convince me that this wasn’t intended to send a message to a couple different audiences.

  • Stephen Littau

    What it boils down to for me is I don’t trust the Obama administration’s motivations. There’s fast and furious, the bi-partisan disasters that are the NDAA and the Patriot Act, the policy that even Americans can be targeted by drones, and the indefinite detention of Bradley Manning (he was held in solitary confinement longer than the Iran Hostage Crisis without the ability to see a judge or lawyer to challenge his detention. Today is his 849th day of detention and will finally have his day in court in the near future). These actions against a filmmaker seems to fit the pattern.

    But for me it’s not even just about the Obama administration or even just about our federal government but governments in general. Take Julian Assange for example. His Wikileaks has exposed government corruption and malfeasance around the globe. Now he stands accused of rape. Is he guilty? I have no idea and if it turns out to be a “he said/she said” case, we will never know but I think it’s entirely possible that these charges are false trumped up charges.

    The lesson I’m getting is if you plan to blow the whistle on the government, you better be damn sure that you have a non-existent criminal record because if you have even as much as been cited for jaywalking, you are going to get hit and hit hard. If you don’t have a criminal record, they will do their damndest to find something to charge you with.