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Using Big Laws to Catch Little Terrorists
April 7, 2006 2:44 PM   Subscribe

The terrorists in New Jersey have been captured. They're, uhm, like 15 years old. A fine example of how anti-terror laws like the Patriot Act can be subject to mission creep. (The "terrorists" at the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice in Pittsburgh seem to be still at large.)
posted by digaman (59 comments total)

 
"A fine example of how anti-terror laws like the Patriot Act can be subject to mission creep."

No. it's not.

But this post is a fine example of ax-grinding.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2006


*Spits tobacco juice onto ground, squints*

That sounds like terror talk to me, y6y6y6.
posted by jenovus at 2:59 PM on April 7, 2006


OK then, let's say it's a bad example. It would be a laughable, self-parody of an example if the teenagers weren't facing mandatory 30-year sentences because of this new charge. Or did you not read that far into the article, y6?

But thanks for showing up quick. Your anti-ax-grinding ax grinding was heard loud and clear.
posted by digaman at 3:01 PM on April 7, 2006


Thirty years without parole, if the case is moved to adult criminal court in the next 30 days. They didn't even have a gun. Of course, if they had somehow actually gotten a hold of some guns, we might be having a different conversation about a student shooting.
posted by jenovus at 3:05 PM on April 7, 2006


This is not at all the only case in which the Patriot Act and other anti-terror laws have been used against run-of-the-mill and common criminals.

From 2003: Terror Law Nabs Common Criminals -- In the two years since law enforcement agencies gained fresh powers to help them track down and punish terrorists, police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new laws not on al-Qaida cells but on people charged with common crimes.
The Justice Department said it has used authority given to it by the USA Patriot Act to crack down on currency smugglers and seize money hidden overseas by alleged bookies, con artists and passed resolutions.
Federal prosecutors used the act in June to file a charge of "terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction" against a California man after a pipe bomb exploded in his lap, wounding him as he sat in his car.
A North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, Martin Dwayne Miller could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about six months. ...


NYT, 2003 also: U.S. Uses Terror Law to Pursue Crimes from Drugs to Swindling

This has been going since they first passed the Act, and other laws, and exactly what people were warning about has occurred.
posted by amberglow at 3:13 PM on April 7, 2006



Meanwhile, a company called Bridger Insight XG and ChoicePoint -- which houses 17 billion records on individuals and businesses relating to use of credit cards, banks, loans, car purchases, and so forth (and suffered a nasty bout of ID theft last year) -- is working really hard to "reduce" the number of "false-positive hits" on Patriot Act-related watchlists of "politically exposed persons."
posted by digaman at 3:16 PM on April 7, 2006


Rip their teeth out ! You know, for terror.
posted by Balisong at 3:18 PM on April 7, 2006


Protect the children!
posted by Balisong at 3:19 PM on April 7, 2006


Not finding many terrist to exercise their skills on , Homeland Security is turning onto citizen who may become future terrists ! Plus I got to show I am doing some of this protecting thang to justify my wage and above all my power ! My precious power !
posted by elpapacito at 3:33 PM on April 7, 2006


Of course, one of the common points is that Al Qaeda is reported to finance their organization through petty crime, and because of that a lot of the lower-level crimes that the Patriot Act is interdicting are arguably part of a terrorist modus operandi well known.
(However, the balance tips toward over-application of authority pretty quickly. It's a shame that there's not a tighter definition of terrorism...)
posted by klangklangston at 3:33 PM on April 7, 2006


The Raging Grannies in Seattle are enraged to discover that they too are on the big list.
posted by digaman at 3:34 PM on April 7, 2006


Protect the children!

Power-hungry goons!
posted by ericb at 3:36 PM on April 7, 2006


Kind or related: Teen Convicted Of Gun Possession In Online Photos

Even though, "Juveniles in Colorado are not allowed to possess handguns, but the law allows parents to give their children permission to possess guns in their homes.

The boy's parents testified that their son had permission to handle the weapons.

The father, a gun collector who is an airline pilot and retired Air Force pilot, said he gave the boy and his brother extensive training in the safe handling of weapons.

