Thursday, June 30, 2011

Adventures in Bad Ideas: FBI Edition

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 10:30 AM

NPR's Morning Edition ran a story yesterday that was a little surprising, to say the least. As part of training in how to stay focused when dealing with a person you have a "strong, visceral disagreement" with, the FBI invited representatives of a certain Kansas based hate group to speak to their trainees:

At a minimum, the timing was terrible.

Westboro was engaged in a legal battle with the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. The father filed suit against the church after it protested at his son's military funeral. A Maryland district court ordered the church to pay nearly $11 million in damages, saying the demonstrations caused "emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy."

An appeals court overturned the decision. Then around the time that Westboro leaders were at Quantico, the Supreme Court ruled that the church was allowed to continue its mocking protests outside military funerals because it's protected by the First Amendment.

The top brass at the FBI only found out about the Westboro invitations after more than 200 officers and agents had attended the sessions. Almost immediately afterward, the officers and agents sent memos asking why the group had been invited.

The FBI official responsible for bringing in the church group did not want to be identified by name. He said he found the group personally distasteful, but thought police and FBI agents needed to learn how to engage people they disagreed with and find ways to build relationships with them.

He conceded that inviting a group that pickets military funerals to a military base was, at best, problematic. Officials said it was one of the reasons the fourth session took place at the FBI facility in Manassass.

The FBI has invited other controversial figures to speak to trainees in the past, including former members of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.

I can think of a few different circumstances that I'd like to see members of that organization speaking to FBI, but not really as part of a training exercise.

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