By: Matt C
Ever since the attacks of September 11th, our nation has witnessed a dramatic shift in the way it protects itself. From conducting campaigns in foreign countries without prior approval to the passage of The Patriot Act, the federal government has sought to use aggressive tools to protect us from what a world that's become increasingly dangerous. But what happens when those tools are used to intimate and prosecute its own citizens for crimes they seemingly failed to commit? That's the story behind the documentary Top Priority: The Terror Within, which seeks to uncover the government's actions against former Department of Homeland Security officer Julia Davis. It's her story which stands front and center, but it also takes a look at how such immense government power can be corrupted to destroy the lives of innocent people. In this way, Terror tells a fascinating tale about how, beginning in 2004, Davis was subjected to scrutiny by her bosses for informing the FBI of a mass migration of 23 illegal aliens across the Mexico/US border, and later how government resources were utilized to brand her and husband BJ Davis as domestic terrorists. From the opening scene, it's clear that director Asif Akbar is trying to align the events in Terror to similar supposed government cover-ups such as the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. And while some of the effect is lost to unnecessary dramatic edits of material and emotionally-charged voiceovers, it's the substance of the material presented by Davis, her attorney, and other witnesses which are worth mentioning. After being harassed by Homeland Security and deemed a whistle-blower, Davis fell under intense scrutiny by the government, who tried to discredit her in every way possible, including investigation into her overseas marriage license, wiretaps on her phone, and even colluding with local police to pull Davis over at key times while traveling to deposition hearings. It sounds like something out of a Hollywood spy thriller, but the black and white court documents and depositions by key players are real and tell a disturbing tale of the government's attempts to discredit Davis.
The most stunning scenes in this 95-minute film come from the illegal search on Davis' home in Yucca California, which show a Black Hawk helicopter landing in her front yard as part of the raid. Again, Davis and her family have committed no wrongs to this point, with all of this stemming from the initial report to the FBI. As a result, Davis' elderly father suffers a heart attack, and he and the family cat later die from injuries suffered in the 114-degree heat. But the weirdness doesn't end there: the helicopter footage was shot by a 25-year-old neighbor who himself died just a few weeks after releasing the video to Davis. If this all sounds like bizarre government conspiracy, you're not alone. Director Akbar makes connections to these events and the deaths of Hollywood actress Britney Murphy and her husband, who swore depositions for Davis in her case against Homeland Security. In addition, Akbar suggests that the mafia might have been somehow involved when they stole millions of dollars from BJ Davis' film studio. The suggestion that Murphy and husband Simon Monjack were murdered to cover up their involvement are thinly veiled here, along with the role of the Mafia, leaving the audience with little real evidence of any connection.
While Davis' case was recently settled out of court, the events surrounding Terror provide interesting opportunities for discussion about how government power can corrupt their own efforts to protect American citizens. In this way, the film succeeds in uncovering a series of events which should never have been allowed to occur, and all based on the actions of one loyal government officer reporting what she saw. It's Davis' story which is the most compelling part of Top Priority: The Terror Within, not the dramatic music or quick studio edits. Filter those out along with Murphy and the Mafia, and you have an effective story which requires further investigation to ensure such misuse is never repeated.
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