From Spaghetti Westerns to Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood has carved out an image as the righter of wrongs, settling scores and protecting the innocent. In Eastwood’s latest outing as a director, “Richard Jewell,” he’s protecting us from our protectors.
Twenty years before Carter Page there was Richard Jewell.
Jewell’s all-too-true story serves as a cautionary tale about the FBI’s casual abuse of power, and also as a not so esoteric commentary on the “Crossfire Hurricane” debacle.
Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell, the security guard originally lauded as a hero for discovering pipe bombs that killed two and injured over 100 others in Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics.
Within three days, the FBI had fingered Jewell as its prime suspect. The real culprit was captured six years and several bombings later.
Sam Rockwell plays G. Watson Bryant, Jewell’s lawyer and long-time friend. Jon Hamm plays the imperious FBI agent who led the investigation.
There are those who would believe a few bad apples were responsible for the monstrous abuses we see in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency.
But watching “Richard Jewell” makes one wonder if there’s not a manual of sleazy practices passed down inside the bureau since the days of J. Edgar Hoover. We see how the FBI played the same dirty tricks on Jewell that it used on Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and the rest.
The bureau chose Jewell as its target based on the flimsiest of evidence: A profiler decided Jewell was a law enforcement wannabe who planted the bomb so he could get attention for having discovered it—the “profile” of a lone bomber. Confirmation bias took over, and investigators distorted everything to fit their pre-ordained conclusion.
The parallels between Jewell, Page, and the others caught up in the Trump investigation don’t end there.
Just as the FBI did with Flynn in January 2017, agents used a false pretext when they interviewed Jewell.
They told Flynn he didn’t need a lawyer for what was a routine interview when in fact they were gathering evidence for their Crossfire Hurricane con job.
They told Jewell they wanted him to be in a training video about bomb detection they were making. “For the sake of authenticity,” they then asked him to sign away his constitutional rights to have a lawyer present “since this is how we’d actually do it with a real suspect.”
A Justice Department internal investigation later said the deception was ”a major error in judgment” but concluded there was “no intentional violation of Mr. Jewell’s civil rights and no criminal misconduct” by the FBI agents. (Emphasis added.) No intent, no bias, no criminal wrongdoing. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The worst the agents faced was a temporary suspension or letter of reprimand. As Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) said, it’s “easier to divorce your spouse” than to get fired from the FBI.
Agents wired Jewell’s friends and sent them in to record “friendly” conversations with their target. They also ignored exculpatory evidence, just as Inspector General Michael Horowitz found they did with Carter Page.
They conducted highly visible searches of his home while the media watched, akin to the televised raid of Roger Stone’s home.
The media is Eastwood’s other villain. As Jewell’s lawyer says in the film, the two most powerful forces in America, the government and the media, targeted his client.
We know James Comey and others used leaks and a complicit media to foist the Russia hoax on the public and whip Washington into a frenzy. Similarly, agents leaked Jewell’s name to a media eager to perpetuate the myth of the FBI’s infallibility.
Non-spoiler alert: A controversy over the film’s depiction of a reporter using sex to get information from the FBI agent does not detract from the larger point.
We hear Tom Brokaw declare authoritatively: “The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well.”
The Bryant Gumbel stand-in in a reenacted “Today Show” interview asks why would the FBI investigate Jewell if he weren’t guilty of something.
In contrast, we hear Nadia, the Russian-born assistant to Jewell’s attorney, say, “Where I come from if the government says someone is guilty you know they are innocent.”
The unholy alliance between the FBI and the media predates even Richard Jewell—it is straight out of the J. Edgar Hoover playbook.
For decades, Hoover’s FBI harassed and gathered dossiers on Martin Luther King, civil rights activists, antiwar leaders, and others. He regularly would feed dirt on them to friendly reporters. Civil libertarians warned that the FBI’s secret machinations threatened our democracy.
Such abuses led Congress to establish Senate and House Intelligence Oversight committees—and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—to protect us from our protectors. For all the good they’ve done.
It shows profound ignorance, misunderstanding, or disregard for history for Democrats to invoke the name of Martin Luther King as they’ve done in their recent impeachment putsch.
Security operatives of our government used the same tactics against King—surveillance, leaks, guilt by association—they used against the Trump campaign and his presidency.
Democrats and anyone else needing a refresher course on history and abuse of government power need to see “Richard Jewell.”
Early in the film, we see Jewell abusing his authority as a campus security guard just as the FBI would do later. The message is clear: Power corrupts.
The temptation to abuse power dwells in everyone’s heart. Ask Stanley Milgram.
Sharp-eyed viewers will catch the foundational message of Clint Eastwood’s film in the caption on a poster hanging on the wall behind Jewell’s attorney in his law office: “The government scares me more than terrorists.”