Amanda Ripley

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If the FBI ever raids your house…

17th Jul 2008 posted in Resilience

keep the garbage! That was the genius idea of Steve Kurtz and his artist friends after his house in Buffalo, NY, was seized by the FBI four years ago in a bioterrorism investigation that led no where. Now he has put the things the FBI left behind on display in an art gallery in Buffalo. The exhibit will probably tour New York City and Berlin, as well.

I recently spent the day with Steve for a Time.com story. First, we took a tour of his house, pausing to notice any remaining evidence of the raid (“See that?” said Steve, pointing to scratch marks on the inside of his attic door, “That’s where my cat was clawing at the door while they searched the house.” Note: the FBI says agents dutifully fed and watered said cat during their search.)

Then we went to the nearby gallery where his exhibit was on display. Staring at the tower of empty pizza boxes and energy-drink bottles, many thoughts enter your mind: How can the government cause such havoc in a person’s life with so little to go on? Where is the accountability when the case is ultimately dismissed by a judge? And finally, why are there no coffee or caffeinated soda bottles in the FBI’s garbage?

That last one didn’t make it into the story. But it was weird: hundreds of water and Gatorade bottles, no caffeine. Steve speculated that maybe FBI agents aren’t allowed to drink caffeine. I asked the FBI spokesperson in Buffalo, and she disabused me of that particular notion. Agents are indeed allowed to drink caffeine, she said. But after hearing Steve’s story, you do start to think that anything might be possible.

Click here for a video that Steve and his art ensemble put together about the raid.