Secret Service does another patriot act

A Portland man who responded to news of an investigation of controversial anti-Bush art in Chicago, receives a visit of his own from the feds.

Topics: War Room, First Amendment,

Back in April, two U.S. Secret Service agents paid a visit to a controversial art exhibit in Chicago, which included an image of President Bush with a revolver pointed at his head. There was no evidence of any threat to the president emanating from the mock 37-cent stamp on display, which was titled “Patriot Act.” But there was considerable public outcry about the chilling effect the visit could have on artistic expression of the political variety — especially after the agents pursued not only the exhibit’s curator, but also asked the museum director for the names and phone numbers of all 47 artists whose work was on display.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lassen, the publisher of a small book imprint in Portland, Oregon, responded to the news of the Chicago incident by creating a series of photo collages entitled “Bush and Guns,” and posted them to the photo-sharing site, Flikr.

Last week, he says, he himself was paid a visit by the Secret Service. “On June 7th, two Secret Service agents showed up at my place of employment and asked to speak with me,” Lassen wrote on his blog on Sunday. “One agent said they wanted to talk about something I posted online. I asked what, [and] one responded ‘You post a lot of stuff online, dont you?’ and then showed me some color printouts of my ‘Bush and Guns’ pictures. I was as helpful as possible, and explained to them the about the incident in Chicago, and the context of those pictures.”

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Lassen says the agents started out friendly enough, listening to his explanation that the work was political commentary, but that they soon made him feel “cold as ice.” He says they asked him about his psychological history, and for permission to access his medical records. He says they also suggested that he “retract” the pictures.

“After speaking to me,” Lassen wrote, “they asked to interview my boss. They also asked me to help put them in touch with my wife, who was out of town — they would need to interview her also. They also mentioned the possibility of interviewing members of my family… my mother in particular. Ill admit it. I was very freaked out. The first thing I did when I got back to my desk was delete the pictures from Flikr. Then I deleted my LiveJournal account, because in it, I talk a lot about politics, and how unhappy I am with the Bush regime.”

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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