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ACLU Sues FBI, Justice Dept. Over Y2K Flick

22 December 1999

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) earlier today made good on its plan to file a lawsuit against the FBI and the Justice Department for allegedly suppressing a Web-based film that predicts a riot in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. Federal District Court in New Jersey, the ACLU today sued the FBI, the DOJ and the FBI agents in New York who - according to the ACLU - unlawfully took down a Website that had posted the contested Y2K film.

The mock documentary, which has been described as fictional by both the ACLU and the film's producer, Mike Zieper (Mike Z), depicts an Army officer discussing military plans to launch a race riot during pre-Year 2000 festivities in order to assume martial control over New York.

"Are we supposed to assume that the FBI would learn of a film about the military taking over New York and (believe) that it is real?" ACLU spokesperson Emily Whitfield asked today. "They...thought that something they knew was fiction was somehow not fit for us to see."

"This is about the FBI telling the citizens of this country what they can and can't see," Whitfield said.

Mike Z.'s six-minute "Military Takeover" video is currently online at www.crowdedtheater.com , and was screened at an ACLU news conference in New York. The film is back online despite the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney's Office had successfully persuaded the filmmaker's Web host to take it down.

Several viewers, believing the film to be real, had contacted the FBI, which is hard at work on Project Megiddo, an effort to short-circuit anticipated religious and/or paramilitary fanatics who may use the so- called millennium date change as an apocalyptic backdrop for violent acts.

Mark Wieger, president of the BECamation Web company, told Newsbytes that FBI Agent Joe Metzinger and US Attorney Lisa Korologos told him that the tape could be used to "incite a riot and their jobs were to insure that this did not happen." Wieger said neither filmmaker Mike Z., nor the law enforcement community clarified whether legal action already had been taken when the FBI and the attorneys office asked him to remove the site.

Wieger now believes he was the victim of a lie, saying that the FBI told him that if BECamation would not take down the site, then BECamation's own ISP would pull the site.

"Not knowing what had transpired with our provider, without any information from Mr. Z., and with the FBI's pressure, we felt we had no choice but to pull the site until further clarification could be obtained," Wieger said in a statement. "Until we could talk to all parties involved (and) obtain the information to make an informed choice, we kept the site down."

Although Mike Z.'s film wound up being posted on several mirror sites, BECamation still lost more than a $1,000 in business, he said.

Wieger personally has been receiving threats on the phone and via e- mail from "very disturbed people," he said. Wieger said that an article in the Village Voice about the incident, as well as information reported on the Slashdot.org Website resulted in BECamation being overrun with "flame" e-mail and threatening telephone calls because the company originally backed away from First Amendment principles in light of government pressure.

"We were getting flamed big-time," Wieger said. "E-mail bombs, threatening phone calls at home and at work and on my cell phone...One guy said 'You're afraid for your Lexus and your mortgage payments.' I said 'Excuse me, I drive a four-year-old Ford van.' "

"Now that the situation has been clarified by all parties we are happy to offer the site again on our servers. The site is up and running," he said.

Since the Web host and filmmaker said the law enforcement agents did not produce a warrant or any sort of court order, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups have raised the question of whether the FBI and the Attorney's Office used subtle threats or intimidation to restrict the filmmaker's First Amendment rights, he said.

Because the ACLU case is pending, the FBI would not comment on this story.

A copy of the ACLU complaint can be found online at www.aclu.org/court/zieper_complaint.html.

Bob Woods contributed to this story. Reported by Newsbytes.com, www.newsbytes.com.

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