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How a Comedy Article Got Me Placed On the No-Fly List

I wrote a book about president fighting called How to Fight Presidents, which just came out today. It's a comedic nonfiction book that teaches you, appropriately enough, how to beat the crap out of every single lunatic who ran this country.

Thomas Sully
Do you really want to be unprepared if/when this psycho gets kicked out of the afterlife?

Or not every president. People who buy the book (which you can do right here or here) might notice that I've curiously left out every president that's still alive currently. Well, when you do the kind of research associated with this subject matter (Google "Bill+Clinton+weaknesses"), certain flags are raised, flags that the government takes notice of. Flags I know intimately. While working on this book, I made the very misguided decision to write and publish a (satirical) article on Cracked advocating committing certain crimes against the president. (I'm going to pause briefly to say that I, Daniel O'Brien, in my capacity as an Internet role model, in no way endorse committing any crimes against presidents. Non-presidents, too. I'm a really swell guy!)

I won't get into the specifics of the article, but it was sort of a "how to" guide and has since been taken down (I've no doubt someone in the comments will clarify which article I'm talking about). In addition to having to take the article down, I also get stopped and pulled aside at airports five out of six times that I fly. I get "randomly stopped," which might truly be random, or maybe my passport gets flagged because I'm on some government list and I have to go through an additional round of questioning. It's THAT level of serious.

So, if longtime readers remember a now-invisible article from years ago that could be described as "lightheartedly treasonous," this is, for the first time ever, the true story of why that article no longer exists and why I didn't include guides on beating up living presidents in my new book.

That was the first thing I saw when I booted up my computer one morning. The first thing I heard was a knock on my office door. The second thing I saw was the bottom of my desk, as I'd ducked underneath it to hide like a man. I guess I had a hunch it was only a matter of time before the Secret Service investigated me for my stupid articles and various violence-against-presidents-related research. I just always assumed they'd drag their feet and wouldn't track me down until jet packs were a thing. I keep a lot of eggs in the jet pack basket. The knocking continued.

"No thank you," I shouted at the door. It was early. The part of my brain that rules at lying was still asleep.

"Dan, it's Jack. Do you have a second?"

"Only if it's about a really cool joke you played on me involving a fake email from HR. Or I mean, wait, shit, no, I'm not here. Daniel is dead. I've never even heard of presidents."

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I then tried to convince him that I was actually Jack O'Brien, and he was really Dan O'Brien.

It was early, I told you. Jack walked in with a woman I didn't recognize at his side.

"The government gave us a subpoena. We have to take down your article and you're going to have to talk to the Secret Service. What are you doing down there?"

I crawled out from underneath my desk and addressed the woman whom I assumed was a representative of the Secret Service.

"Getting so close to my country I could kiss it, which I did with my whole mouth!" I realized my mistake and started scrambling. "But, uh, not against the country's will, obviously, it was totally consensual. Country was super into it. Country was all 'Never had it so good, more like Star Spangled Danner.'"

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"Did I ever mention that my father is actually a bald eagle?"

"Dan-" Jack started.

"I'm not a crazy person, if that was your next question. Unless following unconditionally the words of my president is a form of mental illness, in which case lock me up. Although please don't actually lock me up; I'm aware that prospect is probably on the table for a completely different treason that I'm altogether unfamiliar with. Yes, I know that I said 'treason' when I meant 'reason,' and I understand in this context how that might be problematic, if that was your next question, and if you think that it was some kind of Freudian slip, you should know that Freud was a cocaine addict, and that I am not. What was your first question, by the way? Can I pee first, please, before whatever the next thing is happens? I'm sorry I'm so sweaty."

"Dan. This is Janice from HR."

I crawled back under my desk.

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I then tried to convince her that I was actually Janice from HR, and she was really Dan O'Brien.

"I wouldn't worry too much, Daniel," Janice said. "The Secret Service just wants to ask you a few questions. They gave me a number they'd like you to use. Should I ..."

"Leave it on the floor. The floor is fine."

***

"Wow, you're calling already? That was fast," Special Agent Mike Powell said with a laugh. There was nothing sinister in his voice. He sounded warm and kind and goofy, like a fun uncle. He told me to call him Mike and told me about his job while I idly wondered if using the phone while underneath a desk had any kind of weird echo effect.

"Special Agent Powell, I'm really sorry that I wrote a thing the government hates," I said when he finished talking, "but you have to believe me that it was for comedic purposes, and I actually think legally it falls under the category of what we in my industry call 'satire,' which is a word that I know, and here is its definition, which is-"

"Daniel, listen," Special Agent Powell interrupted. "I'm not a robot."

"That wasn't actually a concern of mine until right now."

yuriyzhuravov/iStock/Getty Images
And forever more.

"I just mean I'm not some, I don't know, government dud. Believe it or not, I've got a sense of humor; most of us do around here. I know it's a comedy website, I know you're doing jokes. It just so happens that it's my job to pay attention when certain ... concepts are brought up online. That article, combined with your fascination with fighting presidents ... well, that's the kind of thing I need to know about."

"You just go around the Internet tracking down people who say potentially threatening things about the president?"

"Unfortunately yes. Doesn't matter how big or small the website is, I gotta follow up on everything."

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They have two subdepartments for Free Republic alone.

"On the whole Internet? That sounds just awful."

Special Agent Powell laughed. "It sure is. What happens next is you've got to go to our downtown LA office for an interview. I won't be there, my office isn't in California. You'll be meeting with two other guys, Agents ... I don't know their names offhand. Whatever."

"Agent I-Don't-Know and Agent Whatever. Got it, I'll remember that."

We shared a good little laugh about that and said our goodbyes. I had, for the first time all morning, stopped having a panic attack. What seemed like a life- or at least career-ruining prospect a few hours ago suddenly looked like a walk in the park. Sit down with a few guys like Mike and shoot the shit about comedy and the Internet? Sign me up.

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Then we'd get some beers and they'd give me a dope code name like "The Spider."

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