(Reuters/Adam Hunger)

FBI pays visit to blogger as potential "threat"

In the wake of the Arizona shooting, the FBI questions a blogger-critic of a Missouri congressman

Justin Elliott
January 14, 2011 9:50PM (UTC)

 This local ABC report out of southwest Missouri suggests a law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Arizona that has, until now, been conducted behind the scenes:

CHRISTIAN COUNTY, Mo. — A local blogger who was critical of Rep. Billy Long during last year's congressional campaign has been interviewed by the FBI about his encounters with the congressman.

Clay Bowler, who lives in Christian County, says he was shocked to find an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation at his doorstep. Accompanying the agent was Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott.

The agent asked Bowler if he was a threat to Long, a notion Bowler finds laughable.

Long, an auctioneer and former talk radio host, is a freshman member of the new Congress. The blog in question, Long is Wrong, is now behind a password wall. Though Long is a Republican, the blog apparently attacked him from the right.  While Bowler apparently "confronted" Long at some campaign events, there's no suggestion in the ABC article that he ever threatened the candidate.


The local sheriff casts some light on what may be going on here:

Arnott confirmed to KSPR News that Bowler isn't the only local person who's been scrutinized in the wake oflast weekend's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ) during a meet-and-greet with constituents in Tucson, Ariz.

Arnott said U.S. Capitol police canvassed members of Congress to come up with a list of people across the country who might be considered potential threats to members of Congress.

Asked if there is some new initiative in place, a spokesperson at the FBI's national office in Washington told me: "We wouldn't comment on anything like that."

Asked if the sheriff's comments were accurate, a spokesperson for the Capitol Police said: "We don't discuss anything that has to do with security of members of Congress. I'm not sure why anyone is talking about that."


Clearly, if a threat is made against a member of Congress, the authorities are obliged to follow up. But if the line separating sustained political criticism from threats has not been crossed, willy-nilly visits by the FBI could have a real chilling effect on the democratic process. 

The New York Times recently reported that "studies of assaults on public figures have found that attackers have almost never telegraphed their intentions to their targets or to the authorities ahead of time."

Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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