Former marine held involuntarily over Facebook posts now plans to sue FBI
A former US marine who was taken from his home and involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting controversial song lyrics and conspiracy theories on is to file a civil lawsuit against the FBI and police.
Speaking for the first time since his release, after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to detain him, Brandon Raub said his experience was frightening and that it sent a "extremely alarming" message to Americans.
His case has sparked vigorous online debate over First Amendment rights versus concerns over security. On Wednesday, a group called Revolution PAC, in support of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, called on governor Bob McDonnell and attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to apologise to Raub and to make public all communications related to the incident.
Raub, 26, a former combat engineer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was taken forcibly from his home in Chesterfield County, Virginia, by two FBI agents and police on 16 August. He was not charged with any crime. After talking with agents, he was handcuffed and detained in a psychiatric hospital for seven days before a judge ruled on 23 August that there was not sufficient evidence to keep him there.
In an interview posted on a , Raub said: "I'm really tough so I roll with the punches. But it made me scared for my country. The idea that a man can be snatched off his property without being read his rights I think should be extremely alarming to all Americans."
One posting said to be of concern was Raub's Facebook post on 13 August, which said: "Sharpen up my axe: I'm here to sever heads", a quote from a song called Bring Me Down by Swollen Members, a Canadian hip-hop band. Other posts focus on conspiracy theories related to 9/11 and talk of an upcoming revolution.
A in which he was dressed only in shorts and looked frightened went viral, and support for Raub has grown online. One of several Facebook groups set up by supporters, "Support Brandon Raub Group" has 11,204 members and a has been signed by thousands, including marines who served with him.
In his interview with John Whitehead, constitutional attorney and president of the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, which represented Raub in court and helped secure his release, Raub said the lyrics were meant as a metaphor for the power of truth.
"What I meant was … the truth is very powerful and has the ability to cut," Raub said. "The truth is not always nice. Sometimes it can be very specific." Other Facebook postings, alleged to have been "terrorist in nature", were part of a private game he was playing online with his brother and sister, he said.
Raub said that the FBI agents were "very vague" about what they wanted to talk to him about. He said he was not read his rights as required by law and was not charged with any crime.
He said that Americans needed to educate themselves about government intrusions into the lives of citizens, and he urged people to do so, especially regarding the government's ability to seize private property and industry.
Raub's mother, Cathleen Thomas, told reporters that her son has no history of mental illness or violence, but was a patriot in a family of patriots. He is "concerned about all the wars we've experienced" and believes the US government was complicit in the September 11 terrorist attacks. One of his Facebook posts, she said, pictured the gaping hole in the Pentagon and asked "where's the plane?"
"I want the country to know who he is – that he's not crazy, he's a staunch patriot," . She said she has posted similar things herself, and its role in the 9/11 attacks.
Virginia law allows police to detain people for mental evaluation under emergency circumstances. Four days after Raub was taken into custody, he was ordered by a special justice to be involuntarily committed at the veterans affairs medical centre in Salem, around 200 miles form his home, after the special justice concluded he was mentally ill and presented a danger to others.
But on 23 August, a Prince George County circuit judge ruled that involuntary commitment order was flawed and and ordered Raub's release. "The petition is so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy," the order from W Allan Sharrett said.
Whitehead told the Guardian he would file a federal civil suit against the FBI and local authorities for violation of Raub's First Amendment rights. He plans to challenge what he said is the misuse of Virginia's civil commitment laws, which determine a person can be involuntarily committed upon evidence that he or she has a mental illness and they may cause harm to themselves or others.
"They over-reacted," Whitehead said. "There was no specific threats here. They knew that – they didn't search the property. If the police had done their homework, they would know this guy doesn't even own a weapon."
Whitehead said some of the postings were made by Raub's brother and that the surveillance of a private Facebook group without a search warrant was also illegal. He dismissed Raub's psychiatric evaluation, during which mental health professionals said they found signs of psychosis. "Or course they did – he's a 9/11 truther," said Whitehead.
"Psychiatrists think that's crazy, but do you know how many people believe that in the US? About a million. You have a right to say what you believe. There were no specific threats to anyone."
Whitehead said he had been "besieged" by legal requests from veterans alleging similar treatment at the hands of the authorities since taking on the case.
An FBI spokesman said it took action against Raub after receiving public complaints over his posts. "He was never arrested, he was taken into custody by the local authorities for a mental evaluation," he said. "He was never charged with any criminal action. Many times we get complaints from the public about individuals that may post a a violent threat. What we are doing is trying to determine if that individual poses a threat or not."
He said he understood the Facebook postings of concern were "limited" but said he had no details of them.
In a statement released after Raub's arrest, Chesterfield police said they had assisted federal agents in their attempts to interview him and that, after the interview, officers believed he needed further evaluation. He was handcuffed after resisting officers' attempts to place him custody, it said.