Green Scare
May 14, 2007 2:03 PM   Subscribe

The Green Scare: Rod Coronado gave a talk in San Diego and the feds called his words ‘terrorism.’ How new laws are equating environmentalists with Al Qaeda. [Via Gristmill.]
posted by homunculus (39 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From the main article:
“What strikes me as being so wrong about this statute is that there’s no requirement that there be any kind of agreement between the person furnishing the information and the listeners, either explicit or implicit,” says Singleton. As such, he sees it as protected speech. In his view, it fails the historic test for incitement, which requires intent, and/or imminent action.

There are only three exceptions to free speech, as carved out by the Supreme Court: one) “fighting words” – the direct incitement to violence; two) obscenity; and three) the exception for “clear and present danger.” Ben Rosenfeld, in his essay on Coronado’s case, feels none of these applies to this speech. In the case of “clear and present danger,” for instance, he notes that Supreme Court Judge William Brandeis wrote: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” In other words, if someone has time to think about the crime, the speech describing it does not represent a clear and present danger.

“[This is] really asking the court to outlaw a type of speech that has never been outlawed before,” says Singleton. He filed a motion to throw out the Feinstein law as unconstitutional, but the judge declined earlier this year. “All the case law talks about is an individual having criminal liability for aiding and abetting in the commission of another substantive crime. Or if you are inciting violence to such a degree – crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater – that harm is imminent. That’s the Brandenburg test,” Singleton adds.

If this statute stands, however, the government is saying the standards established by the 1969 Supreme Court case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, are outflanked; no imminent crime is needed anymore. In fact, as in Coronado’s case, no substantive crime need ever occur. It is, literally, a speech crime.
So one thing I'd like to know is, if Coronado is convicted, and in light of recent accusations, could this precedent make the Mythbusters potentially vulnerable to prosecution?
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on May 14, 2007

As it says in the article, this is a pretty clear-cut First Amendment case, and if the dude has even a semi-decent lawyer he should have no problem. As was the case with Giuliani's assault on various art displays in NYC, the prosecutors here probably know that they're making an unconstitutional prosecution, and that they will probably lose most of these cases. The point isn't to get convictions, it's to instill a chilling effect.
posted by rxrfrx at 2:17 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wasn't this the guy that was on Penn and Teller's BULLSHIT episode on Animal Rights?
posted by gcbv at 2:20 PM on May 14, 2007

It was, he says, his �standard� speech at the time, talking about his own extreme efforts to protect wildlife, including a 1991-92 arson campaign against fur farms as an agent of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), for which he served 57 months in prison
And that word � terrorism � is new to the environmental movement, with regard to actual punishment for crimes. The word �eco-terrorist� was coined by powerhouse PR firm Hill & Knowlton back in 1990, but only recent laws make ecologically motivated speech a terrorist crime.

First, no, "terrorism" isn't new to the environmental movement, as Coronado was a self-professed "agent" for the "Animal Liberation Front" in 1991. At the very least that's a tongue-in-cheek use of the phrase "liberation front" which was part of the name of many terrorist organizations world-wide.

Second, he set fires and destroyed property to further his groups political agenda. That is precisely what terrorism is.

Third, in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969), the Supreme Court held that the first amendment does not cover inciting or producing imminent lawless action if such speech is likely to produce such actio0le to think that telling his audience how to build such bombs, when it is very likely that they share his political views and may be sympathetic to his use of violence in the past, could incite imminent lawless action.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:21 PM on May 14, 2007

rxrfrx: This assumes that he doesn't get labeled an "Enemy Combatant" by the fair and righteous secret court.

