Tourists deported from U.S. for Twitter jokes (Updated)

Two U.K. tourists landing in L.A. were detained and deported because of tweets joking about "diggin' up" Marilyn Monroe and "destroying" America.

According to DHS paperwork, Leigh Van Bryan was matched to a "One Day Lookout" list, placed under oath, and ultimately denied entry and put on a plane back to Europe.

"[He wrote] on his tweeter[sic] website account that he was coming to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe," DHS officials wrote on his charge sheet. "Also on his tweeter[sic] account Mr. Bryan posted that he was coming to destroy America."

Interviewed by highly-respected British newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, Leigh Van Bryan says that the tweet — "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America" — referred merely to partying. Added a friend: "He would not hurt anyone. He is gay."

Bryan has now made his Twitter account private, thereby ending the DHS's ability to track his terror plans.

UPDATE: Ted Frank says we're "racial profiling" in this post. [Via Glenn Reynolds]

"Boing Boing correctly points out (via Alkon) that this is silly—but the reason we know this is silly is because you and I and Boing Boing are racially profiling."

We've run countless posts similar to this one, about detained travelers of all ethnicities — but this one involved racial profiling!

We know the deportation is silly not because of Van Bryan's innocuous whiteness—that's in your head, Ted—but because the methodology is dumb. It's silly because search alerts for keywords on Twitter will never catch a terrorist on his way to the airport; it will merely impose pointless burdens on travelers regardless of national origin.

This poses an interesting question: of all our posts on DHS shenanigans, why was it this one that got noticed today by some conservatives? Actually, it's a boring question: it's because it offered them an opportunity to project their inclination toward racial profiling onto others. It creates the impression that everyone is at it regardless of agenda, and that inconvenience to innocents is therefore the price of our collective failure to recognize that racial profiling is common sense. "We want [the] DHS to have the flexibility to detain hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist Mohammed Abbasi if he were to make a similar threat on the Internet that is less likely to be a joke," writes Frank.

On the contrary, I don't want the DHS wasting its time on any of this nonsense.

(Frank also mistakenly attributes the non-sequitur "He is gay" quote from Van Bryan's friend to us. Why? Perhaps, like the DHS, his attention is tuned in to the wrong things.)


      1. Twitter keeps the personal information of its account users. Right there in the EULA for everyone to understand. All the DHS has to do is say “Hey, who wrote that?” (albeit a bit more formally with authorization papers, etc) and twitter will tell them who. The DHS has a nice algorithm which looks for phrases and key words like he posted and then informs the DHS that it might be worth looking into.

  1. Just goes to show that it’s easier to harass wrongly accused terrorists instead of putting a stop to the real ones.

    1. There aren’t many terrorists and terrorist attacks, really, so there’s a lot of free time to fill.

    1. Not to defend the DHS, whose actions here and always are utterly reprehensible and ridiculous, but…

      I don’t see the joke in saying you’re going to go dig up someone’s grave. It’s not that I’m offended – I like dark humor more than most, especially British dark humo(u)r – it just isn’t in any way clever or funny. I’m sorry – that isn’t Numberwang. Time for Wangernumb.

      Not that lacking wit or taste is a reason to deport anyone, as much as we’d like that to be true sometimes :)

      1. Joke not funny? OK. 

        But does the TSA’s mandate extend to protecting us from coarse humor? How does arbitrary expansion of their mandate help them better perform the way our society actually wants?

        Government should be both effective, and ALSO show that it’s being done efficiently and fairly. This incident BADLY fails that elementary test.

        1. Walt, is there anything funny about making a public remark that you’re going to go “destroy America” and then trying to gain entry through our borders?  I didn’t find it funny, but I’m sure some would.  That’s OK.  I think it’s well within the TSA’s mandate to determine that a threat has been made publicly to our nation and that the person making that threat should not be allowed to enter.  I think allowing the TSA to be the arbiters of what is humorous or harmless is expensive and wasteful- also dangerous.  People should be responsible for their actions- it’s that simple. If you go around making public threats and then expect entry to the nation you just threatened, no matter how humorously, the joke is on you.

