Photographer or Terrorist, You Make the Call
May 29, 2008 5:27 PM   Subscribe

On April 3, The Memphis Flyer ran a story describing a town hall meeting in Shelby County in which citizens were instructed on the art of finding a potential terrorist. Among the 'qualifications' are having a camera and taking pictures of well known or important structures.
posted by theichibun (52 comments total)
 
Or try 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
posted by ornate insect at 5:29 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're right, they did run such a story! Are you possibly suggesting that America has in many way overreacted to terrorism, and in so doing become overly suspicious of strangers and entirely innocuous behavior!?!?!

Oh, and: to call the President a terrorist is the worst kind of hyperbole. It blurs what people should really be pissed off at him about, contributes to the existing over-application of the "terrorism" label, conflates very different types and models of violence and power - and arguably is unfair to real terrorists.
posted by freebird at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2008


A terrorist group commits acts of violence to -

Produce widesrpead fear
Obtain worldwide, national, or local recognition for their cause by attracting the attention of the media
Harass, weaken, or embarrass government security forces so that the the government overreacts and appears repressive ...


It seems that the terrorists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
posted by Avenger at 5:41 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is why I hate Shelbyville!
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


freebird--I enjoy calling Bush a terrorist. And I'm convinced he is one.
posted by ornate insect at 5:52 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]




Americans over-react to negligible terrorist threat: Film at, well, just about constantly.
posted by pompomtom at 5:55 PM on May 29, 2008


I never took any of these as calling Bush a terrorist. But I would be interested in seeing what would happen if someone took a picture of the White House.
posted by theichibun at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2008


When cameras are terrorized only terrorists will have cameras!


Wait, is that how it goes...?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


But I would be interested in seeing what would happen if someone took a picture of the White House.

I think many, many people take many pictures of the White House on a daily basis. It is a major tourist destination.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:07 PM on May 29, 2008


Sounds like some town is looking for some free monument photography!
posted by DU at 6:09 PM on May 29, 2008


I'm getting more disgusted by this country every day. Is it as bad in Canada?
posted by mike3k at 6:09 PM on May 29, 2008


Oh, and: to call the President a terrorist is the worst kind of hyperbole. It blurs what people should really be pissed off at him about, contributes to the existing over-application of the "terrorism" label, conflates very different types and models of violence and power - and arguably is unfair to real terrorists.

I repectfully beg to disagree. Not only is he a real terrorist, but one with the full weight and bearing of the most powerful government in the world behind him. Stalin was unable to curtail any of my constitutional rights. I can't say the same about this president.
posted by notreally at 6:09 PM on May 29, 2008


Well, when the way he pronounces it, "terrorists" sure does sound a lot like "tourists".

A simple case of miscommunication?
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:14 PM on May 29, 2008


Is it as bad in Canada?

Canada? Don't you know that in Canada THEY FORCE YOU TO GO TO DOCTORS THAT YOU DONT LIKE??!!!1!? YOU DON'T HAVE THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE YOU'RE OWN DOCTOR THERE!!1! IM NOT KIDDIN!!! THE TERRORISTS DONT HATE THEIR FREEDOMS BECAUSE THEY DONT HAVE FREEDOMS!!!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:15 PM on May 29, 2008


The meeting, held at Cordova's First Assembly of God Church...
posted by R. Mutt at 6:23 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


This has been going on now for a couple of years, hasn't it?
posted by dilettante at 6:26 PM on May 29, 2008


In related news: The New Game: Fear-Based Pork
“Fear not the terrorist, because the United States has a Department of Homeland Security. It's looking out for us all. This month the massive bureaucracy announced $844 million in spending for the latest ‘Infrastructure Protection Activities.’

With news like this, Osama bin Laden must feel helpless. He's probably holed up in a cave, meeting with advisors and junior terrorists about the obstacles presented by ‘Infrastructure Protection Activities.’ We can hear them now: ‘Just how does one destroy a casino bus that's equipped with GPS? Curses, foiled again by Infrastructure Protection Activities.’

Some of the Infrastructure Protection Activities money made its way right here to Colorado Springs, and into the pocket of the private owner of Ramblin Express, a casino bus service. To date, the for-profit business has received $382,000 in anti-terrorism grants. This year's $184,415 gift to Ramblin Express came from an $11.2 million pork fund called the Intercity Bus Security Grant Program - a division of Infrastructure Protection Activities - which sends gifts to scores of businesses like Ramblin Express.

