Government Violates Rights in Name of Fighting Terrorism

The Brandon Raub case highlights disturbing government behavior


After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, everyone wanted to know why the people in charge of national security had been caught napping. Various agencies had various pieces of information; why didn't anybody connect the dots?

After Seung-Hui Cho's murderous rampage at Virginia Tech in 2007, similar questions arose. Various individuals had been concerned about Cho's mental state. Why didn't anyone take more steps to forestall the looming tragedy?

It was the same after the Boston Marathon bombing: Why hadn't U.S. officials heeded Russian warnings about the Tsarnaevs?

And after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Americans spent a couple months debating whether the nation needed better monitoring of the mentally unstable.

So when alarms went up last year about some potentially ominous postings on Facebook by a Marine Corps veteran, you can understand why law-enforcement agencies thought they should look into the matter.

What happened next is less easy to understand. Or accept.

On August 20, officers from three different agencies – the Chesterfield police, the FBI, and the Secret Service – paid a visit to Brandon Raub, a 26-year-old former Marine with kooky views about the U.S. government. Raub is a "truther" – someone who thinks the federal government was behind the 9/11 attacks – who also thinks Washington's leaders want to "merge the United States into a one-world banking system," and "put computer chips in you," and so on.

On Facebook, Raub had written that "the Revolution is here. And I will lead it." And: "Sharpen up my axe; I'm here to sever heads." The latter turned out to be some rap lyrics – but they take on a new resonance in light of last week's terrorist attack in London.

The authorities interviewed Raub, then took him into custody. But they did not arrest him, and they did not read him his rights. Rather, on the advice of mental-health workers, he was placed under a 72-hour temporary detention order and held for psychiatric evaluation. Four days later, a special justice ordered that he be transferred to another hospital and held for 30 days.

By then the Rutherford Institute, which is based in Charlottesville, had intervened. Attorneys – including former Virginia Attorney General Anthony Troy, working for a private firm – won Raub's release a week after he was taken into custody. Circuit Judge Allen Sharrett found the transfer order "devoid of any factual allegations," albeit largely because of the special justice's failure to check certain boxes on the form.

With the help of the Rutherford Institute, Raub is now suing for violation of his constitutional rights. His district-court complaint makes some valid points – and some others that sound rather less so.

"At no time," it notes, "did Raub make any threat to do harm to any person or to himself." Nor "has any person offered evidence that Raub has harmed or threatened" anyone. Moreover, the mental-health worker who advocated committing Raub did so without having met him. And the strongest evidence for holding Raub even longer? Raub "had long pauses before answering questions" and was "very labile" while being questioned by the Secret Service. (That means he was emotional. Many people would be.)

The complaint also asserts that Raub fell prey to a program called Operation Vigilant Eagle. According to a 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal, Vigilant Eagle tries to head off lone-wolf attacks. It was created as a response to what an FBI memo termed "an increase in recruitment, threatening communications, and weapons procurement by white supremacy extremist and militia/sovereign citizen extremist groups."

Finally, the complaint alleges that federal authorities wanted to label Raub mentally ill "to suppress and chill Raub's political views." They were, it says, "motivated by an intent to retaliate against and suppress" constitutionally protected speech. It's hard to know precisely what the authorities were thinking, because – thanks to Raub's lawsuit – they aren't talking. But that allegation seems too tinfoil-hat to be credible, and is probably a legal tactic to win punitive damages, which depend on a finding of wanton misconduct.

Anyway, motives are largely ancillary. The Cliff's Notes version of the story is straightforward: A U.S. Marine veteran was held against his will for a week on the basis of nothing stronger than vague concerns fueled by some intemperate writings. This bears a distant, yet uncomfortable, echo of Soviet days – when dissidents were consigned to mental wards because, after all, anyone suicidal enough to confront the jackboot of communist totalitarianism had to be nuts.

In trying to distinguish between batty but harmless cranks and genuine fanatics who pose an imminent threat, those charged with protecting America face a serious dilemma. But if their default position becomes broad enough to routinely detain anyone who posts a rambling diatribe on the Internet, then the country faces a policy dilemma as well.

