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Grisly hanging of Census worker: an antigovernment act?

FBI is investigating worker's death in Kentucky. Is crime-scene reference to 'fed' a clue or a feint?

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In this undated 2008 photo, Bill Sparkman speaks to a 7th grade class during a lesson about sound waves. A law enforcement official says Sparkman, a US Census worker found hanged from a tree near a Kentucky cemetery, had the word "fed" scrawled on his chest, and the FBI is investigating whether he was a victim of antigovernment sentiment.

The Times-Tribune/AP

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Bill Sparkman knew his seemingly innocuous job – Census Bureau worker – had its risks.

In fact, a retired state trooper had warned Mr. Sparkman that not everybody may look kindly upon a government proxy walking the rural routes near Manchester, Ky.

The discovery of Sparkman's body Sept. 12 in the deep woods of eastern Kentucky – hanging from a tree with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest – not only is a grim reminder of the everyday risks that door-to-door workers face on the job. It also has the government again worried that disaffection and anger with Washington may be morphing into extremism, even domestic terrorism, and may be directed at government representatives. Sparkman's death has been called "an apparent homicide."

Judging from reports so far, the apparent murder "may [have] political motivation," says James Alan Fox, a veteran criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. "But although a lot of Americans are disenchanted with the economy the way it is, and there's lots of anger, we shouldn't be quick to jump to conclusions to somehow say that this is now open season on government workers. It absolutely isn't."

The FBI and Washington promise to investigate aggressively. Sparkman, a middle-age Scout leader, was found near a cemetery in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

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