How Glenn Greenwald Went from the Cathode Ray to Center Stage

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When he came out of the closet at the age of 21 in 1988, Glenn Greenwald was living in Lauderdale Lakes and working at a summer day care center with a lesbian couple.

But that was a lifetime ago. Today, Greenwald is 46, a national figure, and an investigative reporter who is at the epicenter of a nationwide debate on the reaches and breadth of the National Security Agency. As a journalist Greenwald normally writes about the news, but recently, he’s become the news after being contacted by Edward Snowden, the National Security analyst who was looking for a credible journalist to release revelations of secret spying by the American government. Since breaking the story, Greenwald has been accused of “aiding and abetting the enemy” and has become a part of the story.

Before Greenwald was an internationally known journalist he was a just a humble kid living in South Florida.

It was the couple mentioned above who introduced Greenwald to the gay nightlife of South Florida. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” Greenwald says, reminiscing of nights spent at Backstreet, the Copa and the Cathode Ray on East Las Olas.

“There were very few gay role models back then,” he continued. “And like many other young men, I felt the stigma and alienation of being gay. But I turned it around. I recognized I had to forge my own path. ” He certainly has.

Greenwald is today recognized as one of the most prominent and prolific political pundits and commentators in the country he no longer lives in. A lawyer by trade, a journalist by choice, Greenwald resides in Rio De Janeiro, with his with his partner David Michael Miranda, a bi-national same-sex couple residing outside American borders because of laws just altered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly 'free' liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition," Greenwald told Fred Bernstein in an OUT Magazine 2011 interview. He was of course referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, just one of many examples Greenwald cites as stripping away the rights of Americans.

Greenwald has always been willing to stand naked against the cannon. He takes pride that his first race for public office was as a 17-year-old teenager. Encouraged by a mentorial grandfather who had previously served on the Lauderdale Lakes city commission, Greenwald launched a campaign against “corruption” and “negligence” in city government.

Greenwald would go on to lose a city commission race, not once, but twice, each time against Josephus Eggelletion. Twenty years later, Greenwald would author his first book on the frailties of the Patriot Act. Eggelletion would go on to serve on the Broward County Commission and end his term disgraced, a convicted felon doing a stint in state prison for embezzlement.

Decades later, Greenwald is still standing alone, challenging the governmental apparatus that he asserts has “illegally invaded the privacy rights of American citizens.”

Greenwald left Florida to get his undergraduate degree from George Washington University. He would then move to Manhattan and attend New York University Law School. “By that time, I was living in a city where you were accepted for who you were, but you still faced structural injustices that needed to be challenged.”

His early legal experience was with a white-collar firm, an experience that left him frustrated and unfulfilled. He became an advocate for the powerful instead of the powerless. There was no comfort zone.

One such moment confronted the young lawyer when he and his then domestic partner sought out a nice apartment in Manhattan. The landlord refused to treat the pair as a couple, and would not combine their income to meet rental guidelines.

“I actually had to have my father co-sign for me,” he recalls. “It was a denigrating experience.”

In another instance, a civil lawsuit required he reveal intimate personal communications between he and his partner. “Because we are gay, and were not legally married, the spousal communication privilege did not apply. Consequently, I was forced to divulge behavior and incidents that a straight couple never would have faced.”

Greenwald continued, “As an openly gay man, these incidents were eye opening and they emboldened me. It led to anger, but determination as well.”

At the time, Greenwald speculated he might have a political future. But today, like lawyering, he rules it out summarily, with passion.

“The practice of law was constraining. You constantly have to placate the stupidity of judges who dictate imperial powers, determining your fate. Your impact is marginal, limited to the boundaries of a particular case or claim.”

On the other hand, Greenwald, who has written four books, finds his career as an author and investigative journalist empowering. “I not only feel freer, but I think I am working on things more significant, more liberating and consequential.”

Indeed, Greenwald is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Congress by Skype from Rio about the abuses of the National Security Agency (NSA). He also recently did a segment on CNN’s Piers Morgan Show, guest hosted by Morgan Spurlock.

