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Mugshot: Geoffrey McGann

You know you’re a terrorist when you use paint thinner and digital clocks.

It’s rough terrain for artists in America just now, especially when fencing with airport security monsters, but there’s still some good news. Artists can emote, illustrate, declaim, wax political or remake themselves in edgy glorious couture. The bad news is that doing any of the above in a manner which in any way, ever, conceivably offends anyone (except rational human beings) may place you in a holding tank.

Or interrogated and publicly humiliated, as in the strange case of Geoffrey McGann.

McGann, a graphic artist working in the advertising and non-profit fields, was questioned, arrested and held for two days for the crime of wearing weird objects, or specifically a “strange watch.”

You may have heard of his Nov. 15 ordeal at LAX airport when the highly trained staff took umbrage at McGann’s watch. Taking a second look is understandable, as he had added extra springs, fuses and mechanical pieces, none of them workable or connected, as I understand.

After a bomb squad determined there was no danger or explosives, this should have been enough in a sane land to get him absolved, but the pit bulls had tasted blood and wanted more meat – so they started in on his clothing and shoes. A military style shirt and roomy boots with more than one insole can only mean one thing; deuterium-laced footpads with spontaneously induced nuclear fusion. Remember, you heard it here first.

Yes I’m exaggerating. But only slightly.

The charges leveled against McGann were “too roomy shoes,” allowing the possibility of explosives, a la shoe bomber, however without any boom. The fact that half-filled purses or loose brassieres are just as empty – and especially the hijab, or voluminous, tent like garments for Muslim women with room to hold a conference – didn’t seem to appease the Transportation Security Administration. But whoever accused bureaucracy of being rational? The real problem here being individuality or standing out, a big mistake in culturally homogenous and fearful times.

You know there has to be more to the story, but it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. McGann was just being released from jail as I write this, so he hasn’t granted any interviews, but a few things come to mind: Quotas, mandatory weekly arrests of potential terrorists per week may convince the nation that the war on terror is working while ignoring actual Hamas supporters who were just then gathered in Ft Lauderdale, working on their blut und boden campaigns for the Palestinians.

While acknowledging that McGann had broken no laws, Sergeant Nelson, LAPD, defended the artist’s arrest on the possibility that “it may have been a dry run” – but of what? The social acceptability of Steampunk fashion?

The National Security Agency seems obsessed with fabricating an enemy that in no way resembles any terrorist, living or dead. They consistently deny that Islamic terrorists are Islamic, which requires some mental dexterity, a lot of paperwork and a contingent of advisers from the Muslim Brotherhood.

This may be a comical fluke by an overly zealous baggage handler and cop, but considering the plight of the pathetic little Egyptian “filmmaker” Mark Basseley Youssef, it is beginning to look like a new day for the rights of expression in America.

Mark Basseley Youssef arrested, photo: CNN/Reuters

Youssef, the state sanctioned scapegoat tossed to our enemies, is living in a U.S.-sponsored hell. An obscure immigrant with an amateurish YouTube promo that was also unknown before the White House targeted him for attack, he was arrested in the middle of night accompanied by with hoards of reporters for … parole violations? We are to led believe that concurrent with the Benghazi mess, this man’s suddenly discovered parole violations are pressing, national news. Local prosecutors were sent to his home and federal brass brought in to deal with the grave dangers of insulting the Prophet.

Is Youssef our poster child, a reverse Red Scare campaign for artists and writers who dare to step out of line?

Obama had just delivered his menacing declaration to the U.N. that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Certainly the White House, the State Department and the U.N. offices of Susan Rice have slapped a zero tolerance sign in the face of anyone who would “offend” Muslims. They have by no means, however, made the same effort to protect the sensibilities or even the lives of Christians and Jews across the globe.

Since when does the White House denounce and micromanage artistic expression in the U.S.?

The answer is easy: Since about 2008.

The excuse for the abysmal treatment of Youssef was that he was a “criminal,” a fact loudly trumpeted by the castrated press who has helped with his digital lynching. True enough, he was a small time crook with a string of forgeries, false identities and drugs usage – not unlike some who have served this administration. Eight purported violations were suddenly discovered in September, just after Youssef was accused of being involved in making the “film.”

Perhaps the obscurity of the man and the relative smallness of his crimes are the problem. The president’s mentors and close friends Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were druggies and convicted domestic terrorists, a much higher class of criminal. Blasting a few cops and ending up on an FBI Most Wanted List earned them cushy university positions and lots of government grants. It really is all about who you know, after all.

Various legal experts weighed in on the surreal freak show unfolding at the feet of Mark Basseley Youssef. Local prosecutors were dropped and replaced by high profile feds. Adam Turner revealed that Youssef was kept in isolation cells over a month without bond until the day after the election, when he was finally allowed a hearing.

Among many who questioned this circus was Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Werksman and law professors Lawrence Rosenthal and Jonathan Turley. Former federal prosecutor Bill Otis noted that probation violators routinely “get a pass on violations far more serious,” while Youssef had every right to make a “perfectly legal video.” Will we keep those rights?

As Solomon said, there “is nothing new under the sun.” Every oppressive regime since Babylon restricted or removed freedom of expression if it threatened their power or projects. Socrates was forced to drink poison in 399 B.C. for “corrupting” youth and failing to give due attention to state-sponsored gods. Hitler banned Gothic or blackletter typefaces in 1941, claiming they looked too “Jewish.” Under the Khmer Rouge failure to wear black clothing brought a death sentence, as did the crime of appearing intellectual in Maoist China.

Historically, it’s been difficult and dangerous for artists, writers and worshipers to insist on personal freedom and public expression. In fact the Magna Carta, the Constitution and the U.N. rights of Man are relatively new concepts in history and seem to be falling in popularity in my neighborhood lately.

Youssef is imprisoned for a year (high YouTube crimes), still alive but not for lack of fatwas. Western artists must man up and support each other soon before this is commonplace. Artists and writers are especially good at this, exposing ludicrous rules and rash authorities. Who is the Goya or Beckmann for America, or have they all become subordinates and servants for the system?

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