          1. Hey Mike, after engaging in some juicy gossip with friends, I’m going to go get my mustache-waxed and destroy America with the magic corpse of Marilyn Monroe.

            Credible threat? I suppose we must let the TSA be the judge of that.

          2. Yes. IT CAN BE FUNNY. Your lack of humor and inability to allow me to have my own sense of things IS NOT a good reason for you to stifle me. 

            If it is, then I am going to put you in jail because you are what is wrong. So. So. So. Wrong.

          3. Michael Wade,

            You’ve said the same thing about a dozen times now, so I’m just going to remove half of them. And feel free to add anything new.

          4. It’s really pretty sad that you can’t see how this kind of complete knee-jerk overreaction to a stupid, flip comment goes WAY beyond the pale on the part of the TSA or anyone else.  Who hasn’t said something like,  “We’re going to wreck the place” in mockery of the fact you’re probably going to go bowling and eat a pizza and fall asleep in the car during your wild night out?  I’m sure that’s all it was – he was probably coming here for a checkers championship or something he knows sounds lame, so he made a joke of it – “Yeah – I’m gonna go to the United States and destroy the place with all of my checkers-playing buddies, ’cause we’re all bad-asses like that”.  All I can say is, W.T.F. have we become that we won’t let someone into our effing country because he’s a smart-ass?  They’d better deport my white butt if being a smartass is now a crime; I’m the Hannibal Lecter of smartassery…

        2. So… we’ve known for years that one doesn’t make jokes about hijacking or bombs when attempting to either board or fly on a plane, right? I mean, there’s a history going back to at least the 1970s of people saying, “Don’t do that. It’s not funny, and it will likely cause trouble for you and possibly others travelling with you.”
          It’s the same line of reasoning as that which says you don’t have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater just for giggles, and all that.

          Therefore, in this era of what we call “heightened security” (or security theater, or whatever), what in blue blazes would make this jerk think that it was _somehow_ okay to make a joke about “destroying America” in a public Tweet? 

          Sure, he probably didn’t mean it, but that does not matter to those who have to filter out those threats. Intent cannot always be clearly read, and luck favors the prepared.

          I remember self-proclaimed performance artist at my alma mater who was shocked… _shocked_… that his letter to the editor of the local paper, in which he “jokingly” called for the death of the then-POTUS, resulted in a visit from the Secret Service. He thought his letter was hilarious. Obviously, that sentiment was not shared by others. Bottom line, “freedom of speech” as defined and affirmed in the U.S. is not the same as a license to say whatever the hell one wants.

          1. “Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither, and will lose both.”

            Someone who could be categorized as a terrorist uttered that, but we like to call him a “Founding Father.” NO U.S. citizen should feel anything other than shame for what our nation did today.

      2. Actually, I see the *joke* in that remark.  What I don’t see is comprehensible humour, and wit. 

        But that’s not required.

      3. Apparently the Marilyn Monroe line was a quote from Family Guy, so this isn’t a case of Americans not getting British humour, but of Americans not getting American humour

        1. One of the driving forces behind the generation of tweets is people quoting things from TV shows they find funny and posting them often without any accompanying hash-tag or contextual frame. 

          So how many fucking people are now on a no-fly list or being surveilled because they tweeted something from American Dad or an episode of South Park?
          It’s so ridiculous it belongs in a satirical novel about the War On Terror. 

      4. Isn’t Marilyn Monroe not even buried in the ground, anyway?  Like in some sort of mausoleum?  Please… the DHS has people with better humor than this.  He was probably being deported for something else– at least I hope so.  Otherwise, he did manage to destroy a little of America.

        1. “Otherwise, he did manage to destroy a little of America.” +1

          Though I guess it depends on how charitable you are feeling about America.

