The real problem with dangerous goon Michael Grimm

We shouldn't let people like him have badges and guns

Published January 30, 2014 3:38PM (EST)

Michael Grimm             (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
Michael Grimm (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

New York Rep. Michael Grimm is an unstable, possibly dangerous goon. That much was obvious in the video in which he corners and threatens NY1 reporter Michael Scotto. His act may not have surprised readers of the New Yorker's 2011 profile of Grimm, which describes the 1999 night that Grimm, brandishing a gun, terrorized a nightclub full of people in search of a man with whom he'd fought earlier. Grimm's propensity for abusive language and ridiculous macho posturing was also well-known to New York and Washington reporters.

Grimm's actions that night at the Caribbean Tropics nightclub in Queens would have likely put a regular citizen in jail for years. But Grimm was not a regular citizen: He was an FBI agent at the time, and thus, after an internal investigation, he received no punishment at all. (The NYPD has declined repeated requests to release public records related to the incident.)

A former political opponent of Grimm's, Mark Murphy, shared his explanation of Grimm's behavior with TPM's Hunter Walker:

Mark Murphy, a Democrat who lost a House race against Grimm in 2012, spoke to TPM and said that while he has no direct evidence he believes that steroid use is responsible for multiple incidents where Grimm and a man he described as the congressman's "bodyguard" have lost their cool.

"These guys are wrapped so tight from the steroids that they're on, it's insane," Murphy said.

Murphy could be purely speculating, or passing on rumors. But it's not a wildly far-fetched theory. Steroid use in law enforcement is nearly impossible to study, because cops operate under a quasi-state-sanctioned code of silence regarding one another's misdeeds, but it seems pervasive, and officers are busted regularly in cities across the country. Two NYPD deputy chiefs were even caught in a steroid probe in 2007 (neither was punished). The FBI has, I think, stricter drug screening protocols than most local police departments, but agents purchasing steroids is certainly not unheard of. (Also, if baseball has taught us nothing else about steroid use, it's taught us that it's easier to trace the purchasing of steroids than test for their use.)

But maybe Grimm isn't roided out. It's quite possible that Grimm is an unhinged nightmare of toxic, entitled machismo completely without the aid of chemical enhancement. People with those sorts of personalities seem for some reason particularly drawn to careers in law enforcement. It might have something to do with being allowed to wield power over others through physical intimidation and outright violence without fear of reprisal or even societal disapproval?

Because we for some reason allow law enforcement officers to steal money, raid homes, shoot pets and sometimes wave guns around in nightclubs without going to prison. Cops routinely plant drugs on suspects and lie about it in court. We indulge the widespread law enforcement belief that they are soldiers in a "war on crime," and that the danger and importance of their mission justifies excessive force and rule-bending.

The FBI's rule-bending is admittedly more sophisticated than that of your average urban police force. The bureau specializes in convincing nitwits to attempt ridiculous bombing plots that they otherwise would've never conceived of. They rely on sketchy criminal informants, like Josef von Habsburg, a con man who worked with Agent Grimm, ginning up federal crimes for cash, like so many other FBI informants.

Grimm is just what happens when the worst sort of hyper-aggressive lawman transitions into another field where being a short-tempered bullying prick is rewarded rather than punished: conservative politics. The sort of person who very much wants to be a cop or an FBI undercover agent is the sort of person we should least trust with the job. While it's tempting to say we also shouldn't trust those sorts of men in politics, we're probably safer with Grimm in Congress than with a badge and a license to use deadly force. Now, after all, he actually gets in trouble for his gangster movie tough guy act.

And because he represents Staten Island, New York City's incongruous outpost of white reactionary resentment, we should probably not get our hopes up about getting rid of him any time soon.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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