FBI Comes Calling on Activist Software Engineer
Progressive Magazine | August 22 2004
Comment: After Kerry is elected, none of this will stop. The focus will simply be shifted over to conservative groups and activists.
Paul Bame is a 45-year-old software engineer in Fort Collins, Colorado. He's also a nonviolent political activist.
On the afternoon of July 22, an FBI agent named Ted Faul called Bame's home, he says. "He left a message on my machine saying that he wanted to talk to me about something," Bame recalls. "I was afraid."
Bame went to work the next day and took a break for lunch. "When I got back to work, there was a security guard offering to escort me to the lobby to talk to somebody named Ted," he says.
Bame met Agent Faul.
"He said the visit was not supposed to be embarrassing or accusatory," Bame recalls. "But of course, it seems pretty embarrassing and accusatory to have the FBI visit you at your place of work. At some companies, I might have lost my job. That didn't happen here, thank goodness."
Agent Faul gave some indication of why he was interested in speaking to Bame.
"He said my name came up at headquarters as someone who might have information about plans for mayhem at the conventions," Bame says. "He wondered if I had that information. And I responded that I'd be happy to discuss this with him with a lawyer present."
Agent Faul pressed on, according to Bame.
"He said, 'Is there any particular piece of this that you think you need a lawyer present for?' "
Bame says he responded: "Whenever questioned by the FBI, I think it's wise to have a lawyer present."
And that was pretty much the end of the encounter, he says.
The New York Times reported on August 16 that "the FBI has been questioning political protesters across the country" about events planned at the conventions. That article said that civil rights advocates believe that "at least 40 or 50 people, and perhaps more," have been visited by the FBI.
Bame was one of them.
"We were conducting Joint Terrorism Task Force interviews throughout the nation," says Monique Kelso, a spokeswoman for the Denver FBI office. "We were following up on leads of potential individuals that could possibly have information about disruption or possible illegal activity at the conventions or upcoming elections."
The ACLU condemns the FBI for the interviews.
"These JTTF visits are an abuse of power," says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. They are designed, he says, to intimidate people "from exercising their constitutional right to protest government policies and associate with others who want to protest government policies."
Bame agrees. "I was scared to death the whole time," he says. "I felt in my bones it was a scare tactic, it was intimidation. It's really disgusting that explicitly nonviolent protesters are getting questioned as if they're terrorists."
Bame says he worries about the chilling effect.
"It makes people feel pretty bad if one of their neighbors is visited by the FBI," he says. "They start to wonder, 'Am I going to be next?' "
Bame says he has been arrested twice at demonstrations. The first time was at the World Bank-IMF protests in September 2002. "I pleaded guilty to parading without a permit because I didn't want to take the time to contest the charge," he says. "It was just an infraction, and I was fined $50."
The second was at the Miami-FTAA fiasco in November. "Several days before the demonstration, I and four others were arrested on a public sidewalk in the Miami business district," he says. "We were charged with obstructing the sidewalk. It was a completely fictitious charge. And the case was dismissed." Bame has joined a class action suit against the Miami police department.
Even though he was shaken up by his encounter with the FBI, Bame is not going to stop protesting.
"Despite my fear," he says, "I'm going to New York."