Homeowner Fights Nefarious Smart Meters – With a Gun

by Published on

If you tell people that their basic rights are under attack, that their home is a castle, that liberty means never being told what to do, and that the best way to defend your liberties is with a gun, eventually they will believe you.

Add in some government paranoia and fear of technology, and you’ve got a Thursday in Harris County.

In Houston yesterday, Thelma Taorima pulled a gun on an electric company worker trying to install a smart meter at her house. Smart meters, which count kilowatts digitally, transmit data wirelessly and are supposed to improve efficiency, saving homeowners money. Advocates say they also improve privacy, since no one has to go into your yard to collect data.

But Taormina sees Big Brother.

“Our constitution allows us not to have that kind of intrusion on our personal privacy,” Taormina told KHOU. “They’ll be able to tell if you are running your computer, air conditioner, whatever it is.”

Smart meter paranoia is now part of the tea party platform, mentioned along with health care as a dangerous “government mandate.” Forrest Wilder reported on a petition against them in March, and Railroad Commissioner candidate Greg Parker is now running largely on a promise to make smart meters optional.

But the Taormina story is different.

A few things are weird about it. One is that it happened at all, although with the popularity of vigilantism in Houston, I guess we should be grateful the story didn’t turn out worse. Two is that it’s being reported as a quirky, people-versus-The-Man story, rather than deeply disturbing proof that people have lost track of when it is and is not appropriate to pull a gun.

Third is that yesterday wasn’t the first time Taormina has done this.

In March, FuelFix.com reported on Nick and Thelma Taormina in a story about Houstonian smart meter resistance: “The Taorminas have thwarted the installation so far – once when Thelma Taormina pulled a pistol after she and a meter installer tussled in August over her refusal to let him switch out her old meter.”

“CenterPoint spokesman Floyd LeBlanc wouldn’t comment on the incident but said such resistance is rare and that employees and contractors are trained to disengage and call law enforcement if conversations about smart meters become heated.

The Taormina incident did not result in any legal action.”

But will it this time?

“We are deeply troubled by anyone who would pull a gun on another person performing their job,” a CenterPoint spokesperson said yesterday. “CenterPoint will be taking additional steps – including court actions – because what happened is dangerous, illegal and unwarranted.”

But Taormina isn’t worried. She sees herself as a patriot. The March story reported that she and her husband were collecting signatures to oppose the mandatory smart meters, and current reports say she’s starting a group for the cause called, with desperate originality, “We the People.”

But if the Internet is to be believed, the Taorminas already started “We the People” in February of 2010, full name “We the People Are The 9-12 Association Inc.” The 9-12 Project was an idea of Glenn Beck’s in 2009, which I won’t go into here, as it would require a chalkboard, but suffice it to say it’s all about the tea party and values and 9-11 and not smart meters.

The Taorminas have a photo of themselves with the Beckster on their Meetup page. He, and countless other voices over the last three years, have helped make people like the Taorminos afraid—of the government, of technology, of lots of things. But when the TV goes off and the guns come out, that fearful fantasy can become all too real.

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.