Will my lawn gnomes land me in Guantanamo? Will my pink flamingos earn me a cavity probe? An Alameda, California artist has displayed political artwork in front of his house every month for the past ten years — political statements — and this month’s display was seen as a “hostile” threat to homeland security. The piece, a life-size cardboard cutout of president Bush with a knife stuck in the forehead, resulted in a pretty scary suspension of rights thanks to the federal agents’ interpretation of the piece. Snip:
McDonald’s attorney and friend, Timothy Rumberger, who was present for part of the 90-minute interview, said he couldn’t believe the federal government’s response.
“My first reaction was shock,” Rumberger said. “I got a call from (McDonald’s) wife, and she was frightened. She said, ‘I have Homeland Security, the Secret Service, coming to interrogate my husband.’ ”
The agents, wearing shades and suit jackets and looking very federal, told Rumberger and McDonald they were responding to three complaints that the piece constituted a “hostile act” toward the president of the United States.
Rumberger countered that his client’s artwork was clearly political speech, and not a hostile act, and was even accompanied by a sign that read: “It’s very sad that we’re … indifferent to a word like war.”
When asked how the federal government sorted out legitimate political art from hostile art, the agent compared it to a comment about pornography.
“I know it when I see it,” the agent said.
“Maybe it’s my lack of experience, but I always thought the country protected artists and poets and the right to have dissident views,” McDonald’s attorney said. “At least that’s what I always believed growing up — and yet here were federal agents.”
Against his attorney’s advice, McDonald chose to speak with the agents, who not only interviewed him at length but also got him to sign an 11-page interrogation report and a document giving federal agents unrestricted access to medical and other information about him.