Is FBI Director James Comey trying to sidestep any unexpected problems at SXSW?
Imagine this worst-case scenario for a moment. You’re an international band looking to perform in front of hundreds of visitors at the 20th Annual SXSW festival. Yet, suddenly, you’re detained for no reason at all. The festival has canceled your hotel stay. It has also removed and subsequently replaced you from the official showcase.
Your credentials are cancelled. SXSW notifies appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities. Even worse, fans have faced airport detention. What do you do?
While this scenario may sound exaggerated to some, many international artists performing at SXSW fear this very nightmare. Last Friday, an indie band read SXSW’s suspect fine print and cancelled their performance. Now, under heavy political pressure, FBI Director James Comey has mysteriously pulled out of SXSW.
Earlier in January, event organizers announced that Comey would engage in a conversation with Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst. The conversation would focus on (ironically enough) “the intersection of national security, technology and First Amendment rights.”
SXSW organizers said,
“The Newseum is the premier national institution that promotes the freedoms of the First Amendment and the right of free expression. This year we will conduct a unique conversation examining the tensions between privacy and national security. Being able to share a high level conversation with FBI Director James Comey and the audience in Austin will help us all understand the challenges to our rights in the age of disruption.”
In a statement, event organizers explained that “scheduling conflicts [will keep Comey] in Washington, DC,” while leaving it at that.
Maybe it isn’t quite safe for this speaker. Near the end of the 2016 Election, James Comey became a polarizing figure. Eleven days before the presidential election, he sent a letter to Congress stating the FBI would review Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Soon thereafter, millions blamed this sudden and peculiar announcement on Clinton’s shocking defeat.
Most recently, Comey asked Congress to reject President Donald Trump’s claims of Obama wiretapping.
Comey’s sudden departure from the event raises a lot of questions. He bowed out less than a week before his planned talk. But maybe this is a reasonable move. Should any protests or detentions arise related to music performers and fans during the event, Comey will avoid any further political controversy.
FBI General Counsel James Baker will take Comey’s place. And perhaps filling the gap, South by Southwest most recently announced that former Vice President Joe Biden will also speak at the event.