Southern Religion

Let’s have all of the FBC Jax Watchdog facts

FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was silently demolished by an unsatisfactorily explained and, from the point of view of the blogger, secret criminal investigation.


Anonymous blogs permit the relatively powerless to speak what they believe is truth, to power. Sometimes the power is a church, as we see in the confrontation between First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. and FBC Jax Watchdog, and risk still attends attempting to say to power things it would prefer not to hear.

The unmasking of Thomas A. Rich as Watchdog, detailed in Florida Times-Union, closely resembles the July attempt by the Bronx (N.Y.) District Attorney to use a grand jury subpoena to unmask and silence critical anonymous bloggers and commenters on the NYC political blog site called Room 8. With the help of Public Citizen, Room 8 successfully resisted disclosure.

We do not know how Google responded to the subpoena it received. Not only does Google have an official policy of not commenting on subpoenas or other legal processes, but also, subpoenas associated with criminal investigations are typically attended by gag orders (Room 8 responded by threatening the Bronx DA’s office with a countersuit). Nor has Watchdog thus far been able to obtain a copy of a subpoena he believes Comcast honored.

We do know that no wrongdoing was found, yet the investigating Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department officer apparently chose to breach the blogger’s anonymity by disclosing his identity to FBC Jax. We also know that Thomas A. Rich’s life was disrupted as a result. He was denied access to his (now) former church, publicly excoriated in an official church action and this week was described as a “sociopath” by the pastor who has been the principal subject of his blogging.

We don’t know in persuasive detail what criminal allegations were believed to justify that intrusion of police power into Rich’s life and the lives of two other bloggers. As a result, whether those allegations can withstand the light of day is an open question. Serious issues of conflict of interest (the investigating officer is an FBC Jacksonville member and apparently among those who provide security there) and as a result abuse of power, have been raised by the association of the detective’s investigation with attempts to silence the then anonymous blogger.

Such issues are typically best resolved by full disclosure, for this has become in considerable part a debate over public policy, and specifically over whether the force of law was properly applied. Given the issue’s visibility, the local and state public officials involved must tell truth and trust the people, or absent a thoroughly compelling explanation for silence, find themselves indicted by the appearance of concealment.

If the purpose of the investigation and disclosure was to end Watchdog’s commentary on matters of general interest to his audience, it failed and those who applied the pressure have put themselves in the fire.


Ethical/legal standards not followed by law enforcement in FBC Jax case

April 9, 2009 - Posted by | Law, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] far there appear to have been no facts sufficient to have persuaded a court of competent jurisdiction to strip Rich of his anonymity. Nor to have […]

    Pingback by Standards unmet in Fla. anonymous blogger case « BaptistPlanet | April 11, 2009

  2. The “official church action” has vanished from the FBC site. This is a link to a copy:

    Comment by Dave Johnson | April 11, 2009

  3. The allegations of stalking/photographing of the preacher’s wife & the supposed stolen mail are so ludicrous as to be funny. And wouldn’t you just know it, there were no police reports filed in either of the supposed incidents. The preacher was tired of the irritating gnat/blogger and apparently lost it when church revenues were not as expected. I believe he assigned the business manager the job of getting rid of the blogger & the guy got carried away in power-craziness and went too far by involving the law. The preacher calling the blogger an “obsessive compulsive, sociopath” is slander! Since the church brought in the law, the blogger should respond in kind and get a good attorney! This needs to be corrected and a lesson learned: You can’t use the law — and I do mean USE — to accomplish your selfish wishes.

    Comment by Annie | April 12, 2009

  4. My questions is this. Why does this minister need a security detail???. Jim Jones had one and he used it to intimidate his believers and the disillusioned. Also who pays for it?? JSO or the congregation?

    Comment by Liam Anlage | April 19, 2009

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