"That doesn't mean juveniles could run around the house and do whatever he wanted with the gun," Jefferson County District Judge Brian Boatright said"
posted by Balisong at 3:38 PM on April 7, 2006


This is like a scene straight from Minority Report. Thought crime is a reality sooner than I thought.
posted by pmbuko at 3:45 PM on April 7, 2006


I just don't get it. A teen is convicted of taking pictures of himself with guns IN HIS OWN HOME that he HAD PERMISSION TO USE!
Slippery slope indeed. I guess we should ban webcams to solve this problem.
posted by Balisong at 3:46 PM on April 7, 2006


You're all stuck in a pre-9/11 mindset.

y6y6y6 has it right, the government should be allowed to do anything it wants. Anybody who disagrees is just a freedom-hating ax-grinder.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:55 PM on April 7, 2006


Clearly, there are laws that say this is ok. Because there are laws that say that this is ok, then it is permissible, and I approve of it.
posted by Freen at 3:57 PM on April 7, 2006


Also, we have spoken about this so many times, that we really shouldn't talk about it ever again.
posted by Freen at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2006


Just don't wear a purple shirt.
posted by Balisong at 3:59 PM on April 7, 2006


well they (kid with guns) live in the same district as Columbine, and lord knows they did such a good job of figuring out the entire story there, It doesn't surprise me the prosecutable powers run a little amok thereabouts.
posted by edgeways at 4:01 PM on April 7, 2006


You realize how easily this could've been slanted the other way, right?

"My client is rather frail and vulnerable," said the 14-year-old's lawyer, of a boy who "was charged Wednesday with grabbing a girl by the neck and threatening to kill her," according to the article.

"I think it's just kids hanging out together and having a little wild time, that's all," said a father of one of the boys.

Insert a sentence or two about white privilege, the good-old-boy network, the way you always get off if you buy a good lawyer, the continuing tacitly supported oppression of women, whatever you like. VoilĂ , you have another ax-grind-filter post . . . and the majority would probably agree in that case, too.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:09 PM on April 7, 2006


I'm not a big problem of arresting people for things they might do. Lots of people talk about things, so what?
posted by delmoi at 4:09 PM on April 7, 2006


Freen : "we have spoken about [X] so many times, that we really shouldn't talk about it ever again."

That should go in the wiki.
posted by Bugbread at 4:10 PM on April 7, 2006


A fine example of how anti-terror laws like the Patriot Act can be subject to mission creep."

No. it's not.

Yes. Yes, it is.

Oh, I suppose I'd better check : we are playing the "flatly contradict without saying anything to back up your assertion" game, right? It's just that I thought, you know, somebody else should have a go.
posted by kaemaril at 4:15 PM on April 7, 2006


This is not at all the only case in which the Patriot Act and other anti-terror laws have been used against run-of-the-mill and common criminals.

What crime did they commit again? There's a huge gulf between talking about killing everyone in the high school you hate with your whole body and soul and actually doing it, as I'm sure a number of former-high school misanthropes here are aware.

I mean, the neck thing sounds like something that's fairly common enough among teenagers... something that's dealt with by detention, suspension and or counseling. As for the "tried to buy a gun" ... I'm skeptical.

Does that mean went to a gun store to look around and ask questions, or took money to a gun store and were denied purchase?

Sorry, it's not screaming terrorist to me.

Luckily, the men and women who protect us from terror are usually right on the money.
posted by illovich at 4:26 PM on April 7, 2006


illovich : "What crime did they commit again?"

In this case, terrorism. Previous to the Patriot Act, they'd generally have been arrested for conspiracy.
posted by Bugbread at 4:41 PM on April 7, 2006


That's right, books -- take out the fact that these 14, 15, and 16 years olds are being charged with terrorism and facing 30-year mandatory sentences, and it could be an FPP about wayward youth. It's a story that can be looked at through many different angles. So...
posted by digaman at 4:43 PM on April 7, 2006


Meanwhile, in Detroit:

Teen Could Face Terrorism Charges

The 16-year-old boy told classmates that he was planning to murder the high school's public safety officer, and kill students by bombing the school's cafeteria, police said.

Investigators also discovered writings by the boy that were violent in nature, Local 4 reported.


