Controversy over the First Amendment Rights, Monterey County Weekly, and Anthony X — Letters to Editor
COMMENT: Considering that our government and government-friendly media lie to the American public almost every day, it is no wonder that they go into a panic every time a citizen journalist tries to uncover dishonesty and corruption in our bureaucratic state. MC Weekly on May 11 took Anthony X to task for filming inside various government agencies without getting an invite. Many irate readers wrote letters to the MC Weekly’s editorial page in support of Anthony X, independent journalists, and the public’s First Amendment rights.
It is true that Anthony X’s actions were confrontational. But so were the three Tennessee state legislators who took over the Tennessee House Chamber floor with arrogance and a bullhorn, on March 30, 2023. The ruckus stopped the mechanics of governance. And yet, the statist media hailed these loud disrupters as saintly defenders of free speech. What gives?
“Freedom of Speech”—Monterey County Weekly – May 18, 2023
Wow. Where does Sara Rubin think she lives? North Korea? What a shame that she works for the media but doesn’t know basic First Amendment rights (“Self-appointed ‘First Amendment auditors’ put local governments on edge,” May 11-17). She is an example of why citizens can’t trust the media. Know our rights!!! Ben Kendall | Farmington, New Mexico
Oh dear, you are out of your depth when it comes to the Constitution. You have made yourself look a fool. Karen Baker | via email
Stick to the facts and stop making up lies. We already have enough bad journalists out to do the bidding of their bosses; if you want true integrity in your articles, keep your narrative to yourself.
Do better! You’re fighting an unwinnable fight! John Slade | via email
Wow! You clearly are 100% biased, unreasonable, anti-first Amendment, and quite frankly borderline ignorant. Is staggering to read your lies!
You fail to mention that the same security cameras that are filming our public servants and the taxpayers do not seem to bother them, however, there are available to the public thru a public information request and can be published anywhere. The sad excuse of reporters like you Ms. Sara. The good thing is that in 30 to 40 years more I believe you and the Media will be fading away and extinguished from society; your lies have short legs and cannot outrun the truth. Luckily, we auditors will be pushing the truth about you on every platform until it goes viral. We are going to make sure even your mother and neighbor know the liar, manipulative unreliable, and fake news you are. Diego Bauzil | via email
Well for an educated person, you’re pretty dumb on THE CONSTITUTION! The FIRST AMENDMENT gives us the right of the people to film on public property! So who owns City Hall? In case you don’t know, the people do! Maybe you should read THE CONSTITUTION and learn your right granted to us, in THE CONSTITUTION! David Cravens | via email
Self-appointed ‘First Amendment auditors’ put local governments on edge.
Sara Rubin — May 11, 2023 Monterey County Weekly
A man walks into Marina City Hall and is greeted politely at the front desk. Things start to get a little uncomfortable when the staff member realizes he is not here to conduct city business – to request a building permit, say, or register for a recreation program. He’s just here to hold a camera and test the limits of the staffer’s comfort with the camera. As she becomes obviously uncomfortable, the visitor says, “It’s just a camera, ma’am.” His narrative continues: “I come in peace, I have no ill will. I’m just a guy with a camera, peacefully exercising my rights.”
He then walks into the Finance Department – which is not open to the public, but no locked door or no trespassing signage bars his way. He narrates his ostensible mission, to “make sure there’s no alcohol, contraband, anything of that nature.” There are just cubicles, no contraband (nor any apparent reason why he suspects there might be). When he’s advised that this is an employee-only area, he pushes back: “Watch your tone.”
A few minutes later, two Marina police officers arrive. A surprisingly civil conversation follows, and Cmdr. Steve Russo eventually instructs him, firmly but politely, to leave the Finance Department. “You’re interrupting city hall business,” Russo says. “I’m asking you to leave.”
Eventually, he does, and it becomes part of a video posted on Oct. 15, 2022 to YouTube by a user named “Anthony X.”
Anthony X describes himself as a First Amendment auditor, and his hundreds of videos follow a similar arc. Walk into a government building, point cameras at employees, with no agenda other than to test their limits. He posts to Instagram and YouTube, then asks viewers to rate the agency pass or fail. (They’re also invited to give money.) Each video starts and ends with a flourish in which he recites something of a motto: “Remember, noooooo bootlicking!”
In one video, from April 6 in Pacific Grove City Hall, a staff member calls the police while being filmed. When they arrive, Anthony X tells officers: “Hopefully she’ll do better next time, because there will be a next time.”
On Dec. 29, he told a staff member at the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board office in Salinas: “I’m just a guy with a camera. I’m an independent journalist working on a story… I come in peace, I’m not here to cause trouble.”
Anthony X claims he is conducting these audits in the service of the public, testing government agencies’ compliance with the First Amendment. (He also calls himself a journalist, but eschews journalistic ethics.) Not every hallway or office in a public building is open to the public, and public service does not require chatting with people holding a camera in your face for any purpose other than because they can. Anthony X seems to be trying to provoke, and it’s for that reason that he doesn’t announce himself – nor does he share his full name or identity (he wears a face covering in his videos).
“They might not like it, but I want to test to see if they honor and respect my rights,” he tells me over the phone. “There’s not a lot of middle ground with what I do, you either love it or hate it.”
He declines to give me his full name or share where he lives beyond the tri-county area; he says he works a graveyard shift as a sales manager, and these local government audits have become a side project over the past three years.
I would call these “audits” bullying. He thinks the videos, which skirt the edge of confrontation just up to the law, are good for access and transparency. (“In my opinion, there’s no such thing as bad exposure – you can either shine like a star or melt like a snowflake,” he says.)
But these antics don’t have the effect of getting agencies to throw open their doors – if anything, they do the opposite, prompting tighter security. Two months after his visit to Marina City Hall, City Council approved $48,000 for design upgrades. “It was a very intimidating, threatening invasion of our City Hall,” Mayor Bruce Delgado said before voting to approve the expenditure.
Pacific Grove officials expect a draft proposal this month on proposed security updates. “I owe it to my employees to make sure they come home safe every day,” City Manager Ben Harvey says. “If there are things I can do to improve that, while ensuring the public has appropriate access, that’s what I should do.”
SARA RUBIN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com