Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has made a good living with his routines and book
titled "You Might Be A Redneck If...." What he does is to list a
series of things which, if true, mean you might, well, be a redneck. Much of
what he says is hilarious and, for the most part, good clean fun.
Following in the footsteps of what Foxworthy has done -- though unwittingly
I'm sure -- the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin has given us its version of what
this Southern comic has done. You might call what the Feds have done in this
publication "You Might Be A Member Of An Extremist Group If...." The
difference here, however, is that Foxworthy's humor is good-natured; the article
in this "Bulletin" is definitely not funny and, arguably, slanders and
smears a lot of decent, law-abiding, God-fearing Americans.
The piece in question is titled "Vehicle Stops Involving Extremist Group
Members." It appeared in the December 1999 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin. Its author is identified as James Kobolt, director of the Institute
For Public Safety at Lake Superior State University in Sault Sainte Marie,
Michigan. The objectionable portions of this egregious article are as follows:
"Members of extremist groups may reveal their affiliations in a number
of ways.... Specifically, extremists' vehicles may sport bumper stickers with
antigovernment or pro-gun sentiments.... The occupants of the vehicle may show
other signs of extremist group involvement. Drivers who hold anti-government
beliefs may... present handmade [driver's] licenses, a copy of the
Constitution, a Bible, or political literature...."
Well, now. So, how do you measure up? Do you pass or flunk the FBI test? Have
you ever sported an "anti-government" or "pro-gun" bumper
sticker? Have you ever showed a law enforcement officer a copy of the
Constitution, a Bible, or "political literature" (whatever this
means)? If you say "yes," then you might -- "may" -- be a
member of an "extremist group."
But, this is pernicious nonsense. Evidently, for the publishers of the FBI
Law Enforcement Bulletin, extremist rhetoric in pursuit of alleged extremists,
is OK. When we interviewed John Ott, editor of the Bulletin to register a
vigorous complaint re: the previously quoted outrageous assertions, here's the
way it went:
For openers, Ott readily agrees that the overwhelming majority of those with
such bumper stickers are law-abiding citizens. He says the purpose of the
Bulletin is "a forum for discussion" and "this is why when we
edit the articles we make very sure that they use the words 'may' and 'possible'
that these are signs of extremist activity and not literal or clear signs of
actual extremist activity."
Q: But these "extremists" may also be wearing Levis or Mohawk
haircuts or be associated with a hundred other things. So, why single out
pro-gun and/or anti-government sentiments on bumper stickers, or showing a cop
a copy of the Constitution or a Bible?
A: We're discussing officer safety during legitimate traffic stops in
response to actual traffic violations. Any other traffic stops are clearly
Q: But, why single out only what is mentioned as ways you 'may' encounter
A: Because they have occurred and there have been incidents where this has
happened. It's just a possibility."
Q: But, as I say, there are, presumably, many other things associated with
such extremists. So, why mention only what you mention?
A: Those were just two examples.
Q: But, why mention only these two?
A: Because he was talking about right-wing supremacists, militia,
Q: And showing a copy of the Constitution and/or Bible also makes one an
A: A lot of the extremist groups believe some Millennial ideas. It's a
possibility. That's all. It's a possibility. It's a suggestion for officers to
Q: But, if we agree that the overwhelming majority of folks with pro-gun,
anti-government bumper stickers -- and who show a copy of the Constitution
and/or the Bible -- are law-abiding citizens and not extremists, how does it
help a law enforcement officer to say that these things 'may' indicate an
extremist? 'May' also means 'may not.'
Well, says Ott, most officers know their area and groups in it. They have
only a limited number of pages in the Bulletin. This is "a discussion. And
I emphasize... that contributors' opinions and statements are not considered an
endorsement by the FBI whatsoever."
Q: I'm sorry you consider one an extremist who is anti-government.
A: Not at all.
Q: Not at all?!
A: No, that article does not say that. These are all 'maybes' and 'possibles.'
Things that officers should be aware of.
Q: Our country was founded by folks who were anti-government, or at least
A: Fine. I have no problem with that. I don't agree with all of what was in
the article. But it opens a forum for discussion and gives some information
for officers to look at. We didn't ask for this article. He simply submitted
it. It wasn't written by an FBI employee.
Q: But, it was approved by an FBI employee.
Q: You're not an FBI employee?
A: I am and approved it for publication. And it was approved by our
Behavioral Science Unit.
Q: Oh, my goodness! So, the shrinks said it was OK! So, where's this forum
for discussion you keep mentioning? I see no letters-to-the-editor section.
Also, the article uses the word 'extremist' as pejorative. But is being
'extreme' always bad, every time, about everything?
A: It's a term that has been used in law enforcement and in other areas to
describe the group of people we are talking about. And we didn't want to say
Q: But, you did say that in this conversation.
A: I know. But we're more concerned with extremists, people who are
involved in extreme activities. And that's obvious and that's why we used the
Q: Right. Like people with pro-gun, anti-government bumper stickers.
A: No. That's not what we're talking about. That's not even the gist of the
Q: But the article specifically mentions these kinds of bumper stickers!
And I still don't see how a cop is helped by being told that such bumper
stickers may or may not indicate extremists.
A: These are just clues that such people may have some views that may
effect the process of the arrest. That's all. It's one tiny clue.
He says we're picking on "some small parts of the article."
Ott notes that he's a conservative and carries a Bible in his car.
Ott says that what we're complaining about is only "a small
portion" of the article "and the editing of it and the wording of it
may be unfortunate..."
Q: May be! There's that weasel-word again.
A: And I can guarantee you that I may be more careful about editing these
types of articles in the future because I am much more aware of the concerns
of people like yourself because we've received about nine complaints like
Well, let's hope Mr. Ott will be more careful in the future. If you'd like to
contact him, the address is: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, c/o Federal Bureau Of
Investigation, 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20535-0001.
Larry Pratt is Executive Director of Gun Owners of America located at 8001
Forbes Place, Springfield, VA 22151 and at