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Unaccomplished Ex-Con Disinvited to Speak at Library of Congress; Free Speech Dead!

A kind reader sent this story on to me a few days ago, but what with this and that I’m just getting around to it. I’m thinking about having Chip go through all my email, find the juicy bits, and condense them into a three-bullet-point memo for me. He’ll probably be happy adding executive secretary to his list of duties.

Lynndie England – the ex-convict and Abu Ghraib leash specialist – is the subject of a new "authorized biography," because apparently there are some people who will read anything. No doubt hoping for another exciting photo opportunity, she was invited to speak at a Library of Congress veteran’s forum organized by an LoC employee. England doesn’t seem to me to be a good choice as speaker, since she’s done nothing so far in her life at all remarkable except act like an idiot and get her picture taken doing it. The biographer would probably have been a better choice to speak at the Library of Congress. He at least can write, which is more than we know about England.

That doesn’t matter, though, because the LoC president canceled the event after the organizer received "vicious emails" and threats of violence. The organizer now thinks that free speech is pretty much dead in America. Supposedly, the threats began after an alleged LoC employee blogged about the event complaining that "It’s a disgrace that the dishonorable profit and that we use government property and resources to glorify the gutless." Considering the things other government resources are wasted on, this seems like small beer, but some people just like to complain.

After reading about the potential for violence from right-wing religious extremists, it’s refreshing to hear about threats of violence from left-wing political extremists. Threatening to hurt people you don’t like or don’t agree with is part of the long tradition that has made this country great. Just ask Bull Connor.

While perusing the story and the comments, I’m not sure who is more idiotic, though, the barbarians who threatened violence because they disliked England or the barbarians who dislike the other barbarians because they support England. It’s a close call. Check out this comment:

"I agree. She was a scapegoat. They all were. I wish all of these liberal hand wringers were half as concerned about those people jumping out of the top of the twin towers to avoid burning to death as they are about the terrorists getting their feelings hurt. WAKE UP AMERICA WE ARE BEING TAKEN OVER BY COMMUNISTS."

That person obviously has some issues and some new meds might be in order. I’m not entirely sure how finding ex-convict England a ridiculous disgrace is necessarily linked to caring about the feelings of terrorists. After all, anyone threatening violence is already something of a terrorist. And I wasn’t at all convinced that America is being taken over by communists, that is, until the commenter typed it in all caps. That was the really persuasive part, and I’m now completely convinced. I shall be checking under my bed for reds just as soon as I get home.

The reader who sent this on found it ironic that is happened at the Library of Congress. If any library in America should be considered a bastion of free speech and a supporter of the first amendment, it should be the LoC . A few emails and phone calls seem more like minor annoyances, since how likely is it that the left-wing political extremists would actually harm anyone. It’s been a very long time since leftists in America hurled anything but invective. And since the left is anti-gun, they’re probably not even armed. A left-wing political extremist armed with a laptop and a latte is hardly the sort of person to inspire fear, except perhaps in librarians.

But was anyone really afraid? It does seem that more controversial events go on all the time without anyone getting hurt. Supposedly the dissent began because of blogging by a library employee, but it could be that most of the LoC employees were opposed to England speaking, and the president was looking for an easy way out. Claiming fear over a few anonymous threats is an easy enough way to cancel an event you don’t want to see in the first place without looking like a censor. It’s clear that the opponents of England speaking have won, but they seem to have won rather easily.

The whole controversy just seems strange. The organizer, who has put together fifty of these talks before, has now canceled the entire series because of the threats around this speaker. That seems as extreme as canceling a speaker because of the threats of a few librarians. Why the whole series? Who’s driving the choices here, I wonder? Is this really a case where threats of violence have harmed free speech, or a case where librarians themselves have not supported speech they don’t like?

