Denise Romano would make a lousy terrorist. She has a severe chronic refractory cough that causes her to pass out several times a day. She uses a walker so she has something to lean on when she gets one of her coughing fits. She can’t drive. During the “people’s filibuster,” she let protestors use the parking space at her condo two blocks from the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas. As much as she wanted to join the protests, her body just couldn’t take it. Online activism was her only outlet.
That’s why she joined the Day of Permission, a national online protest against anti-abortion Republican leaders. On July 8, women all over the country called, emailed and tweeted Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Perry of Texas, seeking their advice. Organizer Bethany Erickson of Texas decided that “if you want to make decisions about my uterus and my reproductive life, you get to make all the decisions about my life. You don’t get to cherry pick.” Absurdity ensued.
The Day of Permission was a perfect outlet for Romano, who poured out her frustration into 60 tweets aimed at Kasich, Perry, and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Using the #PermissionDay hashtag, she asked whether she should wear a bikini or a one-piece swimsuit, floss before or after brushing, and dye her hair or let it go grey.
Not all of Romano’s tweets were so nice. She asked whether she should use a clean or rusty knife to castrate pro-life men, should stone or electrocute Republican adulterers, and whether Kasich, Perry and Dewhurst wanted to go to the Ninth circle of Hell or just the Seventh. Strong stuff, but in the context of seeking bathing suit advice, Romano’s tweets were clearly satire. You would have to see the world through idiot-colored glasses to take Romano’s tweets literally.
Enter the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state troopers with jurisdiction at the Texas capitol. This is the same bunch that confiscated tampons from women who wanted to watch the Texas legislature pass the anti-abortion bill before claiming that protestors also tried to sneak in 18 jars of feces. Because DPS can’t prove this happened, many pro-choice activists think the DPS was smearing them to deflect criticism for tampon-gate. Now we have “Poop Truthers” in Texas. It’s been that kind of summer in Austin.
On July 25, DPS Officer Jason McMurray subpoenaed Twitter for Romano’s tweets on #PermissionDay as part of an “ongoing criminal investigation” of a “terroristic threat” Romano made. This was pretty stupid even for the DPS poop patrol, but it appears what Romano was facing was more Franz Kafka than Barney Fife.
Romano’s supporters figured what was good for the goose was good for the gander and investigated the online activities of DPS Officer McMurray, a computer forensic agent from Tyler, Texas. It appears from his Facebook page that Officer McMurray is interested in something other than the equal application of the law to ensure public safety. On the Facebook page of Rep. Bryan Hughes, McMurray commented, “Please keep pushing to end all murder of the unborn regardless of the gestational period.” Under a picture of the Alamo on Hughes’ page, McMurray commented, “That liberty, especially the right of free speech and assembly, is being threatened every day.”
While McMurray was investigating Romano’s satirical activism to push a radical political agenda, the DPS was ignoring explicit threats from conservatives. MichaelB, a conservative radio host, tweeted threats to lynch Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Jessica Farrar and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards. Others called for retroactive abortion and placed specific bomb threats. There is no evidence the DPS investigated these threats.
Turns out, McMurray was right. The right of free speech is being threatened, but he was the one doing it. The DPS withdrew its subpoena of Romano’s tweets after a week, but the damage was done.
When a cop with a political agenda can get away with persecuting a woman with a debilitating illness, Republicans can stop talking about limited government and personal liberty. If Romano’s a potential terrorist, then so are you.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.