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Interview With The Vampire Terror Suspect

Editor’s note: Matt Boyd was kind enough to talk to Fleen about his recent experiences; what follows is a lightly-edited transcript of a Gmail Chat session.

Matt Boyd: Heya.

Fleen: Hey. Cough twice if it’s not safe to talk.

Boyd: It’s all good.

Fleen: Okay, on a scale of one to ten, are you more a) pissed; b) surprised; c) depressed by this turn of events?

Boyd: Gonna have to go with b) surprised.

Fleen: Let’s back up a bit and give the readers some fill-in. You woke up with four detectives knockin’ on your door. What agency or department did they represent?

Boyd: According to the business card I have here, they were with the St. Mary’s County Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

Fleen: That’s Maryland?

Boyd: Yes indeed.

Fleen: Okay, so they came to talk to you about “making terroristic threats”. Because you finished on reasonably good terms with your employer (although not with certain anonymous coworkers), this had to be a shock.

Boyd: Shoot, I thought it was my uncle. He was supposed to come today to fix a light switch.

Fleen: On what complaint or authority did these detectives say they were talking to you?

Boyd: On the complaint that I may have made terroristic threats through computers. At least, that’s what was passed down to me from the State’s Attorney through the detectives on the phone.

Fleen: So who is it that you’re supposed to have threatened? Is it now law in the state of Maryland that if anybody anywhere unknown to you feels uneasy at something you write, it’s a crime?

Boyd: Well, a terroristic threat is an old legal concept. Basically, it’s calling in a bomb scare or something similar.

Now, in the second comic, there’s the verbatim transcript of what I said that got me fired. And there’s a co-worker who overhears it, which as far as I know is what happened. And Ian [McConville]‘s drawing resembles someone in the office to an uncanny degree. Of course, he’s never met her, because he lives in California.

Fleen: So the State’s Attorney decided you needed a talking-to. If the comic had been less true-to-life, you wouldn’t have met detectives?

Boyd: I don’t think many people at the office were very clear that I don’t draw the comic myself. I had one hanging on my wall but nobody really seemed that interested.

Fleen: Well, now that your former office knows that Ian draws it, I suppose it’s a federal matter and he’s going to meet some FBI agents.

Boyd: I hope not. I’ve already pulled far too many people into this. The person it resembled was one of my best friends at the office while I was working there. I’m trying to find out if she got scared personally. I really hope not.

But yes, if it hadn’t looked so much like me (because it happened to me and it is me,) I might not have gotten a knock. Of course, you’d have to ask the State’s Attorney to be sure.

Fleen: So much for journal comics — this could be really chilling. How would your characterize your time with the detectives? Interview? Investigation? Friendly warning? Interrogation?

Boyd: Well, as I mentioned elsewhere, my roommate was also a coworker and friend. Apparently he got called home from work, so two were interviewing him and two were interviewing me. They were cautious, which you’d expect.

But the words shit always rolls downhill did come up at least once. At least one of them seemed a little disgusted by it when his partner left to make a phone call, but I shouldn’t put words in his mouth.

Fleen: So let’s be clear on this — you haven’t actually been charged with anything, but it’s being held out as a possibility.

Boyd: It is a possibility. I can be charged at any time. The detectives at least seemed satisified. One relayed a message from the State’s Attorney that I was right on the line of making a terroristic threat. I mean to say, the detectives themselves were satisfied I was harmless. On the plus side? They liked the comic. I showed one the Mac Hall book.

Fleen: Well, that’s good. What are the potential repercussions of this? Your neighbors are looking at you a little funny right now, but what happens even if you’re not charged? I imagine for starters you may not be getting that .22 you had your eye on.

Boyd: My only neighbor is my grandmother, and she’s outraged. And yes, I don’t think that background check would go so well at the moment. That’s fine. I’m a little put out on the idea of gun ownership anyway.

Fleen: Do you have any recourse if you aren’t charged? Is there a way to get the State’s Attorney to say, “Okay, this is nothing, we’re dropping it”, or do you think that in an immediately post-VT world, he is thinking, “No way am I gonna be the guy that lets another Cho by him”?

Boyd: Not that I know of. If there is, I’d like to hear about it. But this all went down a few hours ago.

Fleen: Got any flights planned?

Boyd: Yeah, mid-June, San Francisco.

Fleen: Good luck with that.

Boyd: I’m a little put out on the county right now too. A change of location might be good.

Fleen: What do you need done right now? Is this a case of having people aware of this situation is helpful, or is it better to hope it just dies down on its own? ‘Cause I gotta say, I thought it had died down, then it just sort of sprang back to life.

