Jan. 14, 2010—a day that will live in Portland State infamy. Professor John Hall accused student Zachary Bucharest of being a government informant at the end of an economics lecture.
Jan. 14, 2010—a day that will live in Portland State infamy. Professor John Hall accused student Zachary Bucharest of being a government informant at the end of an economics lecture. Whether or not what Hall did was the right thing at the right time, it seems he had some solid grounds for suspicion.
Professor Hall used a portion of his economics class to denounce Bucharest as an informant for the FBI, and accused him of trying to incite students to violence. Hall claims to have spoken out based largely on concerns brought to him by students.
Bucharest, a student leader in ASPSU, has since denied the allegations and hired a civil lawyer to defend him in what could easily become a heated legal battle.
The incident caused a stir of media as the story was picked up by the Vanguard, The Oregonian and the Associated Press. It has also caused a bit of controversy and a strange atmosphere of fear surrounding not only the idea of students wielding weapons at school, but also the implications—assuming there is any truth to the allegations—of having an agent provocateur at a public university.
There really is no way to know whether or not Bucharest is a government agent. Not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist, but the FBI would never admit such a thing even if it really existed. This isn’t an argument for proving that he is an informant, merely a statement proving how impossible it would be to do so. All we can do now is try and understand why Professor Hall did what he did.
The claims surrounding Bucharest’s activities—the very activities that led Hall to confront him in front of his fellow students—are many and they come from many different sources. A recent Associated Press article quotes student Daniel Dreier as saying that Bucharest showed him a gun that he carried on campus on a number of occasions, though it should be noted that Dreier has since voiced concern that Bucharest has been misunderstood in the situation. Other stories, such as reported in The Oregonian, describe Bucharest bringing a disassembled AR-15 rifle to class for a presentation on its inferiority to the AK-47.
Regardless of the he-said-she-said nature of most evidence (Hall says he didn’t give Bucharest permission to bring the rifle, Bucharest said he did), it seems very unlikely that Hall would have gone to such great lengths to accuse Bucharest had he not believed there was a real danger.
Professor Hall is a tenured professor who has been teaching at Portland State for almost 25 years. He has lectured in Zambia and eastern Germany, where he claims to have had similar experiences with government informants. It is unlikely that a man of Hall’s experience and standing at the university would have put on the display he did without good reason.
Hall’s good intentions were influenced not only by Bucharest’s bringing a rifle to class, but also by the concerns of a fair number of students. According to an Associated Press article, Bucharest, a former Israeli military sniper, talked openly about his exploits with guns and explosives, including an incident in which he destroyed a textbook with detonating cord and videotaped it after getting angry with a professor.
Even forgetting for a moment the question of whether or not Bucharest is involved in government affairs, a man who takes out his aggressions by destroying books with explosives is clearly unstable. Unstable people who allegedly carry firearms around campus are certainly cause for concern.
It is also difficult not to raise a suspicious eyebrow at the way the university is handling the incident. The university has placed Professor Hall on leave until the resolution of the matter, and for that I can’t blame them.
But what has the university done to the man who has brought rifles to campus, and has been accused by multiple students, not just Professor Hall, of trying to incite violence and sell guns to students? Nothing. This could be an unimportant detail or a bureaucratic matter, but it’s certainly worth consideration.
Adding up the facts, little there may be, and the concerns and testimony of a number of students close to the matter, leads to a reasonable cause for alarm. Could Professor Hall have dealt with the matter differently or privately? Absolutely. But the fact remains that he acted out of a real interest in protecting his students and campus safety and integrity.
Professor Hall may have acted wrongly in bringing such a matter into class time, but he had real and compelling reasons for doing so.