When Houston photographer, Houston Chronicle blogger and KPFT tech-talk show co-host Jay Lee found out last month that one of his copyrighted pics of Houston's skyline had been used without permission on multiple Web sites, he sent the Web hosts a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice informing them of the situation. That's when the ghost of Rod Serling stepped in, took a drag off his Chesterfield and informed Lee that he had just e-mailed [pause] The Twilight Zone.
Why is that, Hair Balls? you ask. We'll tell you why: One of the sites using the pic belonged to a woman named Candice Schwager, who blogs about all the various conspiracies she's uncovered throughout her life, as well as her disapproval of Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. The thing is, Schwager's 14 Web sites were registered via GoDaddy.com, and it's apparently the company's policy to suspend a client's account -- i.e., all of their domains -- even if a DMCA take-down notice only applies to one. When her account was suspended, she threatened to sue Lee for everything from harassment to defamation.
The weirdness blew the minds of techies and photographers in the blogosphere; before long, sites like Slashdot and Petapixel were covering the story.
Schwager believed this to be a conspiracy between Garcia, Lee, and a former Chron reporter named Alan Bernstein to destroy her credibility and abridge her freedom of speech. (Bernstein is a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, but Schwager describes him as Garcia's campaign manager). Her allegations, as presented on one of her blogs, are a jumbled, stream-of-consciousness sideshow: "Jay Lee and his outrageous lynch mob media printing lies to smear Candice have gone so over the top, there's simply more to the story. I've never met anyone so masochistic, begging to be smacked, as Jay. Call in the lynch mob! It goes all the way to Scotland! what's really up? [sic]"
Schwager, an attorney licensed in Texas under her maiden name, Leonard, is a self-appointed champion of special-needs children, which she believes make her an especially ripe target for Garcia and his minions: "Why would grown men put on an act like this, assassinating the Character of the President & Founder of Attorneys for Special Needs Children? Jay Lee is a hacker and tech expert and knows everything imaginable about computers. He would certainly know how to take down 14 of Atty4kids' websites with a single accusation. [sic]"
Speaking of masochism, Hair Balls decided to go straight to the source. We called Schwager Tuesday to get more details on this alleged conspiracy, only to be drowned in crayzand, which brave explorers will tell you is the toxic combination of crazy and quicksand indigenous to the dark continent of Kookartica. (We actually spoke with Schwager a few years back, when she sued the Clear Creek Independent School District in federal court for allegedly denying special education classes for her son. She accused the district of, among other things, violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. and organized crime.
Schwager told us she's not convinced Lee actually owns the photo in question. She tendered as evidence the fact that he declined her offer to pay for its use. (Lee and his attorney declined to comment for this story).
"I don't think it's copyrighted. I could never find the owner. He says he's...the owner, but he won't sell it. Why not? Because he can't sell it."
Now, bear in mind that any incoherence in what follows is not due to a typo or forgetting an entire paragraph or two; it's because Schwager speaks almost entirely in fragments marinated in non sequiturs. For example, she told us her sites were suspended after an attorney named Mark Bennett "called Garcia a crybaby because they had, who was it, Bernstein -- he's a creep -- intimidate the paralegal....Next day, my websites, all 14 are down."
Bernstein, she told us, "pretty much owned the Chronicle, and he has a lot of control of the people over there." When we asked what that assertion was based upon, she told us "Common knowledge."
The thing is, whenever we pressed for actual details of this vast conspiracy, she was vague. And then she was just evasive. At one point, she had to cut the conversation short: "I'm sorry. The police just got here and they're taking a report, and the Texas Rangers." When she called us back, her claims had increased: "Had this guy not acted like a complete fucking asshole for nine days and then just shot down and destroyed all [my] websites and hacked everything, destroyed my computer and stole my money and did as much damage as possible..."
That's right -- she accused Lee of theft. He and his co-conspirators evidently got all of her passwords, but instead of siphoning money from her bank accounts, here's what they did: "They changed my Apple ID and password to where the guy was entering...it showed up and it was this weird name, and...when I would...I didn't hit it, and I don't buy $10 apps, and there were over $200 worth of apps...just of shit, you know? Harassment."
Since Schwager was so preoccupied with how Lee, Bernstein, Garcia and others libeled her, we told her we assumed that she believed she wasn't committing libel herself. Therefore, we asked her for documents or any other evidence to support her allegations. She said she'd send it, but she didn't.
"I really have enough on my plate and I don't have time to convince reporters who are liberally bent towards Garcia anyway that...what I say is right," she said.
She then segued into a rant about Sheriff's candidate Carl Pittman, a Republican whom she said contributed to Garcia's campaign: "You should get public records from Adrian Garcia....[Pittman] strangled and killed his wife in Carlsbad -- two wives now, he's beaten -- he sexually abused her, sticking huge cucumbers in places they don't belong, he's been evicted eight to ten times, 2007, Adrian Garcia did an investigation -- it was all over the Internet....Well, all of a sudden, he gives him a campaign contribution and he's not fired. The guy is corrupt, and if you don't know that, I'm wasting my time."
Hair Balls could find no public records accusing Pittman of murder, rape by cucumber or donating to Garcia, for what it's worth.
She added: "I don't take to bullying, nobody fucking bullies me, so when they started, I started fighting back, and it just got meaner....so you can think it's as bizarre [as] you want, but if you write that about me, I'll sue you."
Specifically, the woman who just accused a political candidate of murdering one wife and violating another with an oversized member of the gourd family, admonished us about libel.
When we asked why she thought we'd libel her, she told us, "Because it seems like the whole press is like that, and Houston Press...included." She then mentioned speaking to our editorial assistant once, and she had to "hang up the phone on him, he was such an ass." (Note: that's one thing we can agree on. That dude is an ass. And that's not libel, because our proof is that he likes Steely Dan. Case closed.)
Finally, we posited this to Schwager, since we feel that the veracity of such allegations ought to be tested: Would an outsider examining this situation believe it's more likely that a person was the target of politicians, photographers, and the media, or "do you think it's more likely that the person saying that is nuts?"
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Her response, before hanging up, was this: "You know, I think that you're a fucking asshole and you can go to hell, and if you print anything I'll sue you and the paper. Goodbye."
Shortly thereafter, on the Twitter page of one FairyViviann, came the tweets, "sheriff garcia - mini obama," "jay lee is a thug homo," and "some asshole masilw from the pothead press called today."
We totally learned our lesson, we guess.