Hyperlinks: Tools of Terror!

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Fyodor passes along this story, commenting, "You don't have to be a bomb thrower to be arrested anymore, just a bomb linker!"

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  1. “The most disturbing thing about all of this is that no distinction is being made between domestic and international terrorism.”

    Eco-freaks blowing up a McDonalds is different than Muslim’s blowing up a bridge or building?

    The defense of civil disobedience by trying to validate this particular instance of one person facilitating the bomb making efforts of others is completely untenable.

    If he had set up his site differently with a few legal caveats, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. But the guy was overtly facilitating the manufacture of bombs for use in “civil disobedience.” This is hardly a case of heavy handedness on the govt’s part, it’s more like a case of low IQ and a blatant disregard for the potential loss of human life.

  2. My problem with the “terror” tag is that it seems like an arbitrary way to tag on extra long sentences. A crime is a crime is a crime, and the punishment should be based on the harm it does, not on “why” you did it. This is fairly analogous to the “hate crimes” issue….

  3. Terror Tag

    Well, shooting someone is illegal no matter how you cut it, but shooting someone while robbing them is defined differently than someone who climbs in a clock tower and starts popping people.

    Why you blow up your fellow citizens might make a difference in how you are tried in the same manner.

  4. I’d feel better if the terror enhancement wasn’t linked to what the State Department and Justice determine to be a terror organization – which is a loose and political process at times.

    The enhancement might be more useful if it was a finding of fact for the jury or judge; or a mixed finding of fact and law (state department listing + finding of the jury that the group was a terrorist group). State would probably complain about having to reveal classified info, but it wouldn’t really matter. Sentencing enhancements are just enhancements. They only apply after a finding of “guilty”, and that initial finding would justify some punishment at the outset – so seeking the enhanced penalty would be a choice for the prosecutor between a good (or at least passable) result and a better result…

  5. Ray-

    Yes, eco freaks blowing up McDonalds is different than a terrorist threat. Internal vs., external. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that blowing up McD’s is a good ,or legal activity. I am not defending civil disobedience here.

    It’s analogous to the second amendment. As a last resort guns are a means of defending against a tyrannical govt. Saying this does not mean I advocate murder, it simply says I get comfort knowing that in the end, if necessary the option exists.

    Using Patriot, TIA etc. against citizens is disturbing in the power to that it gives govt to control the population. round um up based on total awareness. Call em enemy combatants. lock em up. Don’t tell anyone.

    JDM
    “Supposedly our system is set up to enable change without violence.”

    “It is. People are still pretty much free to run for office if they choose, and they are free to vote for whoever they want”.

    And it will always be that way??????? If you haven’t noticed a drift in how “democratic” our system is wake up.

  6. “And it will always be that way?”

    Yes. I believe so.

  7. So Mudflap…

    You think it is better/more legal for the US to invade other countries and lock up their citizens that it is to lock up US citizens?

    I think most of the rest of the world would disagree.

  8. Ted-

    Don’t know how you reached that conclusion. please explain. Obvously I’m not very clear in what I’m saying here.

    But to try and be clear, No I don’t

    Patriot, TIA is domestic policy, is it not?

  9. Ray,

    You’ve made me curious to learn. Please tell me, which IS worse, killing someone while robbing them or climbing up in a tower and popping people?

  10. Ray,

    Dumping tea in Boston Harbor or occupying an auto plant in Flint, Michigan would be classed as terrorism (economic terrorism in the latter case) under existing “counter-terror” legislation. The issue is not whether these things should be illegal, but whether terrorism is being defined too broadly when it includes domestic civil disobedience.

  11. I’m missing something. How can this possibly
    be illegal? It is just speech.

    Maybe I better put my Anarchist Cookbook in
    the closet.

    Jeff

  12. Speech is only free if it is useless; speech that could conceivably be useful to someone (software source code, instructions of how to build things, incitements to coordinated mass action, descriptions of the rights of juries or tax filers, etc.) hasn’t been free since the courts invented “fire in a crowded theatre” to stop people from saying bad things about the draft.

    You can say whatever you like only as long as nobody cares or is better or worse off from your having said it.
    –G

  13. Heh, then you’d be a closet anarchist. Or would it be a closet cook? Wow, my wit does not function this early in the morning…

  14. It’s awfully early for a pun that bad.

    Groan.

    Jeff

  15. Is linking to someone else’s speech the same as actually speaking the information in question (I have such a problem with that, since it assumes that some speech is not free)? It’s kind of like you coming to me interested in how to make a bomb, and I say, “well, bubba down the road knows how to do it”. It would also be like having the anarchist’s cookbook in your house and letting a friend borrow it.

    Further, webmasters are responsible for the content they link to, what about automated systems. What if I find kiddy porn, bomb making sites, etc from a Google search? Is google liable for creating a technology that would give such results?

    Here comes the censor police.

  16. According to the linked article:

    Austin admitted posting links about bombs to enable people to build and use them during demonstrations against interstate and foreign trade.

    Hmmm… so he wanted to help people learn about how to build and use bombs, in order to hinder interstate and international free enterprise.

    Yeah, I’ll buy it. That’s speech. Just like speech between two guys planning out a bank robbery is just speech.

    Of course the conservatives among us will no doubt call it conspiracy, and cite to the doctrine of “speech acts” but what do they know…

  17. So, according to your argument, Stephen, we must take into account the webmaster’s intention of the content displayed on his site?

    Again, what if I find this information via google search? Is google liable? Or do we have to take into effect that google is a non-biased artificial entity, simply spewing out results? Seems fishy to me.

  18. further, what level of linkage would constitute distribution? If I link to a a site that has links to such a thing am I in violation?

