On April 16, the body of teacher and activist Riad Hamad was spotted floating in Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. Witnesses said the man’s body had been “wrapped with duct tape.” According to News Radio 590, the police were not sure if foul play was involved. When Hamad was reported missing, the family mentioned that he was experiencing suicidal thoughts.
According to a later police report, “tape was found around [Hamad's] eyes, and the hands and legs were loosely bound. The bindings of his hands and legs and placement of the tape were consistent with Hamad having done this to himself. Detectives know that Hamad walked from his vehicle to the water on his own based on evidence retrieved from the scene.”
The news about Hamad’s death was mostly reported in the local news, but it was spread worldwide due to a carefully orchestrated mass mailing through internet “activist” lists. Blogger Martin Solomon of Solomonia.com, who posted on Riad Hamad’s death on April 17, said, “People reading these comments should know that emails have gone out on various activist lists advising people of the death and telling people to go out proactively and make sure that Hamad is remembered as a man of peace, not a hatemonger. They’ve been advised to do it even before any stories appear so that if he is written about, that’s the view of him that’s portrayed. In fact, that’s how I found out.”
Many of the letters, articles, and blog posts that immediately appeared after these activist orders were sent out dutifully stressed Riad Hamad’s non-violent nature. Blogger Juan Cole received a letter from “Riad’s friend,” which Cole published verbatim without comment. It began: “Call me suspicious. Bound bodies found floating in a lake just don’t seem to me very likely to be the victims of suicide.” Cole followed this quoted message with an appeal to send money to the Palestinians.
Solomon posted the news, but he didn’t follow the activists’ orders. He published information about the radical NGO Hamad founded, the Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund (PCWF), and Hamad’s history of filing — and losing — frivolous lawsuits. PCWF was one of many organizations featured in the NGO Monitor article titled “Humanitarian NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza have links with terrorist organizations.”
Solomonia was bombarded by angry comments and conspiracy theories of all sorts from International Solidarity Movement members, people who type in all caps, truthers, and a trio of LA-based pro-Palestinian activists, Greta Berlin, Karin Pally, and Mary Hughes Thompson. Most of the new visitors defended Hamad, but most didn’t seem to know much about him or his death. Mary Thompson believed that the “Houston” police were working on the case, and she wondered how the man who was found floating “ended up at the bottom of the lake.” But most of the activists knew that the CIA and/or Zionists must have been involved.
One of the friends who knew Hamad and who worked to frame the circumstances of his life and death was Eileen Fleming. Fleming is a pro-Palestinian activist and friend of Mordechai Vanunu, who apparently exposed Israel’s development of nuclear weapons and alleged that “Jerusalem was behind the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy”. Fleming wrote on the social justice site The People’s Voice: “A friend, brother, comrade has either committed suicide or was murdered.” She posted a letter Hamad wrote on April 6, claiming that he was being harassed by the government, some “students at school,” and anonymous phone calls because he’s an Arab and a Muslim.
Fleming guessed that Hamad was depressed because FBI and IRS agents had recently visited his house with a search warrant. They left with “more than forty boxes of papers,” files, computers, and CDs. Investigators said that they had probable cause to investigate wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering.
On the same page, Fleming commented: “My Sabeel group also met four newly elected Hamas members, but we never got to meet any terrorists.”
If activists like Fleming don’t think Hamas members are terrorists, who would they define as terrorists?
Alex Jones, Austin-based conspiracy theorist, has been covering Riad Hamad’s story on his radio show and on his websites. Jones’ cred as an Austin “character” was established when he appeared as an actor in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, ranting into a megaphone while driving a car through the city. Like Linklater, Alex Jones is working to “spread 9/11 truth.”
Kurt Nimmo of Jones’ Infowars site wondered if “a neocon hit team or as likely a Mossad ‘bayonet’ team took out the school teacher Riad Hamad.” One commenter said, “Holy crap. Are they starting to kill off non-violent activists in Austin? This is bad news. I hope me and my friends aren’t targeted in this way — there are a ton of 911 truthers in Austin.”
Riad Hamad got a chance to speak for himself in a two-part 2003 interview on Freespeech TV. In the interview, Hamad looks like another Linklater character. He wears a slacker-esque t-shirt and shorts. As his cat sleeps on the couch behind his arm, he discusses his many advanced degrees, his lack of a social life, his poverty, his daughter in Harvard, his long email list, and his life as a perpetual student. He stresses his non-violent nature, and tells a story about calling a neighbor to shoot a snake. He says that the Patriot Act and conservative religious groups are making America like Iraq or Afghanistan. He mentions that he was the only teacher in school not to hang a yellow ribbon.
He tells the interviewer about how he was fired from Austin Community College for criticizing the U.S. government, and says that’s all behind him. He’s a “happy schoolteacher.” He didn’t mention that he filed a lawsuit for breach of contract against ACC. He lost the lawsuit and the appeal.
In a report published in the Austin Statesman on April 30, federal authorities announced that Hamad had been under investigation because they “could not trace the whereabouts of more than $500,000 he received for his charity. … Hamad received $633,965 in donations and sent some of the money — about $527,000 — to the Middle East.” Authorities “can not determine the ultimate disposition of these funds at this time.” They believe Hamad was using the donated money for personal use and not paying federal income tax on it. The document also said that Hamad failed to file several income tax returns from 2000 to 2006 and did not pay any taxes on earned income during those years.”
The police investigation into the details of Riad Hamad’s life and death will probably go on for many months. As time passes, the social justice activists, truthers, and people who type in all caps will do their best to get in the way of the investigation and tell tall tales.
But many of these activists also sent Hamad a lot of money. They may be quietly hoping that the “Zionists and their allies in the FBI” will find out where all of that money went.