Writings by a 16 year old boy that are "violent in nature"? I'm shocked. Throw the Patriot Act at him.
posted by digaman at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2006


Digaman,

While I'm with you in thinking that the Patriot Act is way, way overextending, don't make the mistaken assumption that, without the Patriot Act, these violent writings wouldn't be viewed as criminal; they would probably be treated as "conspiracy to commit murder", also a crime (I remember that crime coming up a lot in the window after Columbine and before 9/11). You may have a problem with "conspiracy to commit murder". If that's the case, it's better to say it explicitly, because it's coming off as if you believe that "no Patriot Act" = "these actions not being illegal".
posted by Bugbread at 4:58 PM on April 7, 2006


That kid, apparently, is being charged with "making a terrorist threat" and facing a 20-year sentence because he wanted to "create a panic at school and get a long weekend."

Kids: Don't vent on MySpace.
posted by digaman at 4:59 PM on April 7, 2006


That's an excellent point, bugbread, but I'm not making the point that these are trivial threats. But I would think the lawyers against, oh say, murder and bombing and illegal possession of firearms and conspiracy, would cover these threats adequately without adding to the collective panic by invoking the concept of "terrorism" and mandating 30-year sentences for stupid or disturbed 14 year olds who need counseling in anger management.
posted by digaman at 5:03 PM on April 7, 2006


"Previous to the Patriot Act, they'd generally have been arrested for conspiracy."

Which is still, IIRC, an arrestable and prosecutable offense that carries prison as a penalty, if it's conspiracy to commit a felony.

So there's a perfectly applicable, reasonable and effective law in place, with applicable punishment attached thereto, which requires no resort to the Patriot Act in order to bring justice to the crime. Why then must law enforcement go further? There's no logical or moral reason to do so. (on preview: agree with bugbread)

Certainly seems like overkill in this case, doesn't it?

As I recall, back in NJ there was a crime on the books called "making terroristic threats," a misdemeanor - I was on a jury in a case that included this as one of several minor charges in a larger assault/robbery case - which could have a small amount of jail time attached if a judge chose to. In the case, the defendant had made verbal threats to hurt and kill the person he eventually clobbered and robbed, your usual "I'm gonna kick your ass" stuff, and that was considered "making terroristic threats."

In the context of a petty robbery, it was an aggravating factor to the overall crime. But what if someone says something like that, without any other action, and "making terroristic threats" is now considered under the Patriot Act? Do we send street punks to prison for 20 years for threatening to kick someone's ass?

on preview: digaman, well then my hypothetical above is actually happening, isn't it.

What country do I live in again?
posted by zoogleplex at 5:03 PM on April 7, 2006


heh, *laws, not lawyers.

Lawyers Against Murder! :)
posted by digaman at 5:03 PM on April 7, 2006


...these 14, 15, and 16 years olds are...facing 30-year mandatory sentences...

Except they're not -- at least not yet -- unless it's changed since yesterday.

"Prosecutors have 30 days to consider whether to request moving the case [to adult criminal court, in which case the minimum of 30 years would apply]; no decision on that was made by Thursday afternoon."

See what I mean about slanting? FWIW, I am less than convinced it's terrorism, and I don't think they should get 30 years in jail; I think they'd get plenty of time in juvie on all the other charges. But I don't really like the huge slant, either.
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:16 PM on April 7, 2006


What's with the obsession for charging children as if they are adults? The justice system doesn't work when you put a child through the adult system, kids demonstratably do not weight the factors needed to make good defense decisions necessary for a trial to be fair, and their lives are on the line.

Doesn't constantly attempting to try children as if they are adult seem a little... barbaric to anyone else?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2006


books is right. From the information we have now, it's only fair to say that they may face mandatory 30 year sentences. That possibility may itself be a problem. But it isn't true to say they are facing mandatory 30 year.

Or, you could say they are facing the possibility of 30-year mandatory sentences. That would be accurate, too.
posted by Bugbread at 5:19 PM on April 7, 2006


Not talking about this case specifically, it's just seems to be a constant in pretty much any high profile case involving children here.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:20 PM on April 7, 2006


Do we send street punks to prison for 20 years for threatening to kick someone's ass?

And what about the attorneys?

There is a logical reason to charge these kids with terrorism from a prosecutor's point of view. Leverage. Increasingly prosecutors are "throwing the book" at defendants in order to force a plea deal.

Someone is much more likely to agree to a deal when they are facing twenty criminal charges, rather than one or two.
posted by ryoshu at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2006


So, who thinks that even the possibility of facing a 30-year prison sentence should be applicable to this case. Anyone?

Rahway is hell. Minors should not go there unless they do something really heinous, like actually shooting up and bombing a school. 30 years in prison for making threats???

