The Outrage Factory

Angry lefty website Firedoglake fired off an angry email yesterday on behalf of Dan Choi, the anti-DADT activist who first came to attention when he came out on Rachel Maddow’s show a couple years back — while still in uniform.

Choi was later honorably discharged, but FDL says the Obama Administration is waging a “vindictive campaign” against him, including “seizing his veterans disability checks” through a collections agency, and this:

Dan currently faces up to 6 months in prison for protesting DADT in front of the White House. He will be the first person in nearly a century to be put on trial over an arcane law written for and last used to silence important women suffragists.

While we have a lot of respect for Choi — we were watching Rachel that night — we have somewhat less respect for Firedoglake. There’s an annoying tendency among Angry Lefties to hit the Outrage Button too often — we may read ThinkProgress and Media Matters daily, but we usually find ourself thinking twice (and checking sources) before running an item from them. So much shouting hurts our ears.

It’s far worse with Angry Righties, of course. But the louder they get, the more we’re amused.

So when the FDL email was brought to our attention, our strong instinct was — well, not to doubt it, but at least to confirm it before paying forward the anger. In particular, we were curious about the Lead Outrage — a century-old law being dusted off to burn Choi. That would be vindictive.

But let’s back up. The charge stems from an incident last November when Choi and other protesters chained themselves to the White House fence — which we thought at the time was dangerously veering into Cindy Sheehan territory, but we’ll let that slide. Choi’s comrades took a plea bargain earlier this year, but Choi decided to defend himself instead. His case goes to trial August 29.

Choi is charged with “interfering with agency functions”, which does sound like a made-for-Kafka special, but can be found in the National Park Service regulations. And maybe we’re missing a nuance here, but we easily found a recent case that suggests it’s not as musty as claimed:

After Michael Marcavage refused a park ranger’s order to move his protest to another part of the park on Oct. 6, 2007, he was arrested and found guilty of violating the terms of a permit and interfering with agency functions.

The 3rd Circuit subsequently overturned that conviction, and Marcavage filed suit against the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior and two park rangers…

No Obama there — the incident was in 2007. No White House there, either — it happened at the Liberty Bell. Heck, there’s not even a Lefty in sight — Marcavage was an anti-abortion protester.

Let’s find another one, from April 2008:

The arrested woman was identified as Mary Oberwetter, 28, of the District, the daughter of James C. Oberwetter, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a longtime friend of the Bush family’s. She was charged with a misdemeanor count of interfering with agency functions and released.

Now we’re at the Jefferson Memorial, with an honest-to-gosh Bushie, and surrounded by Libertarians — it’s a party out of bounds celebrating the birth of Sally Hemmings’ baby daddy.

So it’s not like “interfering with agency functions” is some zombie Woodrow Wilson vindictive law, risen from the grave. We might even guess that it’s a common charge, the Park Service equivalent of resisting arrest.

What is apparently unusual — and the basis of FDL’s claim — is that nobody has gone to trial over “interfering with agency functions” at the White House since 1917.

Perhaps because, like Choi’s comrades, every other protester had made the point and copped a plea?

We can’t say. But what we can say is that while FDL’s claim is symbolically interesting, the facts we can muster suggest standard operating procedure instead of presidential vindictiveness. And if FDL had made that case, we might treat their alarm with more respect.

But as it stands, we fucking hate being manipulated. There’s plenty of real outrage in the world, and in the case of Dan Choi. No need to sex up the dossier.

Obama to Put Dan Choi On Trial on August 29 [FDL, June 14]

Yeah, I have much the same reaction to the Bradley Manning situation. To the extent that the guy is being inhumanly treated in prison, yes it’s an outrage. But sometimes, reading criticisms from the left, you get the sense that many people feel he should never have been imprisoned in the first place. I disagree. Yes, the documents he leaked have in some cases done a lot of good around the world (they appear to have ignited the Arab Spring, for instance) but no matter how you look at it one fact remains pretty well incontrovertible: the guy had access to Top Secret government documents and indiscriminantly leaked a massive trove of them. I simply cannot see a world in which this would not constitute a crime punishable by a long prison term.

Likewise, I applaud Choi’s commitment to his cause, but plea bargains like these largely exist to enable peaceful protest that runs afoul of the law without handing out the severe punishments that the law proscribes. It’s our society’s wink and a not to a long tradition of civil disobedience. However, when you turn down the plea bargain you’ve been offered, you invite the punishment that’s specified in these laws. It’s sort of like Dr. Jack Kevorkian firing his lawyer and deciding to defend himself in court. Bad move all around.

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