RICHMOND, Va. — Rejecting concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched,” a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a decorated Marine who was arrested by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page.
Advocating for free speech and the right to be free from wrongful arrest, Institute attorneys had filed the civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Marine veteran Brandon Raub, alleging that his seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government. The complaint alleged that the attempt to label Raub as “mentally ill” and his subsequent involuntary commitment, clear violations of his rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourth Amendments, was a pretext designed to silence speech critical of the government. No decision has yet been made about an appeal.
“What may sound far-fetched to the courts is a grim reality to Americans who are daily being targeted for daring to exercise their constitutional rights to speak their minds, worship as they please, criticize the government, defend themselves and their families against over-reaching government surveillance and heavy-handed police tactics,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Ultimately, Brandon Raub’s case tests our tolerance for free speech and those dissidents who keep the First Amendment relevant, because if we cannot proclaim our feelings about the government, no matter how controversial--on our clothing, or to passersby, or to the users of the world wide web--then the First Amendment really has become an exercise in futility.”
On August 16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. While Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice ordered Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment. In coming to Raub’s aid, Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights.
On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit in May 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to acknowledge the harm done to Raub and to rectify the violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Attorneys Anthony Troy of Eckert Seamens and William H. Hurd and Stephen C. Piepgrass of Troutman Sanders LLP in Richmond are assisting The Rutherford Institute in bringing the lawsuit.