Even if it’s the latter, I’m not sure it matters that much. It’s not like Lynndie England can’t go speak somewhere else if she wants to. Heck, she can stand on the sidewalk on 1st Street and talk all she wants. Instead of a case of suppressing free speech, maybe this is a case of morning-after regret. Perhaps someone woke up and thought, "My God, I’ve invited a young woman who has accomplished absolutely nothing worthwhile in her life to speak at the Library of Congress. What have I done!" And then tried to figure out a way to cancel the invitation. How better to do this than to leak the event with some stringent criticism and hope a few nuts will threaten violence? The librarian planning the event is named David Moore; the pseudonymous blogger leading the news is called "Morris Davis." Those names seem awfully similar. Coincidence?

Wait! Maybe someone at the Library of Congress actually supports Lynndie England and her vast accomplishments, and wants to make the left-wing extremists look bad. It’s the right-wing extremists who’ve been getting all the good press lately. Maybe the entire flap is the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy! Maybe someone at Fox News is involved! It’s possible. Someone in the comments said that Sean Hannity keeps talking despite all the threats against him, and when I checked Amazon for the Lynndie England biography, it was being offered as a special deal with Glenn Beck’s Common Sense. Coincidence? This news story might have just been a way to advertise the biography to the fervent community of Moonies who read the Washington Times.

There could be a lot more to this story than it seems, but for now I’m so confused I’ll just wait for the documentary film maker to sort it all out.


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  1. literatelibrarian says:

    “It’s a disgrace that the dishonorable profit and that we use government property and resources to glorify the gutless.”

    Did a librarian really write this somewhere? Good grief. You’d think an alleged advocate of free speech would at least try to write in complete sentences.

  2. not all of “the left” is anti.gun


  3. Dances With Books says:

    She should not have been invited in the first place, given that she has not accomplished anything other than being an idiot and getting her photo taken while being an idiot. But they did invite her. I say they should have let her talk, then ask her some really tough questions, and I mean tough, not some softballs from a few supporters. If the “following orders” line did not work for the folks at Nuremberg, it should not work for her. I would love to hear her reply to “why did you do it? Did you not think even once it could be wrong?” Does not get any more free speech than that. Let her speak, then hold her accountable for said speech.

  4. Another possibility says:

    I wonder if somebody at LoC might have listened to the recent This American Life interview with Ms. England and realized that she’s just plain dull. I mean “dull” as in both “an uninteresting speaker” and “not terribly bright”.

    She’s on record with her excuse for “why she did it,” and it’s a little more sordid than the Nuremberg defense–as I recall, she served in a clerical position and wasn’t ordered to do anything unethical with the prisoners.

    England claims she got involved because her boyfriend, also at Abu Ghraib, wheedled her into it. She’s trying to paint herself as a victim in the affair, and she’s pretty unapologetic. She’s much more upset over having become the poster girl for Abu Ghraib than over actually having done bad things.

    After listening to the interview with her, I can see how the organizers would have realized nothing good–for the left or right–could possibly come from having her speak. The controversy might have provided a good excuse for avoiding the trainwreck.

  5. **yawwwwnnnnnn**

    The Annoyed Librarian is fast becoming the Annoying Journalist.

  6. Is there some big distinction between blogger and journalist that I’m missing?

  7. The difference is when you pretend to be a librarian blogger and you are journalist posing.

  8. I Like Books says:

    I have never really liked going after the grunts for “Just following orders.” They only know the laws they’re trained in, they only know they can disobey an illegal order if their military culture supports them in that. To a large extent they have to trust the guidelines that their superiors give them– they can’t pick and choose which orders to follow or which assignments to accept. The folks who created the guidelines should absolutely be hauled in. But the grunts are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, but they can be under enormous pressure to do. They can’t quit the job, but they could wind up in prison for insubordination, or sanctioned in any number of other ways.

    As I understand Abu Ghraib, however, the grunts innovated. I still put more blame on the superiors for inadequate training and supervision, for insufficient efforts to create the right culture. Even the business world has higher standards, and they don’t have the kind of control over their staff that military officers do. I just sat through a video on harassment in the workplace. Where were the videos on inappropriate treatment of prisoners?

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