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March 2, 2007 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Convicted as an ecoterrorist, a brilliant young scholar nose-dives in prison. An article on Billy Cottrell, a physics genius with Asperger's Syndrome who was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for his role in destroying $5 million worth of SUVs. His case was previously discussed here. [Via BB.]
posted by homunculus (204 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
He had written, "I can't really say that I regret my years of rebellion.....If there's one thing that trouble does, it allows one the freedom to question the standards and purposes of the institution by which one's status is defined. It has thereby instilled within me a firm resolution to live by my own set of impermeable standards."

That statement is a little hard to reconcile with the idea that he was unable to understand the consequences of his actions.

Nice picture, though.
posted by tkolar at 10:56 PM on March 2, 2007


The mystery e-mailer claimed responsibility for the arsons, mocked the FBI, and mentioned the previously undisclosed detail that Euler's theorem had been spray-painted on several vehicles. The FBI traced the e-mail to Caltech, and in the early months of 2004, they interviewed numerous witnesses at Caltech and eventually arrested Cottrell.

and

He was arrested in March 2004 after law enforcement tracked him sending emails to the Los Angeles Times about what his group had done, destroying a total of 125 SUVs parked at dealerships or residential homes

So...he understands string theory but never figured out the basics of covering your tracks in anonymous emails?
posted by vacapinta at 11:05 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


That is a terrible story, damned depressing.

Hard to believe a whole prison system can be easily twisted around in order to beat down a brilliant, car-hating 'terrorist.'
posted by toma at 11:12 PM on March 2, 2007


Green Rage: Radical environmentalists are caught between their love of the Earth, trespass of the law, and the U.S. government’s war on terror.
posted by homunculus at 11:15 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hard to believe a whole prison system can be easily twisted around in order to beat down a brilliant, car-hating 'terrorist.'

Unfortunately, genius combined with malicious intent and poor social skills can have terrible results. The guy probably needs to be under some kind of supervision for the rest of his life, but it would be a great loss to have him stuck in prison forever.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:19 PM on March 2, 2007


Hard to believe a whole prison system can be easily twisted around in order to beat down a brilliant, car-hating 'terrorist.'

I doubt that anyone cares enough about him for it to be personal. The judge pretty clearly wanted to send a message to any other would be eco-terrorists out there, and the prison system has picked up that ball and run with with it.

This fellow having the life crushed out of him seems pretty incidental, frankly.
posted by tkolar at 11:35 PM on March 2, 2007


Ultimately, he was banished to solitary confinement — the Hole, in prison parlance — like a violent thug.

As much as I like the notion of blowing up Hummers, well, it is a rather violent action, isn't it?

Oh, but he can't go to prison, he's smart.
posted by lekvar at 11:35 PM on March 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it... well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men.
posted by metaplectic at 11:36 PM on March 2, 2007


Terror? I'm a thousandfold more terrified of our zealot police and prison system than I am of auto vandalism. Is anyone not?
posted by kid ichorous at 11:37 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cool Hand Billy?
posted by metaplectic at 11:42 PM on March 2, 2007


Now that's just silly!
posted by metaplectic at 11:43 PM on March 2, 2007


I'm a thousandfold more terrified of our zealot police and prison system than I am of auto vandalism. Is anyone not?

When I lived in St. Louis I had my car stolen. The cops found it a few days later in East St. Louis. It had a layer of cigarette ash over every surface (including the ashtray, but no more than anyplace else). There was a half-pint of gin under the front seat. They'd ruined my copy of Paid in Full but left behind a 36 Mafia CD that worked. There were trash bags of stripper clothes in the trunk -- bags of them, and I'm afraid to say that they were used. I nearly puked cleaning it out. And two days later my transmission exploded because they'd bounced over a curb while joyriding. I had no full-coverage.

The police who helped me get my car back were very polite.

Man, fucking pigs, right?
posted by Bookhouse at 12:19 AM on March 3, 2007 [7 favorites]


His 'crime' is unfortunate and unnecessary. If he was half the wünderkind that the article describes, he and his friends would have realized that those Hummers were doing greater damage to the dealerships as unsold overstock than as write-offs for the insurance companies. (100 unsold Hummers = $5M.)

But then, the crime was committed in 2001 and not 2005, or before GM had decided to discontinue and of the vehicles. Alas.
posted by vhsiv at 12:20 AM on March 3, 2007


They = car thieves, not the cops, of course.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:21 AM on March 3, 2007


Oh, but he can't go to prison, he's smart.

It would be a nice change to the more commonplace practice of: Oh but he can't go to prison, he's rich.
posted by kisch mokusch at 12:33 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kid's gonna make more money than all his taunters combined.
posted by Firas at 12:35 AM on March 3, 2007


heh, strange juxtaposition there. I don't mean to say that becoming rich will end up making him better in some way, just that it's sweet vindication against inmate jackasses who find it fit to ridicule him.
posted by Firas at 12:37 AM on March 3, 2007


On the other hand, solitary confinement and 3.5 months on trash-sorting punishment detail seems a bit much for a guy whose only crimes were ethically motivated non-violent property damage. Agreed he needs to go to prison for a bit, but it's not clear to me why we have to deliberately crush his spirit. I think the "Cops are pigs!" "No, they're not!" discussion obscures what we're doing to this guy.

I'm sure everyone here has heard of the Sanford Prison Experiment?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:37 AM on March 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Folks with mental problems are tough on the justice system and vice versa. Obviously because someone could fake being sick, which many people suspect anyway - the insanity plea, although not often used, is typically disparaged as some sort of dodge.

And many people who see it that way, I suspect, have not been around the mentally ill. This can lead to a variety of injustices.

This though is a waste. It's obvious what is valued by the people here - and roughly mirrored in society - is material property over intellectual wealth generation. Forgive the crude terms - not sure how to label something constructed which is the product of what we already know vs. the also very real and productive but more ephemeral work done by a mind like this.

I'm pretty big on protecting private property. Hummers, however, are a luxury item. Not that it's ok for someone to destroy something merely because of their individual merit of course.
But people have completely overweighted punishing this individual for that without regard for what his intellect can do for us.
Gee, that guy is an asshole, so let's put off discovering the plow for another thousand years.
This is the same sort of trait that delayed the discovery of steam power by a few thousand years, because what would we then do with all the slaves?
Stuff isn't as important as figuring out new techniques to make newer better stuff.
Of course, that's on a broad scale, but no one's arguing the guy shouldn't be incarcerated and watched very carefully. Destroying physics books because of 'terror' is ultimately self-annihilating. Should have done that before 1945 maybe.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:38 AM on March 3, 2007


That Sanford Prison Experiment, was that the one where the old guy was always faking a heart attack to his son?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:41 AM on March 3, 2007 [21 favorites]


strangeleftydoublethink: If only I could favorite that more than once... alas.
posted by basicchannel at 12:44 AM on March 3, 2007


It takes a certain mastery of mathematics to appreciate the beauty of this equation, known as “Euler’s identity,” a simple, elegant line of code that employs five fundamental mathematical constants. If you can’t quite grasp that — most people can’t — you might be able to understand why Cottrell seems an oddball to so many people.

Give me a fucking break. I knew about Euler's identity in friggin' high school, and I'm sure as hell no math genius. And I'd bet hard money that it ranks in the top 5 formulas of anyone with even a modest knowledge of mathematics. It's annoying enough to be assumed to be an idiot in this puff-piece, but even more insulting that the police and prosecutes thought it a "calling card" because, well gee, nobody knows about this particularly wild math stuff.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:53 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


The police who helped me get my car back were very polite. Man, fucking pigs, right?

I'm sorry to hear about that terrible theft. Nevertheless, can an attack lawyer's wet dreams of automotive disaster compare to the consequences of tossing nearly one percent of our population into what's increasingly a landfill for human life? Granted, I've never had my car stolen, but it isn't the sort of thing that keeps me up at night worrying about the state of our society.

And that this kid is being subjected to unjustified and whimsical punishments is absolutely the norm for us, and it's surprising how tolerant we've become of it. Not to be wry, but it's like we're itching to deprecate the cruel and unusual clause of the eighth amendment on the grounds that, hey, cruel is usual.

3.5 months on trash-sorting punishment [...] I'm sure everyone here has heard of the Sanford Prison Experiment?

I'm not sure if this was intentional, but I just got the most vivid image of Red Foxx.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:02 AM on March 3, 2007


Folks with mental problems are tough on the justice system and vice versa. Obviously because someone could fake being sick, which many people suspect anyway - the insanity plea, although not often used, is typically disparaged as some sort of dodge. And many people who see it that way, I suspect, have not been around the mentally ill. This can lead to a variety of injustices.

Very true. The Death Of Timothy Souders is but one recent, tragic example.
posted by homunculus at 1:11 AM on March 3, 2007


Give me a fucking break. I knew about Euler's identity in friggin' high school, and I'm sure as hell no math genius. And I'd bet hard money that it ranks in the top 5 formulas of anyone with even a modest knowledge of mathematics.

You probably know this, but it's perceived as beautiful because it interrelates several of the most important constants in mathematics in a startlingly brief expression: the imaginary i, the irrational e, the transcendental pi, the multiplicative identity 1, and the additive identity 0. There's a lot of mathematical history and depth bound up in this tiny clause.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:13 AM on March 3, 2007


It might be worth adding that Lompoc is California's low-security, white collar prison, for inmates they characterize as low-risk for escape attempts.
posted by vhsiv at 1:15 AM on March 3, 2007


"I'm sure everyone here has heard of the Sanford Prison Experiment?"

Sanford is not an experiment, sir. Sanford and son is a tradition, it's a way of life, it's a dynasty, it's an empire. You look around here! The greatest pile of junk in the world!

And it's the Sanford "G" Prison experiment. The "G" stands for I could stick your face in some dough and make some 'gorilla' cookies!
posted by Smedleyman at 1:20 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


can an attack lawyer's wet dreams of automotive disaster compare to the consequences of tossing nearly one percent of our population into what's increasingly a landfill for human life?

Why not? Prisons suck, and there's too many people in them. But I'll cry for them on an individual basis, and I'm not going to start with this guy.

I'm 100% in favor of drug legalization, and would love to see everyone in on drug charges get out. But this guy was part of chucking around Molotov cocktails. Nobody got hurt, and he's really lucky for that, but you cannot throw flaming gas containers around in public and then act like having your books taken away is some grand injustice. Unless I missed something, the only people in the article who committed violent acts is this guy and his buddies -- oh, and the bruiser of the prison that our man was able to fight off single-handedly.

And also -- having known plenty of prison guards in my life, I'd be willing to bet that any poor treatment this guy is getting has a whole lot less to do with terrorism and a lot to do with the guy acting like an asshole.

(Yes, I know the story says he has Asperger's -- but it also portrays the symptoms of it as acting like an asshole).
posted by Bookhouse at 1:37 AM on March 3, 2007


but even more insulting that the police and prosecutes thought it a "calling card" because, well gee, nobody knows about this particularly wild math stuff.

I didn't really get that same impression regarding the "calling card" reasoning. From the article:

It was also the very formula Cottrell and a friend had painted on the University of Chicago’s astronomy-building tower years ago, climbing up to write it in large print near the roof. The presence of the equation on the SUVs made it easier to connect the crime to Cottrell. In effect, Cottrell had left a calling card.
posted by the other side at 2:10 AM on March 3, 2007


"It's people. The prison system is made out of people. They're filling our prisons with people."
posted by srboisvert at 2:14 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


..../.cripes
posted by toma at 2:26 AM on March 3, 2007


So if he was dumb, there would be no article?
posted by Dagobert at 2:27 AM on March 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


.....why is that I start to post a MeFi comment and knock over my Beer?
posted by toma at 2:27 AM on March 3, 2007


“Many people in prison speak openly about revolution. How many of these people can our government produce through its abusive penal system before we have one on our hands?”

maybe so, but ... it's not the wisest thing in the world to say stuff like that when you're at the mercy of the prison system, is it?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:29 AM on March 3, 2007


As a hero of the 'normals' I receive many communications each day regarding the possibility of the 'mongs' taking over control of the world. It would be easy to imagine a response to these repeated requests, though I haven't managed. Generally, I think, if theses spazzes were so gifted, then why aren't they getting any?
posted by econous at 2:29 AM on March 3, 2007


So if he was dumb, there would be no article?

first they came for the shoplifters and i said nothing ... then they came for the burglars and i still said nothing ... then they came for the drug dealers and i still said nothing ... then they came for the nerds and OMG WTF PRISON SUXORS!!!!!
posted by pyramid termite at 2:32 AM on March 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


b1tr0t: this guy ain't the unabomber. He's not a murderer. That guy was closer to Ted Streleski (Ahh....a convenient fantasy when you're going through orals).

tkolar: did you read this post? It's nothing but personal: He was made an example by the judge. Prison employees were provided his writings to 'educate' them, I assume. Guards whispered 'terrorist' as he walked by. Every job he could have done to while away the hours was rejected because the staff understandably assumed this evil MacGyver would figure out a way to kill them all: he's been waste-deep in rotting trash ever since. They video'ed this treatment by staff and used it as a model for the rest of the system to deal with 'terrorists.'

