Former Marine Brandon Raub is still looking for justice more than two years after federal agents showed up at his door, placed him in handcuffs, whisked him away from his family and held him against his will in a psychiatric ward — all because of something he posted on Facebook.
Attorneys with the Rutherford Institute argued Raub’s case Jan. 28 before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, asking the court to reinstate the lawsuit of the decorated combat veteran who served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2005 to 2011. He was seized by a swarm of Secret Service, FBI and local police in August 2012 and held for a week.
Raub, then 26, was involuntary committed because of controversial song lyrics and political views he expressed on his Facebook page.
“They were concerned about me calling for the arrest of government officials,” Raub told the Richmond Times Dispatch in a phone call from his hospital bed. Raub accused the government of lying about 9/11 and spoke of “starting a Revolution,” mere words he had taken no steps toward carrying out, according to his attorneys. Raub said he doesn’t even own a gun.
In another case, Rutherford attorneys filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he reportedly posted references to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.
“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook, the end result is the same – the criminalization of free speech,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”
‘Tools for control’
Rutherford said there is a clear difference between speech that is controversial and that which is criminal. The former is protected by the First Amendment, no matter how unpopular or even hateful it might be.
“While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal,” he said.
Raub, like many Americans, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions.
On Aug. 16, 2012, police from Chesterfield County, Virginia, the U.S. Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s home, asked to speak with him about his Facebook posts, and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, handcuffed him and transported him to police headquarters, then to a medical facility, where he was held against his will for psychological evaluation and treatment.
Rutherford Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as a violation of Raub’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.”
The Rutherford Institute filed a lawsuit in May 2013, challenging the government’s actions as procedurally improper and legally unjustified. In February 2014, a federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched.”
In appealing to the Fourth Circuit, Raub’s attorneys claim that the Chesterfield County mental health screener who recommended Raub’s seizure and commitment failed to exercise reasonable professional judgment in interviewing and in wrongly determining that Raub was mentally ill and dangerous, thereby violating his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The lawsuit also asserts that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a mental health screener’s dislike of Raub’s “unpatriotic” views on federal government misconduct, thereby violating the ex-Marine’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
More Americans worry about online posts
Whitehead said multiple surveys indicate about half of Americans now worry about what they post online. And for good reason.
“If you say the wrong word, or when adults start using the first letter of a word instead of the word itself, you know something has happened,” Whitehead recently told WND. “They do this because they know there are certain trigger words that could get you in trouble.”
Whitehead said the Rutherford Institute, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, routinely gets calls from people who are visited by police for using certain words online or voicing criticisms considered off limits.
Raub was perhaps the most high-profile case.
He received a knock on the door after making a Facebook post that questioned the government’s official explanation of the 9/11 attacks. The agents who scooped him up had no arrest warrant and no search warrant, Whitehead said.
‘Moving into a censorship society’
Since that case made national news, Whitehead said he has received dozens of calls from other veterans with their own horror stories of being detained under involuntary commitment laws. About 20,000 of these type of detentions take place every year in Virginia alone.
“Just over a Facebook post, in many cases,” he said. “I’ve had veterans call me for just posting something, and then the FBI agents come to their door the next day.”
“People are nervous they’re going to be harassed. We’re moving into a censorship society. I see the cases on a daily basis.”
Whitehead said the National Security Agency downloads and filters 256 million text messages per day of average Americans.
“This is the average American citizen. They’re seeing what you’re saying. They have lists, all your banking records, where you spending your money, what books you buy,” he said. “So if people really want to keep this country free, they’re going to have to support everybody’s speech, not just those they agree with.”
Military veterans under attack
Whitehead said military veterans and Christians are the two groups most under a microscope right now.
“I see outspoken veterans, a number go to Afghanistan and they come back, they say they didn’t like what they saw there and they get investigated,” Whitehead said. “Brandon Raub, a loyal American, and a Christian by the way, and a veteran, they put him in a mental hospital. His mother approached every group and couldn’t get anyone to listen to her. We got involved, and we got him out, and now we’re suing the government over it.”
Whitehead said the detainment of Raub shows the U.S. hasn’t learned much from the oppressive regimes out of which it has helped liberate others.
As the world remembers the 70th anniversary of the liberation Auschwitz death camp, there is a lesson to contemplate about what type of society we want to live in, Whitehead said.
He said leftists in the government have been working with their comrades in the media to destroy perceived enemies in the name of “tolerance.” One recent example of this was the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran over a book he wrote that included politically incorrect speech about human sexuality from a biblical perspective.
Whether it’s anti-blasphemy laws or hate-speech laws in Europe or “speech codes” on American college campuses, the trend is toward less freedom of speech in the West, writes Radley Balko in a recent article for the Washington Post, where he blogs on issues of criminal justice. The state of Pennsylvania just adopted a law called the “Silencing Act” that curtails the free speech rights of ex-convicts.
“We need to dispense with this anti-liberal notion that there is some right to not be offended,” Balko said. “Whether it’s speech codes on college campuses, anti-blasphemy and anti-hate speech laws in Europe, or so-called victims’ rights laws like this one, you can’t enforce these laws without crushing free expression and stifling speech.
“You can have a free, open society that protects speech, or you can have an enforceable right to not be offended. You can’t have both.”
“It’s not tolerance; it’s intolerance,” Whitehead said. “The media is intolerant; the government now is intolerant. Hate speech laws are egregious. Former regimes like Nazi Germany, we’re repeating it. Great majorities of people went to concentration camps in Germany because they were categorized as ‘a-social.’ They got rounded up. That’s what you’re seeing today.”
That’s why Whitehead will defend even the most distasteful speech, such as that by Westboro Baptist church leader Margie Phelps.
“I did not agree with her, but she came to Charlottesville, and I prepared her for her case. She won,” he said. “That’s the key to free speech. If it’s going to be free, it can’t be bridled. The media shouldn’t be frowning on it or carping on it. A robust free speech keeps liberty alive.”