Boyd: Well, all I really wanted to do from the beginning was tell people what happened. And everything I say from here on out is a risk, because I still have this threat hanging over my head. (I’ve about given up on a good reference at this point.) But I can’t just keep quiet.

Fleen: Is this going to change how you work on Three Panel Soul? Make it a little less autobiographical, a little more fake autobiographical?

Boyd: No, never.

Fleen: By any chance, are State’s Attorneys elected in Maryland?

Boyd: They are indeed.

Fleen: Is this an election year for the office?

Boyd:: Boy, you’re really trying to get me in trouble! Let me check. Hmm, not sure.

Fleen: That’s okay. And trying to get you in trouble would be, “Would you care to share the name of the State’s Attorney that has a bug up his ass?”

Boyd:St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney. Don’t know his name personally, but I’m sure Google’s got it. [Editor's note: there was formerly a link for the State's Attorney here; as Mr Boyd has requested that readers not harass the State's Attorney on his behalf, the link has been removed.]

Fleen: Okay, good enough for us. What are your plans now?

Boyd: Well, like I said, with the situation, I’ve been planning to leave town. Ian and Jess are in San Francisco, and they’ve been encouraging me to come out. I had promised one of my bosses I would stay at my old job until December when the project ended, but that’s not really an issue anymore.

Fleen: Since wherever you end up and try to find a job, you’re probably going to get Googled, state definitively and for the record — did you ever intend to go on a rampage, or make terroristic threats?

Boyd: Nope. Hey, deja vu.

As far as jobs, until today I’d been applying for similar jobs as to what I was doing. SAP security. Kind of esoteric. But I think, on further reflection, I wouldn’t like to work in an office again.

Fleen: Any ideas what you would like to do?

Boyd: I hear “webcomics” are big these days. Maybe I’ll really crank up the consumer-whorism and take another shot at making a living off that. Or I know a guy out there who knows a guy who needs kitchen help.

Fleen: You wouldn’t be the first creator to go full-time following a sudden shift in work. Any last thoughts for our readers in webcomicland?

Boyd:: No.

Fleen:: Okay, thanks for your time.

Boyd: Okey doke, thanks.

Fleen thanks Boyd for his time and candor; as a followup, Fleen will attempt to contact the State’s Attorney of St. Mary’s County for an official statement.

This whole situation is a travesty, and must be more than a little scary for Matt. Rest assured Matt, if you find yourself in need of help, there are a *lot* of people who’ll run to your aid (in a totally non-violent kind of way).

I’ve been there – the mental stress is the worst part since you know that things will eventually blow over and in twenty years it’ll be nothing but a good story to show how nuts things were back then. I’m sorry this happened; I wish things were different. Good luck to you!

EDIT: Um… by “there” I meant investigated for expressing freedom of speech, not job loss and all of the other horrible things Boyd’s going through.

I don’t know, Gary. Things were different in Maryland when Ed Danvers was the state’s attorney.

[...]  Update: The rest of the story is at Fleen – interview with Boyd there. Not federal, local Law Enforcement. [...]

[...] Fleen, and an Interview with Boyd via Fleen [...]

[...] Gary A call requesting comment with respect to the Boyd non-incident was unsuccessful. The woman I spoke to on the phone told me that she would be unable to speak on the matter “unless there’s been a charge made.” [...]

[...] Updated: Fleen has an interview with Boyd, during which he points out that the woman who is in the strip in question closely resembles a good friend of his, and he is concerned that she might have been offended, and is trying to find out. This puts a finer point on the issue — one that my own gut instinct says is important. Without that context, you honestly can read that strip and the conversation it documents as being directed at the woman in the final panel on purpose — which would have been creepy, in my opinion. Not creepy enough to get the Feds involved, but creepy. Good to know that that’s not the case. [...]

Great interview. Thanks Matt for taking the time to tell the fans what happened. Sorry to be reminded again about the times we live in.

As a former fellow member of the Maryland state, I feel for Matt. Maryland’s policital end of the justice system has some serious mental shortcomings, and I’ve had to deal with many of them myself. That being said, we will miss you on the East Coast if you go! Otakon conversations of Mary Prankster will never be the same.

Hope the St. Mary’s SA goes squish. But sadly elections- I believe- are next year.

In terms of being disillusioned with the country and thinking of looking elsewhere, I’d like to note that something very similar to the first half of this story (i.e. not including the police visit) happened to a close friend of mine, and we live in Canada.