He's a car-killer, ferChrissakes. Let him do his time in anonymity--is that really a batshit request?
posted by toma at 2:49 AM on March 3, 2007


(....and for you grad students...Theodore Streleski...)
posted by toma at 3:00 AM on March 3, 2007


ethically motivated non-violent property damage

Anything can be ethically motivated if your sense of ethical behaviour is sufficiently twisted. And does property damage no longer count as a real crime when its victims are people you hate?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:00 AM on March 3, 2007


Does that then allow the system, loaded with the likes of murderers and rapists, to single you out for the worst treatment?
posted by toma at 3:05 AM on March 3, 2007


And does property damage no longer count as a real crime when its victims are people you hate?

Of course not. Who suggested that?
posted by the other side at 3:12 AM on March 3, 2007


Who didn't expect the other side to show at 3:12?
posted by toma at 3:19 AM on March 3, 2007


What an idiot. I'm glad he's in prison.
posted by davidmsc at 3:37 AM on March 3, 2007


It is a bit outrageous that the author of that piece uses the phrase "[A mind is] a terrible thing to waste." IIRC, that slogan was used by the United Negro College Fund to highlight the lack of educational opportunities open to black men.

This asshat had every educational opportunity available, but he decided to waste his mind firebombing cars. It is not "a terrible waste" to send an educated man to prison and make him sort garbage if he can't behave himself inside or outside the joint.
posted by three blind mice at 3:41 AM on March 3, 2007


I will say that I found the emphasis on Cottrell's intellect to be misplaced, but I think his mother more or less puts the emphasis where it should be:

Schwiebert didn’t have any illusions that her son deserved special sympathy; she didn’t think it was newsworthy that her son was in prison. She just wanted the prison to follow its own rules. “You’re not supposed to be denied privileges unless you’re doing something wrong,” she said. “And they don’t tell us what he’s done wrong.”
posted by the other side at 3:49 AM on March 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hey, it's the penal code chorus, thank God for you all.

Wait--everybody agrees he's guilty and should pay his debt to society? What's that--nobody's bothered to read the post?

"Smart Guy Shouldn't Do Time"--did you think that's what this is about?
posted by toma at 3:54 AM on March 3, 2007


the tragedy of nerds who like to set shit on fire while they're too dumb to anonymize their email (something most Internet-savvy 12 year olds can do) and eventually, my God, get sent to a low security prison where some people may be mean to them is indeed heartbreaking.

had he been setting Apple Stores on fire, he wouldn't have that many MeFi-appointed defenders, I am afraid.

and I'm looking forward to the day when LAWeekly splashes on its cover the kindergarten photo of some black kid from Compton who didn't have all the opportunities this asshole had, and ended up in jail for, say, dealing drugs -- arguably, a more "victimless" crime than setting cars on fire.

having said that, the TERRARTERRARTERRAR thing is indeed shameful, but this is hardly the worst abuse of America's legal system (I still think the Padilla case is a bit more worrisome, but that's just me). and yes, it's obvious that the prison system doesn't know what to do with people who may have mental issues. I'm sure all the guys down at, say Rikers, that most hospitable place, don't really have any mental problems. Mental illness only strike white guys with physics degrees, that's for sure.
posted by matteo at 4:08 AM on March 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Has he considered doing the income taxes for the warden and all the guards?

It won't get him out, but it could be a clever distraction while he spends the next 20 years chiselling through the prison wall, and socking away ill-gotten money under a phony identity.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:17 AM on March 3, 2007


What's that--nobody's bothered to read the post?

because if they had, they'd think the exact same thing you do about it, right?

he created his own circumstances ... he did this as a political act, as a big "fuck you" to the system ... fact of life - you don't do that shit without being squashed like a bug if the system can get the goods on you ... and you don't write letters about how the prison system is creating revolutionaries and then expect to be given the opportunity to teach classes to your fellow inmates ... i won't say that there's a bunch of world class geniuses running the prison system, but they're not THAT dumb

why act shocked and surprised by this? ... he was dicking around playing revolutionary and discovered that the government wasn't playing

maybe he should have found a better way to change the world, hmmm?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:28 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cottrell was charged under the PATRIOT Act as a terrorist

Better him than Bin Laden, I guess. Those civil liberties weren't wasted after all — property damage is serious business.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 AM on March 3, 2007


It's nothing but personal: He was made an example by the judge. Prison employees were provided his writings to 'educate' them, I assume. Guards whispered 'terrorist' as he walked by. Every job he could have done to while away the hours was rejected because the staff understandably assumed this evil MacGyver would figure out a way to kill them all: he's been waste-deep in rotting trash ever since. They video'ed this treatment by staff and used it as a model for the rest of the system to deal with 'terrorists.'

toma, you seem upset that everyone is not agreeing with you. Except for the other side,

“You’re not supposed to be denied privileges unless you’re doing something wrong,” she said. “And they don’t tell us what he’s done wrong.”

You both seem to be assuming that he's just quietly doing his time and the man has got it in for him, when I assume he's been fronting the whole time. It becomes personal whan you smart ass the judge, talk down to the guards, and generally making an ass of yourself - for whatever reason. I'm not gonna blame the prison system for that. Once he learns to keep his mouth shut, it will probably get easier for him. If not then he can keep sorting trash.

Yeah, the prison system isn't set up to deal with every mental illness - real or imagined - boo fucking hoo. In my view the prison system's primary function is to separate miscreants like this from the general public.
posted by three blind mice at 4:51 AM on March 3, 2007


a bit much for a guy whose only crimes were ethically motivated non-violent property damage.

Arson is non-violent. Didn't know that. And ethically-motivated crime is better than the other kind. We should find some way of making allowance for that in our justice system.

Here is this very smart kid. He sees that giant, gas-guzzling personal vehicles are harming the environment, and he wants to do something about it. This is it? This is the most effective thing this very smart kid can come up with to stop giant, gas-guzzling vehicles from harming the environment? It seems more like the kind of thing a not-necessarily-so-smart kid would do for fun, like blowing up bigger mailboxes.

As pointed out above, the only people made to pay by his "ecoterror" were the insurance companies.

Now that he's in prison, they should treat him like anyone else, but there are thousands of other prisoners getting special treatment for bad reasons.

Burning Hummers is attacking a symptom of a much bigger problem. So is complaining because a smart young arsonist is being treated unfairly in prison.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:53 AM on March 3, 2007


I always find it frustrating reading sympathetic pieces about inmates. It's impossible to present the whole story and we are more than usually reliant upon the integrity of the reporter and editor in displaying balance rather a construction meant to serve the aims of the story. They aren't able to interview corroborators or dissenters about the conduct of Cottrell and the guards in prison and it's difficult to form a conclusive opinion about his treatment inside.

Between his usual scattergun caustic spittle, matteo does hit on the (possibly) most disturbing aspect of the story for me - the labelling of the guy as a terrorist. I suppose in the strict literal sense he fits the bill but it's no great leap of intellect to presume/believe that a 'convicted terrorist' in the post 9-11 world is going to receive some special treatment from prison staff, or even to suspect that staff feel some sort of unwritten duty to target such an inmate and thwart fantastized scenarios for the greater good.

So if I feel some empathy for the guy's situation, it's not because he's smart or has Asperger's or has a posse of supporters, it's because (if it's really true about some of the actions in prison) a bunch of ignorant guards have decided to be extra twisted or prejudicial or victimizing in their approach to Cottrell on account of his merely having an unjustified label of 'terrorist'.
posted by peacay at 4:56 AM on March 3, 2007


Exactly.
posted by toma at 5:05 AM on March 3, 2007


ethically motivated non-violent property damage

And it was $5m dollars of ethically motivated non-violent property damage. Californian prisons are full of three-time losers serving life for stealing some pathetically small amount -- but unlike Billy, most of them lack the intelligence to connect their actions with the consequences.

None of which justifies his treatment, but they're all just as deserving of our sympathy. Who speaks for them?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:09 AM on March 3, 2007


[T]he only people made to pay by his "ecoterror" were the insurance companies.

Somewhere along the line, real people have to pay for his actions. If the insurance company raises premiums to cover the cost, everyone pays. If they keep premiums constant, their profit falls, and their stock price and/or dividend falls, and the shareholders (like pensioners' retirement funds) pay. Of course, one $5m charge will have a tiny effect on premiums and stock prices, and the insurance company will have reinsurance of some sort. So of course the $5m charge will be very widely diffused. But somewhere along the line, we are paying for the Hummers he destroyed.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:17 AM on March 3, 2007


So of course the $5m charge will be very widely diffused. But somewhere along the line, we are paying for the Hummers he destroyed.

And of course, when the insurance companies pay out, the Hummers get replaced -- with an additional net negative impact on the environment. So perhaps when they call him an eco-terrorist, they're referring to the impact that his actions have been having on contributing to global warming?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:22 AM on March 3, 2007


WTF is it with you guys? Sure, keep him in prison, but LET HIM STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE.
posted by Anything at 5:30 AM on March 3, 2007


Burning Hummers is attacking a symptom of a much bigger problem. So is complaining because a smart young arsonist is being treated unfairly in prison.

Wait, paying attention to a particular case of unfair treatment in prison is part of a bigger problem? Or did you mean to say that the fact that this guy is (quite possibly) being treated unfairly is part of a bigger problem?
posted by the other side at 5:31 AM on March 3, 2007


But somewhere along the line, we are paying for the Hummers he destroyed.

Sure. But that is theft, it's not terror in even the most liberal sense of the word.
posted by psmealey at 5:38 AM on March 3, 2007


But somewhere along the line, we are paying for the Hummers he destroyed.

By that reasoning, the Dubyas, Cheneys, Brownie-heckuva-jobs, Charles Keatings, Jeffrey Skillings and Kenny Boys of the USA all should be labeled terrorists.

We're all paying for their misdeeds, and will continue to pay for the damage they've done for generations to come.

But we don't use the same reasoning because the TERRAR label is only useful for dissidents.

For the Dubyas, Cheneys, Brownie-heckuva-jobs, Charles Keatings, Jeffrey Skillings and Kenny Boys, it's just business as usual. Anyone else is a terrorist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:39 AM on March 3, 2007


This has got me all motivated: I'm gonna go out and paste this xkcd comic on the side of an SUV.
posted by handee at 5:44 AM on March 3, 2007


Eh? I didn't call him a terrorist. I was saying that the idea that the only people who pay for his actions are the insurance companies is nonsense.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:47 AM on March 3, 2007


I think there are quite a few levels of discussion here:

a) Apparently, this guy was an arsonist and a vandal, and his claimed "mental disorder" (Asperger's disease) shouldn't have obscured to him the fact that it was illegal and to most people immoral, so that sending him to prison seems absolutely justified. That looks like a last-resort defence concocted by a well-paid defence lawyer. If somebody is to blame for wasting his potential, then it's surely him.

b) Claiming special treatment for him because he's "smart" is utterly immoral and has a taint of snobbism. If anything, it is those who lack the intellectual capacity to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

c) If, on the other hand, he's been bullied in prison because of his smarts, then that's despicable too. But I'm afraid that says more about the prison system in general than about this case in particular.

d) In this case, the "terrorist" tag seems unwarranted and stupid...although some ecological extremist groups do seem ready enough to start violence against persons to deserve it.

e) All of this said, I'd also appreciate if the people buying and driving humongous SUVs also had a thought for the private property of these other people, for instance.
posted by Skeptic at 5:53 AM on March 3, 2007


If, on the other hand, he's been bullied in prison because of his smarts

My guess is that it's less because he's smart, and more likely to be because he's a bit of a hippie. Hippies have been getting this kind of shit since the rednecks killed Dennis Hopper at the end of Easy Rider.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:05 AM on March 3, 2007


Was it Euler's equation (e^pi*i+1 = 0) or Euler's Theorem?
posted by phrontist at 6:16 AM on March 3, 2007


Hippies have been getting this kind of shit since the rednecks killed Dennis Hopper at the end of Easy Rider.

