When a controversial political figure dies, it hardly helps to indulge in fact-challenged conspiracy theories.
If you’re in officialdom, however, it hardly helps those conspiracy theories from being formed when you issue a statement about the cause of death before the actual cause of death has been established.
That seems to be the case in the death of Philip Haney, a former Department of Homeland Security official and whistleblower who went public with charges that the Obama administration blew chances to stop terrorist attacks.
Since his testimony, Haney had become a controversial pundit on the issue of radical Islam, penning a 2016 book titled “See Something, Say Nothing: A Homeland Security Officer Exposes the Government’s Submission to Jihad.”
On Friday morning, according to the Washington Examiner, Haney was found dead 40 miles east of Sacramento, California, in rural Amador County at a park-and-ride adjacent to state Highway 16 near state Highway 124. The cause of death was a gunshot to the head.
On Saturday, according to The Sacramento Bee, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office reported Haney “was deceased and appeared to have suffered a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound,” likely from a weapon found near his RV.
Two days later, this changed quite a bit.
“Unfortunately, there was misinformation immediately being put out that we have determined Mr. Haney’s death to be a suicide,” a Monday night news release from the Amador County Sheriff’s Office read, according to the Washington Examiner.
“This is not the case. We are currently in the beginning phase of our investigation, and any final determination as to the cause and manner of Mr. Haney’s death would be extremely premature and inappropriate.”
Was foul play involved in this death?
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The statement also gave more context as to where Haney was found.
“Highway 16 is a busy state highway and used as a main travel route to and from Sacramento. The location is less than three miles from where [Haney] was living,” it read.
As the Examiner reported: “Sheriff’s investigators conducted a neighborhood canvas and interviewed Haney’s RV park neighbors on the day of the incident. They also examined ‘key areas for any video surveillance that may exist from that time.’ A forensic autopsy has been scheduled to be performed by forensic pathologists from the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office.”
The sheriff’s office stated it is continuing to investigate.
“Additionally, we have reached out to our law enforcement partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist in analyzing documents, phone records, and a laptop that were recovered from the scene and Mr. Haney’s RV,” sheriff’s office release stated, according to the Examiner.
It’s unclear where this “misinformation” came from, given that the first statement apparently came from the sheriff’s office — the same entity that issued the second statement about Haney’s death. Given the sensitive nature of the case, it’s also unusual (and telling) that the change was made.
What’s clear is that if there were any doubt, this was probably one of those cases in which authorities ought to have proceeded with caution.
In addition to his punditry and book-writing, which clearly had a very political aspect to it, Haney had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, claiming he had been ordered to delete files on individuals who had connections with Islamist terror groups and that there were issues with Obama-era officials recognizing the concept of “radical Islam,” among other things.
In a 2016 commentary piece for The Hill, Haney claimed this information could have saved lives.
“As the number of successful and attempted Islamic terrorist attacks on America increased, the type of information that the Obama administration ordered removed from travel and national security databases was the kind of information that, if properly assessed, could have prevented subsequent domestic Islamist attacks like the ones committed by Faisal Shahzad (May 2010), Detroit “honor killing” perpetrator Rahim A. Alfetlawi (2011); Amine El Khalifi, who plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol (2012); Dzhokhar or Tamerlan Tsarnaev who conducted the Boston Marathon bombing (2013); Oklahoma beheading suspect Alton Nolen (2014); or Muhammed Yusuf Abdulazeez, who opened fire on two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee (2015),” he wrote.
“It is very plausible that one or more of the subsequent terror attacks on the homeland could have been prevented if more subject matter experts in the Department of Homeland Security had been allowed to do our jobs back in late 2009. It is demoralizing — and infuriating — that today, those elusive dots are even harder to find, and harder to connect, than they were during the winter of 2009.”
The Amador County Sheriff’s Office noted that there was an “overwhelming number of persons who are calling our office from throughout the United States asking for detailed information on our investigation,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
“We’ve just been inundated with people calling and demanding information,” Amador County Undersheriff Gary Redman said Tuesday, the newspaper reported. “It’s a lot of people claiming they were friends, trying to tell us there’s no way he committed suicide.”
“Allow us to do our job,” Redman told the Bee. “We understand this guy’s background, where he came from and some of the issues that surround him and the theories. We get that. It’s going to be a very lengthy, detailed investigation.”
Nobody’s going to argue this is good advice. However, if sheriff’s officials had that kind of understanding of Haney’s background and those issues surrounding him on Saturday — when they issued a statement on Haney’s death a day after he was found — there probably should have been an element of caution involved.
I say this because this is nothing if not fodder for conspiracy theories.
Take GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a guy who’s been basically disowned by his own party for a history of remarks we’ll very charitably call controversial.
Phil Haney was a friend & patriot. He was a target because of all he knew of Islamic terrorist coverups. He insured his life by archiving data that incriminated the highest levels of the Obama administration. Phil Haney didn’t kill himself. RIP, Phil. https://t.co/pvy7MflFwc
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 23, 2020
“Phil Haney was a friend & patriot. He was a target because of all he knew of Islamic terrorist coverups,” King tweeted Sunday.
“He insured his life by archiving data that incriminated the highest levels of the Obama administration. Phil Haney didn’t kill himself. RIP, Phil.”
If this Julian Assange-style “poison pill” archived data exists, it hadn’t materialized as of Wednesday morning. If you’re holding your breath for its appearance, I hope you enjoy cyanosis.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that allows publications like The Sacramento Bee to treat conservatives as if they were wingnuts.
“Haney’s death quickly made national headlines in conservative media, with conspiracy theories surfacing in some publications and at least one member of U.S. Congress insisting Haney’s death was not a suicide,” the Bee reported, referring to Rep. King.
“Several conservative outlets wrote, without citation of any source, that Haney had been reported missing two days before his death, and that the gunshot wound was to Haney’s chest, a detail which the publications suggested would make the gunshot less likely to be self-inflicted.”
It’s interesting to note these “conservative outlets” were mentioned “without citation of any source” by the Bee. I don’t doubt they exist or anything, but I’d just like to note that 247conservativepoliticsliveforrealdon’tyoubelieveus.us and their ilk don’t really count as a “conservative outlets.”
(It’s worth noting that Haney isn’t described as a “whistleblower” in the story but is instead described as a man who was “described as a whistleblower.” Let that deep-blue flag fly, SacBee.)
Beyond that, there were plenty of commenters who raised legitimate questions about the timing, given that Haney’s life was apparently on the upswing. Friends said he was in talks to return to the DHS, given the change in administration, and was engaged to be married.
That doesn’t preclude suicide, of course, and that could still very likely be the eventual finding.
That said, “misinformation” like this on a case where doubts are going to develop simply adds to the freeway pileup. Whatever the case may be, the narrative has significantly changed on Haney’s death — and the claims of suicide are, at this point, fake news.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.