IRFON-KIM AHMAD- Actually, I think he said “county” as opposed to “country”. An easy distinction to make when heard, but only one tiny letter away from “different context” on the page.

[...] You have likely read about this on someone’s blog or forum. Matt Boyd, writer of MacHall and Three Panel Soul has lost his job due to talking about guns. Then he wrote about it (as writers will do) and now he gets a visit from his local Bureau of Criminal Investigations. You can read the interview on Fleen and please go DIGG it. [...]

[...] Three Panel Soul is een nieuwe online comic, lekker cynisch en met een goede kwaliteit art. Onlangs had de schrijver het op z’n werk over zijn interesse in schietsport en het idee om daarvoor een .22 kaliber geweer (als in, een praktisch niet dodelijk wapen) te kopen, waarna hij op staande voet werd ontslagen omdat z’n collega’s bang voor hem waren geworden. Heel sarcastisch schrijft ie er een comic over, waarna… de politie bij hem voor de deur staat. Omdat ze hem verdenken terroristische intenties te hebben na het lezen van die comic. Euh. Goed gedaan? [...]

It is outright Kafkian living in a country where you’re allowed to buy and shoot guns, but somehow TALKING and WRITING about them is seen as a dangerous and suspicious thing.

I thought living in Mexico was surreal.

Oh, it still is, Maritza. You guys eat candle wax and burst into flame and junk.

Only if it’s grape-flavored.

HAH! The previous three comments were the best. Thank you Maritza and Bup for the laugh.

Unfortunately, we have to find balance between living in a society as free as we can make it while asking for security and protections reserved for socities that usually lack these same freedoms. It is very difficult to find balance. It seems every time there is some dangerous jerk that goes on a rampage there were “warning signs” that noone “followed up on or pursued”.

This is all a product of that, as ridiculous as it seems. Sometimes the most inane details turn out to be relevant.

Yes, I work for The Man. We struggle every day to not tread on laws and rights and yet provide the best security we can. That’s all I can say.

sad thing to see how the usa develop(ed)..
seen something like this in europe in the first part of the 20th century….same beginning.

I’m glad the government is just checking into this at least, but I hope they don’t charge him because its obvious he can’t harm anybody. How’s he going to buy a gun anyways?

The good thing through this is that I’ve discovered a new comic to read. If it wasn’t for all this I wouldn’t have been introduced to his comic. He’s probably gotten an increase in reader at least by some amount.

[...] Here’s Fleen’s interview with the writer. [...]

This is really sad, I think this is a complete waste of government resources, to call it an overreaction would be kind. I worked for a while at a psych hospital and one of the patients would make threatening phone calls, maybe 30 times a day. One time he came in, drove his own vehicle, informed one of the Doctors who he was obsessed with that he knew what vehicle he drove and he would get a gun, follow her home and kill her and her family. Even after that we had to plead with the police to consider this a “terrorist threat” and file charges. He had a car and the means to do what he threatened. His threats were specific, plausible and likely. This was a god damn cartoon about buying a gun!

I can understand why someone might look into this, but I can’t see a reason that it should have cost Mr. Boyd his job, A stern talking to maybe. It was an overreachtion on his co-workers part and even more so by the DA. I hope Matt’s life can make a full rebound and he lands on his feet

Man, wait ’til the gun-nuts get ahold of this story…

Seriously though, I’ve been reading the comic for the last couple of months, and I found that story arc highly amusing – to hear that it’s based on fact, and what’s come of it is absolutely shocking!

I don’t see how ANYONE could believe that conversation was in any way threatening. Certainly not worth getting fired over, let alone investigated! geez, what’s this country coming to? I find the gov’t involvement far more ‘terrorizing’ than any sort of off-hand remark about how hard it would be to kill someone with a particular weapon.

This is nothing but a simple lynching – tried and convicted by a gallery of his (insane it would seem) peers.

Good luck Matt.

[...] Update: En el blog especializado Fleen entrevistan a Matt Boyd sobre estos acontecimientos. [...]

FYI: Here’s the link to the State’s employees and specifically Richard Fritz, a frivolous retart of an attorney out to ruin lives. But of course, who cares. http://www.washingtonpost.com/[redacted]

Editor’s note: I have taken the unusual step of removing the remainder of the link above because Matt Boyd has specifically ask that people not harass the State’s Attorney over this matter.

