Facebook & Free Speech
Tue April 8, 2014
The Case of Brandon Raub
A Virginia man is suing the F.B.I. and local police over his arrest for things he wrote on Facebook.
It’s been nearly two years since 29-year-old Brandon Raub began posting things on his Facebook page – things that scared friends and the federal government. Honorably discharged from the Marines after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Raub became convinced that 9/11 was a U.S. government conspiracy. He wrote:
“The world is secretly run by a shadow organization of people who, among other things, enjoy raping children. Some of the leaders were involved in the bombing of the Twin Towers. It was a sacrifice – a complete inside job. Also, the Bushes are very sick and twisted. I believe they have a secret castle in Colorado.”
“I’m going to stand against a great evil. I will do it myself if I have to for the Republic,”
“Friends, you deserve to know the truth. You deserve to know the truth. There’s been an overwhelming amount of evil enacted and planned against you, your children and countrymen. It’s great in scope. Your government is evil. It’s as simple as that. The cavalry is coming.
When he quoted from a rap song, promising to “sharpen my ax. I’m here to sever heads,” lawyer John Whitehead says federal agents showed up at Raub’s door.
“People in black uniforms were running toward his door, some policemen and plainclothes policemen. So he went to his door, opened it and said, ‘What’s up?’ And they said, ‘Could you step out?’ So he stepped out, and they said, ‘We’re really concerned about some of the things you’ve been saying on Facebook.” And they grabbed him and handcuffed him behind his back.”
Whitehead is founder of the Rutherford Institute, a not-for-profit committed to protecting Constitutional rights. He says his client was legally entitled to his online opinions.
“The right way to do it was go before a judge, get evidence, search the man’s home, see if he was really dangerous. If not, then let him shoot his mouth off. Why would we care? It’s America.”
Instead, as his mother videotaped what was happening, Raub was taken into custody by police. When Whitehead called to inquire about the charges, he was told there were none.
“I said, ‘He’s not charged with a crime, but you arrested him?’ He said, ‘Oh, we didn’t arrest him.’ I said, ‘Sir, you put him in handcuffs and took him away. I’ve seen the video.’ He said, ‘Well that’s not technically an arrest. He’s not charged with a crime.’ I said, “In my book it’s an arrest!’
A psychiatrist spoke with Raub about his belief that the U.S. government masterminded the 9/11 attacks. The doctor concluded he was delusional, but Whitehead rejects that finding.
“Last time I saw, 30% of Americans believed that it could be true, so that would mean 30% of Americans are delusional.’
Still, after a short hearing Raub was committed to the psych ward of a hospital in Salem. That’s when Whitehead asked a judge to intervene.
‘He ruled that there was not a shred of evidence to keep him there, and we got him out.”
Now, Raub is suing local police, several federal agencies and the psychiatrist for violating his First Amendment rights. Whitehead claims 20,000 Virginians are sent to mental hospitals each year against their will, and some may be victims of political repression.
“I’ve studied Soviet history. Soviets used this method really well with dissidents. They put a lot of dissidents away in mental hospitals, so I think we have to be careful.”
He hopes the Raub case will discourage police actions that discourage free speech. A lower court rejected Raub’s arguments, but he has appealed, so the FBI declined to comment on the case. Earlier it told the Huffington Post that it was not in the habit of snooping on Facebook, but had received complaints about Raub’s threatening remarks.
“Given things that have gone on in this country, such as mass shootings,” a bureau spokesman said, “It would be horrible to ignore such complaints.”