A citizen’s guide to FBI ‘knock and talks’

News & Politics

Local law enforcement and the FBI are using a new tactic: the “knock and talk.” Pairs of agents are appearing on Americans’ doorsteps unannounced, uninvited, and invariably without a warrant, with the aim of gaining access. For what exactly? Information. Visual surveillance. Property searches. And the Fourth Amendment’s protections against warrantless searches? Authorities don’t seem terribly concerned.

According to the Rutherford Institute, “knock and talk” actions are initiated at private citizens’ homes without warning, often in the early morning or late evening. “A ‘knock and talk’ most often arises from anonymous, unsubstantiated, or hearsay information police possess that alleges illegal activity may be occurring at a particular home.”

These surprise visits are now frequently being executed based upon nothing more than anonymous “tips” received by the FBI and other agencies, often because of social media posts.

Zack Bonfilio of San Antonio, Texas, was on the receiving end of such a visit around 10:30 on the morning of February 29. Two FBI agents wanted to ask him questions about his social media activity.

Bonfilio, known online as “The Misfit Patriot,” wasn’t home when the special agents rang his doorbell, but he was able to respond to them remotely from his workplace. Once the agents identified themselves and showed their badges, Bonfilio gave Special Agent Tristan Hyland his phone number.

Immediately after taking Agent Hyland’s call, Bonfilio was told by the FBI agent that the visit concerned his social media activity. Bonfilio asked if this was about any specific social media post. “No,” Hyland replied. “We looked at your social media and found nothing illegal. We are just here to just check off a box. It’s procedure.”

Bonfilio instructed the agents to speak with his attorney. He then explained that his attorney contacted the FBI “five seconds after I got off the phone with them.” Bonfilio told Blaze Media his attorney has attempted to reach Hyland for six weeks, without success.

Yet on April 2 at 11:45 a.m., Hyland left a voice message on Bonfilio’s phone, which he provided to Blaze Media. “I was calling just to follow up on our conversation we had a few weeks ago,” the agent said. “Just wondering if you were able to reach out to your attorney yet? I haven’t heard anything from you or them, so I would like to get something on the books.”

Bonfilio confirmed that his attorney has made additional attempts to reach Hyland but that she had yet to hear back from Hyland as of publication.

Bonfilio says he doesn’t know what the FBI wants with him. He denies ever posting any threatening or inflammatory language. He conjectures the only post that might have elicited a “tip” to the FBI was a series of comments on X (formerly Twitter) he made in response to the self-immolation of pro-Palestinian protester Aaron Bushnell.

Bushnell, who on February 25 set himself on fire outside the gate of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., set off a viral online reaction. Bonfilio shared screenshots of a few of his responses, which have since been removed. Those include statements and replies made by Bonfilio, including:

This man is a murderer. He didn’t “give” his life for anything. He took his own life, he killed himself. He murdered the man he was to push a political agenda in support of people who chant “death to America.” He was quite literally a domestic terrorist.

Do not even think of feeling bad for him. He got what he wanted, he’s a martyr for a mob of terrorist sympathizers and a hero to Hamas. He’s no different than a suicide bomber.

I stand by what I said earlier and have no more sympathy or excuses for crazy when it comes to supporting terrorism. If you’ve had 100 concussions and start chanting from the river to the sea, you can set yourself on fire too for all I care.

In reply to another X user who’d characterized Bushnell as a “hero” to the Palestinian cause, Bonfilio wrote: “I nominate you to light yourself on fire to show you are as brave as Aaron, since you think he’s such a hero. You people are f***in retarded.”

Bonfilio said that while those statements contained no threats of violence, they were as “aggressive” as anything he’s ever posted on social media. He noted that the FBI’s visit came only a couple of days after he posted his comments about Bushnell.

Humorously, while awaiting a response to the doorbell ring, the two FBI agents can be seen looking down at Bonfilio’s doormat, which reads, “COME BACK WITH A WARRANT.” One of the agents remarked, “That’s pretty funny.”

Former FBI special agent turned whistleblower Kyle Seraphin said “knock and talk” visits are typically generated from tips received through the agency’s “e-Guardian system,” and the visits are usually performed by low-level, young, or more inexperienced agents.

“Unfortunately, FBI agents are not allowed to engage in critical thinking and determine, based on the nature of the threat, whether or not it’s a First Amendment-protected activity or whether that person needs to be interviewed,” Seraphin said.

The trouble with “box-checking” visits, Seraphin explained, is that the agents are “not empowered to … close the lead out.” There are no logical investigative steps for agents to follow because they’re investigating constitutionally protected activity.

“And that’s the real problem with having a non-thinking FBI,” he said.

Seraphin said Bonfilio responded to the FBI’s queries properly. “The right answer is always to not answer any questions” he said. The only prudent response of any private citizen to an attempted “knock and talk” visit should be to direct the questions to an attorney.

Blaze Media contacted FBI Special Agent Hyland directly for a comment. A spokesman for the FBI’s San Antonio field office declined to comment on Bonfilio’s case.

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