Speaking as an onlooker from afar – being about as far away as you can get from the USA (and anywhere else) without actually leaving the planet – in Perth Western Australia. It is scary that in the country which gives you the right to arm bears (Good on you on that front – give the bears more guns to even the odds up a bit.) – that such stupidity and a waste of time and resources occurs.
I was so sad that Matt lost his job – but hey – it could be the best thing to happen to you Matt! There is more to life than SAP Security. You have talent and your web comics are unique and funny (a rare combo) and I hope that the support you have received translated into bags of cash. We have a dumb shit leader called John Howard (who still lives in the 1950s) just like you guys who has ruled on fear (politicians have never done THAT before) and we have had similar nonsense but not the webcomic BS AFAIK. We did have a great series of “War On Trevor” posters created by Art students that totally took the piss out of these this little macarthyist wannabees. They are a cruel sad joke and a severe waste of oxygen.
Best wishes Matt and Ian. PeterSW

Besides, there are four letters that will strike fear into the heart of any State Attorney with delusions of fascism: ACLU.

I’d bet they’d love to have a say in a situation like this. “The effect of the police interrogation ordered by the State Attorney is to stifle free expression in violation of the First Amendment.”

Editor’s note: [...] Matt Boyd has specifically ask that people not harass the State’s Attorney over this matter.

Hey editor,

All your readers will hopefully respect Mr. Boyd’s wishes, but the interview did not make this specific request especially clear.

You might consider repeating this point up above in a more obvious place, for the benefit of people who don’t read comments sections.

The ACLU? Give me a break. They might be theoretically interested on the First Amendment aspects, but mix in Second Amendment? Their record on that is perfectly solid. They won’t touch it.

Well, here’s where he went wrong. He discussed actually shooting somebody with his .22 target rifle. To make it worse, he discussed actually shooting someone five times in the face to make it stick.

First, he’s totally wrong about .22′s. You can easily kill someone with a .22 from any reasonable distance. A .22 is a high-velocity – if small – bullet. Being small and light, when it hits you, it tends to richochet off bones and the like and can cause a considerable amount of internal damage – fatal if that damage involves critical organs like the heart. And of course shooting somebody in the head is very likely fatal if the right part of the brain is hit.

So talking about buying a .22 for target practice is one thing. Going on about how you could use it to kill someone is where the co-worker lost it.

This of course is not Matt’s fault. It’s the fault of a society raised to fear any kind of violence and any kind of weapon. It’s a product of a society where fear is encouraged and responsibility is abdicated to the state.

And this is precisely the kind of society – combined with economic disenfranchisement for minorities and excessive criminalization of practically everything – that produces people willing to go on a rampage.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the state uses to justify further criminalization of anybody who even looks funny.

The whole notion that we need more “proactive prevention” of rampages will just be turned into more snooping, more criminalization of more or less normal behavior, more police power, and less freedom for everybody.

And less freedom for everybody will eventually produce more explosions – until the “Big One” that overthrows the state. This is the lesson of history for all states which is always ignored.

[...] Then he got investigated for “terroristic” actions. Making threats via a computer. Via a webcomic that he collaborates on with a guy (Ian) who lives ACROSS. THE. COUNTRY [...]

[...] Three Panel Soul: For more information on how fucked up the Matt Boyd Firing situation is, read his interview over at the webcomics review blog, Fleen.  We at DoS support the crew at Three Panel Soul in this bizarre time, and wish them the best. We creative types need to stick together in such odd moments…if we don’t, god only knows what we won’t be able to say/do next. [...]

Richard Steven Hack, I agree with most of what you wrote, in principle – except the bit at the start about where Matt went wrong. You may be correct about the actual lethality of a .22 caliber bullet; that’s entirely beside the point. Matt believed it to be relatively non-lethal, and expressed that belief in graphic detail through sarcastic excess, precisely to make the point that he had absolutely no desire to use it for such a purpose – in fact, had selected it specifically because of its (perceived) utter unsuitability for such a purpose. He couldn’t have made his actual meaning any clearer as far as I’m concerned.

Unfortunately, some people – apparently including the State’s Attorney where Matt lives – just don’t get sarcasm or humor in general. Matt’s only mistake, both in what he said and in what he wrote, was failing to realize what the consequences would be in this particular case if exactly the wrong people didn’t get it and took it exactly the wrong way. Which, to my mind, is not a mistake a reasonable person should have to expect to regret in a reasonable society.

[...] Gary Tyrrell talks to Three Panel Soul co-creator Matt Boyd, who was recently visited by local law-enforcement officers over a “terroristic” cartoon. [...]