  19. Sherman Austin got a year sentence as a plea bargain. He wasn’t taken in just for web-links, but because of disobedience at a protest. So it is debatable that he showed *intent* to follow his website’s instructions on using physical force to overthrow a government

    This is another insidious way the government is blurring activist and terrorist distinctions, but not as grave a free speech violation as it appears first blush

  20. Linking sites on a website is akin to a book store owner stocking his shelves with the inventory he chooses, it is purposeful.

    Finding “dangerous” information on google doesn’t fit that kind of purposeful definition.

  21. As a general rule, federal conspiracy charges consist of a plan (free speech…) plus one overt act. If two people meet to talk about robbing a bank, but take no steps in furtherance of it, it’s difficult to impossible to convict on conspiracy charges. If one of the two subsequently posts a detailed plan on his web site setting out the tasks that must be accomplished, arguably, it is conspiracy. The web site posting breaking down tasks is an overt act that nudges the free speech into a conspiracy.

    It would be clearer if the web site posting also said “I bought the gun yesterday.” That’s also free speech, BTW, and it makes it quite clearly a conspiracy to commit bank robbery.

    The statute under which Austin is charged does include an element of intent –

    (2) Prohibition. –

    It shall be unlawful for any person –

    (A) to teach or demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence;

    18 U.S.C. sec. 842(p)(2).

    It’s illegal to teach people how to build bombs, or distribute information on how to do it, if the information is intended for use in a “federal crime of violence.”

    Austin admitted he was hoping to help people build bombs to enhance their “protests” of global and interstate commerce (hindering interstate commerce… definitely a federal crime) and to teach the cops a lesson – in other words to kill cops.

    I’ll admit it’s a sort of borderline case – is linking “distributing”. But it’s pretty close to fighting words within the Brandenburg doctrine. The admission of intent is also pretty damning. Ought we have waited until a cop got killed, or the World Bank lobby blown up, and then taken him into custody as a conspirator in an already committed crime?

    Handing out the info with no caveats, or a caveat that it is provided for informational purposes is fine.

    This is a controversial area – do we have a Constitutional right to violently attack the government and/or to plot it’s overthrow? I don’t think so. I think we have a natural law right to do so. But anybody exercising that right had better beware – if you strike the king, you must kill the king. It isn’t the kind of thing that should be taken lightly, and as much as I love free speech, I think the line is crossed when the speech is a specific, targeted attempt to incite violence against the government.

  22. I’m planning to add a link to Loompanics on my website. Does that mean I’m a terrorist?

    What really bothers me about this is that under Clinton’s and Bush’s “counter-terror” legislation, the President can declare someone a terrorist by executive fiat, without judicial due process, on the basis of just such “evidence”–and then use RICO civil forfeiture against them. In the late fall of 2001 the Justice Department goons got IRARadio.com (a website that archived radio interviews with people like Bobby Sands and other IRA figures) shut down by threatening to forfeit the assets of their ISP.

    It also bothers me that “terrorism enhancement,” like the threat of removal to a tribunal, is being used to intimidate people into pleading guilty.

  23. But it appears that the web links was a seperate charge: “Austin was arrested…at the World Economic Forum in New York in February 2002 on charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly… federal charges were handed down in California.”

    “so he wanted to help people learn about how to build and use bombs…That’s speech. Just like speech between two guys planning out a bank robbery is just speech.”

    But thats different, those guys are conspiring to commit a crime. If the bomb making sites aren’t illegal, how can linking to them possibly be, without advocting a crime using them? Mr. Austin sounds like a real creep, but was this a crime? The threat: That this type of “broadened interpetation” will be used to supress legitimate dissent.

  24. How is this any different than the anti-abortion doctor websites that act as hit lists for assisination? In the case of the anti-abortion websites, you don’t see how to make a bomb but you do see who performs abortions, where they work, and their personal addresses.

    Is this a case of selective prosecuting by the DOJ?

  25. To me, the most disturbing aspect about this whole thing is this:

    “Austin said he took a plea bargain because he feared his case was eligible for a terrorism enhancement, which could have added 20 years to his sentence”

    Now that the government can use the mere threat of labling someone a terrorist to coerce people into plea bargains when they might otherwise have defended themselves, we can finally drop all remaining pretenses that our legal system is a system of “justice”. It is quite clearly a tool for government oppression of dissent.

  26. “Austin admitted posting links about bombs to enable people to build and use them during demonstrations against interstate and foreign trade.”

    Ok, I missed this part. It does sound like a crime but sans confession, would the government have been able to get a conviction against this creep?

  27. …and the government invoking “terrorism enhancement” to coerce plea bargins and the chilling effect that this “tool” might have on wide legitimate dissent is quite concerning.

  28. The most disturbing thing about all of this is that no distinction is being made between domestic and international terrorism. This severely limits the ability of the population to engage in any type of civil disobedience. Sure you can wave a sign if you stand in the predetermined protest area, anything else is forbidden. I can imagine a future where the patriot act is used to combat justifiable civil unrest. Supposedly our system is set up to enable change without violence, but I’m not sure that is actually the way it would work.

  29. “This severely limits the ability of the population to engage in any type of civil disobedience.”

    If there’s no law being disobeyed, it’s not exactly civil disobedience. The government’s entire purpose is to stop civil disobedience. The issue is what should or should not be disobeyed.

    “Supposedly our system is set up to enable change without violence.”

    It is. People are still pretty much free to run for office if they choose, and they are free to vote for whoever they want.

    This kid probably deserved to be charged, but isn’t it possible for him to appeal to the justice system on the grounds that extra-judicial means was used to coerce his plea? There must be some lawyer out there willing to risk almost certain celebrity…

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