The money purportedly helps companies improve vehicle security. Ramblin Express owner Todd Holland, contacted by The Gazette, said he was too busy at the time to discuss how the money would make his company's drivers and passengers safe from bin Laden, al-Qaida and the like. It's hard to imagine how anyone could argue that $382,000 to a private shuttle business might have any effect on thwarting terrorism.”
posted by ericb at 6:27 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, when the way he pronounces it, "terrorists" sure does sound a lot like "tourists".

A simple case of miscommunication?


It looks like I answered my own question. Sorry, that was the sloppiest sentence I have ever written.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:30 PM on May 29, 2008


Actually, the comments posted to the article are the best thing about this.

I didn't read them all that carefully, but I believe I spotted only one "pro" comment - and that was the one that said, essentially, "yeah, the people in Oklahoma City weren't worrying about terrorism, either". No, we weren't - not until some idiot right-wing white guy blew up the federal building, idiot.
posted by yhbc at 6:39 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


They say the meeting was "last week"; are they sure it wasn't two days earlier?
posted by Challahtronix at 6:41 PM on May 29, 2008


Next time I go to Memphis I must remember to flaunt a World Almanac everywhere I go.

Avenger hit the nail on the head.
posted by mr. creosote at 6:43 PM on May 29, 2008


"We will never do anything to interfere with anyone's First Amendment rights," Jackson said.

Sounds good. How about the fourth amendment while you're at it?
posted by yath at 6:45 PM on May 29, 2008


You can NEVER. be too careful. Not ever. Move along now. . .
posted by flotson at 6:48 PM on May 29, 2008


The sooner the rest of the country realizes that terrorists think America consists of New York and (to a lesser extent) Los Angeles, the better.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:54 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, that's also how New Yorkers and Los Angelenos think of America too, but that's another story.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and: to call the President a terrorist is the worst kind of hyperbole. It blurs what people should really be pissed off at him about, contributes to the existing over-application

Just out of curiosity, what is it about Bush that you think makes him not a terrorist? I mean, do you believe that government action can't be considered terrorism? That seems odd since the first "terrorists" were the French radicals who took over in the French revolution (according to wikipedia, anyway). Rather then simply ordering people around on terminology, it would be best if you could at least explain why they are using words wrongly.
posted by delmoi at 6:57 PM on May 29, 2008


Its a good thing I only take pictures of unimportant things. Like fungus and tree bark and tea bags. So far those aren't considered terrorist targets, so its allowed. I think. These new rules that aren't rules are so confusing.

The other day, my friend and I were taking pictures of flowers & flowering trees in a public park. I had my camera slung over my neck waiting for my friend to finish with her macros of tree blossoms, on a tree maybe 10 feet from the kid's playground. One lady was GLARING at us. As if by somehow taking photos near her child, we were both horrible, horrible child molesters. Fortunately my friend finished and we moved on to lichen on a tree farther away from the playground and those precious, precious children before she got up the nerve to call the cops. Seriously, she looked that pissed off.

I just don't get this hysteria over photographs. I really don't.
posted by sandraregina at 7:45 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Great title :)
posted by acro at 7:55 PM on May 29, 2008


Oh, and I realize being mistaken for a child molester when taking photos of tree blossoms isn't the same as being mistaken for a terrorist while taken a photo of a majestic bridge or historical building, but the idea that "photographers are up to something, and it must be illegal", that just puzzles the hell out of me.
posted by sandraregina at 7:58 PM on May 29, 2008


I enjoy calling Bush a terrorist.

If I could mark as "best answer" here I would. It is fun, and while I'm pretty sure he's not actually a fingerpuppet on the end of a vast waving Cthulu tentacle tatooed with Freemason symbols and cocks, I do enjoy that image. I am entirely a fan of pleasurable hyperbole.

And I'm convinced he is one.

I'm not, but obviously it depends on what you mean by "terrorist", so I won't argue. Much.

To me, there are simple differences in budget, publicity model, and relation to the State that make a terrorist different from the head of a world-spanning empire. These are differences in means and context, not of ends. I would not pretend to understand the true "ends" sought by either. If by "terrorist" you just mean "someone who uses violence and its threat as a means to achieve their ends", I certainly wouldn't argue. Much.