No Child Left Behind, indeed. Sheesh.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:28 PM on April 7, 2006


zoogleplex : "So, who thinks that even the possibility of facing a 30-year prison sentence should be applicable to this case. Anyone?"

I certainly hope not. I just don't like when folks misreprent the truth to foster fear. The truth here is cause for enough fear as it is, there's no need to spice it up through misrepresentation.
posted by Bugbread at 5:36 PM on April 7, 2006


Right, bugbread. These kids are facing the possibility of mandatory 30-year charges.

Still sounds like massive overkill to me.
posted by digaman at 5:39 PM on April 7, 2006


Lawyers Against Murder! :)
Are you, sir, on the LAM?


As far as the rest of this goes... our society has gone insane. This is about suppressing dissent in the young, not safety.
posted by Malor at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2006


Because, -harlequin-, some crimes are just so horrific, so unthinkably evil, that the perpetrators couldn't possibly be real children - who we all know are sweet, innocent, lovable darlings without an ounce of guile, maliciousness, or threat in their tiny bodies. Ergo, the ones that do commit such crimes must be twisted, evil, demonic little adults.

At least, that seems to be the common justification behind trying them as adults. Once that's been established (memorably, for me at least, by the Bulger case in England), it's just a matter of lowering the bar between "adult" and "child" crimes.
posted by Pinback at 5:59 PM on April 7, 2006


(From Balisongs link) Apr 5, 2006:

The teen, who has been held in detention since his arrest in February, was to be sentenced June 1. Boatright set bond at $5,000 and ordered that the boy be evaluated and that a safety plan drawn up before he could be freed.

Oh my god. (If I had one.)

That's nearly two months in prison. For what? Anybody suggesting that this is justice should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by hoskala at 6:07 PM on April 7, 2006


While I'm with you in thinking that the Patriot Act is way, way overextending, don't make the mistaken assumption that, without the Patriot Act, these violent writings wouldn't be viewed as criminal; they would probably be treated as "conspiracy to commit murder"
Sorry, I'm obviously missing something here. How do 'violent writings' constitute 'conspiracy to commit murder'? Who's the co-conspirator? His diary?
posted by kaemaril at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2006


kaemaril writes "Sorry, I'm obviously missing something here. How do 'violent writings' constitute 'conspiracy to commit murder'?"

No, you're not missing something, I am. Sorry, end of a night shift, my mind is weak. I was thinking about the other "kid plans to kill classmates" arrests, but now that you mention it, they were "kids planning to kill classmates", and it was that "s" that made it conspiracy. So disregard what I said earlier. There may still be a crime, there may not, but I sure as hell don't know.
posted by Bugbread at 7:41 PM on April 7, 2006



How do 'violent writings' constitute 'conspiracy to commit murder'? Who's the co-conspirator? His diary?

posted by kaemaril at 10:12 PM EST on April 7 [!]

The Pencil! Don't forget the pencil!

I'm another person who is sickened by this move to charge children as adults. We tell them you aren't old enough to vote, you aren't old enough to join the army or get married. You aren't old enough in some cases to drive a car. Obviously our society has decided that 14, 15, 16 year olds can't always make the right decisions for themselves- that they are too young to be held accountable for making only right decisions.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:43 PM on April 7, 2006


Thirty years without parole, if the case is moved to adult criminal court in the next 30 days. They didn't even have a gun.

The other day, when a fake bomb scare was being reported on the radio not far from where I live, the news announcer said that the penalties for placing a fake bomb are the *same* as placing a real one.

I understand that placing a fake bomb can have real and perhaps even serious consequences that could make it far from harmless, but not as far as a *real bomb* is from a fake.

I don't know the statutes, and I hope the news announcer made a mistake. If not, though....

I have a few second-hand acquaintances who, probably like a lot of young guys, messed around with explosive stuff periodically. One with a dry ice "bomb." Another with what essentially amounted to gunpowder. Both of them were dumb at some point and got involved in minor incidents which barely even inflicted any property damage but apparently scared or pissed of the property owners. It's not unreasonable that the police were brought in probably, but what blew my mind was that in both cases, the authorities threatened them with charges under the Patriot act.