Sunday morning he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC, “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years.” Greenwald noted these calls were easily accessible to even low level NSA analysts, “able to be used as simply as a computer screen in front of a supermarket clerk.”

Greenwald’s congressional testimony this week is part of a larger career that has made him a fiery guest on national television news shows and a compelling lecturer in American universities.

This week, he told SFGN that he relishes the challenge he faces today.

“I want to use this information I have received to make Americans more aware of their civil rights and how their democracy is being compromised,” he said. “I have a platform and I want to use it effectively.”

Armed with a quick wit and an armada of facts that he presents with rapid-fire speed, Greenwald generates a commanding and compelling presence on the air. It is a skill he has honed writing the past few years as a columnist for Salon.com and now for The Guardian.

Greenwald’s political passions are transparently left of center, but they are presented with the cogent background of a constitutional rights lawyer making his case. He is serious, no-nonsense, and strident with his arguments.

Referring to the Foreign Intelligence Service Act or the National Security Agency, Greenwald’s words are defining: “Secret courts and invasive spying are an anathema to what our country is supposed to be about. Completely opaque proceedings are contrary to our democracy.”

Various challenges have forged Greenwald’s iron will, but few will probably be more demanding than the stories that have come his way this past month. Contacted by Edward Snowden, the National Security analyst who was looking for a credible journalist to release revelations of secret spying by the American government, Greenwald flew to Hong Kong to meet him.

After numerous meetings, Greenwald recognized what he was getting himself into, and it was a lot bigger than a seat on the Lauderdale Lakes city commission. “I knew the government might come after me, but I knew I was going to report the story aggressively. I knew it was going to be tumultuous.” It has been so.

Greenwald acknowledges these past few weeks have taxed his relationship with his partner, David Miranda, who is finishing school for a business and marketing degree.

“I knew this story would change our lives, but David and I talked frequently even when I was in Hong Kong, and he has been extremely supportive, played a significant role in our discussions, and while we have dealt with anxiety, because all this has been stressful, we will emerge stronger. These kind of challenges foster growth and solidarity in relationships.” The two have been together since they met on a beach in Brazil over a decade ago.

Greenwald is confident in the eventual outcome. He believes that once fully exposed, the government’s secret spying programs, started by George Bush and carried on by President Obama, are going to outrage Americans. “

“I think public policy is already beginning to shift,” citing an amendment just last week sponsored by a Republican congressman, which would have limited NSA spying powers. It failed by only a dozen votes. Greenwald immediately authored a column showing how many liberal Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed continued secrecy. In South Florida, Congressman Alcee Hastings and Richard Grayson voted to limit the powers of the NSA. But other liberals like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Patrick Murphy did not.

Greenwald admires the courage of Edward Snowden, and acknowledges that his decision was courageous, fraught with legal perils. He even recognizes a retributive government; angry at exposes he has written may eventually turn its sights on him.

Indeed, on MSNBC, commentator David Gregory confronted Greenwald, asking why he should not be charged with “aiding and abetting the enemy.” Lawmaker Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) originally put the idea that Greenwald should be prosecuted forward. The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, he falsely told Fox News that Greenwald was threatening to disclose the identities of CIA officers.

Ironically, the U.S. Supreme Court decision providing for same sex marriages will also allow Greenwald and his partner to eventually move back to the United States. But it is not so easy.

“First, David is from Brazil, and has never lived in the states,” Greenwald said. “And frankly, with the story on Snowden breaking at the same time of the Supreme Court decision, we really have not had time to even process a move. But it is something we think about.”

Even though he still has mother and father residing in South Florida, it’s a pretty safe bet that if Greenwald comes back to the states, it will be on a more center stage than Lauderdale Lakes. But it may not be the borough of Queens in New York City either, where he was born.

Greenwald and his partner have 12 rescued dogs in their house in Rio, and there are few apartments in New York City that can house that big of a kennel. Norm Kent


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Greg Kabel
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