Judicial Watch • U.S. Bullies Man over “Department of Homeland Stupidity” Mugs

U.S. Bullies Man over “Department of Homeland Stupidity” Mugs

U.S. Bullies Man over “Department of Homeland Stupidity” Mugs

OCTOBER 31, 2013

The feds have threatened to criminally prosecute a novelty store owner who sells products—such as “Department of Homeland Stupidity” coffee mugs—making fun of the U.S. government. Could this be a matter of national security, or that Uncle Sam simply lacks a sense of humor?

To poke fun at the National Security Administration (NSA) the merchant, Dan McCall, sells T-shirts with the agency’s official seal that read: “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.” Other parodies say “spying on you since 1952” and “peeping while you’re sleeping.” The designs may seem funny—and possibly represent reality—but to the government it’s no laughing matter. In fact, it’s a serious issue worthy of an investigation and legal action.

The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly fired off “cease and desist” letters to the website that sold the products, threatening litigation and criminal prosecution if the parody designs weren’t immediately removed. The agencies claim the parody images violate laws against the misuse, mutilation, alteration or impersonation of government seals. The intimidating communication scared the website enough to remove the items, but McCall isn’t going down without a fight.

In a federal complaint filed this week he claims the government is violating his First Amendment right because the special statutes protecting the NSA and DHS seals from misuse can’t properly be applied to forbid parodies. McCall says his images make fair use of the NSA and DHS seals to “identify federal government agencies as the subject of criticism.” Therefore it’s unconstitutional for the government to forbid him from displaying and selling his parodies to “customers who want to display the items to express their own criticism of NSA and DHS,” according to his complaint.

Furthermore, McCall is not mutilating or altering the agency seals, but rather using them in a parodic form that doesn’t create any likelihood of confusion about the source or sponsorship of the material. No reasonable viewer is likely to believe that any of the materials is affiliated with or sponsored by the DHS or the NSA, the complaint says. “Nor were the seals affixed to the items to be sold with any fraudulent intent.”

In short, the merchant claims that the First Amendment protects his use of the NSA and DHS seals to identify truthfully the agencies that he is criticizing. The two agencies at the center of this brouhaha most certainly have bigger fish to fry. So does the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency that has threatened to prosecute the mug and T-shirt creator.

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  • tredcloud

    It not only violates First Amendment, but it also violates laws that prohibit the gov. agencies from engaging in commercial activities. The mere letter of cease and desist is an invocation of conducting a business, and therefore nullifies their authority as an agency of the government. The use of the seal does not violate “misuse”, because the use is the exercise of the First Amendment. By claiming it is being misused, they are conceding they are acting as government agency outside United States Jurisdiction.

  • DanMcCall

    Thanks for the inquiry about my site’s address. It is http://libertymaniacs.com/

    I certainly appreciate any purchases of the offending parodies, or any of the thousands of other products I’ve designed in the shop. Paul Allen Levy, Public Citizen, and Ezra Gollogly of the Baltimore firm Kramon & Graham have done absolutely heroic work in my aid pro bono, but the many dimensions of this fight, and incidental legal expenses that have, and will occur make every single dollar count for a mom and pop operation like mine.

    So thank you for even checking out the shop, or sharing this story with others. My apologies to Judicial Watch in advance if this post represents a violation of policy by solicitation. Thank you for covering my case.


    Dan McCall

  • John777

    I just emailed Zazzle and asked if they had set up a legal fund to which I could contribute. When I get an answer I’ll post it here. I’ll kick in 5 or 10 bucks if you will!!! Tuck a few dollars back someplace so we can help these guys with their freedom of speech case. This deserves our attention! If they can brow beat the little guys they will take over. If we stand up and fight we can beat them. It’s OUR right too!

  • ljm4

    Hey, anybody with a felt pen and T-shirt may do the same thing and I do. I have several anti obama T-shirts….

  • banff43

    When a government views the Constitution and Bill of Rights as suggestions rather than the law, what does one expect? Very sad days in this once great country.

  • dcnj

    “Since these government agencies are bought and paid for by the US taxpayer, don’t said taxpayers have the right to use such symbols as they see fit?”


  • dcnj

    how ’bout freedom of speech….

  • wandaodell

    Does the merchant have a website? I want a mug!

  • OldmanRick

    Since these government agencies are bought and paid for by the US taxpayer, don’t said taxpayers have the right to use such symbols as they see fit? It would seem so in a society where one’s rights are respected and protected. However, in a totalitarian society, citizens have no rights. All rights rest with the government, and the worker ants are on the bottom rung of the hive mentality pyramid.

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