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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/6/08

The Vital Role of Anonymous Speech

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In Mr. Ed Tubbs recent article, Today is the Fourth. Stand up. For at least once in your life STAND UP!, he attacks anonymous and pseudonymous writers as "summer soldiers" and spineless cowards. I write this in respectful disagreement.

I write under my real name most of the time. I use pseudonyms occasionally, such as when I write satire or sarcasm that I would rather not be associated with my "serious" byline. But I use "JC Garrett" when I write articles, while I use "Chris Garrett" when writing to my Congressman, Senators and most other government officials. Both are my real name, but I would rather not make it easy for a simple computer search by a staffer to find out exactly what kind of trouble that dissident, Chris Garrett, has been stirring up. It helps ensure that "Chris Garrett" doesn't get blacklisted from congressional e-mail lists. And since my Congressman was a prominent judge before my mentally-challenged neighbors foolishly elected him to represent them in Washington, it provides a slight buffer to the harassment and vindictive abuses of power in which those in high positions so frequently engage. He's got buddies in the sheriff's office who would be glad to oblige a request to make someone's life a little less pleasant.

While I don't usually fly or travel out of the country, many people have been added to the government watchlists because of their letters to the editor of their home-town newspapers. This is not an exaggeration. It is a fact. The Washington Post reported in September 2007 that Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, "has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006." He was questioned twice by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper that were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Once, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."

Too often, dissent is treated as a crime. The "incitement" doctrine has been used to crack down on free speech, and the Patriot Act has removed any barriers that once held the state in check. It's amazing how far we have drifted from what used to be known as freedom. President Abraham Lincoln once said:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.

But now we have come to the point at which even suggesting overthrowing the current government can land a loyal citizen who considers himself a patriot in prison for years. And something as simple as writing an op-ed criticizing George W. can get you detained, harassed or worse.

Moreover, the idea that a person must sign his "Christian" name to his writings for their contents to be considered legitimate is hokum. Whether I sign my article with my given name or another, the substance of the piece is still the same. It contains the same facts and opinions, the same perspective, and the same purpose no matter the insignificant scribbling of a moniker that is attached to it.

Also, the writer who uses a pseudonym does the general public no injustice. What does the public, most of whom have never and will never meet the author, care about whether it is "John Smith" or "Sandy Sand" who makes a good point about how much of a moron the president is? What is the benefit to Ed Tubbs to know that JC Garrett from East Texas wrote this piece? Would it not contain exactly the same words and meaning if it were signed "CG Jarrett"? The reader is not edified or sleighted in any way by the use of either. The writer defrauds no one by keeping his legal identity and place of residence secret. Why would it matter to Mr. Tubbs whether I typed (actually, hunted-and-pecked) this in Piscataway, New Jersey or Booger Holler, Arkansas? 

No, the main purpose of anonymity or pseudonymity when writing of dirty politics and corrupt government is to protect the writer from the government of which they write. Another purpose is to reduce the chances of being ostracized by family, friends and neighbors for their views. It does not render an author a coward to write anonymously or pseudonymously. It means he is cautious and vigilant, knowing that the present government is not known for its toleration of dissent, and that the Vice President himself blew the identity of a covert agent in retaliation over an opinion piece written by her husband. That's not scared, that's smart.

Perhaps Mr. Tubbs has not heard of Laura Berg, the nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital who was threatened with a sedition investigation after writing a letter to the editor criticizing the Bush administration's shameful handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

Yes, sedition: inciting rebellion against the government.

What terroristic, unpatriotic, treasonous words did Ms. Berg write that would trigger such a reaction?

I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government...We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.

That's all it took to bring the full weight of the Bushie-infested government crashing down on her head. The New York Times told the story this way:

Her superiors at the hospital soon alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and impounded her office computer, where she keeps the case files of war-scarred veterans she treats.

Then she received an official warning in which a Veterans Affairs investigator intoned that her letter “potentially represents sedition.”

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JC Garrett is a freelance writer and Constitutional scholar from the piney-woods of East Texas. Mr. Garrett owns and operates an independent recording studio, plays several instruments, writes, sings, and produces music. His stories have (more...)
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