Damn eco-fanatics! They'll do anything to take away the mercury in our water and dioxins in our air!
posted by yeloson at 2:21 PM on May 14, 2007

Jesus, so Churck Palahniuk would be liable for any idiot who reads the explosives recipes in Fight Club? My country...
posted by gottabefunky at 2:22 PM on May 14, 2007

That should be:

...likely to produce such action. It is reasonable to think that telling...
posted by Pastabagel at 2:22 PM on May 14, 2007

ha. I was going to post this link I just saw in another thread. It's Wiretap the Internet Day!!
posted by acro at 2:26 PM on May 14, 2007

A nearby town has banned wind power... not just the large farms but small home kits as well.
posted by acro at 2:37 PM on May 14, 2007

Second, he set fires and destroyed property to further his groups political agenda. That is precisely what terrorism is.

You might want to make that definition a little more, well, definite, since that sounds like war to me, though with a little less mass murder.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2007

What's most unfortunate about this is how in the wrong the federal government is. It's going to make Coronado look like an underdog, as opposed to someone who represents organizations that use violence and destruction to further their controversial agenda. On second thought, maybe they should team up.
posted by potch at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2007

He is a dirtbag, but he is a dirtbag with the right to tell anybody how to make anything. It sickens me that the politicians say "they hate us for our freedoms" and their response is to protect us by taking those freedoms away.
posted by Megafly at 4:08 PM on May 14, 2007

...this is a pretty clear-cut First Amendment case, and if the dude has even a semi-decent lawyer he should have no problem.
In this day-and-age, I don't think anything is all that clear cut anymore. Seems like the inclusion of "terrorism" in any legal proceeding throws a quantum monkey wrench into the works. I give it even money it gets overturned. At best.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:09 PM on May 14, 2007

He is a dirtbag...

You read the bit near the bottom about dismantling mountain lion traps, right? Seems to me he's about as far away from dirtbag as can be.

And your poxy US legislation don't apply here in Yuruhp.
posted by imperium at 4:16 PM on May 14, 2007

Imperium, a self-confessed arsonist is a dirtbag.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:57 PM on May 14, 2007

From GreenIsTheNewRed:
But Tuesday’s court date is about more than these 10 defendants who never harmed anyone but caused about $40 million worth of property damage.

Am I missing something? Where does speech enter into this? All I can find in these links have to do with people who have committed an actual crime in the first place. Did I miss the part where advocating eco-terrorism is now jail worthy? I'm not being facetious here, if I missed it that would change how I'm looking at this.

Right now, it looks like a blog saying that blowing things up is protected speech, which is sort of silly. Do I think that sending kids to jail for eleventy-bajillion years for this is a bad idea? Sure. But making it a free speech issue seems so disingenuous that I don't think that this is a bandwagon I feel like jumping on.

The fact that Coronado's involved doesn't help either.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 5:42 PM on May 14, 2007

“Rod Coronado” was my porn name in the film “WMD: Weapon of Massive Dejaculation”
Maybe that’s got something to do with it.

Yeah, him setting fires, destroying property, raising havoc for a political agenda - maybe terrorism/maybe not.

Answering a question about how he made incendiary devices during a speech for about 100 people at a vegetarian group - not so much.

Incendiary devices are not at all complex. Timers, detonators, - different story. But you want to burn something - it’s not at all hard.
That aside - you can still, as far as I know, pick up the Poor Man’s James Bond and learn how to make all sorts of nasty stuff. (Later issues, which got into some much more tricky outfitting, were banned though).

It’s ridiculous to outlaw this. It’s even worse if we cede the argument that he is (or was) a terrorist. It is in fact antithetical to counterterrorism.
You WANT - specifically - terrorists to have avenues other than violence to express their message.
That’s exactly what has occured with this guy (as far as the sources can be trusted, not sure of the confidence m’self, but taking it as a given for this particular conversation).

He’s backing off from the radicalism and engaging in speech.
Oh, yeah, better outlaw that speech right away. That won’t frustrate him. He’ll just be so scared they’re onto him and can put him in check he won’t get violent again.
Yeah, that’s how that works with extremists. They just mellow out when you suppress them. Uh, huh. Nice work there Justice.