      5. Well, then round up Mojo Nixon.  Not only is he gonna dig up Howlin’ Wolf; he’s gonna put his skull on his guitar.  That’s terrible.

      6. I keyed in more on the joke about destroying America.  I’m with you, not defending DHS per se, but just saying that if you make a statement on a public site saying you’re going to “destroy America” and then expect to travel freely there, don’t be surprised if you get stopped and turned away at the border.  This is the case now, and is the case in lots of countries and probably has happened countless times through history.  Sure, it was ridiculous for DHS to turn them away.  It was also ridiculous to make a public threat, no matter how humorous, and then expect to just skate in without issue.

        1. If two tourists from the UK can “destroy America” then I want all of my tax money back from the Defense Dept.

          1. “Destroy Rock City!”

            EDIT: This was originally in response to a (now removed) post about how terrorism is often done under the guise of tourism. It’s pretty cryptic without the context, though it would still be funny painted on top of a barn.

          2. not only that, what sense of the word ‘destroy’ was in play here.

            And do we all recognize it was in play. Yes, yes we all do. This was not yelling fire in a theather, this was yelling “I am free” in a free country.

        2. No, it doesn’t work that way.

          The use of the two-word phrase “destroy America” cannot be taken as evidence that one intends to commit murder.

          The fact that the two words were used publicly is not an aggravating factor but a mitigating factor.

          Of course people given power can be jerks, and have been countless times through history. That doesn’t give anyone a license to be a jerk.

          The problem is that automated data monitoring systems are being used with rigid rules that lead to ridiculous (as you put it) outcomes. The end result is that America is no more safe, but those caught in the net are harmed. Which is a bad outcome.

          People should be allowed to converse normally without fear of disproportionate reaction from badly designed bureaucracy.

          1.  Michael Wade – ” barriers like this can and do prevent security incidents.”

            AT WHAT COST? I mean, if i never leave my house I can never get mugged, right? Does that seem like what America is FOR?

          2. You know, I just realised a funny reply could have been “But I meant Detroit! Damn you autocorrect!”

        3. More importantly, it’s not a ‘joke’.  It explains quite clearly in the article, it’s an expression.  It’s about partying, getting drunk; ‘We’re going to destroy [venue]’, otherwise phrased as ‘We’re going to hit [venue] hard’.  It’s not a ‘joke’ threat, it’s a turn of phrase.

          Anyway, I’m sure a 1 minute interview would have explained this, so even if they felt the need to stop him I can’t see how that resulted in deporting him.

        4. Similarly, one should not publicly describe upcoming festivities as “sick” without expecting the CDC to arrive and quarantine everybody.

      7. Your comment refers to a side issue important only to you.  What does it have to do with the larger issue regarding the DHS?

    2. Oh, remember when NBC tried to break into the European market? Jay Leno made his slogan on their television adverts “we’re going to ruin your culture just like we ruined our own!” – I wonder how DHS would react to a Brit claiming the same before going on tour in the US?

  2. Really, to catch everyone who ever made fun of the U.S. each citizen would be required to detain, say to be conservative, at least 10 persons ?

  3. “Bryan has now made his Twitter account private, thereby ending the DHS’s ability to track his terror plans.”

    If you think making it private stops DHS, you are sadly mistaken.

    1. No, what’s sad is that’s probably all it takes to stop DHS.

      And shoes.  Why do you think they fear shoes so much?

  4. That’ll teach those Brits to try and foist their stupid incomprehensible humor on us. Hopefully they made him watch a marathon of Three Stooges while being deported.

    1. Does that mean the DHS can cross anyone who’s gay off their lists, thereby devoting more time and resources to everyone else, or would that play right into the hands of the gay terrorist cells lying in wait?

    2. I have a lot of straight and gay friends.  It’s ALWAYS, and I mean this passionately, the gay ones beating up on the straight ones!  And when mom comes, the straight ones go, but he started it! And the gay ones just kind of stand there googley eyeing mommy like a lost puppy, and then she goes, no he didn’t, he’s gay.  EVERY FREAKIN TIME.  It’s unbelievable.

