I debated whether to link to this story -- it's based on very preliminary information, the kind of information that can often be later found incomplete or flat-out wrong. That said, the details are potentially so alarming that it bears close watching for now:
The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a US census worker near a Kentucky cemetery, and a law enforcement official said the word "fed" was scrawled on the dead man's chest.
The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time census field worker and occasional teacher, was found on 12 September in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural south-east Kentucky. The census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay county, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment.
My condolences to the family and friends of Bill Sparkman -- from what I know about this type of Census work, it's a difficult job under the best of circumstances, a lot of shoe leather for not a ton of money. And the task is probably more difficult in a locale as poor and as isolated as Clay County, the poorest county in all of Kentucky, with a mean family income of $9,700 (info we learn from the Census Bureau, by the way) and one of the poorest in the entire United States. The video from CNN, at the bottom of this post, from the 2008 election gives you a sense of life in this rural southeastern Kentucky outpost.
Even if Sparkman's death proves to be not related to his federal work or even a bizarrely staged suicide, the fact that the FBI was called into the case should be a reminder to any politician whose inflammatory talk even poses the risk of inciting anger and violence against federal workers. This investigation certainly calls to mind outspoken (and often unhinged) Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was even criticized by fellow Republicans when she said she wouldn't fill out her 2010 Census form because the Constitution doesn't require such information and she voiced fears about a possible tie between the Census Bureau and the anti-poverty group ACORN.
To be followed closely...
UPDATE: As promised, more info. The Huffington Post compiles more information on the tragic loss of Sparkman, a popular substitute teacher. As for Clay County, Whet Moser of the Chicago Reader points out that it may be a dangerous place for federal workers not so much because of politics but because of an alarming level of illegal drug activity.