Today a Virginia judge ordered the release of Brandon J. Raub, the 26-year-old former Marine who was detained for psychiatric evaluation last week based on his conspiracy-minded, anti-government Facebook posts. Following a one-hour hearing, Prince George County Circuit Judge W. Allan Sharrett declared that the petition seeking to commit Raub for a month "is so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy." As Nick Gillespie noted yesterday, local police and federal agents came and took Raub away last Thursday in response to complaints about his Facebook posts, which mix laments about lost liberty and condemnations of tyranny with dark music lyrics, quotations from famous people (e.g., Napoleon: "Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily"), predictions of impending revolution (e.g., "the revolution is upon us," "a new beginning is coming"), and loony but sadly familiar allegations about the government's involvement in 9/11, along with less familiar (to me, anyway) claims about clandestine chemical drops and "a secret Castle in Colorado where they have been raping and sacrificing children for many years." The scariest statement cited so far: "Sharpen up my axe; I'm here to sever heads." Not rainbows and unicorns by any means, but not exactly a true threat either.
The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group based in Charlottesville, Virginia, helped Raub win his freedom. Its executive director, John Whitehead, comments:
This is a great victory for the First Amendment and the rule of law. Brandon Raub was arrested with no warning, targeted for doing nothing more than speaking out against the government, detained against his will, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys. These are the kinds of things that take place in totalitarian societies. Today, at least, Judge Allan Sharrett proved that justice can still prevail in America.
In the April 2011 issue of Reason, I warned that loosening the rules for civil commitment, as various pundits urged in the wake of Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage in Tucson, would sweep up many nonviolent cranks who pose no threat to public safety. The Raub case gives you a sense of how that might happen, except that he might still be imprisoned for his disturbing opinions if the reforms recommended by the stop-them-before-they-kill crowd had been implemented. I suspect the guy who came to fix my sprinkler system yesterday, who after I paid the bill shared some startling information about extraterrestrials, ancient civilizations, and Nazi weapons, would be a target as well.
Now may be an appropriate time to revisit the ongoing Cato Unbound debate about coercive psychiatry, which I mentioned two weeks ago. Since then a bunch of new posts have been added, including comments by Amanda Pustilnik, Allen Frances, Jeffrey Schaler, D.J. Jaffe, Ronald Pies, and yours truly. Jaffe's contribution may be of particular interest, since he argues that making commitment easier is a libertarian reform.