Web page, questioning put teen in the spotlight
Public opinion has not favored the girl and her family.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Once upon a time Julia Wilson dreamed of becoming the next Christina Aguilera, a pop star famous for glamour but not politics. Instead, she's become the next Cindy Sheehan, receiving global attention for displaying her anger at President Bush.
The story of the Sacramento teenager questioned last week by federal agents about her anti-Bush Web page has spread around the world, with newspapers in Egypt, China, Australia and Europe publishing articles about her and national television stations clamoring for interviews.
The 14-year-old McClatchy High School student who posted the words "Kill Bush" -- along with a photo collage showing a cartoon dagger stabbing the president's hand -- on her MySpace page last year was scheduled to be interviewed by CNN. She and her father appeared on MSNBC over the weekend and turned down interview requests from Fox News.
Along with the excitement of so much attention, the family has felt the sting of public opinion. The Sacramento Bee story about Julia's experience has generated more than 120,000 online page views and 272 comments from readers. Most of the comments were critical: of the girl for threatening the president, of her parents for not keeping track of their daughter's online activity, of First Amendment watchdogs for questioning whether the agents' investigation was appropriate.
"The negativity has been a bit tough," said Julia's mother, Kirstie Wilson.
Her husband said the public reaction reflects the country's "venomous" political climate.
"It's very disappointing and it's a sign of the times," Jim Moose said. "The political discourse in the country is so vicious. There's no serious debate."
Over the weekend, the America Online Web site posted an Associated Press story about Julia along with a poll asking two questions: Whether the Secret Service was right to question the girl (71 percent said yes) and whether her parents should have been included in the questioning (78 percent said yes). More than 560,000 people responded to the poll.
"This is one of our largest polls since the 2004 election," said AOL spokeswoman Dori Salcido.
The story started Wednesday, when two Secret Service agents showed up at the family's house to question Julia about the anti-Bush page she had moderated on MySpace, the enormously popular social networking site. Kirstie Wilson asked the agents to come back an hour later, when Julia would be home from school.
The agents went to McClatchy High School, pulled Julia out of class and questioned her in the assistant principal's office without her parents present. Julia had already deleted the Web page over the summer. Still, she said, the agents' tough questioning made her cry.
"People have been asking me [if] I think my First Amendment rights are infringed upon. I don't think they are," she said Monday. "I think you can say what you want about people, but when it gets to the point of death threats, that's when it's serious. So yes, I made a mistake."
The spotlight she's been in the last few days is not the kind she'd ever hoped for.
"I kinda had a dream of being famous for being an actress or a singer," Julia said.
"I'm not saying I don't want to be well-known for being involved in politics. I just don't want to be well-known for being the girl who said she wants to assassinate the president."
Upon the advice of a teacher, Julia is using the moment of fame to change her public message. She's moderating a new group on MySpace -- one that promotes world peace.