Fuck! Spoiler alert much?
posted by psmealey at 6:21 AM on March 3, 2007


The thing about this whole sorry situation is that it just doesn't make sense. Someone with this level of intelligence and support from the outside world is a prime candidate for rehabilitation. What's the point of burying him waist-deep in garbage for years on a detail that most inmates do for a day, for punishment? For harassing him? For signaling to other inmates that he's an acceptable target for abuse? To make a brilliant guy really fucking angry, release him back into the world, and see what he can destroy with some real motivation?

And really, his brains are beside the point: I don't want anyone in prison treated this way. I don't want guards indulging in petty grudges, I don't want physically and mentally damaging punishments inflicted on inmates, I don't want rape to be the punchline to a sociopathic joke. Not just because I'm a pinko, but for purely selfish reasons -- there are just too damn many incarcerated people in this country and I don't want to happen to accidentally brush past one some evening while he is busy ruminating on his experiences.

I truly don't get the thinking that values ironfisted rule-mongering over sense or even -- lord help me, in this climate -- compassion. He shouldn't be treated better because everyone in prison eats shit? Well, he's eating more than his share, but more important still: why are we shoveling shit down the throats of people we plan to reintroduce into society at all?
posted by melissa may at 6:23 AM on March 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


psmealey: "Fuck! Spoiler alert much?"

Dude, the movie's forty years old. If you haven't seen it yet, chances are you're never going to.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


PeterMcD: I was joking. That movie is as old as I am.
posted by psmealey at 6:34 AM on March 3, 2007


As far as I can tell, there are two things about this story that scream "stupid" to me. First, that the police/prosecutors called it terrorism, which apparently most anything is these days. Second, that it became a federal case because the cars had crossed state lines at some point.

And I'm sorry, but one should go to prison for torching cars, unless you own them. Had they stuck with the original plan of plastering bumper stickers on them, not so much.

Of course, that doesn't excuse the retardedness of our industrial prison system (It's the corrections industry now, dontcha know?) in any way, because it's in dire need of reform. This case just doesn't scream the need for it, which is sad, because I'd love to go on and on about how abusive it is.
posted by wierdo at 6:39 AM on March 3, 2007


Or did you mean to say that the fact that this guy is (quite possibly) being treated unfairly is part of a bigger problem?

No, I meant what I said. Here, I'll spell out all the parallelism for you:
Burning Hummers is attacking a symptom of a much bigger problem. Complaining because a smart young arsonist is being treated unfairly in prison is attacking a symptom of a much bigger problem.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:46 AM on March 3, 2007


I don't know what it is about Chicago that attracts really bright kids who are totally mal or unadjusted socially, the kind that get willfully lost in the ether of whatever theory underlies their course of study too such a point that they lose any grip on reality. At least, that's how I remember it. It reminds me a little bit of a couple other Chicago kids.
posted by The Straightener at 6:49 AM on March 3, 2007


I read the article fluff piece. The guy sounds like a whiny brat who realized a little too late that if you want to not be treated like shit in prison, you shut up and do what you're told.

In court, Cottrell had come off as obnoxious and weird, which did not endear him to the jury. “Objection!” he’d yell. “Irrelevant!” When prosecutor Beverly Reid O’Connell, then an assistant U.S. attorney, cut him off once, he shouted, “But I know this one! I know this one!”...

In prison, he was regarded as downright freakish. His mother believes that prison guards took an early dislike to him because he wasn’t able to play their games. “He can’t play the subordinate,” she says. “He’d die first.” Cottrell himself thinks the guards were jealous of his intelligence. Whatever the truth, Cottrell has been hardly more popular with the prison guards than he was with the jury.


It's not that anyone cares that he's too smart, or that he's dangerous, or what the fuck his crimes were on the outside. It's because when he showed up, he was obnoxious and weird and not doing what he was told. The point of making him do all kinds of bad stuff? To make it clear to him: "Do what you are told, don't act all weird and obnoxious, or we will find some awful shit that somebody around here has to do and we will make you do it."
posted by 23skidoo at 6:50 AM on March 3, 2007


Well, fuck it. Good for him. Ooh, widdle prison guard is getting his feelings hurt.
posted by Firas at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2007


No, widdle prison guard is presented with someone who isn't doing what he's told, and if let's one guy get away with it, then someone else might want to do the same thing. It's not about feelings, it's about maintaining order in a place athat really, really needs it.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:58 AM on March 3, 2007


It's not about feelings, it's about maintaining order in a place athat really, really needs it.

I really, really would like to believe that. But based on some of the research I've seen on the current state of America's prisons, these corrective measures might be effective in deterring some minor examples of bad behavior, but seem to fail overall at maintaining overall order and basic human rights (the right not to get raped over a pack of smokes, no matter what crime got you in there in the first lace).
posted by psmealey at 7:04 AM on March 3, 2007


by the way, as a father to an autistic daughter, i'm getting a bit tired of hearing asperger's referred to as "a mental illness" ... learn what you're talking about, please
posted by pyramid termite at 7:10 AM on March 3, 2007


Whoa. I wasn't talking about rape as a punishment, I was talking about cleaning up shit as punishment. Non-rape-punishment may or may not be an effective way to deter bad behavior, but that doesn't mean that Cottrell's treatment was motivated by anything other than those in charge trying to get him to act like everyone else.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:13 AM on March 3, 2007


His mother believes that prison guards took an early dislike to him because he wasn’t able to play their games. “He can’t play the subordinate,” she says. “He’d die first.”

Be careful what you wish for, Billy Cottrell...

I was joking. That movie is as old as I am.

Ah. I couldn't tell because of my Aspergers. Now excuse me while I go petrol bomb some Hummers.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2007


Whoa. I wasn't talking about rape as a punishment,

Nor was I. I was addressing your other point about maintaining order, which seems not be happening on a very large scale.
posted by psmealey at 7:19 AM on March 3, 2007


Your link goes to a page where every link is to a story about prison-rape.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2007


Oh, I see. Since prison-rape is rampant, then guards must not be doing a good job at deterring bad behavior? That would only be true if guards were trying to stop prison-rape at all. I don't think that is high on their list of things to stop. That doesn't mean that punishment for other bad behaviors isn't effective.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:27 AM on March 3, 2007


i thought prison rape was bad behavior
posted by pyramid termite at 7:32 AM on March 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I don't understand how he is not a terrorist, or why people keep putting it in "scare quotes." There are people whose plight deserves much more sympathy.
posted by grouse at 7:45 AM on March 3, 2007


You both seem to be assuming that he's just quietly doing his time and the man has got it in for him, when I assume he's been fronting the whole time. It becomes personal whan you smart ass the judge, talk down to the guards, and generally making an ass of yourself - for whatever reason.

He has Asperger's Syndrome, which means he probably has issues in social situations. Most folks with Asperger's don't "front", because they are very literal and do not lie. Because of their issues with social situations they even don't understand how to "front". He probably doesn't get that if he plays nice with the guards, he can do his time in peace.

And he probably is making an ass of himself, but again it is a direct result of his Asperger's. We have had to literally teach my 20-year-old facial expressions to keep her from coming off as bitchy and give her scripts for how to say things without coming off like an ass. It's alot of work for her, and she is in a supportive situation, not prison where everyone thinks you are going to blow up the world.

In the article, his mom says the one thing that calms him down and helps him focus is reading about science. (My daughter has a focused interest she reads about to calm herself as well). Because he was with a group of goons who blew up hummers, the guards think learning about science == blowing crap up. So he has no way to calm himself, and he probably acts more like an ass because he doesn't know how to deal.
posted by gminks at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2007


Terrorism: Destroying unoccupied SUV's. Who knew?
posted by tehloki at 8:19 AM on March 3, 2007


Wasn't there a huge thread on Mefi just a little while ago about people with aspergers? Why are so many people equating Cottrell as just another nerd? This is to say nothing of the fact that the judge wouldn't allow a discussion of his disability in court, or the fact that he piled on an extra three years. Don't you think it might have helped the jury reach a better decision if they were told that people with aspergers have legitimate problems with social relations, so he wouldn't have just come off as the annoying jerk many of you are making him out to be?

Also, You can't sidestep the problem of systematic abuse in prison by asserting that everyone in prison deserves to be abused.
posted by a bad enough dude at 8:21 AM on March 3, 2007


Oh, I see. Since prison-rape is rampant, then guards must not be doing a good job at deterring bad behavior?

My point (unstated) was a bit more subtle. I agree that having discipline in prisons is required in a life-or-death kind of way. I just think that when more egregious behavior goes undeterred and unpunished, it makes Cottrell's treatment seem at once arbitrary, sadistic and trivial by comparison.
posted by psmealey at 8:23 AM on March 3, 2007


...not trivial to Cottrell, but trivial in the sense of it being an effort to enforce discipline, which I think was your main point.
posted by psmealey at 8:25 AM on March 3, 2007


How much environmental damage did he cause by burning the Hummers?
posted by kirkaracha at 8:26 AM on March 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


He has Asperger's Syndrome, which means he probably has issues in social situations.

Well he obviously has issues in social situations. Anyone who firebombs cars has issues in social situations. He wasn't just "with a group of goons who blew up hummers" - he was one of the goons.
posted by three blind mice at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2007


Terrorism: Destroying unoccupied SUV's. Who knew?

I've never seen a definition of terrorism that excluded arson. Certainly the legal definition does.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2007


Rather, the legal definition doesn't exclude arson.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2007


While I dislike the way a law gets introduced, then spread around far beyond its intended purpose (RICO acts, anyone?), the acts committed do seem to fit right in with the concept of terrorism - flaming property damage with the only goal in mind to draw people to whatever the issue du jour is. He may or may not have Asperger's; I've known some folks in PETA, ALF, and other radical organizations, and they all seem to have some really handy excuse for their drama. The article quotes Billy as saying that people should stop making excuses for their actions. Wow. Umm ... After the first Hummer blows, you find a way to get the hell out, not continue the firey ride.

Yes, our current prison system sucks, is run purely for profit, is ineffective, says "rehabilitation" but only is interested in punishment, and so forth. I'm pretty sure Billy knew this. He's studying physics so he must have a basic handle on the idea of cause and effect. So he helped blow some stuff up, with the intention of scaring some folks. Now (surprise!), he's in jail, and prison guards are scared of what he might get into. May have acted like an ass in court, so now there is little sympathy. He says, "I basically find myself incapable of acting with the kind of humble subordination ..." Well, if you are unable to control your behavior, you definitely can end up in prison.

Prison, just or unjust, can definitely end the meaningful contributions of a lot of people, not just the smarties. Are we weeping for them? I guess he thought he'd get a free pass, either due to his potential or to his disorder, but he didn't. Billy, don't think of it as "The Hole," just pretend it's a very smelly hugbox.
posted by adipocere at 8:38 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Rather, the legal definition doesn't exclude arson.

It doesn't exclude theft of pension funds and stock value, either. But the media does not use the same rhetoric of fear to describe white-collar criminals as it does with people who set fire to Hummers. Interesting disparity, there.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2007


Rather, the legal definition doesn't exclude arson.
It doesn't exclude theft of pension funds and stock value, either.


That is specious—fraud is not a dangerous or a violent act. It is excluded from the legal definition of terrorism.
posted by grouse at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2007


gminks:

You are exactly correct. A poorly aspected Asperger's person is literally an idiot savant: extreme intelligence coupled with an innate inability to apply it socially. Empathy deficient in ways that "norms" cannot really imagine possible, a person like this poor lad Billy is in the worst situation imaginable as a con. The Kabuki play of dominance and submission that is the script of life in the joint is not something he understands.

A poorly aspected Asperger's person frequently has involuntary verbal and behavioral tics reminiscent of Tourette's syndrome. The cries of "Objection" at Billy's trial are consistent with this trait

I use the term "poorly aspected" as a modifier in referring to the most unfortunate of Asperger's persons. There are many luckier Asperger's persons–among which I can count myself--who, by grace and training--can bridge the empathy gap which lies at the core of our genetic heritage of the mind. Billy obviously is not among us.

