FW: SF Gate: The FBI's House Calls

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Fri Dec 21 10:32:41 MST 2001



 I thought you could relate to this...
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This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SF Gate.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/a/2001/12/18/eguillermoDTL
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Tuesday, December 18, 2001 (SF Gate)
The FBI's House Calls
Emil Guillermo, Special to SF Gate

If you want to know how strange it's getting in America, talk to Barry
Reingold.

   Reingold is a 60-year-old retired phone-company worker from the Bay Area
who's old enough to withdraw from his IRA without penalty.

   His parents are Jewish. But Reingold prefers to be known as your basic,
average American.

   Reingold works out every day at a gym in San Francisco, and has done so
for the last six years.

   Since Sept. 11, he's been exercising not only his muscles but also his
right to free speech. Reingold recalls conversations he's had with people
in the weight room about the war.

   "It gets pretty heated," he told me over the phone last week. "People say
what dogs those terrorists are. But I've said, 'Look at what a dog George
Bush is.'"

   That's not exactly a popular position to take these days.

   "Look at all the hundreds of thousands of workers being laid off in the
United States," Reingold continued. "This war is not just about getting
terrorists. It's also about money and corporate oil profits."

   Ahem. This is the kind of talk that gets people's heartbeats racing even
without a Stairmaster.

   "People question my loyalty," Reingold continued. "They say, 'You don't
support America.' And I say, 'Sure I do. I work here. I was born here. I
pay taxes. I just have a problem with the ruling class.'"

   Reingold's not sure, but he's next to positive that his First Amendment
workout got him a visitation from the FBI.

   The FBI, you will recall, has begun knocking on the doors of an estimated
85 people in the Bay Area who are among 5,000 in the nation singled out as
"potential witnesses." They are men ages 18-33 who possess visas and
passports from Arab and Muslim countries where there are known Al Qaeda
operatives.

   As it turns out, the list of 5,000 is a much smaller subset of an even
larger group of people being interviewed. From Sept. 11 to November alone,
the FBI received more than 435,000 tips.

   And, as Reingold found out, you don't have to be Arab or Muslim to get
nominated for a house call.

   "I have a speaker downstairs in my apartment building to let people in,"
Reingold said. "One afternoon, someone buzzes. And I said, 'Who's there?'
And they say, 'The FBI.' And I'm thinking, 'Why is the FBI here?'"

   He buzzed them into the building and met them in the hallway. There were
two young men, one white, one black, apparently in their 20s. Reingold
asked them for ID, and the two flashed him their badges.

   "And so I asked them what this was all about," Reingold recalled. "And
they asked me if I was a member of the gym [in San Francisco]. And I said
yes.

   "And then they said someone in the gym had reported that I had been
talking about terrorism and Sept. 11, oil profits, capitalism and
Afghanistan," Reingold said. "And I said, 'Oh, really.'"

   Reingold didn't think about calling a lawyer. "At the time, I was sort of
shaken up," he admitted to me. "If I were in my right mind, I probably
would have met them outside the building, where I could have witnesses for
all to see this. Or at least have pencil and paper to take the agents'
names and notes."

   But he didn't.

   "And then the FBI guy said, 'You know you have the right to freedom of
speech,'" Reingold recalled. "And I said, 'Yes, I know I do, don't I? And
that's the end of the conversation. I don't wish to talk to you any
further.'"

   What did they say to that?

   "That they had to write a report," said Reingold. "And I said, 'I'm
sorry.' And they said, 'But we really have to write a report.' At that
point I just closed the door, and that was it."

   The agents didn't force the issue, nor were they coercive. But Reingold
was bothered and upset. Here he was, just a regular guy expressing his
opinion. You know, one of those freedoms we are supposedly defending in
the war.

   Reingold confronted the gym about his privacy having been violated, but
the gym manager at the 24 Hour Fitness Center on Folsom Street in San
Francisco never officially responded. When I called the club, manager
Chris Robinson responded to inquiries with a chilly, "No comment."

   The only thing Reingold has done to date is file an affadavit with an
attorney to commemorate the FBI visitation. It wasn't until then that he
understood the true nature of what had happened to him.

   "It's like we're becoming a police state," Reingold said.

   Reingold firmly believes that had he been Arab or Muslim, it would have
been much worse for him. He's certain he would have been taken in for more
vigorous questioning, maybe even jailed. Then, he said, he'd have to
decide which was worse, fascism or racism.

   Reingold isn't sure what recourse he has now, if any. But at the very
least, his story should serve as a cautionary tale for those concerned
about what's happening on the domestic front in this war on terror.

   Lucas Gutentag of the National ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project believes
most people aren't concerned about what's going on with internal security
in this nation because they're under the impression that the FBI is
targeting and profiling mainly noncitizens.

   "It camouflages the full effects of the [Justice Department's] policies
because [citizens] don't feel directly affected, " Gutentag said. "But the
principles the government is relying on result in the same kind of
practices against everyone."

   If you don't think it can happen to you in America, just ask Barry
Reingold, an average American with a strong opinion.

   Emil Guillermo's book, "Amok," won an American Book Award 2000. He hosts
"NCM-TV: New California Media," seen on PBS stations in San Francisco and
Los Angeles. Email him at emil at amok.com.
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Copyright 2001 SF Gate

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