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Stejskal: A Michigan Case Tested Free Speech When the Web Was In Its Infancy

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.

By Greg Stejskal

Free speech has limits, as a famous Supreme Court example illustrates. “Falsely shouting fire in a theater” is not constitutionally protected speech, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1919.

Featured_baker_37520
(Photo: Michigan Technology Law Review)

Nearly eight decades later, the first criminal prosecution of threats on the Internet again tested the boundary of free speech. I was a player in that 1995 landmark case.

The defendant was a 20-year-old University of Michigan student who shortened his name to Jake Baker, rather than using Abraham Jacob Alkhabaz. He was described as quiet and nice, and wrote stories with innocent titles like “Going for a Walk.”

But he harbored demons. The stories were lurid, graphic tales of kidnappng, raping, torturing and killing young women – so called snuff stories. Jake posted these at alt.sex.stories, a Usenet chat group, when the Internet was in its infancy. His case raised issues we had not faced.

Urgent questions, still

Almost 25 years later, we still face the tricky, high-stakes questions: Where does freedom of speech end and when does it become a crime? How do you predict when hateful or misogynistic speech will morph into violence? Is it a crime to threaten violence?


Greg Stejskal: Judge Avern Cohn “criticized the government and its ‘overzealous agent,’ referring to me.”

To examine the issue, it’s worth looking back at the federal case of United States v. Alkhabaz, a touchstone in the history of cyber law.

Back then, few people knew of the Internet. Baker’s writings were discovered thanks to a Michigan alumnus, who happened to be in Russia. He stumbled across one of Jake’s stories and knew from the IP address that Jake had some UM affiliation.

The story used the name of a real Michigan coed as a victim. (In court papers and media accounts, she was referred to as Jane Doe.) The real Jane was not aware of her characterization in the story or that she was about to be a player in a First Amendment controversy.

Read more »

GOP Senator Drafts Bill to Make Domestic Terrorism a Federal Crime

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., has drafted a bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime as experts continue to warn about a rise in white supremacy-fueled violence.

The Air Force veteran said her legislation would close a loophole that bars federal authorities from charging suspects with domestic terrorism.

“For too long we have allowed those who commit heinous acts of domestic terrorism to be charged with related crimes that don’t portray the full scope of their hateful actions,” McSally told Politico.

“That stops with my bill,” she added. “The bill I am introducing will give federal law enforcement the tools they have asked for so that they can punish criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”

McSally’s actions follow the FBI’s new warning about domestic terrorism threats after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

According to the bill, “violent extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.”

The FBI defines domestic terror as acts of violence “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Contradicts Tucker Carlson about White Supremacy ‘Hoax’

Kevin McAleenan on Fox and Friends.

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan contradicted Fox News’ Tucker Carlson by saying “there is a rise” in white supremacy-fueled domestic terrorism.

Carlson, a conservative provocateur who often defends President Trump on controversial issues, has been pushing the narrative that an increase in white supremacy is a “hoax.”

When asked on Fox and Friends if domestic terrorism was really on the rise or if “it’s just being reported differently,” McAleenan responded, “I think there is a rise in the number of incidents.”

“The FBI director testified last month, about 850 domestic terrorism investigations ongoing, a number of those with racially motivated, violent extremest ideologies behind them,” McAleenan, a Trump appointee, said Wednesday.

McAleenan added that “we’ve got to get out in front of that, both on the prevention side and identifying individuals that are on a pathway to violence.” He said Homeland Security has been notifying schools and state and local officials about ways to identify potentially violent people before they act out.

“That’s what we have to do,” McAleenen said. “So there is a concern there is an increasing amount of violence in the targeted sense.”

Just three days after the mass shooting in El Paso, where the gunman wrote a manifesto about the “invasion of Hispanics” before killing 22 people, Carlson said white supremacy is “actually not a real problem in America.”

“It’s a hoax, just like the Russia hoax,” Carlson insisted. “It’s a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power.”

FBI: Ohio Teen Who Threatened Federal Agents Had 10,000 Rounds of Ammo in His House

Justin Olsen

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An 18-year-old Ohio man who went by the name “ArmyOfChrist” was arrested by the FBI for allegedly making online threats against federal law enforcement and Planned Parenthood.

Agents found about 10,000 rounds of ammunition, assault-style weapons and shotguns, according to an FBI affidavit.

The FBI began investigating Justin Olsen after discovering his iFunny account. In June, “ArmyOfChrist” posted, “shoot every federal agent on sight.”

