The rationale for the lawsuit filed by Larry Klayman, lead plaintiff in Monday's stunning ruling against the National Security Agency, is truly the stuff of paranoid fantasy. Which doesn't make him wrong.
Klayman appeared on CNN Tuesday night to berate host Don Lemon and be called a "lunatic" by legal analyst Jeff Toobin. It was a debacle from the start. Lemon welcomes Klayman to the show, prompting Klayman to almost immediately accuse Lemon of being in the tank for President Obama and having to "do a hit piece" to diminish the NSA decision. Klayman continues to angrily defend himself, even after Toobin quotes some of Klayman's comments from the Monday ruling. Finally, Lemon loses patience, and cuts Klayman off. "That's perfect, under the First Amendment," Klayman says.
It's good television. And the conflict was inevitable.
The section of the ruling that Toobin read is on page 39. The full thing is at right, but in short, presiding judge Richard Leon asked Klayman during the trial if he had reason to believe that the NSA had targeted his phone number using the metadata it collects from providers. "I think they are messing with me," Klayman responded, then explaining that "he and his clients had received inexplicable text messages and emails, not to mention a disk containing a spyware program." Which is paranoid in the most classic sense — particularly since any surveillance, if it existed, would almost certainly be by the FBI.
Those claims echo what Klayman said in an interview with the far-right World Net Daily when the lawsuit was first filed in the wake of the first Edward Snowden leaks. Klayman introduces a man who he says is the father of a Navy SEAL that was killed after Obama revealed SEAL Team 6's involvement in the bin Laden hunt, saying that he believes that the government was watching him after his son was killed. The lawsuit, Klayman argues, "is our opportunity to peacefully and legally wage a second American Revolution." Then he implies that violence might be necessary. "This is the chance to peacefully use the courts to try and take the country back. Now if these judges who are appointed by the establishment don't follow the law, then we're back to 1776, God forbid."
For anyone familiar with Klayman, this won't be a surprise. Klayman formed a "citizen's grand jury" (warning: weird autoplay music) that convicted Obama of "fraud." (You can read the indictment here, if you wish.) His main site, Freedom Watch USA (same warning; different song), is a focal point of various conspiracies about the administration, including birtherism. During the shutdown, Klayman lamented that the government is "ruled by a president who bows down to Allah."
"Just because you're paranoid," Joseph Heller writes in Catch-22, "doesn't mean they aren't after you." The NSA is collecting metadata on Americans' phone calls, including Klayman's and that man whose son was a SEAL. The NSA can walk through that data, on a daily basis, to surface suspicious activity, although it claims it doesn't. Judge Leon determined that this collection was almost certainly a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. In doing so, he set aside Klayman's claims of being "messed with" as irrelevant. But Leon still determined that the NSA shouldn't be collecting Klayman's data.
On CNN, Toobin lamented that Klayman's "tin-foil-hat paranoia" is what prompted the ruling. "The idea that Larry Klayman is the representative is simply outrageous, because he is a professional litigant and lunatic, who should not be a representative of the very important issues of this case." Well, he is. Sometimes paranoia bears unexpected fruit.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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