Ray Duckler: You can’t go home again, especially when you’re Edward Snowden

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/21/2016 12:28:16 AM
He looked gentle, with wire-rimmed glasses and a wispy goatee.

But to Free Staters Saturday at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, Edward Snowden was a powder keg of rebellion, an outlaw with a purpose, a rebel with a cause.

Snowden, who exposed intelligence agency spying in 2013, spoke at the Liberty Forum via satellite from Russia. That’s where he lives now, a man without a country.

Our government says he jeopardized national security by following his heart and coming forward. He’s a fugitive, charged with espionage and theft.

But don’t try telling the people I met at the event that Snowden has anything to be sorry for. He brought them to their feet, sending a charge of righteous electricity down the aisle and through the rows of folding chairs.

In fact, to them, he’s a hero who turned the country upside down, and for all the right reasons. Spy on people without reason, they said, and you’ve got North Korea or Nazi Germany.

“This was inspirational, that someone would give up so much for so many other people,” 30-year-old Jeremy Kaufman of Manchester told me moments after the Snowden event. “He sacrificed his life, his friends, his freedom. He believed what he did was for the good of the country.”

So did other members during this gathering of the Free State Project. They were libertarians, Rand Paul supporters, proponents of small government.

Snowden reminded them about the government cover-up after he’d come forward with the truth. He showed a clip of denials in front of a Congressional hearing.

“Look at the public record,” Snowden said on the big screen up front. “Officials who were challenged under oath or in front of cameras lied.”

He served as the perfect ambassador for people who critics sometimes call kooky. They call themselves porcupines.

They recently finished a 12-year journey to secure 20,000 signatures, and now those people have, in theory, five years to move to the Granite State. New Hampshire is the epicenter of this movement to establish freedom in the United States.

True freedom, as they see it. Not phony freedom.

Good luck pigeonholing these people into a neat political package. It doesn’t work. To them, freedom means gun rights and same-sex marriage, liberal drug laws and religious property tax exemptions.

In short, mind your own business, government. Nothing to see here.

And that’s where Snowden comes in. If you’ve been living on Mars the past two years, he’s the former National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on his bosses, revealing to two media outlets in a Hong Kong hotel room that American citizens were being watched.

We were being monitored, our phone calls, our emails, who we were talking to and when, where we went, day and night. Big brother had surfaced, but in this case, he was hiding in the shadows, secretive and sneaky.

Until Snowden came along.

How beloved was this guy Saturday, in this climate, with these people?

Cardboard cutouts of his face were handed out to an estimated 500 fans.

“Get ready for a very historic occasion,” announced Angela Harris, the program’s lead organizer.

And she was right.

Snowden said the government had been conducting a “pre-criminal investigation. They were watching all of us all the time, in case we committed a crime. That is a problem. It’s why this matters. It’s no longer justice; it’s order. There is a difference.”

Snowden, a high school dropout, shined a light on behavior that allowed those in charge to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Probable cause be damned.

“Accountability,” Snowden said, when asked how trust in our government could be restored. “They have the ability to direct the future of society. They know more about us than at any point in history. They are excusing themselves from accountability.”

He described in surreal, riveting details how his colleagues in the NSA ignored his concerns about our government overstepping its boundaries.

“Something doesn’t smell right here,” he remembered thinking. “Some said, ‘Who cares about the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment? We have a job to do. There are bad guys out there.’ ”

He said blind nationalism is “less effective in many ways,” and those who push authoritarian tactics onto the public “can argue it will provide a better life, but they cannot argue it will provide a freer life.”

He showed a security agency memo speculating about radical, dangerous behavior by a man who turned out to be Martin Luther King Jr. The memo was issued two days after King’s “I have a dream,” speech.

He praised Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, exposing lies and deception by the U.S. government about the Vietnam War.

“He was a true radical in the best way,” Snowden said.

He spoke about his most recent stance, also highly controversial. He sides with Apple against the FBI, which wants to listen to the phone messages of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two attackers in the San Bernardino massacre last year.

“Either all of us have security, or none of us have security,” Snowden said.

No one at the Radisson disagreed. Those in attendance, and countless others nationwide, would surely join hands to keep Snowden out of prison if he came back to face charges.

He wants to come home, but he said a trial “in the context of legality and morality” must be guaranteed first. People I spoke to doubted he could receive justice. They mentioned a kangaroo court would most likely await him.

Meanwhile, Snowden gives his time now and then to those who want to hear his thoughts. Free State Project President Carla Gericke pulled the strings to secure this interview. She’d like Snowden to sign the petition, the one with 20,000 names on it.

She’d also like him to move here, to the Granite State.

“Maybe I’ll work on that next,” Gericke said.

A lot of people would stand and cheer.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)


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