Robert Walters took a part-time job at a mall information desk after debilitating strokes he suffered made finding a job elsewhere difficult.
The registered Democrat, who is now 54, occasionally argued with a young Republican co-worker and at one time mentioned that he might stop by protests planned for the 2008 Republican National Convention.
That, combined with two other seemingly innocent episodes, led to a suspicious activity report on July 30, 2008. The report describes how Walters left a note at his workstation stating that a particularly pungent trash can at the mall should be “incinerated” and “obliterated.”
A manager took it seriously, calling Walters into an office and asking if he wrote it.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I wrote it.’ But are you serious? This is ridiculous,” Walters said during an interview at his home in Minnetonka, Minn. “Who in their right minds could take this seriously? I mean, come on.”
In another incident, out of curiosity, he poked around an isolated fourth-floor area during his lunch break. That prompted questions by mall guards, who had surveillance footage of his wandering. They asked what he had been doing that day and then began to ask about his interest in the Republican National Convention.
Walters said he had read online forums discussing protests around the convention but never took part. He did attend one political meeting months prior at the University of Minnesota, but “they seemed a little on the radical side to me, and I didn’t want to get involved with that.” His political activism mostly has been limited to volunteering for candidates like U.S. Sens. Paul Wellstone and Al Franken.
But the suspicious activity report filed by security, which made its way to the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center on Aug. 1, 2008, claims Walters “admitted to belonging to a local domestic extremist group that is advocating disrupting the RNC by criminal means.”
Documents show his report was sent to the FBI and St. Paul Police Department.
The report also says Walters was warned about being late and absent from work and adds that in response, Walters blamed involvement “with his political party.”
Mall officials said they would not comment on specific individuals, but they did note in a statement about Walters that no mall employee has been fired as a result of his or her political activities.
“Mall of America is an organization that takes our policies seriously – including an attendance policy. When an employee has issues with attendance they will go through the normal disciplinary process as all (sic) other team members.”