        1. So you’re saying “Mom” runs the DHS these days…?  Or Grampa runs the DHS and Mom is in charge of the TSA?

  5. My goodness… what about me and my comments on the net??? I am for sure banned. Ooops…. forgot, I have no desire to go ;-)

  6. Way back in the ’60s, Jim Bouton wrote in his groundbreaking “Ball Four” about a US-Canada border crossing inspection.  (He was in the minors at the time).   The guard asked what were in the bat bags, and Jim sarcastically said “guns and weed.”  The guard went apeshit and inspected every last thing on the bus.  Bouton wrote, “… if I were a guard, I’d let everyone pass who said ‘guns’ and inspect everyone who said ‘just baseball bats.’ ”   Idiocy is ageless.   

  7. The Rheostatics had a song (“Rock. Death. America”) where the lyrics claim they’re going to dig up Elvis and lie in his grave. Luckily for them, they wrote it long before  9/11 happened.

  8. I feel there’s a big difference between “Twitter jokes” and “jokes on Twitter,” Mr. Headline Writer

  9. So, are homosexuals incapable of inflicting violence? This is a fact I was not aware of, and it appears the quote is insinuating exactly that.

    1. Cool!  Can I use this?  “Your honor – I couldn’t possibly have blown up that bus full of nuns – I’m gay!  The defense rests.”

  10. I think there’s something missing here. How did the US establish a link between his twitter identify and his passport? When did this all come up, when he was in customs, or before?

    As much as I love to hate the Big Brother narrative, this seems like there’s more to the story. The US might be a bunch of hired thugs, but I doubt they are clever enough to pull off something like this.

  11. I read this and I find myself with only 1 statement…


    We are paying huge sums of money for General Dynamics to monitor online networks for things showing them in a bad light and THIS is what we do with it!?

  12. Interviewed by highly-respected British newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail
    Highly respected? I wouldn’t wipe my arse with The Sun. And the DailyMail is just a bad tabloid!

  13. Let me get this straight- DHS is expected to be able to detect whether a threat is serious or whether it’s a joke with some kind of magic threat detector?

      1. No problem keeping up here.  I understand that it may have easily been ascertained with an investigation that this guy’s joke wasn’t a serious threat, but as a taxpayer I’d rather have him refused at the border for making a public threat than to pay for costly investigations every time someone makes a public threat and tries to gain entry into our borders.  If you make a public threat on a nation, no matter how harmless, then try to gain entry to that nation, don’t be shocked when you are refused entry.

        1. Making a “public threat on a nation” does not equal”harmless”. Making a joke about threatening a nation? Might not be very funny (especially if you are humourless and suffering a bad case of trollitis in your tax-paying glands), but as harmless as they come.

          DHS, TSA, and the rest of our security (theatre) forces in this country have a clear responsibility – to protect this nation from threats. Not jokes. If they can’t differentiate between the two, maybe all that funding they get should be better allocated; perhaps to a couple of free stand-up lessons, or maybe a funny movie.

          If only they (and you) could understand the difference between the capability to harm this land or its people, and the capability to amuse or joculate with impunity, we might actually deserve to feel safe here.

          1. “…to protect this nation from threats. Not jokes. If they can’t differentiate between the two, maybe all that funding they get should be better allocated.”

            Fortunately, there’s never been a known case of someone making a joke and it being taken seriously, or saying something in earnestness and it being taken as a joke. So you are of course absolutely correct.

      1. I think joke about anything you want.  But if your joke takes the form of something that can be taken as a threat to a nation, and you do this on a public forum right before expecting to travel to that nation, don’t be shocked if you’re turned down at the border.

        1. You need to read the article again.

          It wasn’t a ‘joke’, it’s a phrase.  It refers to the partying (mentioned in the article).  ‘We’re going to destroy [venue]’, otherwise phrased as ‘We’re going to hit [venue] hard’.  They’re going to get to America, and party, and drink, and go crazy.