Mike Van Pelt, the ACLU admittedly does not believe the Second Amendment confers any individual right to bear arms, and believe the government has every right to regulate and license gun ownership as it does with cars. I don’t agree with their rather strained interpretation but they are at least up front about it. They do however strongly oppose any form of regulation that leads to civil liberties abuses, such as detailed background check requirements which might lead to invasions of privacy; this is one reason they give for not actively advocating gun control legislation. I think they would be interested in this case in spite of their antipathy to the Second Amendment in general, since it potentially involves just this sort of abuse.

[...] And he ended up being visited by the cops!  Fleen has an interview with him about the whole situation.  Check it out. [...]

[...] Fleen: Your Favorite Faux-Muckrakers Since 2005 » Interview With The Vampire Terror Suspect [...]

[...] Gary Matt Boyd is putting the whole ugly affair behind him. It’s probably the best thing he could do, under the circumstances. [...]

Maybe Matt can get a job writing the question for dc?

[...] Interview With The Vampire Terror Suspect Editor’s note: Matt Boyd was kind enough to talk to Fleen about his recent experiences; what follows is a lightly-edited transcript of a Gmail Chat session. … – Fleen [...]

Crazy, absolutely crazy. We haven’t reached those heady heights of insanity yet here in the UK, but I don’t think it’ll be too long. Part of the overreaction after they didn’t pick up on the Virginia State University guy, so for the next 6 months to a year, they’ll jump on anyone who even looks at them funny.

Thanks for commenting, Steven. I’m not a gun guy, so what I know is really just from reading online.

Honestly, if I’d known that the VT shootings involved a .22 pistol at close range, fired repeatedly, I probably wouldn’t have done all three of the comics. (And if I’d known the full extent of VT, I probably would have kept my dumb mouth shut, but the story was still breaking and I was at work.)

Matt and all others,

Man, I really udnerstand what’s happened. I too recently resigned over a startingly similar matter, in which I sarcastically told a co-worker that “I needed a handgun.” I didn’t really mean I needed a firearm, and I still don’t. Know that I feel for you Matt, and I am really encouraged by your attitude right now about all this.

[...] Late, late story, but Matt and Ian of Mac Hall fame are back with a new web comic, Three Panel Soul, showing off a much wider range of Ian’s artistic ability. Sadly, the news comes with a scary addendum: Matt was fired from a government contract job for just talking about guns at work after the school shootings at Virginia Tech. He then made a comic about it, which got him a visit by the police. You can read more about it at Fleen. [...]

HA!! Leave it to the SMIBs (Southern Maryland In-breds) to interperate a comical conversation into a terror threat…

[...] A rather unhappy story of our paranoid times is that of Matt Boyd, who got into a conversation in his office about a gun he wanted to buy. But he did it the day of the Virginia Tech shootings (before he had even heard the news) and one or more coworkers who had heard the news and overheard him freaked out and reported him to management. He was fired. Now, normally, that would be all, but Matt is the co-author of, not a blog, but a bloggy “personal journal” webcomic titled “Three Panel Soul”, so, obviously the incident was the subject of a short series of strips. And a couple days after their weblication*, he got a visit from investigators from the State’s Attorney’s Office regarding what they considered a “borderline terroristic threat” (the investigators’ own words… Mr. Boyd tell the whole story here). [...]

I just heard about this from our grandmother (I’m one of Matt’s cousins). Observations:
1. Talking about how non-lethal a particular gun is constitutes a terroristic threat?
2. I’m sure until now I was the member of the family considered most likely to lose a job over making threats of violence. Thanks for taking that on, Matt.

Funny how different places reacted to VT…at my work, loads of people are suggesting that we faculty ought to be able (or even required, according to one idi–I mean, esteemed colleague) to carry guns. Uh, yeah. I’m not sure putting me in a room with 26 young adults irritating the shit out of me is a good idea when I’m *not* armed. I mean, I have this habit of totally losing my shit with students, after politely asking them 5 or 6 times to put away their cell phones, stop talking to their neighbor, and refrain from cheating. (HENCE, if any members of law enforcement are reading this, my conviction that I should not be carrying a gun in class, which I am not and have no intention of ever doing.)

[...] Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. «Administrivia [...]

[...] humble correspondent is cited in conjunction with the Matt Boyd: Terroristic Threatener incident and the Ted Rall: All Webcomics Should Be Taken Off The Web panel. There’s also [...]

[...] buying a rifle, being let go for talking about said rifle, and being unemployed in 2007. (The Fleen interview with Matt after the FBI paid him a visit for making “terroristic threats” against his former [...]

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