He comitted a terrible and senseless crime, but he is no more a terrorist than I am. His punishment betakes of the spirit of Abu Ghraib, the fashionable but pernicious notion that "terrorists" must be treated with exemplary barbarity. Certain comments in this thread alarmingly reflect this mentality, while others, thankfully, reflect empathy for the perp who becomes in turn a victim in a particularly poignant way.

It is accurately noted above by someone that ethics can be used to justify crimes. I note that exaggerated moral opprobrium is used every day for this purpose, especially in BushWorld.
posted by rdone at 8:58 AM on March 3, 2007


fraud is not a dangerous or a violent act

It's economic violence, when CEOs destroy the welfare and financial well-being of citizens, by stealing their livelihoods. It's not described that way by the press, but at the end of the day that's what it is.

And the legal definition of terrorism does not exclude economic factors, or the Bush administration would not attempt to use terrorism to justify obtaining bank records and financial transactions without court orders. It is accepted that many short orders prior to 9/11 are connected to funding overseas terrorist groups, for example.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2007


tbm, you realize he claims he didn't throw any of the molotov cocktails that blew up the hummers, and he claims he told the guy who did it to stop, right?

and that the two other guys involved are still at large...the guy accused of actually throwing the bombs is believed to have fled the country.

This is actually why his Asperger's DX should have been disclosed in court. He went out to spray paint some SUVs, and while any other kid his age would have realized that the activists he was with were planning to do much more (esp when they stopped to get gas), he wasn't able to put it all together. He went to court and told the truth (in what seems like a very Aspie way), the activist organizations dumped him and the real people behind the whole event left the country.

Did he deserve to go to jail? Yes he broke the law. But why is he being treated like a terrorist in prison? Why can't he have science books? Or teach other inmates calculus? Is he too dangerous to learn Japanese?
posted by gminks at 9:02 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Too dangerous to learn Chinese (oops). It could be any language...why is that too scary to let him learn something in prison?
posted by gminks at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2007


Wasn't there a huge thread on Mefi just a little while ago about people with aspergers? Why are so many people equating Cottrell as just another nerd?

Because Aspergers is a red herring in this case. Not only is the diagnosis highly suspect -- it's always convenient when heretofore unrealized mental problems are suddenly recognized just before trial -- but his own writings clearly demonstrate an understanding of human systems and how they work. He may have difficulty following the ebb and flow of a live human interaction, but that has no bearing on the fact that he actively set out to do something that he knew was illegal.

I'm sure he didn't *believe* there would be consequences, but that's the hallmark of adolescents everywhere.
posted by tkolar at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2007


"That is specious—fraud is not a dangerous or a violent act. It is excluded from the legal definition of terrorism."

Let's see that definition, hmmm?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2007


I wish some of those blowing off his Asperger's as a mitigating factor in how he should be treated could spend a week with it themselves, trying to communicate in a world where you could not understand expressions, tones of voice, or context.

The article doesn't get into how overly brutal prison treatment is to a lot of other people, most of whom don't get cover stories because they're not white, male, brilliant savant physicists with highly educated advocates fighting for them; but that doesn't excuse what's being done to this person. He deserves a fairer sentence and decent treatment that matches the crime committed; so does everyone who's incarcerated. Unless we really have just given up on being a nation of laws and we like letting judges and guards lock people away for however long they like and abuse them at their whim.
posted by emjaybee at 9:09 AM on March 3, 2007


His punishment betakes of the spirit of Abu Ghraib, the fashionable but pernicious notion that "terrorists" must be treated with exemplary barbarity

Sorting garbage compares with Abu Ghraib? Please. If anything, that minimizes the real torture that the Abu Ghraib victims experienced.
fraud is not a dangerous or a violent act
It's economic violence


Yawn. Thanks, but I already get all the sophistry I need elsewhere.
posted by grouse at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2007


Let's see that definition, hmmm?

Sure. 18 USC 2331 says:
(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
posted by grouse at 9:13 AM on March 3, 2007


you realize he claims he didn't throw any of the molotov cocktails that blew up the hummers, and he claims he told the guy who did it to stop, right?

We all read the story. We also read the part where he sent bragging emails about the crime.

You guys are all getting your panties in a bunch because this dude's mom and his lawyers are saying that he shouldn't be in jail and he's being treated badly. That's what mothers and lawyers do.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yawn. Thanks, but I already get all the sophistry I need elsewhere.

By sophistry, do you mean your unsupported assertion that there is no economic component in terrorism law, such as Title III of the PATRIOT Act? Or do you care to take that back?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2007


By sophistry, do you mean your unsupported assertion that there is no economic component in terrorism law, such as Title III of the PATRIOT Act?

Actually, I don't remember saying that, and it is still more sophistry to argue that I did.
posted by grouse at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2007


Actually, I don't remember saying that, and it is still more sophistry to argue that I did.
 posted by grouse at 12:20 PM EST on March 3 [+] [!]


That is specious—fraud is not a dangerous or a violent act. It is excluded from the legal definition of terrorism.
 posted by grouse at 11:53 AM EST on March 3 [+] [!]


Care to take back your false assertion?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:23 AM on March 3, 2007


'Terrorist' is so often used as an insult that it is perhaps futile to try and come to any consensus about what the word actually means, and hence decide who is and who isn't a terrorist.

But the dictionary (in this case, OED) takes a pretty good shot at it anyway:
  • Any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation.
    The term now usually refers to a member of a clandestine or expatriate organization aiming to coerce an established government by acts of violence against it or its subjects.
  • Dyslogistically: One who entertains, professes, or tries to awaken or spread a feeling of terror or alarm; an alarmist, a scaremonger.

  • Note the word "dyslogistically" in the second definition. It means that 'terrorist' in the sense of the second definition is an insult. Being accused of being a terrorist under the second definition doesn't make you a terrorist, in the same way that being called an idiot doesn't make you an idiot.

    Billy Cottrell is surely a terrorist. He's using intimidation to further his beliefs, and he's part of a clandestine group (he and his friends) who are trying to coerce the government by acts of violence (torching SUVs) against its subjects. The definition seems reasonable to me, and he fits the definition perfectly, so it seems clear that he is indeed a terrorist.

    Whatever your personal opinion of George Bush, Blazecock Pileon, the only possible way he fits the definition of terrorist is in the second sense (spreads terror, alarm, scaremonger). He clearly doesn't fit the first — he is part of the established government, he's not part of a clandestine group fighting against it. The second sense is just an insult, a term of opprobrium, not a meaningful description of someone. Using 'terrorist' in such a loose, throwaway way renders it meaningless.


    Now, no doubt languagehat will be along to tell me that the dictionary should be writing down whatever Blazecock Pileon (or rather, the average person) thinks terrorist means. In macro terms perhaps that's true, but I think there's some value (not so much moral value as utilitarian) in preserving the meaning of the word terrorist, rather than letting it become a meaningless insult like 'idiot' (or 'liberal' as used pejoratively by the American Right).
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:24 AM on March 3, 2007


    In macro terms perhaps that's true, but I think there's some value (not so much moral value as utilitarian) in preserving the meaning of the word terrorist, rather than letting it become a meaningless insult like 'idiot' (or 'liberal' as used pejoratively by the American Right).

    I agree with you, and believe misappropriation of the term to this arsonist dilutes the true meaning of terrorism. Further, I believe its misappropriation here to be of a deliberate and discriminatory nature, for specific political purposes.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 AM on March 3, 2007


    Good lord, people. There are plenty of brilliant mathematicians and physicists who are sane and who don't commit first-degree arson. Why would anyone think that we need to give special treatment to an arsonist just because he knows Euler's theorem?
    posted by ikkyu2 at 9:33 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    Sure, keep him in prison, but LET HIM STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE.

    No. When you commit a crime and go to prison, you don't get to continue your life as normal. He can study sciene again when he gets out of prison.
    posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:39 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]



    tkolar: did you read this post? It's nothing but personal: He was made an example by the judge. [...] They video'ed this treatment by staff and used it as a model for the rest of the system to deal with 'terrorists.'


    Do either of these really sound personal to you? The judge didn't really want to set an example, but he was so personally incensed that he decided to in this case? The prison system didn't really want to make a training video, but was so personally offended by this individual that they decided to make one anyway?

    This guy is a symbol, and everyone involved is very aware of it. Not only does he have a conviction for terrorism, but he is a well educated white boy. Any hint that he is having anything other than the full, miserable prison experience will piss off the "soft on terror" people on the right, and the "prison treatment is based on race" people on the left.

    And let us not forget that this is a federal prison, paid for by an administration that is desperate to have a well documented trail of prosecuting and punishing terrorists. It's fair to say that an entire chain of administrators, right up to the President of the United States, have a vested interest in making his life a living hell. If anything, the bits of compassion thrown his way are coming from the members of the prison staff who do know him personally and have compassion for him -- note the sad tale of the prison education coordinator, who appears to have been crucified for trying to help him learn a new language.

    Given this backdrop, it's also clear why every public attempt to intervene on his behalf is followed by ever nastier repercussions. As long as this terrorist remains in the public eye absolutely no one will be able to cut him a break.
    posted by tkolar at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2007


    ikkyu2, I think you're generalizing greatly. There are a number of views expressed in the article and in this thread and not too many of them expect anything beyond the guy simply receiving just treatment in all the circumstances. Not special treatment.
    posted by peacay at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2007


    but he's a genius!
    ok, every time i hear about geniuses fucking up, i'm reminded of the following joke.

    an airplane with four people on board was going over a mountain range. it had only three packed parachutes available. the four people were 1) the president of the united states, 2) the world's smartest man, 3) a priest, and 4) a hippie. while over the mountains, the plane's engines conked out and the plane began to descend.

    the president stood up and said "it is imperative that i survive this, not for my own sake, but because i'm the leader of the entire free world." he strapped one on and jumped out the door.

    the world's smartest man stood up and said "it is imperative that i survive this, not for my own sake, but because i hold my intellect in trust for all mankind." he strapped on one and jumped out the door. that left the priest and the hippie.

    the priest said to the hippie "my son, my faith is strong. the moment the plane hits the mountains, the loving lord jesus will clasp me to his bosom; i could not want for more, so please, take the remaining parachute and save yourself."

    the hippie said "hey man, that's real cool, you being willing to die for me and all, but you don't have to. there's a parachute here for both of us."

    the priest was confused. he said "i thought we only had three parachutes on board to start with."

    the hippie replied "the world's smartest man just jumped out of the plane wearing my backpack."
    posted by bruce at 9:41 AM on March 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


    I wish some of those blowing off his Asperger's as a mitigating factor in how he should be treated could spend a week with it themselves,

    yes, that's how i should raise my autistic daughter, so she can use her autism as an excuse for anything she does ...

    you can just keep your victim mentality to yourself, cause it's not what people on the spectrum need to get along in the world ... they don't need the mentality that the world has to make adjustments to them, because, guess what? ... that's NOT how it works

    Care to take back your false assertion?

    fraud is not counterfeiting, money laundering or money smuggling ... try again

    This guy is a symbol, and everyone involved is very aware of it.

    especially him
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 AM on March 3, 2007


    I agree with you, and believe misappropriation of the term to this arsonist dilutes the true meaning of terrorism. Further, I believe its misappropriation here to be of a deliberate and discriminatory nature, for specific political purposes.

    Blazecock Pileon, did you take a class in sophistry, or does it come naturally? Is there like a sophistry spider that bit you on the hand at early age, Peter Parker-style, and gave you the sophistry superpower?

    I said calling Billy Cottrell a terrorist is a sensible description of him, because he matches the definition of terrorist. Calling George Bush a terrorist is a meaningless insult, because he doesn't match the definition of terrorist. You are the one reducing the term to a throwaway political epithet.
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:46 AM on March 3, 2007


    i'm gonna take blazecock's side in this. an act of terror is an act designed to strike fear into as many people as possible, and hopefully to get them to change their behavior due to this fear.

    five million dollars worth of suv's burned up last night. nobody in my circle is going to shudder in apprehension over that, and we are unlikely to change our behavior.
    posted by bruce at 9:57 AM on March 3, 2007


    five million dollars worth of suv's burned up last night. nobody in my circle is going to shudder in apprehension over that, and we are unlikely to change our behavior.

    SUVs parked on streets and driveways were also vandalized during the same spree.

