L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 228, June 22, 2003
Arsenal Uncovered: Linked to Extremist Movement
Special to TLE
Los Angeles A joint task force of federal agents and state police raided the home of a Santa Monica man Saturday, uncovering an arsenal of illegal books and other media.
"It's astounding," said Police Chief John Lynch at a press conference Tuesday. "I've never seen so many books in my life. It was a virtual library."
Chief Lynch described a entire room filled wall to wall with books and magazines. In one room officers discovered a computer, printer and thousands of pages of printing paper. The discovery of the computer-printer setup prompted evacuation of the neighborhood while EOD teams rendered the device inactive.
Officers and federal agents stood in front of stacks of seized books and magazines at Tuesday's press conference. A leather bound 1400 page copy of War and Peace was the centerpiece of the exhibit. Among the books on display were military field manuals and books on military history.
"These military-style books are instruments of war, plain and simple," said Special Agent Gregory Kahn. "They have no recreational purpose. They have no legitimate civilian use."
"We're still counting them we have no idea how many books we're dealing with," said Detective-Sergeant Gary Knowles, another member of the task force. "I'm just glad we got them off the street. Nobody needs that many books. It's scary the kind of stuff people have in their homes."
On Monday, agents wearing space-age HAZMAT suits were still removing books from the house. Asked what would become of the contraband, Agent Kahn stated that it would be destroyed in a specially built incinerator.
The suspect, 43 year old John Benjamin, is being held without bail pending charges. His arraignment is scheduled for next month.
Neighbors and co-workers described a quiet, polite man.
"I'd never suspect him of something like this," said community resident Charles Lamb. "He was always so nice. This is a complete shock."
Sources close to the investigation tell the Times that Benjamin has been linked to the controversial National Reading Association, an extremist group which encourages private possession of literature. The ACLU believes that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to read and print literature. The Times was unable to obtain a copy of the Constitution for this article, but is submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to access the document.
Terrorism expert and author Brian Simmons told the Times that groups such as the ACLU are magnets for disturbed individuals like Benjamin.
"This interpretation of the Constitution is very common among the political fringes," said Mr. Simmons. "But history just isn't on their side. The First Amendment was intended to protect the right of major newspapers and libraries. It's absurd to think that they [the framers] would have wanted private possession of word processing software and home printers."
Book collectors like Benjamin, Simmons said, suffer from a deep rooted psychological neurosis which drives them to stockpile books.
"Who needs this many books? He couldn't possibly read them all. People like Mr. Benjamin do it because they feel inadequate. Reading makes them feel smarter, and publishing their thoughts makes them feel important."
Raids of this type have sparked a nationwide debate over the millions unregistered books possessed illegally in the U.S. Under U.S. law, only deactivated and replica books are available to the general public, though in some places they are legal for retired librarians and journalists. Until last year, books printed before 1986 could still be legally possessed by someone willing to submit to a background check and pay a $200 per book, per year tax.
One of Benjamin's neighbors, retired army Colonel Vince Scott, questioned the wisdom of book prohibition.
"When I was a kid, everyone owned a book, most people more than one," said Scott. "There were book stores on every corner. You could even go to a library and they'd give you a book."
Judy Bliss, spokesman for the D.C.-based non profit lobbying group Think of the Children, issued a press release following news of the raid.
"It's appalling that these kinds of unlicensed, unregistered books are still on our streets," said Mrs. Bliss, speaking from her limousine. "Books have incited revolutions, led people to depression and suicide, murder, all kinds of horrible things. Take Romeo and Juliet for example. That play was definitively linked to teen suicide. Or take Machiavilli's The Prince, a treatise about political ruthlessness that has been on the nightstands of tyrants around the world. No civilized society allows untrained civilians to possess and use books like these. This 'book culture' needs to be stamped out."
Citizens wishing to report illicit book possession are encouraged to call the federal hotline at 1-888-ISNITCH.
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