          So this was neither a threat, nor a joke about a threat; instead a misunderstood colloquialism.

          So please stop commenting the same thing over and over again.  Because even if your point was valid, it’s inaccurate.

          Either way, I fail to see how a 1 minute interview with this guy didn’t reveal that he’s as likely to destroy America as, well, any one else.

          1. But this wasn’t an isolated incident. He had also expressed the desire to tear the roof off a dance club, and then set the world on fire.

    1. I don’t think you need a “magic threat detector” to work out that a one-off comment on a public twitter feed isn’t serious.

    2. They were able to figure out who exactly this guy was AND when he might have been traveling, just from his Twitter account. He was on a “One Day Lookout” list, remember? If they could get that much information, surely they must have noticed there was absolutely nothing else about this man that would indicate that his threats were serious. Even reading the rest of his Twitter would have proven that he was just some Brit, not a terrorist.

      It’s like there’s no room for a judgement call – a snap decision is made, and they run with it. It’s the same reasoning behind the body searches of 3 year old children and elderly ladies. “FOR YOUR SAFETY!” they scream, without any proof that their actions produce results, save some shoddy causation equals correlation bull.  I’ve got an air freshener in my house that keeps elephants away. How do I know it works? I’ve never seen an elephant in my house, that’s how…

  14. Taking this to the nth degree: does this mean that if I inform the world, via twitter, that I am the ruler of America and then promptly get a flight to said country, the DHS will welcome me home as their lord and king?

    1. Yes, but only if you agree to establish yourself as the second coming and lead all the evangelists off a cliff. 

    2. If you open a kickstarter account for a plane ticket, I’ll contribute. Make that two plane tickets – I want someone to video your welcome.

  15. How Americo-centric! Almost got to the bottom before I worked that DHS is not the courier company, thought maybe they’d been sub-contracted by the … the, well the DHS

    1. Anything delivered to DHL will be processed and eventually delivered somewhere. That’s the difference.

  16. I wish I knew how to quit you… It is exactly the job of anyone reviewing potential jokes to “get them”. It is precisely the function of DHS/TSA to determine what a credible threat is, because otherwise they react to non-credible threats, resources are lost or inappropriately placed, and the task of those who would actually do harm is made easier.

  17. I wish I knew how to quit you… It is exactly the job of anyone reviewing potential jokes to “get them”. It is precisely the function of DHS/TSA to determine what a credible threat is, because otherwise they react to non-credible threats, resources are lost or inappropriately placed, and the task of those who would actually do harm is made easier.

  18. Yes it is within the TSA/DHS’s mandate to get the joke.   I think it is ridiculous to assume TSA/DHS needs to mount a serious investigation to discredit this kind of chatter as a threat.  We aren’t talking about an edge case.

    1. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it’s no longer the United States of America as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.

      –Garrison Keillor

  19. What does being gay have to do with an inability to hurt anybody?  That statement is fallacious in the extreme.

    1. Indeed, if the authorities hadn’t apprehended Mr. Bryan, I fear he would have slapped America silly.

  20. Tune in next week when the DHS captures a continental European through Facebook and sends him to Gitmo to learn the location of all that red paint he was plotting to apply to an entire, undisclosed American town.

  21. Regardless if the joke was funny or not, the point of this story is simple: a man wrote two tweets about America and was flagged by the American government as a terrorist. Two. Fucking. Tweets. The government had NO other corroborating evidence, no tapped phone calls, no undercover operative’s successful infiltration of a terrorist cell, no forced confession of malice aforethought.

    Two lousy tweets got this man rejected from the country, and if you believe that he’s not on Unca Sam’s permanent “shit list”. Any time he ever tries to do something “official” in the States again, his name is going to show up on a watchlist. You know, just for funsies, cause he made a questionable joke when he was a youth.

    America; fuck yeah.