    Tell me you're going to keep parking next to your neighbor's Hummer when it may be firebombed overnight?
    posted by tkolar at 10:12 AM on March 3, 2007


    Aloysius Bear: there is an additional definition of "terrorist" and that is the legal definition. From the purposes of how a judge will rule, that is the only thing that matters. I provided a definition that this case fits under earlier in this thread.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think that there's anything in Title III of the Patriot Act that would support Blazecock Pileon's claim that the legal defintion of terrorism would "include theft of pension funds and stock value" or his claim that those are "economic violence."

    Indeed, I think that bringing up Title III at all is yet another cynical attempt at sophistry, because the only striking thing about it with relation to this discussion is that fraud and terror are both mentioned, but treated separately. There's no section that defines terror in a way that includes fraud counter to the definition in 18 USC 2331. Of course, the whole USA PATRIOT act was a cynical attempt to push a bunch of statute through that had little to do with terrorism. But I don't think engaging in the same sorts of specious argumentation should be repeated here.

    I'm still looking for the place where I made an "assertion that there is no economic component in terrorism law" but I think Blazecock Pileon just made that up.
    posted by grouse at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2007


    tkolar opines "Tell me you're going to keep parking next to your neighbor's Hummer when it may be firebombed overnight?"

    Are you seriously arguing that someone who feels a need to find an alternate parking spot can be said to be "terrorized"? Whiskey... Tango... Foxtrot...
    posted by clevershark at 10:21 AM on March 3, 2007


    Bookhouse,

    "(Yes, I know the story says he has Asperger's -- but it also portrays the symptoms of it as acting like an asshole)."

    I've been reading quite a bit about Asperger's the last few weeks. Many people who have the disorder come off looking as assholes.

    23skidoo,

    I wonder if you read the same piece I did. He doesn't sound like a whiny brat at all to me. He sounds to me like someone who doesn't understand subtexts in communication. More importantly it seems like he is being treated in a prejudicial manner in terms of his access to reading material, jobs and exercise outside.

    It's understood that prisons like the rest of the world have to make do with limited resources and that not every nuance can be acknowledged and responded to appropriately. Still, it seems like the courts and department of corrections are going out of their way to remain ignorant.

    tkolar,

    The fact that it is convenient for his disorder to be discovered shortly before trial does not invalidate it. Onlookers snorting about the timing do nothing to help bring the case into an accurate focus.

    There is a big difference in Asperger's between having a conscious understanding of social dynamics and smooth participation.

    ThePinkSuperhero,

    I don't get where your investment comes from in denying him access to his study materials. He isn't in the SHU at some maximum security prison (yet). The issue is that before he was placed in the hole they wouldn't allow him physics books and journals. There isn't anything out of bounds there.
    posted by BigSky at 10:25 AM on March 3, 2007


    AB:
    Calling George Bush a terrorist is a meaningless insult, because he doesn't match the definition of terrorist.

    The bottom line for me is that Bush terrorizes me and Cottrell doesn't. Yeah. I know. The looming attack of Iran and $5 a gallon gas shouldn't terrorize me. But it does.
    posted by notreally at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2007


    Of course, the whole USA PATRIOT act was a cynical attempt to push a bunch of statute through that had little to do with terrorism

    Yawn. Thanks, but I already get all the sophistry I need elsewhere.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2007


    No. When you commit a crime and go to prison, you don't get to continue your life as normal. He can study sciene again when he gets out of prison.

    He's in a minimum-security prison. He should be allowed these things.

    Arguably for a physicist/mathematician this is the rest of his life. These are their most productive years.

    Plenty of writers/artists/scientists did great work while imprisoned, justly or unjustly.

    That comment really disturbed me since it comes off to me as, yes, lets not just keep him away from society lets crush his creative spirit. If so, its the most horrid sentiment I've seen expressed in this thread.
    posted by vacapinta at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2007


    I'm still looking for the place where I made an "assertion that there is no economic component in terrorism law" but I think Blazecock Pileon just made that up.

    Nope, you said it. Or perhaps now your sophistry has progressed to the point where you assert that fraud cannot be financial in nature.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:47 AM on March 3, 2007


    Bigsky wrote...
    The fact that it is convenient for his disorder to be discovered shortly before trial does not invalidate it.

    Nope, but it severely affects it credibility. To ignore the timing of the diagnosis would be foolishness.
    posted by tkolar at 10:48 AM on March 3, 2007


    it --> its
    posted by tkolar at 10:50 AM on March 3, 2007


    I said calling Billy Cottrell a terrorist is a sensible description of him, because he matches the definition of terrorist.

    How you figure?

    Because he lit a bunch of Hummers on fire? That's terrorism? What separates it from plain-Jane arson, pray tell?
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:50 AM on March 3, 2007


    Or perhaps now your sophistry

    sophistry or not, you're boring the crap out of us ... just drop it
    posted by pyramid termite at 10:53 AM on March 3, 2007


    Blazecock Pileon on sophistry: "I know you are but what am I?"
    posted by grouse at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2007


    Civil_Disobedient, he's a terrorist and an arsonist. The two terms are hardly mutually exclusive.

    As I said above, Cottrell is using intimidation to further his beliefs, and he's part of a clandestine group (he and his friends) who are trying to coerce the government by acts of violence (torching SUVs) against its subjects. How is that not terrorism?

    The facts of the case match the definition of terrorism, so if you disagree with him being described as a terrorist, you must be subscribing to a different definition of terrorist from mine.

    "Any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation. The term now usually refers to a member of a clandestine or expatriate organization aiming to coerce an established government by acts of violence against it or its subjects."

    This seems an entirely reasonable definition of terrorist, to me.
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:01 AM on March 3, 2007


    Have you ever noticed that when you say a certain word a bunch of times, it loses its meaning and just sound like noise? Like if a couple of people in the thread just kept saying "sophistry sophistry sophistry sophistry sophistry," it would just start to sound silly.
    posted by Bookhouse at 11:12 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    even though prosecutors did not present a single piece of evidence linking the strange genius Cottrell to any radical movements

    He used the term ELF in his spraypainting. That is allying oneself with (wannabee) revolutionary eco-terrorists, so I understand how he got the label.

    But the kid needs some social learning. He didn't use his smarts (clearly) to commit the crime, but because of the label the authorities seem paranoid about his potential to use it. Fear of book smarts -- fear of the unknown.

    The hearing had gone extremely well, according to Cottrell’s lawyers, who argued before the court that Cottrell’s Asperger’s diagnosis should have been heard during his trial. “There’s a precedent in California,” says Rudnick, “that if you have a ‘gross and identifiable disability,’ it can be used to explain the actions of the defendant. But we weren’t allowed to do that. It was as if [Billy] was blind, and the jury was extra hard on him because he could not answer the question ‘What did you see?’ ”

    Aspergers really is like that: being unable to see social stuff. Is it a disability? I don't think it's classed as such. His story has lots of cracks to fall into. He fell into them. One such:

    “I have not seen such interest by judges in a criminal defendant’s case,” Rudnick says of Pregerson. “We’ve come a long way since the conviction. The judges seemed very, very concerned about his case and his welfare in prison. It looks to me like they wanted to do something.”

    But they have not acted yet, and with each day that passes, Rudnick’s optimism seems to flag. “I am puzzled about the failure of the 9th Circuit to follow up on its seemingly supportive position,” he wrote to the Weekly in January. “Since the applicability of Asperger’s is new to the criminal law, and this is a terrorist case, the only thing I can think of is that they may be waiting for another decision from another panel. Or they may be fighting over language in the decision in order to get a 3-0 vote instead of what looked like a 2-1 vote.”


    See, you have to choose to be in control of your own mind:

    The mind that should have been dialed into exploring the great problems of our scientific age instead wanders idly inside a federal prison, examining the social order in all its perverse detail. While stewing in the Hole, Cottrell began to compare his situation, and the situation of other prisoners like him, to the situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

    even though that is hard in the face of injustice.

    From the scientists' letter:
    If Billy’s treatment does not change, then by the time he will have served his full sentence, Billy will have ended up a human wreck unsuited for any constructive participation in American society

    He already chose that path when he did the crime. Blaming the system for reinforcing his existing state of mind begs a question. Yeah, the system has problems, yeah, his treatment should change. Individual freedom of mind, though, is individual freedom of mind.
    posted by Listener at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2007


    Because he lit a bunch of Hummers on fire? That's terrorism? What separates it from plain-Jane arson, pray tell?

    His supposedly environmental intent.

    The reason, presumably, that he burned up the Hummers was so as to send a message to other potential Hummer owners that if you buy one of these, this too may get burned. He's attempting to terrorize Hummer owners and potential Hummer owners into choosing a different mode of transport -- ergo it's terrorism.

    If he'd just burned out random vehicles, such as motor scooters, bicycles roller skates as well as Hummers, then it would have been plain-Jane arson.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:18 AM on March 3, 2007


    How you figure? Because [Cottrell] lit a bunch of Hummers on fire? That's terrorism? What separates it from plain-Jane arson, pray tell?

    No, it's terrorism because he says so. That's how unfounded assertions work around here.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 AM on March 3, 2007


    Blazecock Pileon, you have a preternatural talent for either ignoring or wilfully misinterpreting what anyone actually says, and instead being a drama queen and spouting arrant nonsense.

    How can you say that Cottrell is not a terrorist? I'd love to see an actual argument from you here, rather than a superficial ad hominem attack on the people who call him one.
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:31 AM on March 3, 2007


    i can't make up my mind ... terrorism and sophistry ... terrorism, asperger's and sophistry... terrorism, asperger's, prison rape and sophistry ... sophistry, terrorism, prison rape and sophistry ... sophistry, terrorism, sophistry, sophistry, asperger's and sophistry... sophistry, sophistry, sophistry, terrorism, and sophistry ... sophistry, sophistry, sophistry, sophistry, sophistry, sophistry, baked suv's, sophistry, sophistry, sophistry and sophistry ... or lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried suv on top and sophistry
    posted by pyramid termite at 11:36 AM on March 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


    Wikipedia: Ecoterrorism

    While there is no consensus on the exact definition of "terrorism", the word is typically used to describe politically motivated acts of violence with the intention to intimidate governments or civilians.

    Let's see:
    Politically motivated? Check.
    Act of violence? Check.
    Intention to intimidate? Check.

    What's to argue about?
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2007


    Aloysius Bear: So, do you class SUVs as the subjects of the US government, or as the government itself?
    posted by yoz420 at 11:46 AM on March 3, 2007


    "He already chose that path when he did the crime."

    WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
    posted by Firas at 11:53 AM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    Seriously, tell me really that you think that someone who sets cars on fire is to be made mental mincemeat of? Why don't you just execute him instead? Look in the mirror, asshole.
    posted by Firas at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2007


    I can't believe how much disgust for people I've always thought halfway rational is filling me as I read through this. You guys are fucking insane.
    posted by Firas at 11:57 AM on March 3, 2007


    There are a number of views expressed in the article and in this thread and not too many of them expect anything beyond the guy simply receiving just treatment in all the circumstances.

    Arson is a capital crime in most jurisdictions where the death penalty is on the books. Are you saying that what's being done to him is worse than the death penalty?
    posted by ikkyu2 at 11:57 AM on March 3, 2007


    Firas, I just guess we believe that someone who recklessly sets a bunch of stuff on fire, regardless of threat to life,for the purpose of intimidation or making a statement, should be in jail. I guess you believe prison is only for your ideological enemies?

    ...you think that someone who sets cars on fire is to be made mental mincemeat of

    Oh, widdle poor arosnist is getting his feelings hurt.
    posted by Snyder at 12:05 PM on March 3, 2007


    Arson is a capital crime in most jurisdictions where the death penalty is on the books. Are you saying that what's being done to him is worse than the death penalty?

    You're actually using "Hey! It's better than the death penalty!" as an argument?

    I suppose one can't reach consensus in a thread like this when people are defining "justice" completely differently.
    posted by vacapinta at 12:09 PM on March 3, 2007


    Snyder, tell me you're not so dense that you can't see the difference between hurt feelings and "human wreck".
    posted by Firas at 12:15 PM on March 3, 2007


    I'm really feeling out of character here and don't want to get into a sniping style discussion so am checking out. Suffice it to say you guys have totally grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick. Have fun.
    posted by Firas at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2007


    I'm really feeling out of character here and don't want to get into a sniping style discussion so am checking out.

    How thoughtful of you.
    posted by dhammond at 12:30 PM on March 3, 2007


    My main problem with this case is that his sentence was enhanced for terrorism without a jury's decision that his actions were terrorism. A judge shouldn't be able to make that kind of finding of fact on his own.