I just think it makes "terrorist" a less useful concept if it includes modern sports stars and professional soldiers, police and robbers. But I really don't mean to "order people around on terminology", I was having fun being pedantic and crotchety.

It is fun - I think you're a terrorist.
posted by freebird at 8:05 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


This all began when people from Springfield County were spotted taking photographs of the Shelby County lemon tree. Everybody knows that there are no depths so low that a Springfield person wouldn't stoop to in an attempt to enbiggen themselves.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:09 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not a terrorist. I am, however, a Freemason. (I'm currently listed as Junior Warden, under the "Montgomery Directory" link).

Unfortunately, I now realize that link is probably where I've been getting most of my weird-ass spam email from, so nevermind.
posted by yhbc at 8:18 PM on May 29, 2008


The comment sections is priceless

"She was forced to remove them, humiliated, and for what... NIPPLE RINGS.I have never, ever, ever even concieved of a way that nipple rings could be used to set off bombs, release toxins, or whatever. The most dangerous thing a nipple ever did was titillate a bunch of conservatives during the Super Bowl.."


" I have your solution for Homeland Security: It's called the Second Amendment - the Right to Bare Arms. It kept the Japanese from a land invasion in WWII, and it still works. If you don't like what I have to say, FUCK off, freedom of speech, I EARNED mine. Sincerely, M. J. Kane"
posted by lalochezia at 8:19 PM on May 29, 2008


,,,a potential terrorist. Among the 'qualifications' are having a camera...

But wait... we have cameras!
posted by trip and a half at 8:51 PM on May 29, 2008


We are America and we love to discriminate against negros gays Arabs others photographers.
posted by caddis at 8:52 PM on May 29, 2008


The sheriff's office guide to obtaining Homeland Security dollars:
1. Name: Operation Sudden Impact
2. ????
3. Profit
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:08 PM on May 29, 2008




Thanks for posting that link, homunculus. It's nice to see that some FBI investigators recognize that following up a lead based on nothing more than "suspicious activity" means that they'll probably be talking to non-terrorists who don't really need to be intimidated. Of course it's sad that such activity seems noteworthy in the first place, but I'll take what I can get right now.
posted by ErWenn at 10:07 PM on May 29, 2008




This is sad, hilarious and typical all in one fell swoop. Of all the places in all the world for terrorists to threaten, Memphis and its suburbs probably fall somewhere in priority between Antarctica (no eco-terror jokes please) and the moon.
posted by Arquimedez Pozo at 2:00 AM on May 30, 2008


"But we do ask people to be on the lookout for that individual who comes into the group and talks a little bit radical."

Yeah, because they're probably an undercover cop.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


Did Mohammed Atta start planning his terrorist attacks by taking pictures of his target?

Did Timothy McVeigh?

Has "casing" prominent tourist attractions with a camera ever been a legitimate concern?

If it were, don't you think "the terrorists" would start using cameras that aren't quite so easy to detect?
posted by grouse at 7:09 AM on May 30, 2008


I'd never seen the before. Interesting read.
posted by
artifarce at 7:49 AM on May 30, 2008


If I were a terrorist, I would hide my camera behind the big gem on my turban.
posted by LordSludge at 8:18 AM on May 30, 2008


Many would assume the men are tourists taking in the city's sights, but law enforcement officials say they could be terrorists staking out possible targets.
And the "many" people would almost certainly be right. I mean... LEOs would be right, too in that those photographers could be terrorists... but so could that guy over there eating ice cream... or that lady talking on her cell phone... or that cab driver... or... or... um... or that cop over there...
The meeting, held at Cordova's First Assembly of God Church...
"We've found that religious people have the most credulous nature."
"You may think a guy is just shooting pictures, but if you report it to us, we'll send it on to the FBI..."
Because nothing says "efficiency" like implementing a middleman. I mean... this is *important* stuff! This could potentially be a terrorist! So what we really want to do is *slow* the reporting system and investigation process down.

Please live in fear and understand that anyone, anywhere, could be a terrorist; so it would be best if you just curled up in to a ball and cried and wet yourself... after calling US, of course.
posted by vertigo25 at 9:19 AM on May 30, 2008


I just... can I do this real quick?

