I’m a conservative, Australian-American journalist. I’ve seen the ins and outs of the media and how plainly dishonest it can be.
It was when my friend and colleague, Avi Yemini, asked me to visit the United States with him to challenge the dishonest media practises of the organization, Comedy Central, after they’d deceptively edited interview footage of him to promote their left-wing agenda, that I immediately accepted.
I never expected to find myself detained and interrogated by the F.B.I at LAX.
On April 11, after touching down in Los Angeles after an onerous 15-hour flight, Avi and I separated at customs.
Avi, with his visa waiver, made a left and I, an American citizen, made a right.
That was the last I’d see him. What followed for the next 15 hours was a nightmare.
Border protection agents awaited us.
I was escorted to an airport holding area. The border agent said she needed to talk to me about my dual citizenship, which she claimed was out of the ordinary.
I felt a mounting sense of dread watching her go through my belongings. She questioned me at length about my plans in the United States.
Unbeknownst to me, my friend was also being detained and interrogated in another part of the airport.
Satisfied with her search, the border agent left me alone for a long period of time. When she returned, she was flanked by two F.B.I agents.
They flashed their identification like something out of a movie. My chest tightened.
Clearly, this was no longer about my dual citizenship.
The line of questioning changed. Gone was the sense of casualness, replaced with a suffocating air of gravity.
The F.B.I agents asked me if I planned to be violent, acquire weapons and cause harm to Comedy Central and comedian Jim Jefferies.
Realization dawn on me.
Avi and I had come to the United States to investigate Jim Jefferies and his employer, Comedy Central – who had created defamatory, fake media about Avi. Being clever, Avi had the good sense to record his interview with them and publicly expose their lies.
I was incredulous. Not only had I never incited or used violence as a journalist, but I’d also outwardly condemned its use for political gain.
“No,” I said simply.
Later I would learn that Avi was being asked similar questions. The F.B.I went through several of his social media posts that Comedy Central supplied to them, citing they were threats of violence.
One was an image that U.K.-based media company, Politicalite, used in an article, showing Avi as an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) solider holding a firearm.
Avi, taken aback by the questions, stated the only weapons he needs are his microphone and camera.
After two hours, border patrol and the F.B.I determined I was not a threat. They released me, resigned to the fact that, as an American, they could not deport me or keep me detained in my own country.
Without question, I now believe that my US citizenship was the only thing that stood between me and being sent back to Australia alongside my friend.
The border agents told me that Avi had to complete additional paperwork, then he would be released, promising that we wouldn’t miss our next flight. This was all routine.
I asked if I could wait for him.
Instead, I was made to leave.
I lugged my three bags over to LAX domestic, nervously checked in with our next airline. Then, I waited.
One hour rolled into two, two into three, three into four. We missed our flight to New York. Avi wasn’t coming.
With mounting panic, I implored airport personnel – from security, TSA, airline staff and border protection agents – for their help. I even placed a call to the F.B.I, at the instruction of the agent who interrogated me earlier.
The lack of cooperation and assistance from each member of staff was debilitating.
I gathered my things and made my way back to the international section of the airport, finally finding the official border protection information booth.
Chest tight and eyes glassy with tears of exhaustion and confusion, I asked the agent behind the counter for help. He looked at me, indifferent and expressionless, and repeated he could not give me any information.
“Your friend gets one call, and if it isn’t to you, then you won’t be notified if he’s been sent back to Australia,” he said.
I felt my eyes grow hot again, and forced my tears back.
Later, Avi would tell me that he’d been asking after me while he was detained. He said border agents told him that I knew what was going on, that I knew he was being sent back. In reality, I knew nothing. I was alone with no information and nobody willing to help me.
After almost eight hours of detainment, I finally saw my phone flash with Avi’s name and answered.
“I’m being deported,” he said quietly, exhausted. “I can’t talk long. Are you okay?”
The F.B.I’s decision to let Avi into the country was overturned by border protection due to a technical error on his visa waiver, made 18 months ago, which rendered it invalid.
Ironic, considering he’d used the same visa waiver to enter the United States only 6 months earlier, where he was admitted entry without incident.
Avi told me about Comedy Central’s involvement, how they’d reported us to the F.B.I and suggested we were a threat.
I finally understood.
Comedy Central had us detained and played a major hand in Avi’s deportation from the United States.
After almost 15 hours in custody, Avi was escorted by two police officers to his plane home, where his passport was withheld from him until he landed on Australian soil.
Landing in the United States, the land of the free, I never would have expected to be caught up in a situation like this.
I was dumbfounded the following day. I laid in bed, wondering how, in America, this had happened.
We were treated as criminals.
Our job, which is built on truth-telling, had been used against us.
Our treatment sets a precedent that any organization or individual can claim concern regarding their safety and see any journalist or other media entity denied entry to the United States, regardless if there is a credible threat.
This doesn’t happen here. This doesn’t happen in America. But it happened to me.
Sydney Watson is an Australian-American based independent journalist. You can subscribe to her YouTube channel here.
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