    That said, if the facts had been presented to the jury--particularly the fact that they had painted the name of a terrorist organization on some of the vandalized vehicles--they probably would have agreed with the judge.

    And yeah, molotov cocktails are pretty frickin' violent.
    posted by mr_roboto at 12:34 PM on March 3, 2007


    Eight years seems pretty lenient. Many times I've slept in the back of my SUV, and it's a sobering thought that I could be burned to death by some thugish, asshole eco-terrorists. Politics through fear and mayhem is coercion. This is definitely terrorism.

    The windows of my car have been broken in by such valiant 'freedom fighters' in the past.
    posted by dgaicun at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2007


    Wow, what a mess. Lots of separate issues here twisting round and round. Slipping into my Captain Obvious costume for a bit, let me see if I can unwind this:
    posted by psmealey at 1:17 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    Blazecock Pileon, you have a preternatural talent for either ignoring or wilfully misinterpreting what anyone actually says, and instead being a drama queen and spouting arrant nonsense.

    That would have worked a couple years ago. Not any longer, so sorry. You can either back up your claim with an explanation, or you're a sophist without a leg to stand on.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:36 PM on March 3, 2007


    I've been reading quite a bit about Asperger's the last few weeks. Many people who have the disorder come off looking as assholes.


    Aspergers really is like that: being unable to see social stuff. Is it a disability? I don't think it's classed as such.

    I was a grad student at the University of Chicago, and there were times when I felt that half the undergraduate population had Asperger's. Seriously, these were often kids who were incredibly smart in terms of synthesizing abstract concepts, but who often had difficulties in the area of thinking things all the way through. One or two I knew may very well have had Asperger's, many more were likely just poorly socialized, and quite a few were certainly assholes. These categories were also not mutually exclusive, and I could probably plot a pretty venn diagram describing the overlap.

    However, none of these people (in my opinion) would have qualified as mentally incompetent or insane. The very few students I knew who would (for a variety of extreme behaviors, usually involving some sort of self-harm), typically had to leave the program and, in at least one case, required institutionalization.

    Neither Asperger's or being an asshole should excuse the fact that this guy committed a crime against property, and one with the potential for injury to people.

    The fact that the crime was poorly thought out is irrelevant. There are plenty of people in jail right now for doing things that they didn't think through completely. Frankly, I'm lucky not to have gone to jail for some of the things I did when I was younger. In Cottrell's case, having done something stupid should not be treated as a symptom of a disorder. Poor decision-making ability, on its own, is not a mental illness.

    That being said, I am disturbed by the possibility that he is being singled out for "special treatment" outside of the sentence recommended by the relevant statute, and because of the particular crime he was charged with. "Terrorism" is becoming a magic word that allows us to override the established standards of criminal justice and seek revenge for the experience of feeling threatened by something.

    Disclosure: I probably demonstrate at least two of the three characteristics I ascribed to UofC undergrads.
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:38 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    yoz420, are you saying firebombing people's cars isn't a violent attempt at coercive intimidation?
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2007


    As a sixth-grader, he submitted a report on quantum mechanics as extra credit. However, the grade he received was an F, for his teacher believed that he had plagiarized the work. This event caused Cottrell to stop excelling in school, and led him to a life as rebel and class troublemaker.

    Fuck.
    posted by etoile at 1:50 PM on March 3, 2007


    You can either back up your claim with an explanation ...

    Not sure which claim you're referring to here — I've made a few, each with some degree of argument to support them, unlike yours. I assume you're referring to my saying your comments reflect a "drama queen" attitude, resulting in various nonsensical comments, instead of a willingness to have a proper debate.

    Instead of actually engaging with anything I or anyone else said, you just dismiss it out of hand, saying:
    No, it's terrorism because he says so. That's how unfounded assertions work around here.

    Earlier in the thread, you implied George Bush is a terrorist but this kid isn't. I wrote a lengthy, reasoned reply to that. Instead of replying with arguments or evidence, you make an unsupported sweeping statement that makes me doubt you even read anything I said, let alone understood it. I don't expect you to agree with everything I or anyone else says, but at least have the decency to write a proper, reasoned reply, not just a one-liner that dismisses me (and Metafilter, judging by the 'around here') out of hand.
    posted by Aloysius Bear at 1:58 PM on March 3, 2007


    Seriously, tell me really that you think that someone who sets cars on fire is to be made mental mincemeat of?

    you have a rather generous definition of mental health, don't you?
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2007


    I was a grad student at the University of Chicago, and there were times when I felt that half the undergraduate population had Asperger's.

    Only half? I was an undergrad at the University of Chicago, and there were times when I felt that all the undergraduate population had Asperger's. Well, all of them except for me. Which probably indicates that I had it as well.
    posted by psmealey at 2:48 PM on March 3, 2007


    I wish some of those blowing off his Asperger's as a mitigating factor in how he should be treated could spend a week with it themselves,

    For what it's worth, folks, people who are sociopaths and/or suffer from personality disorders (especially Narcissistic PD or Borderline PD) are often brilliant, accomplished people....who display poor social judgement, a severely impaired sense of what is and is not appropriate, have trouble observing social norms and niceties, etc......and they fill the prisons--where they too have difficulty thriving and suffer the consequences of not knowing how to play nice, or at the very least, sympathetic--as a direct result of the consequences of their disorders.

    [DISCLAIMER: I DID NOT SAY THAT PEOPLE WITH ASPERGERS ARE SOCIOPATHS OR EXACTLY THE SAME AS SOCIOPATHS.....just that some of his "issues" that are being argued should be seen as mitigating factors are not at all uncommon for folks who commit crimes and then pay the consequences. I also don't think he's a terrorist or should be treated as such.]
    posted by availablelight at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2007


    Aloysius Bear,

    Fireboming people's cars would be an act of intimidation, but firebombing cars in a dealership's lot? That just seems like ideologically driven vandalism and arson. It was stupid, dangerous, counterproductive and the result of a mind clouded by anger, but it doesn't follow that it was an effort to intimidate anyone. The motive here is a misguided attempt to take the profit out of environmentally destructive activities. This is the explicit motive of the ELF, as far as it can be considered to have a coherent aim.

    The Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, The murder of Pierre Laporte, the assasination of Martin Luther King, the assasination of Yitzak Rabin, the London Underground bombings, these are acts of terrorism. People are killed and injured, people are terrorized.

    The difference between the aformentioned people and the twats burning Hummers is the intent to harm people, and actual violence against people, not merely property. The problem with labeling these people terrorists is that irrespective of how repugnant and destructive these acts are, the threat they represent is a few orders of magnitude less than what people think when they hear the word "terrorist." The difference between these people and true terrorists is the damage they cause is measured in dollars and not lives.
    posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2007


    In trying to determine whether the fires were terroristic, I ask myself, what were the intentions behind the acts? Was he actually hunting SUV's in an attempt to rid the world of them, a few at a time (which I would not consider terrorism per say)? Or was he trying to change buying/insuring/selling habits by making people scared to be involved with them (which I would consider terrorism)? Without consideration for the intention, any crime is just random "run of the mill" violence and mayhem.

    Obviously the guy was using violence to try to altering behavior (of the car owners, potential owners, dealers, insurance companies, neighborhood associations, etc, yoz420) that he would not, in almost any other circumstance, have influence over - by introducing fear and potential loss and/or injury or death. I feel the label fits, according to the definition PeterMcDermott and grouse have linked to, although I do agree with mr_roboto in feeling the judge was a little too independent, even if the jury probably would have agreed.

    Blazecock, though I generally find your comments insightful and interesting, I feel that here you are definitely being misleading. I think the more appropriate thing to ask is where your "proof" that fraud is economic terrorism lies, beyond the swirling ether that is poetic abstraction. Your link to the PATRIOT Act shows that providing financial services and helping people involved in terrorism are indeed criminal offenses, but doesn't do anything for your argument except throw into sharp relief it's weakness. grouse never said that finance cannot be associated with terrorism, but that financial crime, by itself, is not a recognized form of terror or violence. It was merely pointed out (rightly) that your still unsupported claim that "economic violence" is the same as blowing up cars in neighborhoods in the eyes of the law is completely made up. Please show us where economic terrorism is, at all, anywhere, a legally recognized term or crime.

    I agree that it is a fitting label, but no more legal or less "proper" than calling Bush a terrorist.
    posted by dozo at 3:19 PM on March 3, 2007


    Fireboming people's cars would be an act of intimidation, but firebombing cars in a dealership's lot?

    car dealers aren't people?
    posted by pyramid termite at 3:24 PM on March 3, 2007


    [expletive deleted]

    Terrorism isn't terrorism until someone dies?

    I think they were rather lucky that someone didn't.


    posted by dozo at 3:24 PM on March 3, 2007


    [expletive deleted], I disagree with your analysis, which seems to hold that to be terrorism, violence must be done against people. Consider the case of an insurgent organization that calls in a bomb threat before detonation. As a result, no people are harmed, but a building is still destroyed. Is this an act of terror? If I understand you correctly you would say no. I would say yes.

    The punishment must fit the crime, but the punishment for murder is already far beyond that for arson. Intent and premeditation are already considered when deciding the severity of a crime and its sentence. I think politically-motivated violent crime intended to intimidate people is the worst kind of premeditation. I think it is only right that terrorism should enhance the sentence for any violent crime, whether against people or property.
    posted by grouse at 3:45 PM on March 3, 2007


    So, I'm still not sure. Is the guy really smart smart, or mefi smart? (Meaning he can make snarky comments and once read an article on Dawkins.)
    posted by vronsky at 4:09 PM on March 3, 2007


    Yeah, the guy and his cohorts are terrorists. Instilling fear in folks, or terror, is pretty much what the deal is there, regardless of the patriot act says.

    And this guy is classic. He didn't get caught. So he started taunting them. Whether he knew of internet anonymity or not, his actions where that of trying to get caught.

    Narcissist, Borderline, Idiot or whatever. He was taunting them, and creating more fear for the folks that sold the cars or lived nearby.

    His treatment in prison sucks. Let him study. If he wants to teach and he can swing it, let him teach.

    Already he can't vote ever again. And is a convicted terrorist. I think we actually need him to survive his time. An US American ex-convict terrorist genius is just what this country needs to get back on its feet again!
    posted by YoBananaBoy at 5:02 PM on March 3, 2007


    You guys are all getting your panties in a bunch because this dude's mom and his lawyers are saying that he shouldn't be in jail and he's being treated badly. That's what mothers and lawyers do.

    "That he shouldn't be in jail"? Is it Hysterical Illiteracy Day at Mefi?
    posted by Anything at 5:52 PM on March 3, 2007


    Let me be clear, I'm not saying that this isn't terrorism because nobody died. It isn't terrorism because it isn't their intention to kill, injure or scare anyone. They are committing acts of economic sabotage and political vandalism.

    I'm not claiming that this frightened no one, or that this wasn't reckless, or that there wasn't the potential for someone to get hurt, but that is peripheral to intent, which is what matters when we want to define something as terrorism. These people weren't trying to intimidate anyone. They were trying to remove profit as a motive for environmentally destructive businesses. This isn't conjecture; this is the explicit aim of the ELF insofar as it can be said to have a cohesive set of goals. The ELF explicitly condemns violence towards people and other animals.

    Don't misunderstand me, I'm not defending this organization or actions carried out in its name, but at the same time, I think there is a clear distinction between the ELF and terrorist groups, which by definition use violence or the threat of violence to engender fear.

    I'm not saying this was just civil disobedience or something like that. It was criminal, and it was stupid and dangerous. I do think that spending time in jail (though not the sentence that was given) is appropriate.
    posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:01 PM on March 3, 2007


    "That he shouldn't be in jail"? Is it Hysterical Illiteracy Day at Mefi?

    So his mother and lawyer think he should be in jail? Did I miss that part of the story?
    posted by Bookhouse at 8:09 PM on March 3, 2007


    but that is peripheral to intent

    it's a rare arson investigation crew that can determine intent from the burned out hulks of suvs

    These people weren't trying to intimidate anyone. They were trying to remove profit as a motive for environmentally destructive businesses.

    which is a form of intimidation ... or don't you think that going broke is going to be perceived by a businessman as a serious, life-altering threat?

    yeah, the insurance pays for it ... and then they increase the insurance because they feel that this form of violence is more likely ... isn't there some kind of intimidation at work there?

    in any case all it takes is one police officers, one security guard or even one passerby to encounter this situation and then anything could happen, couldn't it?
    posted by pyramid termite at 8:14 PM on March 3, 2007


    bookhouse...yes. you did. Also, I did. in the post you quoted.
    posted by gminks at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2007


    Pyramid Termite, I suppose you could call it intimidation, but of a fundamentally different nature. I would be comfortable calling this economic terrorism, but the problem is the word "terrorism" has a visceral impact that is completely removed from this context.