Metafilter: a fingerpuppet on the end of a vast waving Cthulu tentacle tatooed with Freemason symbols and cocks.

A bit slow on the draw, but it was calling to me.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:28 AM on May 30, 2008


Oh my god. I just realized something earth shattering, something that will change everything about my day to day life:

I am a terrorist.

I have a camera, right here, and just yesterday I was taking pictures of bridges and buildings.

Fuck fuck fuck!

How could I have not known this? I mean, how does one go through his whole life and not realize that he's a terrorist? I always thought I was, on balance, a pretty good person. I hold doors open for people, I take care my pets, but damn it, look at the evidence, I have a camera, I take pictures of stuff.

Clearly, I'm a terrorist. There simply can't be any other explanation.

I better go turn myself in now.
posted by quin at 10:47 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Being in Tennessee, when I heard first heard about this I gave Shelby County Sergent Larry Allen, (mentioned in the article at top) a call to discuss the situation - here's the recording:

http://www.maxam-outdoors.com/watch?v=ch_3pKrvuFY
posted by jettloe at 11:12 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


yhbc: I'm not a terrorist. I am, however, a Freemason. (I'm currently listed as Junior Warden, under the "Montgomery Directory" link).

So you're a Montgomery Warden? I thought they went out of business?
posted by workerant at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2008


I was recently harassed for taking photographs at a local landfill.
I was met by a truck as I was driving out, and asked to delete the
pictures that I had taken.
I asked why, and he said that these photographs could end up on
the internet, and then anyone could see them, and that they had
methane recovery equipment that operated there, and that it could
be a target for terrorists.
I told him that a sanitary landfill didn't really seem like a very good
target for terrorists, but complied and deleted my pictures, and
complimented them on their vigilence.

They weren't very good pictures, anyway. The Newby Island Landfill,
in Fremont, California is no longer dumping material on the nearly 100
foot tall pile of landfill, which at one time afforded one an unobstructed
view of San Francisco Bay. They are now filling in a low place to the
south, which occludes the view of the North end of the bay.

At 2500 standard cubic feet per minute production and 55% methane,
the recovery system seems to be kind of a large one, but
I suspect that they were more concerned with a photograph of the
working conditions and equipment of their hispanic workforce than
potential intelligence for a terrorist.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:25 AM on May 30, 2008


On 24 August 2001 I was living in Kiev. It was Independence Day, there was a parade planned, and I went downtown to see it and of course brought my camera. In fact, it was the tenth anniversary of independence, and naturally they wanted to put on a big show. Which they did in the fashion of the late Soviet Union: Letters of congratulation from the presidents of republics, mayor reviewing police brigades, a few folk cultural displays (three of them on floats as we know them), athletes from several of the national Olympic teams, and lots and lots of military hardware. I mean armored personnel carriers, tanks of several sizes, fighter and bomber flyovers, ammunition trucks, radar trucks, SAM and cruise missile trucks, and flatbeds carrying what appeared to be light ballistic missiles. The ground shook for an hour and the air was filled with diesel smoke.

As all this was going on, I committed what was probably a lapse of judgement: I took pictures of everything. Photographing infrastructure is generally inadvisable, you weren't allowed to take photos in the subway until five years later, and there I was, thoroughly documenting the military capacities of a foreign power. The tanks, the planes, the electronics, the missiles, everything. As an American in a recently ex-Soviet country, a country which still had a corrupt and suspicious regime, I photographed at least one example of every kind of equipment that passed me, developed some of these pictures locally, and openly sent both prints and negatives back to the States in the mail.

I have never met with the slightest difficulty in consequence of this. I continued living in Ukraine for another year, paid a four months' visit in 2004 (still before the Orange Revolution, mind you), showed my passport, registered my residence, rode the trains, used the mails. However many watchlists there are in Ukraine (and there assuredly are several), I wasn't on any of them. Now imagine if you sent that kind of photographs from the United States into Russia, or even Japan.

When the ex-USSR makes your country look paranoid ...



24 August is also the date in 2004 when Chechnyan suicide bombers took down two Russian passenger airliners. I flew out of Warsaw two days later without any exceptional security precautions at all. If that had happened in America, I'd have expected strip searches in the airport.
posted by eritain at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2008


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