Who’s taken over the FBI counterterrorism unit? The Washington Generals?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:55 PM on May 14, 2007

I’m also curious under that statute if they will ban the movie Stalag 17 (and others) it shows - graphically - how to make a crude delayed fuse incendiary device (you stick a cigarette into a book of matches and when it burns down the matches ignite).
posted by Smedleyman at 6:11 PM on May 14, 2007

Doublewhiskeycokenoice: I should have left the last link out. The stuff about speech is in the article in the first link. Coronado was an arsonist who was convicted and did his time. Now he's faced with new charges based specificaly on this speech he gave, as described in the article. I'm not particularly sympathetic to arsonists, whatever their cause, but the speech issue got to me.

The article later mentions a different case in Oregon of a group of accussed arsonists on trial now. The blog in the last link is mostly focused on that case right now. The prosecutors want to add terrorism charges which would increase their sentences much more than if they were just convicted of arson. I view that case as a related but a seperate issue, since they are on trial for their actions, not just their words. I added the last link to expand on the broader theme of conflating environmental militancy with terrorism, but I can see that it made the post more confusing, so sorry about that.
posted by homunculus at 6:12 PM on May 14, 2007

posted by UbuRoivas at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2007

Ok, I see where I was unclear. I thought that his speech was just being used as evidence against him. Didn't read close enough the first time. I'm pretty bummed to find out Feinstein sponsored that bill. I'm also pretty bummed that America re-elected the guy who appointed the justices who might overturn Brandenburg.

As much as I dislike the guy's ethics, I'm behind Coronado 100% on this one.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:57 PM on May 14, 2007

A lot of you are sort of missing the point that the Supreme Court already ruled on this. It isn't the content of the speech that's permissible or impermissible, it's the context in which you say it. If I publish a website describing how to make explosives, that would be protected under the first amendment. People have and continue to do this.

If I tell my life story about how I was an arsonist and blew up buildings in the furtherance of animal rights, and I tell this audience of similar minded animal rights activists who asked me there to speak and therefore agree with at least my position on the issue how to go and make the same kind of bomb I used, you can see that I'm now in a grey area where my speech may incite someone in the audience to violence. In resolving "may incite", a great deal of deference is given law enforcement.

Futhermroe, you are all ignoring that someone in this audience of like minded animal rights activists asked him how to build a bomb. You can see how there is at least a reasonable person could conclude that ther person asking about the bomb might want to follow in Coronado's footsteps.

This is not a good case. You don't invite a racist murderer convicted of lynching a black person to speak at a KKK convention and answer a question about what kid of rope is good for hanging people.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2007

This is not a clear-cut First Amendment case, his speech was not clearly protected, and courts have held similar speech to be beyond First Amendment protections long before September 11, 2001.

Conservative courts, like the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, have ruled that a publisher could be held liable for selling a how-to manual for committing murder if a reader follows its instructions. More liberal courts, like the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, have ruled that the publisher of an anti-abortion web site could be held liable for providing the names and addresses of doctors who perform abortions.

The First Amendment "categories" described in the article are nowhere near as static or well-defined as the article suggests.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:07 PM on May 14, 2007

Glenn Greenwald @ Salon, on PBS's "Frontline: Spying on the Home Front" (Airs May 15, 2007 at 9pm.)
posted by acro at 7:20 PM on May 14, 2007

That's true Slap, but with every new regulation the space of time between incitement and just plain ol' speech gets narrower and narrower. I like the distinction because it does provide a real safeguard against potential chilling effects. Of course down 'n dirty jurisprudence isn't always gonna play out in the ideal fashion set up by the SCOTUS, but I still like the guidelines.

As for the two examples you give, I don't like the abortion doctor one because it gives real targets. It seems to be saying, "get these guys" which is pretty sketchy. If Coronado is saying, "here's a list of animal research facilities that I'd like you to hit." Without providing a target, he's letting people pick their own crimes, which seems to be one of the main points of Brandenburg.

Of course, it's true that he's in a gray area by saying, "I'm not pointing you in any specific direction, but if you were so inclined as to blow up some stuff, here's how you'd to it." The thing is though, all he's really saying is make a really super big molotov cocktail and...BOOM! This is not exactly telling someone how to get their hands on The Football.

