Where’s the line?

Writing editorials would be a great deal less fun if there were always a black or white way of looking at issues. The buzz d’ jour, Guy Felton’s arrest at his home for allegedly stalking and harassing Washoe County Commissioner David Humke, is one of these murky issues. These two individuals each have lost some community respect through their juvenile behaviors.

First off, Humke is sworn to uphold the laws of this country. That includes the First Amendment. Politics can be a blood sport, with heightened and passionate speech coming from and addressed to elected officials. People who run for political office are required to have armor-thick skin because political speech is the reason our Founding Fathers created a First Amendment. They get the job, they go under attack; it’s as simple as that. Lily-livered politicians who can’t take the heat should get the fuck out of the kitchen.

Will Guy Felton’s arrest tend to chill political speech and dissent? Yes, particularly since the details of the arrest and the reasons for it are being clouded in media coverage. Guy Felton should not have been jailed—not for flipping off Washoe County commissioners, not for making a sign of a fist holding up a middle finger. The bottom line is that any adult could ignore that sign, and the commission meeting could have proceeded without interruption. This is the United States, and political speech must be protected—especially by those most wounded by it, otherwise, those politicians are hypocrites and in violation of their oath of office.

On the other hand, by his own admission in an interview by Auburn Hutton and broadcast on KOLO (still available on their website, www.kolotv.com/news/headlines/42635207.html), Felton admits to behavior that appeared calculated to elicit an emotional response: fear. Felton sent an email to David Humke, “You are an imposter who should be stood against a wall and executed by firing squad. I have previously taken human life.”

Hutton asked him in the interview, “So when you talk in these emails about firing squads and execution and shooting, did you have any intention of hurting them?” To which Felton responded, “If I wanted to take out any politician in the state of Nevada, I would have no difficulty doing that. I do not intend to do that because that would put me in jail where I could not continue the fight against a culture of corruption which prostitutes government in the state of Nevada.”

Not that it’s wrong to kill people or anything.

Many, many things that activists like Guy Felton say are true. Government in Nevada, particularly in the last decade, has become less and less responsive to the public. Many local governments have decreased the amounts of time citizens are given to comment on public matters—the very basis of democracy in this country. It’s very difficult to get any answers from an elected official—even among jurisdictions.

But, according to Nevada law, “A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed, commits the crime of stalking.”

Thinly veiled threats are still threats. We’ve had government officials assaulted—even killed—in this country. Discussion that goes beyond the issues into personal intimidation is not political speech and could very well stray into areas of harassment and stalking.