I believe our law enforcement system has many people in it who are smarter than that, who are genuinely out to use their authority judiciously for the betterment of our communities. And I believe our system has some well thought-out points. But it's also obvious that in some cases, plain ol' common sense is completely missing from some participants.
posted by weston at 7:58 PM on April 7, 2006


It's important to charge children as adults, and send them to prison. This provides cute lil' thangs for high-status prisoners to bang in the joint.

Seriously, I think threatening a teenager with 30 years in prison is state-sponsored terrorism. Actions like that DHS jerk slamming the school traffic director is terrorism. thuggish police behavior of all sorts is terrorism.

There is terror in America today. Most of it created by the government, what's left is often created by certain religious groups.
posted by Goofyy at 10:17 PM on April 7, 2006


The current terrorism witch hunts have created the same broadening of definitions as did the Communist witch hunts.

No matter how often McPresident Bush refers to a war on "ter" (m'kay), terrorism is not "anything having to do with murder and mayhem". It is also not "anything that makes people terrified". The tightest definition of it is the use, or threatened use, of force against the innocent, in pursuit of a political goal.

That definition's a bit to hippie-peacenik, of course. It has to be extended with notes about terrorists having to be out of uniform, and the force being "illegal", in order to distinguish between what They do to Our people and what Our armed forces keep on doing to Them. It ends up being something of a cult-versus-religion kind of thing. But by anybody's definition, including the US government's, simple thrill-killing is not terrorism.

Even if a kid goes to school with an M60 C-clamped onto a wheelbarrow and mows down 400 people, he doesn't get to be a terrorist unless he's doing it to support the glorious people's revolution, or the Jeb Bush Presidential campaign, or whatever.

School shootings are simple sprees, done for the plain honest fun of it.

Please don't tarnish the beauty of shooting football players and cheerleaders by associating that noble act with humourless bores like the IRA.
posted by dansdata at 2:28 AM on April 8, 2006


dansdata: The last line of your post deserves a kiss.

I've always wondered what the jocks were good for. Now you've made that clear. I feel so much better.

posted by Goofyy at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2006


I don't know what to say. This post 9/11 mentality just seems so insane. What surprises me so much is the People don't really seem to care about what's going on. All these nasty little things happening everywhere, and your president blatantly leading you astray, yet nobody seems to be DOING anything. Where's the outrage?

I saw V for Vendetta last week. I wonder what it would take for some kind of symbolic gesture to bring down what looks to be a rather terrifying government mindset. It just seems to be 'control' at any cost. And I can't work out why...

And somehow I think if a 'terrorist' managed to blow up the White House it wouldn't make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, except give the Powers-that-be an excuse to bring in even more draconian laws, and create a more desperate mindset amongst the different layers of government control.

What I'm saying is... I don't like where the Western world is heading these days... and I don't see any way to change it... or how to 'fix' it.

What do we do?
posted by Jelreyn at 11:24 AM on April 8, 2006


I feel safer already. :P


I do wonder what kind of fucked-up kids plot to kill people, and physically grab another child and threaten to kill her. They need to be smacked upside the head with the law... but does anyone sane really think they will become less fucked-up by spending the next 30 years in prison?
posted by Foosnark at 11:44 AM on April 8, 2006


Where's the outrage?

Bush is currently at his lowest poll ratings ever, and is one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. I wish people would stop talking about him as if he still had wide support. Most people in America think he's doing a terrible job, and his administration is a sinking ship of soon-to-be-indicted co-conspirators. Transforming that outrage into effective action is the big issue, not a lack of outrage.
posted by digaman at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2006


soon-to-be-indicted

OK, OK, that was stretching it. Call me an optimist.
posted by digaman at 2:54 PM on April 8, 2006


Bush's popularity has been dropping from the day he was elected.


posted by ericb at 4:27 PM on April 8, 2006


While true, let's try that image in a little bit more of a reasonable metric: Not to say that it hasn't fallen, but the intentional distortion of that graph is a little too much for my tastes.
posted by klangklangston at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2006


If Bush was a stock, would you buy in?
posted by digaman at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2006


Klangklangston:

Agreed about the distortion being a bit much. However, if you look at the source chart (from Slate), you'll see that the distortion wasn't intentional, but a result of having all the presidents since JFK mapped onto the same 957 pixel-wide graph (957??). I think it would be fairer to say that the distortion was misused, rather than that the distortion itself was intentional.
posted by Bugbread at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2006


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