    In any case all it takes is one police officers, one security guard or even one passerby to encounter this situation and then anything could happen, couldn't it?

    The ELF states non-violence (towards animals, not property) as one of its principles. Furthermore, the fact remains that no one was hurt. If they had killed, or deliberately injured anyone, I wouldn't be arguing this point, I would consider them terrorists.
    posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:44 PM on March 3, 2007


    Bookhouse: So his mother and lawyer think he should be in jail? Did I miss that part of the story?

    Yup, you did. To wit:

    Schwiebert didn’t have any illusions that her son deserved special sympathy; she didn’t think it was newsworthy that her son was in prison. She just wanted the prison to follow its own rules. “You’re not supposed to be denied privileges unless you’re doing something wrong,” she said. “And they don’t tell us what he’s done wrong.”
    She also wanted to get clear information about his well-being and whereabouts. Cottrell had been in the Hole since early November, and communication since then had been almost nonexistent. “At this point,” she said, “we don’t even know whether he’s dead.”

    posted by kid ichorous at 8:45 PM on March 3, 2007


    Already he can't vote ever again.

    This isn't true. Many states allow ex-felons to vote, including California (about a third of the way down on that FAQ page).
    posted by mr_roboto at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2007


    Schwiebert didn’t have any illusions that her son deserved special sympathy; she didn’t think it was newsworthy that her son was in prison.

    That's not the same as her thinking he should be there (it's also not a quote). But I maybe should have left "mother" out of that (always good to leave mothers out of it). Doesn't change that much.
    posted by Bookhouse at 10:07 PM on March 3, 2007


    Let's say it again. What is wrong with you people? The issue is not what the guy did, nor the fact that he is in jail, for all that from my reading of the original article there seem to be issues there too. Let that pass.

    The issue is what is happening to him in jail, and the blatantly obvious fact that in the event that he survives he is going to come out as far more of a threat to your US country than he was when he went in, like a lot of your ex-inmates, or any ex-inmate of prison system designed to brutalise rather than rehabilitate. The UK system isn't much better by all accounts.

    What's the point of that?

    With a jail system like that, all sentences should be life. Otherwise you make things worse for everyone else in the long run, putting people through years of shit then letting them out on the streets again just when they're really pissed off.

    What's the big difficulty with understanding this? Rehabilitation isn't compassion, it's just practical.
    posted by motty at 10:39 PM on March 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


    What motty said.

    MetaFilter: What is wrong with you people?

    Jeez.
    posted by homunculus at 11:14 PM on March 3, 2007


    I don't know about you, but doesn't reading these massive threads get on your nerves sometimes?

    "Once he learns to keep his mouth shut, it will probably get easier for him. If not then he can keep sorting trash.

    Yeah, the prison system isn't set up to deal with every mental illness - real or imagined - boo fucking hoo. In my view the prison system's primary function is to separate miscreants like this from the general public.
    posted by three blind mice at 8:51 PM ACST on March 3 [+]
    [!]"

    That, right there, is my problem with what they're doing to this guy. He can't learn to keep his mouth shut. That is his fucking disease. Asperger's, folks. And you're damn right it's a disease, nobody with a healthy brain is as much of a freaky asshole as Asperger's patients. That's why they're sick.

    This kid, well, I'm sorry but he's been thrown in with a bunch of thuggish fucks, both prisoners and guards, who know as much about emotional sensitivity and autism as a car crusher. Most of them, whether nice or not, aren't nuanced enough to know what to do with this guy. So then you get this spirit-crushing shit. And I'm sorry, but it just oughtn't happen.
    posted by saysthis at 11:55 PM on March 3, 2007


    It isn't terrorism because it isn't their intention to kill, injure or scare anyone. They are committing acts of economic sabotage and political vandalism.

    EXACTLY.

    Are teenagers terrorists when they bike down a road in a posh neighborhood and break windows of expensive cars? Or, put another way, do any of you really believe that his actions were done to instill fear or to change politics? Give me a fucking break. They just wanted to blow something up, and figured the SUV-contingency was a better mark than, say, the local YMCA. Conspicuous consumption tends to attract that kind of classist anger. But terrorism? Puhlease.

    When the bully at school knocks your kid down on the playground and steals his lunch money, please oh please will you try and get the little brat incarcerated for terrorism? And when that asshole cuts you off in the middle of rush-hour traffic and gives you the bird to boot, he's a automotive terrorist, right?

    Cottrell is using intimidation to further his beliefs, and he's part of a clandestine group (he and his friends)

    Ha ha ha ha...

    ...who are trying to coerce the government by acts of violence (torching SUVs) against its subjects

    Oh, my sides! Thank ye stars that we serfs and loyal subjects be protected from the lykes of the villainous scoundrels!

    Christ. And you're calling Blazecock a sophist?
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:56 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


    He's not a terrorist. Unlawful violence, even with a political agenda and intimidation, does not a terrorist make.
    Granted certain legal interpretations might enable the judicial system to label him a 'terrorist' but that doesn't make him equally as dangerous as someone in the IRA or the PLO (or perhaps more close an analogy - Aum Shinrikyo). Defense against blowing up hummers isn't outlined in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. He's a criminal. Like a loanshark, like an arsonist, like any number of organized criminal outfits. Criminal conspiracy? Sure. Terrorism in the sense of a need to invoke the forces required for national defense here? Not so much.
    (What we're going to use SOF against some kid with a molotov cocktail? Is he even an actual member of ELF?)
    Hell, the FBI doesn't use the word "terrorist" in their press release, the AD Richard Garcia said people in the ELF 'movement' are misguided zealots when referring to his case. (Big difference when they're talking about downed power lines and setting fire to the Vail Ski Resort tho.)
    Is ELF a terrorist organization? Maybe. Lot of folks think the Aryan Nation is too. But I think it dilutes the term 'terrorism' to use it that way. And indeed to use the PATRIOT act in such a way. ELF is definitely subject to the RICO laws and they'd spend the rest of their lives in jail either way.
    The only advantage to be gained in labeling individuals like this as "terrorists" is political on the social side and - practically - for funding.

    Most (old school) terrorists want a lot of people watching - not, a lot of people dead.
    I think tho' Garcia was out of line using the term "zealot" as well. Modern religious terrorists are more interested in punishing people through a higher body count than getting attention with a high profile mass killing.

    But there is a difference between a clandestine agent that (say) robs banks to get money for the cause - in the case of the IRA - and a criminal-political organization like (in my opinon) the Aryan Nation that robs banks and does other gangster things, but also has an agenda.
    One could argue the Mafia was a terrorist organization even though they had no agenda beyond making money in that they gathered resources, developed experienced organizational leadership, built or subverted infrastructure and critical services for control.
    The only thing the Mafia did not do was to create guerrilla units to wrest control from the government...no, wait, yeah they did. Just not politically. (By the same token - were the El Rukins terrorists? Maybe. They were trying to get some heavy ordinance. But are all street gangs now terrorist organizations?)

    So from my perspective - the question of whether this guy is a terrorist himself because he self-identified as one or not, whatever his punishment should be, etc. etc. all that aside - the real problem in using the term is resource allocation.

    You can't cry "wolf" at everything. A criminal organization with massive (local) government protection busting out shop owners city wide if they don't pay protection money doesn't require the label "terrorist" to get a federal response.

    Neither did this. The FBI would have had him (and the others) either way (crossed state lines). And would have been able to arrest members of ELF either way. Terror is just media sexy right now so it gets the bucks.
    Which, unlike combating a criminal conspiracy is a real problem. Criminals don't like attention. Terrorists tend to enjoy it. Also, long sentences, tough handling and (most importantly) asset seizure is what cracked most criminal organizations. But terrorists thrive on suffering, martyrdom, all that.

    So even if we grant that this guy is a terrorist, he's being handled in exactly the wrong way.
    (And my apologies for terming Asperger's Syndrome as a 'mental illness' but the term was contextually aimed to mean a developmental disorder and/or in general anyone with a disorder of any kind. And that those people tend not to fare well in the justice system - indeed, one case out here some cop thought a man suffering from seizures was making rude gestures and clobbered the guy. Took him a while to get the judge, et.al, to believe he had an actual medical condition. Now perhaps those individuals in the case were exemplary in their idiocy, but it's also that there's a high degree of cognitive dissonance there - in that everybody is always lying, playing some angle, a dodge, etc. So when you get someone who actually does have some kind of condition requiring above average attention and care the problem is magnified greatly.)
    posted by Smedleyman at 12:06 AM on March 4, 2007


    Or, put another way, do any of you really believe that his actions were done to instill fear or to change politics? Give me a fucking break.

    You know, I've got a good friend, Dave Swindlehurst, who was once in a very similar situation.

    Dave used to run a community arts organization that was funded by the local authority. When they pulled his funding, Dave got really pissed and decided to do something about it -- so in the basement of his building, he created a bunch of home made fire bombs with the intention of blowing up the town hall.

    Before he put his plan into action though, he decided that this may have been his dumbest idea ever, and jettisoned his plan. Unfortunately, he didn't actually jettison the bombs.

    A few months later, the police searched his house for some stupid weed thing (this was back in the late seventies), and found his arsenal. Because this was during the time when the IRA were active, and Liverpool was notorious as a place where the IRA had safe houses, the cops immediately thought they'd nabbed an IRA terrorist instead of just a moron.

    Dave gets held in jail under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for well over a year while they thoroughly investigate his background and his links with various Republican organizations. And because he ran a community arts project, there had been periods when he'd taken kids over to Northern Ireland, to visit similar projects over there, so it was far from easy.

    Eventually he was acquitted, but he would happily acknowledge that he deserved his time for being such a moron.

    If Cottrell's actions were intended to change the purchasing habits of SUV owners, or the marketing habits of SUV dealers, then his actions fit the commonly accepted definition of terrorism. At the moment, the only things we have to go on in this regard are his membership of Earth First, a group for which this is a stated objective, his emails to the FBI, and his own claims that this was his intention. If we take those things at face value, then I don't see how there can be any argument about the issue.

    Now it may well be that Cottrell didn't give a shit about the environment, and just liked to see big vehicles burn while he masturbated from a distance -- in which case, he'd meet the standard definition of arsonist rather than terrorist -- but personally, whether someone happen to be Aspergic or not, I prefer to do people the common courtesy of taking their statements about their intentions at face value in the absence of any compelling reasons to do otherwise.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:01 AM on March 4, 2007


    The issue is what is happening to him in jail,

    bzzzzzt! ... he is not a passive actor in that ... he's contributed to the situation

    He can't learn to keep his mouth shut

    yes, he can ... people on the autistic spectrum learn things like that all the time ... if woefully misinformed people don't give up on them by making excuses for them

    That is his fucking disease. Asperger's, folks. And you're damn right it's a disease, nobody with a healthy brain is as much of a freaky asshole as Asperger's patients. That's why they're sick.

    you're utterly ignorant on the subject ... go post that to soc.support.autism and see what autistic people think of you ...

    What is wrong with you people?

    we actually think the world should be set up to benefit those who are contributing something to it, rather than making trouble for other people? ... we don't feel like bending over backwards for people who think the rules shouldn't apply to them? ... we don't think that sorting through garbage is going to crush someone's spirit? ... (at least the garbagemen i see don't seem to have crushed spirits ... neither does the woman who goes around the dumpsters every week to look through them ... and neither did the people i used to serve in a country grocery who'd walk in all covered in cow shit and stuff ... what people are really saying is that "he's too GOOD to sort through garbage" which is a slap in the face to anyone who's got an unpleasant job) ... we don't think you "rehabilitate" people by kissing their asses and letting them do whatever the fuck they feel like doing? ... we don't think that a real revolutionary gives a fuck about being rehabilitated?

    we actually think that once in awhile in this society, people get the life circumstances they've earned? ... we actually believe in personal responsibility and consequences for actions?

    we actually believe that if your life sucks and everyone around you is treating you in a way you don't like that one of the things you ought to do is LOOK AT YOURSELF? ...

    and no, "i'm a diseased asshole" ain't going to cut it ... if he wants to change his life, he'd better change himself
    posted by pyramid termite at 3:11 AM on March 4, 2007


    Let me be clear, I'm not saying that this isn't terrorism because nobody died. It isn't terrorism because it isn't their intention to kill, injure or scare anyone.

