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U.S. agents question teen: Girl ran anti-Bush page on MySpace

Marc Parent / Sacramento Bee | October 14 2006

Julia Wilson, 14, got a surprise visit from two Secret Service agents Wednesday at McClatchy High after the words "Kill Bush" appeared on MySpace.com. Her mom, Kirstie Wilson, says she should have been present when her daughter was questioned. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

The latest Sacramento resident to be questioned by federal agents in possible threats against President Bush is a 14-year-old girl with a heart on her backpack and braces on her teeth, a freckle-nosed adolescent who is passionate about liberal politics and cute movie stars.

Her name is Julia Wilson, and she learned a vivid civics lesson Wednesday when two Secret Service agents pulled her out of biology class at McClatchy High School to ask about comments and images she posted on MySpace.

Beneath the words "Kill Bush," Julia posted a cartoonish photo-collage of a knife stabbing the hand of the president. It was one of a few images Julia said she used to decorate an anti-Bush Web page she moderated on MySpace, the social networking Web site that is hugely popular among teenagers.

The Secret Service refused to answer questions about the case or even confirm an investigation. Eric Zahren, a Secret Service spokesman, said the agency does not discuss its work "due to the sensitivity of our mission."

But Julia's mother, Kirstie Wilson, and an assistant principal at McClatchy High said two agents showed them badges stating they were with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

Federal law prohibits making serious threats against the president, and Julia and her parents say what she did was wrong.

The couple are disturbed, however, that federal agents questioned a child at school -- without her parents present. And First Amendment lawyers question whether the Secret Service over-reacted to a 14-year-old's comments on a Web site made for casual socializing.

"I don't condone what she did, but it seems a little over the top to me," said Julia's father, Jim Moose. "You'd think they could look at the situation and determine that she's not a credible threat."

Earlier this month, federal officials arrested two Sacramento-area men for allegedly threatening the president. Elk Grove resident Michael Lee Braun has been charged with sending two threatening letters to the El Dorado Hills country club where Bush recently made an appearance. Rocklin resident Howard J. Kinsey is accused of threatening the president through a text message.

Here is how Julia Wilson's family tells their story:

Two Secret Service agents arrived at their Land Park home about 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, Kirstie Wilson said. They told her they wanted to speak with her daughter about threats to the president that she had posted on MySpace.

"She was in molecular biology, and I said I really didn't want to take her out of class for this," Kirstie Wilson said. "I said I'd make sure she came right home from school."

She asked the agents to come back in an hour, and they left.

Then Wilson sent her daughter a text message instructing her to come straight home from school.

"... there are two men from the secret service that want to talk with you. Apparently you made some death threats against president bush. Dont worry youre not going to jail or anything like that but they take these things very seriously these days," Kirstie Wilson wrote.

"Are you serious!?!? omg. Am I in a lot of trouble"? her daughter replied, using common teenage shorthand for "Oh, my God."

Kirstie Wilson called her husband. While they were on the phone, she received another text message from her daughter: "They took me out of class."

It was a 15- to 20-minute interview, Julia said. Agents asked her about her father's job, her e-mail address, and her Social Security number. They asked about the MySpace page she had created last year as an eighth-grader at Sutter Middle School.

"I told them I just really don't agree with Bush's politics," Julia said Thursday. "I don't have any plans of harming Bush in any way. I'm very peaceful; I just don't like Bush."

The MySpace page under question was a group page, similar to an online club.

Most of the groups Julia is a part of are fan clubs for movie stars like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ewan McGregor. The group that got her in trouble was called something like "People who want to stab Bush" -- Julia said she doesn't remember the exact name because she soon changed it.

After an eighth-grade history lesson in which she learned that threatening the president is against the law, Julia said she changed the group name to "So Bush is an idiot but hey what else is new?"

The group primarily consisted of her teenage friends who share her liberal political interests, Julia said. She deleted the group page over the summer when she decided that MySpace was juvenile and taking up too much time.

Moose and Wilson say they had no idea what their daughter had posted online.

"I was more than happy to have them talk to her about the severity of what she did. But I wanted to be here with her," Kirstie Wilson said.

McClatchy Assistant Principal Paul Belluomini said he usually does not notify parents when law enforcement officials come to school to interview students.

"Parents usually interfere with an investigation, so we usually don't notify them until it's done," he said.

Sacramento City Unified School District policy calls for parents to be notified but doesn't say whether it should happen before or after a student is interviewed. State law doesn't require parental notification.

In any case, said Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Julia Wilson's post did not sound like a "true threat" to the president, making it political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

"The courts have to distinguish between political rhetoric and hyperbole and a real threat," Brick said. "A reasonable person would have to interpret what was said as indication of a serious intent to commit harm."

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said in the current political climate, "the threshold that brings (agents) in has gotten lower."

"It's a cautionary tale for kids who are on MySpace that putting something on MySpace like 'Kill the President' is not the same as saying it on e-mail or over the phone," Scheer said. "The government is not systematically listening to all phone calls or going through e-mails, but it probably does search the Internet."


 

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