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Concord activist posts Snowden interview to YouTube, subverting Free State Project order

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/23/2016 11:53:17 PM
Within a few hours, the Free State Project’s Liberty Forum hosted a talk called “Always Be Filming” and yet barred cameras from recording an interview with Edward Snowden, its headlining session of the weekend.

Some in the news media knew in advance that they wouldn’t be allowed to record the former National Security Agency contractor, who leaked details of secret government eavesdropping in 2013, fled the country and spoke by video from Russia on Saturday.

But Garret Ean, a self-described anarchist from Concord, said the decision took him by surprise moments before the event began. He shut off his camera but kept his audio recorder rolling and posted the result on YouTube for all to hear.

In a subsequent conversation online, Ean’s move demonstrated a rift among the libertarians who comprise the Free State Project: Does freedom of information trump private property rights? And, for a group that venerates personal responsibility, did his actions harm their credibility?

Either way, it didn’t take long for some to draw comparisons to Snowden himself, a whistle-blower who controversially stood for his principles and ended up in exile.

“I think it’s particularly ironic in the case of Edward Snowden, who was the whistle-blower. Now Garret’s being called the Liberty Forum whistle-blower,” said Ian Freeman, the operator of the Free Keene blog, which posted the video.

Others in a closed Facebook group said Ean’s actions were “reprehensible,” perhaps even a felony for surreptitiously recording audio, and should result in his ban from Free State Project events.

In a phone interview Monday, Ean said there was no warning ahead of time that recording would be prohibited – even as people waited to get in with cameras – and the sole reason he went there was to document that one event.

He learned of the policy a moment before Snowden came on, when an organizer announced: “Due to prior agreement, we are not doing any filming, so if you’re not part of the official FSP video team, please turn off your cameras.”

Ean said the message was confusing, didn’t specifically address audio, and ran counter to his idea of what the Free State Project’s philosophy was. At least some cameras were allowed to film. Plus, Snowden is one of the U.S.’s most “famous fugitives” and there’s no doubt a federal agent was recording the event, he said. So he took it as a “suggestion.”

“If it’s a pro-liberty event, the only restrictions should be reasonable restrictions, and not recording I don’t believe is a reasonable restriction,” Ean said, adding, “If you’re going to make an unreasonable restriction, it needs to be done well in advance.”

How the restriction came to be is unclear. Free State Project President Carla Gericke didn’t return a phone call Monday, and neither did Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of Reason.com, who interviewed Snowden on Saturday.

Freeman said he was unable to get “a real straight answer” from Free State Project officials about the reasoning behind the ban on recording.

“My understanding so far is that Snowden had requested that no one record, but at the same time somehow Reason was able to get an exclusive” on rights to the Free State Project media team’s video, he said, adding that Snowden’s attorney was supposed to vet the video before its release.

Gericke wrote in an email statement: “The official high quality Free State Project video will be released soon in keeping with our arrangement with Snowden. We thank Snowden for graciously sharing his time and insights with more than 500 liberty lovers at this past weekend’s NH Liberty Forum. It’s unfortunate that one audience member put self-promotion over a simple request.”

Ean runs FreeConcord.org, but has blogged for Freeman’s FreeKeene.com for years. He posted the video in both places, and Freeman said he had no intent of taking the video down, despite the uproar. A discussion in a Free State Project group online ballooned to dozens of comments in a few hours.

Freeman said he expects some are trying to “bend the ears” of Free State Project officials to get he and Ean banned from future events.

“Free Keene has historically been a source of controversy, both outside of and within the libertarian movement here in New Hampshire,” he said. “Lots of people don’t like the things we discuss or do.”

UPDATE: The Free State Project’s official video is now available online.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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