October 12, 2015
On Saturday, a capacity crowd at the Los Angeles Convention Center saw Edward Snowden make a surprise in-person public appearance, his first on U.S. soil since receiving a pardon from President Obama last week. The crowd at the bi-partisan event immediately burst into cheers, jumped to their feet, and rushed in to take Snowden’s photo.
Sadly for everyone, “Snowden” was in fact a lookalike actor named David Neale, and the real Snowden—who appeared shortly after on a live video link and spoke for 45 minutes—was still in Russia, and hadn’t been pardoned at all.
“The crowd’s reaction demonstrates what would happen if Snowden were honored instead of punished for what he did,” said Chris Paine, an L.A. filmmaker who was in attendance.
US presidents have pardoned thousands of people accused of or convicted of crimes, often because their actions were deemed to be in the public interest. “Edward Snowden’s actions launched an extraordinary global debate and led to the most significant reforms in intelligence oversight in a generation,” said Ben Wizner of the ACLU. “He should be thanked, not charged with espionage and locked in a cage.”
During his talk, the real Snowden addressed a wide range of issues, including the surveillance state’s influence on free speech, how to stand up against eroding civil liberties, and the wide (and wild) variety of NSA programs built for warfare but now used to spy on U.S. citizens.