    So let me get this straight: if I come around to your house and burn all your property, you aren't going to be scared by that?
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:14 AM on March 4, 2007


    I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread....

    but here goes.

    I mean, is no one actually going to say that this guy should get a free pass because he is smart? Seriously, I mean that's what everyone is alluding towards. I don't thing its wrong, mind you, but I think that it deserves acknowledgment at the very least.

    I think this guy is commendable at the least, at least he took on something, and at this point something is better than nothing.

    So why not let him out? Who cares, seriously... who gives a fuck if this guy gets out; this is one of those things that turns into some weird ideological debate that only serves to galvanize one side knee-deep in their own rhetoric.

    I am interested in the fact that it would be too easy to find the dissident soul in one of these predicaments way too easily. Actually, I'm scared. What if it's me? Its too easy to get caught up.
    posted by tev at 4:01 AM on March 4, 2007


    we don't think that sorting through garbage is going to crush someone's spirit

    Yes, exactly. I'm not complaining about his treatment because it's not treatment I would complain about for any violent criminal. No one has alleged that he has been mistreated, only treated more severely than some other criminals. Well, prison is arbitrary. That's one of the recent it sucks. Don't firebomb cars and you'll stay out of it.

    I think this guy is commendable at the least, at least he took on something, and at this point something is better than nothing.

    No, violent crimes like arson are not better than nothing, and are not commendable. It would have been more commendable to stay home and smoke weed.

    What if it's me? Its too easy to get caught up.

    It is, in fact, very easy to keep out of this kind of trouble—don't throw Molotov cocktails at other people's cars and you'll be fine.
    posted by grouse at 4:46 AM on March 4, 2007


    Makes you think about terrorism huh? Maybe the way to stop terrorism is to understand the unsustainability and incongruence of our practices as a society. Acts like this by rational individuals should spawn debate not prison sentences.
    posted by any major dude at 7:09 AM on March 4, 2007


    pyramid termite, I don't get you. Are you an Aspie too? You never said where your daughter is on the spectrum, but if your daughter was diagnosed when she was young, I don't think you have a clue how lucky you are.

    It is very hard for adults to unlearn years of coping skills that may have gotten them by, but still produced inappropriate behavior.

    This guy is in jail. People won't even let him teach calculus because they are afraid he will teach the prisoners how to make bombs, so I am going out on a limb and saying they won't understand he is not acting like an ass on purpose.

    The way to get the guy to stop doing it is to have someone say..."when you say things like that or act like that, you come off as an asshole". Eventually he will get it.

    Please remember, he got diagnosed right before he went to jail....I bet he has had zero social skill training. I don't know about your daughter, but my daughter has totally changed with social skills training. If we go to see relatives who haven't seen her for a year or so, everyone is amazed at how different she is.

    On top of that, his mother has spoke on what calms him. He is denied those things (for ridiculous reasons at that). He has even directed all his energies in to positive projects, only to be told to stop acting like a terrorist. That would be confusing for any NT person, let alone an Aspie!

    If you have an autistic daughter, I don't get that you don't understand he can't just buck up and change. That his actions are probably reactions to the confusing situation he has put himself into.
    posted by gminks at 7:11 AM on March 4, 2007


    pyramid termite, I don't get you. Are you an Aspie too?

    i've wondered, but decided that in my late 40s, that a dx would be irrelevant, as i've done fairly well for myself

    I don't think you have a clue how lucky you are.

    i was lucky that in spite of my social difficulties that there were people around me who insisted that it was MY responsibility to make the necessary adjustments

    . People won't even let him teach calculus because they are afraid he will teach the prisoners how to make bombs,

    and he writes letters full of talk about how the prison system is creating revolutionaries ... and then gets his side of the story plastered all over a local altweekly

    this is not going to encourage prison people to want to do him any favors

    The way to get the guy to stop doing it is to have someone say..."when you say things like that or act like that, you come off as an asshole". Eventually he will get it.

    gosh, being put away in prison for a few years ought to be a REAL big clue, don't you think?

    If you have an autistic daughter, I don't get that you don't understand he can't just buck up and change.

    so you're saying he can't be rehabilitated? ... that autistic people can't change? ... they WON'T change or make successful adjustments if that's all the expectations people have of them

    he doesn't need to teach calculus classes or read science books, although reading books probably isn't going to hurt anything ... what he needs is counseling

    by the way, there are several other aspects of this story that haven't been touched on ... why does everyone assume that he was taken out of general population to punish him? ... couldn't it be that they were trying to protect him? ... couldn't it be that's also why they don't want him to teach classes?

    there's still a subtext of "white phd candidates are too good to sort through garbage and shouldn't be deprived of their interests and hobbies" that i'm really uncomfortable with ... let's face it, there's probably black aspie prisoners who no one cared enough about to even diagnose and no one's writing articles about them
    posted by pyramid termite at 7:47 AM on March 4, 2007


    So let me get this straight: if I come around to your house and burn all your property, you aren't going to be scared by that?

    If you walk in a bar and get punched in the face by a bunch of drunken hooligans, you aren't going to be scared by that?

    Being a scared victim doesn't mean the crime perpetrated against you was terrorism.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:58 AM on March 4, 2007


    Being a scared victim doesn't mean the crime perpetrated against you was terrorism.

    let's face it, people in this thread are defining "terrorism" according to their political beliefs and not any objective look at what was done and how the person it was done to felt about it, or what the consequences were for him
    posted by pyramid termite at 8:08 AM on March 4, 2007


    did you read the part about my daughter? how she has changed? Did you read the part where I said the kid in prison just needs someone to tell him HOW he is being an ass so he can understand what behavior needs to be curbed? It's like you read bits and get so enraged because you think everyone thinks the poor autistic kids will never be able to do any better than this...and no one has said that.

    If you know anything about aspies you know they are single-minded...giving him the chance to help others in prison with that single-mindedness seems to make alot of sense.

    and you are the one putting the subtext of a white phd candidate being too good.

    Try another angle: I know for a fact if I hadn't moved to New England my daughter would have never been diagnosed, and would have most likely wasted her days as a druggie (much like my non-dx'd aunt). Because I drug myself through college, moved to an area where alot of work has been done with aspies, and got a job with insurance, her life has been radically altered forever.

    It was luck I managed to get out of poverty, and by the grace of god she was diagnosed and has had access to great care and now is able to pursue one of her aspie interests in college.

    Was it easy? HELL NO! And she is the one doing the work, and she is able to tell me how she wants to be treated and deal with things. She still is bewildered in alot of social situations, but she has support systems in place to help her navigate on her terms.

    You are right, there are most likely black folk (and whites and latinos and asians and natives) in prison who are aspies. The problem is that the autism spectrum disorders are just now starting to be diagnosed for folks WITH money and insurance...what do you think happens to folks without access to medical care? Speaking from experience, you do the best you can.

    Why not see this is an opportunity to educate the prison folk on WHY aspies seem like they are acting like assholes? On how just giving the kid a freaking physics book will make him act better because it calms him down? On how to tell the kid he is rambling or acting like an ass in a way that he will start getting he is being inappropriate?

    If the prison officials learn from this guy, maybe they will know how to handle other people like him. Maybe they will understand a poor kid's behavior a little better. Maybe we can get to the rehabilitation idea.
    posted by gminks at 8:28 AM on March 4, 2007


    It's like you read bits and get so enraged because you think everyone thinks the poor autistic kids will never be able to do any better than this...and no one has said that.

    enraged? ... i think everyone thinks etc etc?

    don't really know who you're talking to, but it doesn't seem to be me and i've said my piece, however you want to interpret it
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2007


    According to a Harper's issue some years back, an African-American man, Darius McCollum, in New York City was sent to prison for impersonating a subway train driver. He was an Asperger's patient and had a single-minded obsession with all aspects of the New York City subway system. "Trainspotting" just brushes the surface.

    It was pathetic. He was poor and had no money for his defense or for treatment.

    This incident has been commented on MeFi before. A more recent blog post about McCollum, with other links.
    posted by bad grammar at 9:07 AM on March 4, 2007



    This gets right at the paradox of labeling and Asperger's-- which I examined for the Washington Post this week here.

    if you do label with something like Asperger's, it often gives a sense of relief -- "Oh, that's why I'm so clueless socially and single-minded and oversensitive." But labeling can reify-- such that you believe that this means you can never get better at socializing, when in fact, practice and attention to socializing will allow you to massively improve, whether or not you "really" have Asperger's.

    it does seem like this guy has Asperger's and is blind to how others see him and doesn't know how to react socially to avoid negative consequences that he doesn't recognize are related to how he behaves without regard for other's nonverbal cues etc. He also did something that could have killed people and is illegal-- but i do think his social disability should have been taken into account and if our goal is rehabilitation, reducing crime and saving money rather than sheer vengeance, treating him better and giving him access to relevant books and to social skills training makes sense.
    posted by Maias at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


    Being a scared victim doesn't mean the crime perpetrated against you was terrorism.

    For the umpteenth time. The goal was to use fear and intimidation to coerce people into behaving in a way that meets your political goals. That's the definition of terrorism.

    You can jump up and down and stamp your foot as long and as hard as you like, but you aren't going to change the commonly accepted definition. There've been umpteen posts linking to it from Wikipedia and from dictionaries. If you want to convince anybody that that that definition should no longer hold, then I suggest you take it up with the encyclopedias and the dictionaries.

    "He also did something that could have killed people and is illegal-- but i do think his social disability should have been taken into account"

    It can't be taken into account in determining the issue of guilt or innocence -- which is the only reason for putting the issue in front of a jury. The test here is the M'naghten Rule, and I've not heard anyone make the argument that he's not guilty by reason of insanity.

    And presumably, his disability *was* taken account during the sentencing phase. I've no idea whether or not the judge rejected it as a ground for compassion, but given that the maximum penalty for his crime was 25 years, he certainly didn't get all the time that he could have done. Here in the UK, with remission, he'd serve about four years, which seems about right to me, given the nature of the crime. As I posted earlier, there are many, many people in California prisons doing a hell of a lot more time, for crimes that involved a hell of a lot less in terms of value.

    "and if our goal is rehabilitation, reducing crime and saving money rather than sheer vengeance, treating him better and giving him access to relevant books and to social skills training makes sense.""

    Retribution is also an important part of penal policy. We expect people to pay for their crimes through their loss of liberty. One of the key aspects of loss of liberty is that you don't get to do all the stuff that you'd like to do.

    British convicts have a saying: "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."

    Words to live by.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:00 PM on March 4, 2007


    the British have a saying??

    don't do it!
    posted by vronsky at 5:12 PM on March 4, 2007


    The goal was to use fear and intimidation to coerce people into behaving in a way that meets your political goals.

    No, the goal was to destroy a bunch of Hummers. There were no political goals. Perhaps you should read the article. Here's the part that directly contradicts what you're saying:

    "prosecutors did not present a single piece of evidence linking the strange genius Cottrell to any radical movements — either before or after that night in the Los Angeles suburbs"

    So, you see, no one's jumping up and down except you, because you're wrong, and you won't admit it. I'm glad you're not in any position of actual power, Rumpelstiltskin.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:11 PM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


    says his mother, Heidi Schwiebert. “I used to call him my little Mr. Spock.”

    Except now he's going to be Spock with a goatee, Asperger's, prison conditioning, and a chip on his shoulder. Assuming he isn't beaten to death first, he's going to be an interesting, interesting person to deal with when he gets out.
    posted by pracowity at 1:37 AM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


    “The goal was to use fear and intimidation to coerce people into behaving in a way that meets your political goals. That's the definition of terrorism.”

    Therefore we should treat ELF and anyone who (rightly or wrongly) self-identifies as a member as a terrorist? What exactly would that mean?
    Dictionaries and encyclopedias don’t dictate policy.
    This is not a counterterrorist job no matter how many people or what books call him a “terrorist.”
    posted by Smedleyman at 11:21 AM on March 5, 2007


    So, you see, no one's jumping up and down except you, because you're wrong, and you won't admit it.

    That's how these sophists operate. They dissemble like people breathe.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:56 AM on March 6, 2007


    "Psychology of evil" professor delivers final Stanford lecture
    posted by homunculus at 7:21 PM on March 9, 2007


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