To the editor:
As the news media has tried to paint me as someone who sends "angry" letters to the President of the United States, I feel compelled to set the record straight about the Secret Service agents stop on Friday, May 13, 2012 at about 9 a.m. accompanied by a Blue Earth County deputy sheriff, both of whom were from Mankato.
After introducing themselves, the first words out of the agent's mouth was that what I wrote in that now infamous letter was protected by the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment so they weren't here to arrest me. He then said that the context of the letter proved that I was not out to harm the President in any shape or form.
When I asked why he was there then, his answer really surprised me. It was because apparently the Secret Service and other officials have been "capturing" words and phrases used by terrorists in making their threats and "red flagging" them. So, while the Secret Service had determined I meant no harm to the President, they were required to check it out because I had unwittingly used two words that were "red flagged."
He then started asking questions like did I own any guns, etc., and it was lengthy. So, I at one point asked him didn't have enough information since I was already declared innocent and his reply was that he had to go through the entire questionnaire and answer the questions or he could be fired. They quickly discovered that I was no threat because I didn't have any guns around and hadn't owned and fired a shotgun in nearly 50 years. So, they quickly wrapped it up and told me "I had a clean bill of health" and left laughing because I told them the only handgun I had fired was a ".45 revolver" once for qualification when I was in the military in my early 20s. (That got a big laugh from the deputy sheriff who said he knew I wasn't a terrorist when I called the gun a revolver.)
The point of all this detail is that people like you and me can easily run afoul of the Secret Service in writing to the President in particular because none of us know what words are red-flagged. CBS reported not too long ago that in Obama's first three years in office, the White House has been averaging at least 3 million letters a year which, CBS said, topped the record of 1.6 million letters a year during the Bush years.
If people knew that they could be subjected to the same thing that I was simply by using words that are unbeknown to them have been "red-flagged" simply because terrorists often use those same common words in their threats. To me, that certainly attacks the Freedom of Speech provision in the Constitution. In reporting that, I hasten to add that I'm not sure if it just pertains to communications with the President or if it is more general than that. As for the claim by a couple reporters that I wrote an "angry" letter to the President, I can only tell all of you reading this what I told the reporter for the Mankato television station when she was telling me it was an angry letter: I was boasting, not being angry. Apparently President Obama wasn't offended by it, either. That's because a couple weeks after I had sent the President the copy of my letter to the MNUI appeals judge, I got my first letter from a sitting president of the United States ever. Obama's letter opened with him thanking me for writing. He then said he realized how tough it was for workers like me to find work, and he went on to outline what he planned to do about it. A page and one-half later, he again thanked me for writing and signed it. How's that for irony?
However, when push comes to shove, I'm really unhappy with how our own New Ulm Journal handled the story. It must have been about mid-June when I got a call from a Journal reporter who told me there was a rumor going around that I had a visit from the Secret Service. I confirmed that, and we talked about it a little bit. However, it didn't seem to turn his crank so he hung up. After thinking about it a while, I decided that I would rather have an accurate story out there rather than just gossip which probably didn't have the facts correct floating around town.
Therefore, I called back, expressed my approval for going ahead with it as long as I was allowed to provide what I considered necessary background for the story. I didn't get a reply and heard nothing more about it until last Saturday when The Journal reporter was working on the news release I had sent in that the basis for the "companion" story Sunday about my perception of what needs to be done to save our downtown.
What was really upsetting to me was that the story about the Secret Service visit could have gone anytime, but it was right there on the front page side-by-side with my views on how to save our downtown. I think it was obvious to even the most casual reader that The Journal was trying to place a negative spin on what I had in mind in saving and energizing our downtown. (I expected to see a headline on that story that Larsen proposes building a new downtown to help save the existing downtown, but that certainly didn't happen.)
As The Journal had the Secret Service visit story for nearly three months and chose to run it side-by-side with my plan for keeping our downtown alive, speaks volumes as far as I'm concerned.