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Paranoia strikes deep

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Rest easy, America. Your fellow citizens are on alert, with eyes peeled for the smallest sign of a potential terrorist at work. And those intrepid gumshoes at the FBI are apparently eager to follow up on tips dutifully submitted.

That, anyhow, is the message of a recent story in Creative Loafing, a kindred alternative rag based in Atlanta.

In a first-person account printed last week, freelance writer Marc Schultz details how two FBI agents tracked him down after being tipped about a suspicious man observed in a coffee house a few days earlier reading material feared to be subversive.

Turns out the probe-inducing text came from yet another alternative, Tampa’s Weekly Planet, which recently ran a column titled “Weapons of Mass Stupidity.” Schultz described the piece as a “scathing screed focusing on the way corporate interests have poisoned this country’s media. ...” (See Schultz’ take at www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com/2003-07-17/rant.html). When last we checked, reading criticism of Rupert Murdoch is still a constitutionally protected freedom. But things are changing fast.

The FBI would neither confirm nor deny that it sent agents to interrogate Schultz. But Creative Loafing did obtain this statement from an FBI spokesman in Atlanta: “In this post-9/11 era, it is the absolute responsibility of the FBI to follow through on any tips of potential terrorist activity. Are people going to take exception and be inconvenienced by this at times? Oh, yeah. ... A certain amount of convenience is going to be offset by an increase in security.”

This is how Schultz, who toils in a bookstore while working toward a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Georgia, summed up the experience:

“My co-worker, Craig, says that we should probably be thankful the FBI takes these things seriously; I say it seems like a dark day when an American citizen regards reading as a threat, and downright pitch-black when the federal government agrees.”

Remember this bit of folk wisdom: You’re not paranoid if someone really is following you. So, watch your step, and don’t let anyone catch you reading this column.

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