What did Syring do? Well, during last summer's Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, he engaged in a series of communications with the Arab American Institute, the foremost and most mainstream Arab-American organization in the US (I am a member of their National Policy Council). I will outline them one by one as listed in the indictment, along with the names of the AAI employees involved (friends and colleagues of mine):
- Voicemail, 11:17 pm, July 17, 2006
- Email, 11:17 pm, July 17, 2006, to James Zogby and Natasha Tynes (who is not an Arab-American)
- Voicemail, July 18/19, 2006 to Valerie Smith (who is not an Arab-American)
"Hello Valerie, you f___ing Arab American s___. James Zogby and you are all Hezbollah supporters.
The only good Arab is a dead Arab. You god-inaudible bitch."
- Email, 12:32 am, July 19, 2006 to Valerie Smith
"You are a f____ing Arab-American stooge who sympathizes with Hezbollah terror.
You and your Arab American Institute f___ers should burn in the fires of hell for eternity.
The IDF is bombing Lebanon back to the Stone Age where it belongs. Arabs are dogs.
Long live the State of Israel. Death to Arab American terrorists. The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese."
- Email, 12:35 pm, July 19, 2006, to Rebecca Abou-Chedid
- Email, 12:13 am, July 29, 2006, to James Zogby, Helen Samhan, Nidal Ibrahim, Rebecca Abou-Chedid, Valerie Smith
"This is Patrick Syring. I just James Zogby's statements online at the MSNBC website, and I condemn him for his anti-Semitism and anti-American statements.
The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese. The only good Arab is a dead Arab. Long live the IDF. Death to Lebanon and death to the Arabs (continued...)
"Zobgy's anti-Semitic, anti-American statements (and those of the AAI in general) are abhorrent, repulsive, and disgusting.
The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese (as the IDF knows and is carrying out in its security operations, God bless them).
F___ the Arabs and f___ James Zogby and his wicked Hizbollah brothers. They will burn in hellfire on this earth and in the hereafter."
"You are a f____ing Arab-American terrorist, a Hezbollah sympathizer pig.
James Zogby is a vile evil anti-Semitic pig terrorist member of Hezbollah who is attempting to destroy the State of Israel.
God Bless America. God Bless the State of Israel. The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese."
"I condemn James Zobgy and the AAI for perpetrating the murder and the shootings at the Jewish Federation in Seattle on Friday July 28 (as well as the killings in Israel).
You wicked evil Hezbollah-supporting Arabs should burn in the fires of hell for eternity and beyond. The United States would be safer without you.
God Bless America. God Bless the State of Israel.
Patrick in Arlington, VA"
"Let me just underline for you the seriousness with which [Condoleezza Rice] approaches the idea that the State Department should be a workplace that in no way, shape or form tolerates discrimination or hateful language. It's just not condoned or acceptable in this department."For his part, AAI President Jim Zogby responded:
"We are pleased with word that the grand jury has returned two indictments. This has been a matter of concern to me and my entire office. The Civil Rights Division of U.S. Department of Justice has been responsive, and we feel protected. The threats were both intimidating and frightening – and the fact that Mr. Syring was a 20 year career officer at the Department of State made it of even greater concern."The indictment itself contains 2 counts. I will first discuss the 2nd count, since it is more straightforward, under the charge of Threatening Communication in Interstate Commerce, United States Code, Section 875c:
"Patrick Syring knowingly and willfully did transmit in interstate commerce, from Arlington, VA to the District of Columbia, telephone and email communication to Arab American Institute employees, in which Patrick Syring threatened to injure Arab American Institute employees."I suppose one could argue that Syring never explicitly said, "I will make sure that You and your Arab American Institute f___ers burn in the fires of hell for eternity," and therefore didn't actually threaten anybody. But this is an indictment, not a verdict, and Syring lawyers are welcome to argue his intentions at trial. Good luck to them.
But the indictment's first count, I suspect, will be the source of more controversy. It constitutes a violation of the civil rights of others, according to Section 245 (b2) of the United States Code, by stating:
"Patrick Syring did attempt to and did willfully intimidate and interfere with Arab American Institute employees because of their race and national origin, that is because they were Arab and Lebanese Americans, and because they were and had been enjoying employment, and the prerequisites thereof, by a private employer, the Arab American Institute."Certainly some will seek to discredit the case against Syring, saying that such an indictment violates his own right to free speech. I found one blogger who stated:
"Patrick Syring should indeed not be in trouble for saying what he said or doing what he did...All Mr. Syring did was express his personal opinion. If insulting opinions have become illegal (as they apparently have), no matter who the insulted party is, there is trouble in this land...Yes, Patrick Syring is a mental midget and is in no way an attribute to our society but even that is not yet illegal."Again, the jury will determine that. But I doubt indictment would have been handed down if Syring had sent merely "insulting" emails saying, "Jim Zogby and all Arabs smell bad. Long live the IDF." It seems to me there was no explicit threat of imminent harm, but Syring went well beyond "insulting".
The other debate sure to evolve concerns "hate crimes". To my knowledge, the indictment of Syring has nothing to do with his communications with the AAI constituting hate crimes. The hate crime legislation that conservatives rail against was passed in 1994 (and therefore before Republicans retook the congressional majority) and applies to sentencing guidelines, which mandate increased penalties for guilty offenders if their offenses were determined to be "hate crimes". I happen to agree with the critics of such legislation because of the big-brother, thought-police implications.
But the statute cited in the indictment of Syring dates to 1969 and is therefore not a product of modern-day ultra-PC climate. It concerns the fact that the AAI is an organization that advocates for the political integration and civic activities of Arab-Americans, considered to be a "federally protected activity" according to the statute. Since Syring mentioned the views espoused by Zogby and promoted by the AAI (no they are not Hezbollah sympathizers, but only in Syring's warped mind) in the course of his communications, it does make sense that he attempted to intimidate or interfere with their ability to advocate for policy as American citizens and as employees of an organization devoted to such activity.
I suppose the indictment would have read differently if Syring had emailed and voicemailed my youngest sister, for example, who is totally apolitical, and said, "the only good Arab is a dead Arab". In that case, I believe that the first count would be less likely, although I suppose the second count of threatening communication would still hold. Thank the heavens I am not an attorney, but if any lawyers out there would care to dispute, I'd love to hear your critiques.
The other interesting element here is the fact that Valerie Smith reads/writes/speaks Arabic but is not an Arab-American. If therefore, she had been the only recipient of Syring's communications, how might the authorities have sought to prosecute him?
In any case, I stand by my friends and colleagues at the AAI and I hope that justice will be served. This is not just to be shrugged off. For those who think it's no big deal, consider that hateful people come in all varieties and remember that Congressman Darrell Issa had his office bombed because of his ethnicity.
As usual, my fellow paleoconservative farm team infielder Daniel Larison offers insightful commentary, including:
"...if the situation were reversed and there were a government official sending such hateful messages to Jewish-Americans and their colleagues, it would be a major story and would be hyped from here to eternity by the usual suspects. We would see daily coverage in The New York Times and hear constant commentary every day. There would be bloviating pundits asking 'how many' other Foreign Service officers held similar views, and what Secretary Rice was doing about it. Certain newspapers and magazines would have a field day and would draw broad, sweeping claims about State's toleration of these attitudes."