I want to see Coronado's speech protected for two reasons. One is that I think it's at the extreme of one side, and that makes it a good buffer. The other is that driving it underground might not be the best idea. These groups already have a persecution complex, and it seems rather silly to validate it like this. We let Prussian Blue sing about how white people are superior, let Coronado say that a big jug of gasoline will explode. And then marvel at what a goofus he is.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:04 PM on May 14, 2007

Futhermroe, you are all ignoring that someone in this audience of like minded animal rights activists asked him how to build a bomb. You can see how there is at least a reasonable person could conclude that ther person asking about the bomb might want to follow in Coronado's footsteps.

That was the first thing I thought of when I started reading the atricle, but then when I got to the description of the event, it wasn't very convincing as a bomb-making lesson. Anyone in the audience who wanted to make a bomb would probably learn more by going home and looking it up online or watching Mythbusters. Prosecuting Coronado in this case seems like a very slippery slope.
posted by homunculus at 8:45 PM on May 14, 2007

As I said upthread, I see this differently than the Oregon case against the accused arsonists. But that disturbs me too, for different reasons. They may meet a dictionary definition of terrorism, but the terrorism sentencing laws were designed with mass murderers like Al Qaeda in mind. To use terrorism as a justification for imposing huge sentences on people who destroy property but deliberately avoid harming people seems like an abuse of the justice system to me. Convict them for arson and vandalism, but don't pretend that they're in the same league as Al Qaeda.
posted by homunculus at 8:55 PM on May 14, 2007

homunculus, I think your estimation of the purpose of the government's stance with regard to terrorism is, well, naive. Anti-terrorism sentencing laws don't exist to prevent or deter mass murders.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:48 AM on May 15, 2007

Oftentimes, these days, I look back on the hippy-dippy country I grew up in 30 some odd years ago and wonder just exactly how we got here today. I know I was a naive little boy but would like to think that there was something in all those episodes of Sesame Street, Electric Company, Vegetable Soup, et al.; something about the common decency of community that verged on rose-colored Marxism. There had to be something to the not-so-jinogist love-of-country that was invoked by the years-long bicentennial celebration. The shot of the tearful Native American staring at a polluted waterway seemed so honest and heartfelt; not the contrived gesture that many seem to view it as today.

Now we have some folks engaging in wholesale property damage against other people over the treatment of animals. I have also had occasion to know people who engage in wholesale property damage against other people over deforestation and suburban sprawl—the ELF to Coronado's ALF. It's borderline irrational to think that one can convince people to change by blowing up their property. I say borderline irrational because, for whatever reason, they feel like this is the only way they can be a part of the discussion that is shaping our future. I share their feelings of disenfranchisement. I know what it is like to try to volunteer in a fight against folks who are paid to conduct this fight and the revolving door between bureaucracy and these same lobbyists. Please understand I don't condone the ALF/ELF actions, I am only empathic to their justification.

On the other side, we have some other people trying to lump these people into a class of yet other people who engage in wholesale slaughter of yet even more people. They're lumping them into this class of more henious people for reasons that seem like overt cynicism or maybe some kind of twisted xenophobia. I understand that on some level property is what sustains life and that an act of arson can devestate someone's livelihood. I am familiar with the vindicative impulse that accompanies the state of victimhood. I can't really blame the powers that be for trying to make a statement against property damage. After all, an honest assessment of our government reveals that they represent those who can get them elected and that's basically those who hold capital.

I know I was a child then and that I wasn't aware of all the messy goings on during that time. I know that we humans are prone to romanticizing the past. Still, it really feels like we were going somewhere those 30 some odd years ago; that we were striving toward some common ideal where we honestly worked at resolving our differences and making amends for the past, that the environment was something to honor and care for, that the state was the protector of minority interests, or what-have-you.

