Or perhaps election integrity activist Bernie Ellis is guilty of misuse of a metaphor. But what he is decidedly not guilty of – contrary to the opinion of Secretary of State Tre Hargett – is making a “terrorist threat” against the government of the state of Tennessee.
Yesterday, we posted the story Bernie sent us about his visit from two TBI officers:
I was just visited by two officers of the TBI, investigating a complaint they had received from the Secretary of Stateâ€™s office (complainant unnamed), saying that I had recently sent an email directly to the Tennessee Secretary of Stateâ€™s office, threatening violence against that office by invoking the memory of the Battle of Athens (TN). They were here to investigate my â€œterrorist threat against a government officialâ€.
Well, Iâ€™ve never sent any emails to this SoSâ€™s office on any subject, now or at any other time. However, I told the TBI agents that I have several times invoked the Battle of Athens (TN) in my writings as the only alternative available to the citizenry if the sanctity of the ballot box cannot be assured.
Those who know Bernie – and that includes many, many people down at Legislative Plaza – know him to be a smart and passionate activist whose only fault may be that he lacks the editing chip in his brain that most of the rest of us have. You know, the one that renders us, out of fear, unable to say out loud the things we really mean.
Secretary of State Hargett could have found out if Bernie was capable of making a “terrorist threat” by simply asking his State Election Coordinator or one of the many legislators who worked with Bernie on either medical marijuana or election integrity legislation. Mr. Hargett, who spent a lot of time on the House floor this year, surely now knows enough of the same people Bernie does and if he had asked he would have found out that the comment was “Bernie just being Bernie” – passionate, eloquent, and single-minded in his quest to do what’s right for secure and verifiable elections in Tennessee. If he had asked he also would have found out that this type of thing doesn’t quite Bernie down, it fires him up.
Jeff Woods at Pith, God love’em, makes with the follow-up:
Newly installed Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett sicked the TBI on a political opponent on a trumped-up charge of making a “terrorist threat.” The case is now closed, the TBI having found no justification for Hargett’s complaint. Yes, it matters who governs.
Pith phoned Hargett’s spokesman, Blake Fontenay, for comment today. But guess what? He’d love to talk, of course, but he just can’t. The TBI won’t let him, he says, “because they’re still investigating.” Yes, it’s the old “we never comment on pending investigations” trick.
“I really am not supposed to say anything more than that at this point,” Fontenay apologized. “We’d love to respond but we were asked by the TBI specifically not to respond. There definitely is another side to this, and we wish we could talk about it, but it’s not usually advisable to get the TBI mad at you. My hands are tied at this time.”
So then we phoned the TBI, whose spokeswoman Kristin Helm said basically there is no investigation, and she doesn’t know what Fontenay is talking about.
“We had to go pay Bernie a little visit,” Helm said. “We had a public official who felt as though he was being threatened, who felt there was something floating around in cyberland that was a threat. A couple of agents went to talk to Bernie and pretty much found the threats were unsubstantiated.”
Helm confirmed the public official who complained was Hargett. Asked whether the TBI planned to engage in political intimidation at the behest of state officials, Helm said, “Political intimidation? We went out because he felt threatened and we needed to see if that threat was substantiated or not. I don’t know anything about any political intimidation.”
There’s no doubt that the TBI did what they had to do – they had to investigate the “threat,” especially if the Secretary of State asked them to do so. But the question remains, why Bernie? And why now?
Later, Blake Fontenay did talk – to Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel – who nicely summs up the Battle of Athens:
In the Aug. 1, 1946 “Battle of Athens,” according to an account in the Tennessee Blue Book, “a pitched battle occurred between ex-Gis and supporters of the entrenched political machine of McMinn County.” The veterans basically contended that election fraud was afoot.
Hargett’s defense, according to Fontenay, is that he was worried about a comment Ellis posted last week on Humphrey’s blog: “He was calling something to the TBI’s attention out of an abundance of caution for his employees,” Fontenay says.