  22. I agree this is ludicrous in the extreme, but U.K. customs is no picnic, either.  I was asked why I brought a computer if I wasn’t intending to work (I bought it to get maps, check my flights and itineraries, etc.), and had to show proof of hotel reservations, etc. He said “so you’re staying in London for two weeks” and I thought he was going to keel over when I told him I was going to Scotland for four days. He asked how I planned to get there, and I had to show train tickets and then asked why I wanted to go to Scotland in an odd tone (as if there’s something wrong with going there). It’s getting to the point where I think countries are TRYING to discourage international travel.

    1. Well we do tend to  flip around europe more than we do our own country.  Saying you were going to milan for the weekend may not have even raised an eyebrow.

  23. Evil Overlord List, rule 232: I will not tweet about my plans to sow global chaos, not even as a joke.

  24. I’ll be sure that, before coming to the US, I tweet about murdering people overseas, pissing on their bodies, torturing people I don’t like… that’ll get me in easy, right?

  25. Did anyone determine that this actually happened? I’m not inclined to get too worked up about anything I read in the Daily Mail.

    If it did actually happen, however, it not only cost these poor people thousands of dollars and a lost vacation, it probably has convinced a number of other Brits that it might make more sense to take their vacations in Prague.

      1. A photo that appeared in the Sun or the Mail is about as much credible evidence as a Vogue cover shoot.

    1. I’m with you, Gunn. This is as fake as the McNugget-diet thing from last week. There are multiple tweets from @MelissaxWalton on the 23rd, talking about how she did a “double session” at yoga and planned her bachelorette party, nothing about going to LA at all. This got picked up by BB, the Washington Post, and Forbes, all without anyone considering that the only source is a FREAKING TABLOID THAT MAKES STUFF UP.

  26. Actually when they said they “dig Marilyn’s grave” I think they just meant that they really like it.

  27. So when fundies say that gay marriage will “destroy America,” does that mean the DHS can count that as a credible tip and search the homes of every gay married couple?

  28. Did DHS really get records from Twitter to determine this user’s actual identity? Or did they just go by the name he had publicly posted on Twitter?

    If the latter… how long until fake twitter accounts are getting celebs and politicians on no-fly lists?

      1. His other articles paint a picture of an angry, red-faced, little man impotently shaking his tiny fist at a universe full of imagined slights.

  29. There should be more evidence/leads than a joke or off color remarks… Before you suffer any consequences of any kind.
    And if you suffer them being innocent, you should be apologized to, not be harassed further. 

    You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater, but you can yell fire all you want outside of a crowded theater, even joke about doing it inside a  crowded theater on every media on Earth, and nobody should make you suffer consequences of any kind as long as nobody shows IN A COURT OF LAW that you effectively yelled fire in a crowded theater to cause mayhem or planned to.

    These hijinks will stop any, I repeat ANY terrorist. In fact they waste time and money and make security a joke.

    In fact if I were a terrorist, specially a homophobic religious fundamentalist I would get some dupes, or accomplices (or hack their accounts to that effect) to say such things for distraction’s sake. Then I would tweet about how I gay I have become, coming out of the closet and visiting my new American boyfriend.

    It seems TSA “intelligence” is not correlated to real-world intelligence: info gathering kind or smarts. The ones that catch terrorists.

    Mohammed Abbasi could also be a christian (10% of Arabs for starters) or an atheist, or anything with that name. Intelligence, not racial profiling.

  30. Amongst other things it is clear that the DHS are completely incompetent. It is an amusing thought that hanging shrunken heads up as a warning in airports would probably be twice as effective as these lazy fools. No wonder Americans think their taxes are being wasted if this is a representative example of what they are being spent on. What a pathetic bunch of loosers.

  31. First, it is not TSA. TSA has nothing to do with it. Us Customs (and Border Protection) is the agency involved. Second, There is no big travesty here. They APPLIED for admission to the U.S. They were denied. Just that simple. They were not arrested, beaten, held for days, simply turned around. Just as the UK does to plenty of Americans.

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