And so while outraged at the loss of perspective by the prosecutorial arm of the state, I am mostly sad, once again, for the sense of loss w/r/t the purpose and direction that permeated the community of my youth. Yes, I know I sound like an old whiny hippy naif. If it quacks like a duck....

Sorry for maundering on like this in a public forum. I'm just sad today is all I guess.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:13 AM on May 15, 2007

That is precisely what terrorism is.

Maybe not, you must consider who brings the charges.
From the Dick Cheney Exhaustive dictionary:

terrorism - anything that imperils oil company or Halliburton profits.
posted by nofundy at 7:28 AM on May 15, 2007

Second, he set fires and destroyed property to further his groups political agenda. That is precisely what terrorism is.

Isn't that more precisely what vandalism is? Terrorism is, precisely, inciting terror for a political agenda. I don't recall any great waves of panic from burning Hummers, or the latest expansion at Vail.

Imperium, a self-confessed arsonist is a dirtbag.

Really depends on what you're burning down, doesn't it?
posted by jefgodesky at 7:48 AM on May 15, 2007

posted by acro at 9:45 AM on May 15, 2007

“ Sorry for maundering on like this in a public forum.”

I thought it was nifty.

“You can see how there is at least a reasonable person could conclude that ther person asking about the bomb might want to follow in Coronado's footsteps.”

Yeah, but the change in thinking over terrorism is to attack the points of contact in communication. Which #1 I oppose because I’m an anti-authoritarian bastard and I favor the maximal interpretation of free speech. In this case the KKK/rope analogy is apt because building a fire starting device is about as easy and universally accessible as learning to tie a hangman knot. And there was - at least according to the sources here - no exhortation to act. So a simple change in syntax is all that is needed and our protection against terrorism becomes a war on syntax - he could say “don’t be like me, don’t ever do this - and this is only for example of what not to do - but don’t take two parts of gasoline to one part motor oil and...etc” And then it’s ad hoc law (hell, it appears to be that way now).

And indeed, that’s the method white supremacists have used - change the language. Look at David Duke. He’s only been nailed, really, on tax evasion. And considering ethnicity - rappers are a good example.
Lots of talk about a variety of things including murder and drug dealing. You know who doesn’t go on stage and rap about killing people and dealing drugs? Murderers and drug dealers.
Not everyone is John Gotti (and hell, look at Gotti now). The really dangerous bastards are the ones you never see. Whether they’re hiding in plain sight or they’re off in isolation somewhere like unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Those are the ones that - in theory - an “investigation” should “lead” a law enforcement officer to.

Which leads to point #2 - it’s a foolish method. It’s easier to trace people through communication - as the FBI seems to have been doing - and nab them when they actually act or are about to act so you can bring substantial charges.
Latitude is given to law enforcement involving incitement in regard primarially to riots. In part because of free speech, etc. but mostly because of practical realities - people don’t generally plan secret operations involving felonies in public.
I’d allow that this kind of talk could reasonably lead to surveillance. But why then make such an obvious show of following these people around if, y’know, you actually want to catch them conspiring to or in the act of committing a felony?

This seems little more than intimidation, which is pointless for getting any real work done.
It’s just great for pushing a political agenda though. And window dressing. We’re all just warm and cozy in the knowlege that we’re protected from reformed radicals speaking in public to small groups about common knowlege incendiary devices.
(Next we gotta go after those cavemen who also told people how to make fire) Meanwhile the really dangerous fish get away because they’ve been alerted by this arrest. They sever public ties and start communicating through encryption by chain proxies and alternate e-mails and plan how to use sophisticated nasty devices to raise some real hell.
Nice work there boys.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2007

Pope Guilty: that's true. But that was how they justified it to the public, and it still pisses me off.

No matter how cynical you get, you can never keep up.
posted by homunculus at 5:51 PM on May 15, 2007

My brother, the 'terrorist'
posted by homunculus at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2007

To be continued...
posted by homunculus at 6:34 PM on May 24, 2007

« Older Reunited and it feels so... just... ewwwwww.   |   Kick your (a)theism up a notch: go "post-secular"! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments