Assessing the Threat: Raleigh Police Hunt for Terrorists
The title of The Independent cover article Amy Simpson was reading on the evening of June 17, “Bomb School,” was certainly provocative. But she had no reason to believe that reading it was against the law. So when two Raleigh police officers knocked on the door of her Glenwood Towers apartment that night as she was preparing for bed, she thought it was some sort of mistake.
As it turned out, a fellow resident had spotted Simpson reading the online version of the story (The Independent, June 5) while she was using the complex’s ground floor computer room. Apparently fearing that Simpson was trolling the Internet for bomb-making instructions, the resident made an anonymous emergency call to the police.
“I was reading this article and all the while it never occurred to me that it said ‘Bomb School’ in giant letters,” Simpson says. The story describes Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity near Hertford, N.C., which has served as the CIA’s secret demolitions training base since 1961. While the article does sketch out some rudimentary bomb-making techniques, it hardly serves as a primer for domestic terrorists.
Simpson says police officers were polite and laughed about it after she explained everything, but the incident has left her feeling paranoid. “I don’t know if this is normal police procedure, but after they knocked, they were standing on either side of the door and when I looked out I couldn’t see anybody,” she says.
“The funny thing is that I had e-mailed the article to a friend who’s a police officer in Georgia and I had asked him, ‘What I want to know is how do you build a bomb with a condom and aluminum foil?!’” Simpson continues. After her friend e-mailed back a partial explanation, “I wrote him back, ‘Geez, I guess I’d be in jail if anyone saw our e-mails,’” she says. “But that was supposed to be a joke.”
Only an hour before the police came to her door, Simpson had been watching the last episode of the recently canceled TV show Politically Incorrect. “As much as I’m upset that Bill Maher actually supports the war,” Simpson says, referring to the show’s host, “he’s still one of the few people who really speaks out against the loss of civil liberties.”
She’s still not sure why police bothered to respond to the caller in her apartment complex. “The thing is, even if I were looking up bomb-making information there’s no law against that,” Simpson says.
Since Sept. 11, however, such activity is considered suspicious and will be investigated, a spokesperson for the Raleigh police department says. “We investigate numerous tips and concerns people report that appear to be suspicious and most of them work out to be nothing at all,” says Capt. Gene Gaskins of the department’s new Threat Assessment Unit. “The bottom line is that we take a look and if it’s not against the law then the investigation is concluded.” He didn’t mention Simpson’s “case” specifically.
The Threat Assessment Unit, comprising one sergeant and four investigators, was created in October 2001–but not just because of Sept. 11, according to Gaskins. The city’s new police chief, Jane Perlov, decided that the department would have needed an intelligence unit even if the terrorist attacks hadn’t happened, he says.
So far, the police haven’t smoked out any local terrorists. Although the department receives two or three calls a week and has investigated tips predating Sept. 11, no credible terrorist threats have yet been identified.
Gaskins insists that the department’s heightened awareness doesn’t “mean that anyone’s rights are going to be violated.” But, he adds, “if it’s a public safety issue, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
–Mark W. Hornburg
Smoke Signals: Health Activists Question Why UNC-TV Pulled a Program on the State’s “Addiction” to Tobacco
On June 25, at 10 p.m., a program titled “North Carolina’s Addiction to Tobacco” was set to air on UNC-TV’s regular news show, North Carolina Now. But it never appeared, despite being promoted in the station’s Centerpiece magazine. The public station’s online program guide says the program will “examine some of the hardships that tobacco farmers face, the debate over legislating nonsmoking requirements in public places, and research being conducted by two North Carolina tobacco companies on a ‘safe’ cigarette and the arguments over its release.”
Anti-smoking advocates were eagerly awaiting the program’s airing, as they’d hoped it would take a tough look at the influence of tobacco on North Carolina’s political system and the health of its citizens. Now, some activists worry that big tobacco was behind the decision to pull the program–and here’s why: Miller Brewing Company, owned by cigarette conglomerate Philip Morris, is one of UNC-TV’s corporate sponsors.
The station’s production director, Bob Royster, insists that Philip Morris had no influence over the tobacco program. Royster says he and Associate General Manager Gail Zimmerman, made the decision on June 19 to pull the program in order “to give the producer additional time” to produce it. Royster says he had “no contact with sponsors before or after the decision was made” to delay the program and adds that Miller is “one of many underwriters of UNC-TV” with no more or less influence than any other. On the station’s Web site, Miller is listed as one of the prime sponsors of North Carolina Now. (Philip Morris did not return phone calls from The Independent.)
Royster attributes the delay in the program’s airing to the heavy workload of one of the show’s producers. He also cites the program’s content as an issue, noting that the producer had “relied too heavily on the initial pre-produced report” and “jumped too quickly into the content of the reports” without giving enough background on the issues. Royster says the producer has been asked to provide additional material that would put “the whole issue in context” and that the new material “takes nothing away from the program.”
But not everyone’s buying those explanations. As Peg O’Connell, director of External Relations at the Medical Review of North Carolina and a board member of N.C. Prevention Partners–a statewide health advocacy group–says, “How could something that was so heavily promoted and included in Centerpiece suddenly not be ready for its television debut?”
This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about UNC-TV’s journalistic integrity. Several reporters left the station amid complaints that UNC-TV was using its news programs to promote public support for bond issues that would benefit the university system to which it belongs. Leaders of the state’s community college system also complained about not being included in the station’s reporting on university building needs.
So when will the tobacco program air?
Royster says “North Carolina’s Addiction to Tobacco” will be back on the schedule in September in the same time slot, though no official date has been set.
Health activists say they’ll stay tuned.
Red, White and Blue History
The Pledge of Allegiance has been generating a lot of ink lately, following a federal appeals court ruling–that’s since been stayed–that the phrase “one nation under God” violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The swirling sideshow has featured politicians stepping up to every available podium to defend the pledge, death threats sent to the Sacramento man who brought the suit that led to the court ruling, and plenty of chest-thumping, pre-holiday letters to the editor about what true patriotism looks like.But a look back at the history of the pledge reveals other facets of the story.
The pledge was published anonymously in 1892 in The Youth’s Companion, a popular family magazine of the time. Scholars believe it was written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, socialist, public school leader and cousin to Edward Bellamy, author of the seminal utopian socialist novel Looking Backward.
John W. Baer, who published a history of the pledge in 1992, writes that the editor of The Youth’s Companion had hired Francis Bellamy as his assistant after Bellamy was asked to leave his own Boston church because of his radical sermons. Bellamy, who was chair of a committee of state superintendents of education, was working on a program for the public schools’ celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery of America” that included a flag-raising ceremony and a flag salute.
The original pledge, which was not copyrighted, read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Baer notes that Bellamy considered adding the word “equality,” but decided against it, because many of his fellow school administrators were opposed to equal education for African Americans.
How did we get from there to our present-day pledge? That history is also revealing. Baer writes that the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution lobbied successfully in the mid-1920s to change the line, “my Flag,” to “the Flag of the United States of America.” In 1942, Congress included the pledge in the U.S. Flag Code–officially sanctioning what had been an unofficial oath. And in 1954, national lawmakers added the words “under God” to the pledge at the height of Washington’s crusade against communism. (The idea was to highlight what Republican Sen. Homer Ferguson of Michigan described in introducing the resolution as, “one of the real fundamental differences between the free world and the Communist world, namely belief in God.”)
The most recent furor over the pledge won’t be the last word on it, according to Baer. “If the Pledge’s historical pattern repeats, its words will be modified during this decade” he writes. Among the possibilities posited on Baer’s Web site (www.vineyard.net/vineyard/history/pledge.htm) is one favored by anti-abortion leaders: “with liberty and justice for all,born and unborn.” Another option would be to improve on Bellamy’s original by adding the word “equality”: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty and justice for all.”
Anyone want to vote on that?
Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Richard Hart at 286-1972.
Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.