About a month ago, EPA regional official Al Armendariz made news when a YouTube video of him describing the way the agency handles oil and gas companies surfaced. In it, Armendariz said an analogy he liked to use about enforcement was how the Romans used crucifixion to keep smaller towns and villages under their thumb. Since then, Armendariz has resigned his post at the EPA. Case closed, right? Wrong.
A local North Carolina man named Larry Keller didn’t particularly like the analogy that Al Armendariz used, so, along with thousands of others assumably, he set about to contact Mr. Armendariz to discuss his views on the oil and gas industries. One of our basic rights and privileges in a free society is to be able to petition our government for a redress of grievances without fear of repercussion from said government simply for voicing our grievance.
Keller proceeded to try and contact Mr. Armendariz by Googling him. His domain was a subset of Southern Methodist University, he was directed to contact a Dr. David Gray who is the Director of External Affairs for the EPA. Keller wrote a simple, one sentence email to Dr. Gray which said simply, “Hello Mr. Gray-Do you have Mr. Armendariz’s contact information so we can say hello?”
On May 2nd, just a little over a week after the Armendariz crucify comments had flared up, two special agents from the EPA and a local police officer showed up at Mr. Keller’s home. Here is the story in his own words:
On Wednesday, May 02, 2012 at about 1:45PM two Special Agents from the EPA and an armed police officer who stood 6’6” tall visited our house in Asheville, NC. Their visit was a total surprise as we had not received any communications requesting an appointment. The agents presented very official looking badges and asked if we could sit and chat awhile. We moved to the back porch and took our seats with the exception of the armed officer who stood by the door to the house the entire time.
Keller was asked by the agents if he ran a business out of his home, and if so, what kind of business. Keller runs a consulting business from his home. Then he was asked if he had ever sent an email to anyone at the EPA. Keller, not remembering the email initially said no, then remembered his email to Dr. Gray trying to get the contact information for Al Armendariz. This is what happened next:
At this point Agent Woods reach into a file and from it he pulled out a copy of my email to Dr. Gray. He handed it to me and I asked what was there about the content that justified their driving across the state of NC to visit me with no prior warning. The other agent then stated that my choice of words in the email could be interpreted in many ways. At that point I asked them to be specific as they were wasting my time. I stated that I pay for agents’ salaries and that of the police officer and they have bigger fish to fry. Special Agent Woods then asked if I had ever been arrested – the answer was a swift no. I then asked for a copy of the email they presented and they said that was impossible as the investigation was not yet complete.
Keller asked the agents for business cards that they had previously promised him and they were miraculously out of business cards. The two agents, who had driven four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina for this encounter with Mr. Keller, left via the back staircase as quickly as they had appeared without supplying Larry Keller with their contact information. He also states that the agents had parked blocking his driveway and that the local police officer had parked in his neighbor’s driveway.
Larry Keller was interviewed by Pete Kaliner, a local conservative radio host about the incident. You can listen to the interview here. I heard today on Kaliner’s show that Keller has hooked up with the John Locke Foundation to pursue the incident further. I’ll keep you updated as soon as more information becomes available.
Is this really the America that we live in now? A concerned citizen tries to contact a government official over statements that he made in public and the next thing you know armed agents show up at his home?
UPDATE: Linked by Instapundit, thanks Glenn!
UPDATE IV: I’ve been in contact with conservative radio host Pete Kaliner who forwarded along the following email from Larry Keller:
As of today Richard Burr’s instructions to staff are to take this to the nth degree in EPA and get answers
Here’s a link to the contact information for Senator Richard Burr if anyone would like to contact him about this case. This can’t be the only instance of this type of thing.
UPDATE V: Linked at I Own The World, thanks to Big Fur Hat!
UPDATE VI: Linked at Pat Dollard, thanks! Also, I’ve been in contact with Larry Keller a few times today. He’s been contacted by the EPA by email, but he’s unable to pass on any new information at this time. I’ll definitely keep you updated on the progress of this story. Go Larry!
UPDATE VII (June 4th): I have an updated post with more information on this story here.
UPDATE VIII: Linked at The PJ Tatler, thanks!