They will come for you too – it’s just a matter of time.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bhara & his second Niketh Velamoor has demanded Reason.com turn over any identifying information about authors of website comments.
Anonymous speech has been used since before the countries founding, including by its founders, as a valuable tool to stand up to oppressive majorities. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym “Publius ” and were rebutted in kind by the anonymous “Federal Farmer” and others.
Cato’s Letters, anonymous works, were published in England in the early 1700’s to argue for free speech, and were part of the intellectual framework on which our own legal rights are based.
The US Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the right to speak anonymously derived from the First Amendment in 1995, for instance they said in McIntyre v. Ohio, “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.” As the Washington Post explains;
The commenters were opining on a post by Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie, expressing their ire at the federal district judge who sentenced Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The rationale for the subpoena is that the commenters may have been transmitting “true threats” in “interstate or foreign commerce” in violation of this federal statute.
For reasons White explains, the comments almost certainly do not qualify as “true threats” against the judge. They are rather the kind of nasty and stupid vitriol that is all too common in anonymous comments on the internet. For example, one of the commenters wrote that “judges like these… should be taken out back and shot,” another opined that “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman,” and a third replied that “I’d prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well.”
It’s beyond the bounds of reason to suggest this person has issued a true threat that’s appropriate for the government to investigate. Even if the author sent an email to the judge with this sentence no reasonable threat can be said to be made. They did not however – they wrote it on a comment section below an article.
No credible person could say that the speech is anything other than protected – so why the subpoena? Perhaps it’s to harass and intimidate those who are highly vocal and critical of the prosecution and sentencing in this case and others. They don’t like to be challenged and so they use the power of their office to intimidate those who say things they dislike.
As Instapundit and law professor Glenn Reynolds said, “ This is the prosecutorial equivalent of a brushback pitch — trying to tell people that talking shit about a federal judge will get you in trouble no matter what the First Amendment says. That’s an abuse of authority, for which Preet Bharara should be punished. But, of course, he won’t be, because prosecutors aren’t accountable for their abuses of authority.”