The investigation was “based upon the observation by FBI Anchorage into multiple Internet postings in which ArmyOfChrist discussed supporting mass shootings, and assault and/or targeting of Planned Parenthood,” according to the affidavit.

In another post, he allegedly wrote, “Don’t comply with gun laws, stock up on stuff they could ban. In fact, go out of your way to break these laws.”

Olson was charged Monday with one count of threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer.

Olson insisted during interviews with federal authorities that he had no violent intentions and was being “hyperbolic.”

FBI Investigates Shots Fired at 2 ICE Offices in San Antonio

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI and Homeland Security are investigating after shots were fired at two ICE offices housed at a building in San Antonio early Tuesday morning.

Bullets pierced a window of an ICE office and Removal Operations Field Office inside the Jefferson Bank building about 3 a.m., KENS-5, a CBS affiliate, reports.

No injuries were reported.

The FBI was at the building Tuesday morning to process the scene and review surveillance footage.

“These shootings were cowardly, brazen, violent acts, absolutely without justification and a threat to our entire community,” said Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio Division.

FBI officials said at a press conference they were “concerned there could be additional attacks” on federal offices in San Antonio.

Border Patrol Agent Admits He ‘Intentionally Struck’ Migrant with Truck

Stock photo of a Border Patrol truck, via CBP.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Border Patrol agent who intentionally struck a Guatemalan migrant with his truck in 2017 – and called immigrants “subhuman” – has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor civil rights charge.

Matthew Bowen, a 39-year-old agent stationed in Nogales, faces up to one year in prison after admitting he intentionally struck the 23-year-old migrant while arresting him for illegally crossing the border.

Bowen also has come under fire after text messages surfaced showing he called immigrants “subhuman” and “mindless murdering savages.”

Bowen, a 10-year veteran of the Border Patrol, was placed on unpaid suspension in June 2018, shortly after he was indicted on assault charges. As part of a plea agree, Bowen will resign.

A video of the incident showed Bowen “accelerating aggressively” and striking Antolin Lopez Aguilar twice with the front of his truck. Bowen then arrested Lopez.

“During my apprehension of (Antonin Lopez Aguilar), I intentionally struck him with an unreasonable amount of force,” Bowen said, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic. “My actions when I struck A.L.-A. were not justified and violated his rights protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

FBI Agents Slam Trump for Peddling Conspiracy Theory about Epstein’s Death

President Trump, via White House

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Trump drew criticism and repulsion from current and retired FBI agents after he retweeted an unfounded conspiracy theory suggesting former President Bill Clinton was linked to the death of Jeffrey Epstein.

Despite mounting questions about how Epstein managed to kill himself so soon after being on suicide watch, no evidence has surfaced to give any conspiracy theory merit.

FBI agents told Business Insider that Trump’s decision to retweet the conspiracy theory to his 63 million followers was irresponsible and dangerous.

“The Epstein case was hypercharged from the get-go,” one current FBI agent, who requested anonymity, said. “The last thing investigators need is the president of the United States fanning the flames with these bullshit theories that have no basis in reality.”

Frank Montoya Jr., a recently retired FBI agent, called Trump’s actions “crazy talk.”

“This would be a bad TV melodrama if it weren’t real,” he added. “The world is watching. Trump may be successfully fooling a third of America with his sociopathic antics, but everyone else … sees how naked the Emperor is, and they are exploiting the advantage.”

Trump has a history of peddling baseless conspiracy theories, from suggesting President Obama was not born in the U.S. to feeding into the idea that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in his bed. Since becoming president, he’s suggested elections were rigged and that there’s “a deep state” conspiracy to drive him from office.

Those conspiracy theories make it more difficult for the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to do their jobs and undermines confidence in investigations, the agents said.

Acting CBP Commissioner Says ICE Raids in Mississippi Weren’t ‘Raids’

Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan insisted Sunday that the arrests of about 680 people during raids at Mississippi workplaces last week were not “raids.”

“I think words matter. These aren’t raids. These are targeted law enforcement operations,” Morgan said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” disputing the definition of a raid.

“In this case, this was a joint criminal investigation with ICE and the Department of Justice targeting work site enforcement, meaning companies that knowingly and willfully hire illegal aliens so that, in most cases, they can pay them reduced wages, exploit them further for their bottom line,” Morgan said Sunday. “That’s what this investigation was about — a criminal investigation.”