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  1. And lets not forget that while the FBI was going after this guy, they were ignoring warnings from Russia that the Boston bombers were dangerous. But this guy was a white male and a veteran. He fit the profile of the kind of terrorist that would further the Administration’s political interests. Since politics drives everything, he was the guy they went after.

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  2. Do you want government agents terrorizing people or do you want outsiders doing it? Make up your minds.

      1. It’s also sarcasm.

  3. Well, devil’s advocate, the guy fits the profile. Granted, if I turned in every white male I know who posts anti-government Facebook comments and has fired a gun before happy hour would be a lonely time indeed. There’s the classic question of whether it’s better that 99 guilty men go free rather than 1 innocent man go to prison, and, in this case (and I think this is the mood of a lot of the country) the answer was a resounding, “no.” Personally, I think it sucks, and I don’t like the idea that saying the wrong things can get you hauled away, but if this guy did turn out to be an actual threat the Secret Service would’ve caught hell for ignoring him. The Fed is doing scary stuff here, but they’re doing it because they can get away with it. People are too scared of terrorism to be worried about a little thing like civil rights, unfortunately.

    1. I was at one of my wife’s family parties post Boston bombing. I was the only person condemning the police for not reading a US citizen his rights. The “feeling” being that when you commit a crime you forfeit all rights. I was making the argument you have all your rights all the time and they can only be striped after due process not at the whim of a government official. If not they are not rights but privileges. Everyone looked at me like I was insane. This I fear is a common belief.

      1. Everyone looked at me like I was insane.

        I’m surprised they didn’t call the police and the FBI counter terrorism unit on you.

        “Yeah, there’s some guy at our house party, I think he’s one of my relative’s husband, so no direct blood relation to me. Anyway, he’s talking about a lot of non-sensical things about rights and how they apply at all times, and can’t be taken away at the whim of a government official. Apparently he even thinks that Tsarnaev guy should have been read his rights and given ‘due process,’ whatever the hell that is. Get down here quick, ’cause this guy’s totally unhinged.”

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    2. Governments have killed hundreds of millions of people in the last 113 years. Terrorists have killed thousands. Every rational neuron in my brain tells me where the real threat is.

  4. Speaking of dichotomies this entire affair begs the question…Do we want to live with a certain amount of danger and be free, or in relative safety under the thumb of oppression?

    1. You’re going to be in a certain amount of danger in either case. Or do you really trust that TSA et al, are that good at their jobs?

      Given that, I’d rather be free. Judging by how popular the police response to Boston was, I think I’m in the minority.

      1. That was, I believe, the original concept of that “200 year old piece of paper”.

        The answer is always the same, freedom / liberty is about as dangerous as “security”, but with more freedom & liberty.

        1. Liberty is security.

  5. Moreover, the mental-health worker who advocated committing Raub did so without having met him.

    The “mental health worker”? Psychiatrist? Social work? Wrote up the recommendation in the name of “professional courtesy”?

    And the strongest evidence for holding Raub even longer? Raub “had long pauses before answering questions” and was “very labile” while being questioned by the Secret Service. (That means he was emotional. Many people would be.)

    And if Raub hadn’t paused or been labile, they would have labeled him “cold and affectless, possibly sociopathic.”

    Punitive psychiatry is one of those “heads I win, tails you lose” situations.

  6. They did the same thing to the ricin suspect. Basically had no evidence, but he was held for almost a week going through a competency hearing. He was finally released when he lawyered up and they realized they didn’t have a shred of evidence on the guy.

  7. And the Reason commentariat is wholly screwed.

    1. I’m counting on it. At least I’ll have all of you to keep me company… oh, and Tony can join the party too if he wants.

      1. Tony can get hit by a bus if he wants. I just hope he has the decency to upload a video.

    2. Just like how most serial killers are white and male, so too are most libertarians. All of that anti-aggression and social tolerance really makes a guy get all racist I hear.

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