Who will protect the freedom to blog?
Free speech is under fire. Online thugs are targeting bloggers (mostly conservative, but not all) who have dared to expose a convicted bomber and perjuring vexatious litigant who is now enjoying a comfy life as a liberally subsidized social justice operative. Where do your elected representatives stand on this threat to our founding principles?
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, bravely stepped forward to press this vital issue. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Chambliss decried the “harassing and frightening actions” of Internet menaces who recently have gone after several conservative new media citizen journalists and activists.
GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant of Texas added his voice, telling Holder in a statement that he is “very afraid of the potential chilling effects that these reported actions may have in silencing individuals who would otherwise be inclined to exercise their Constitutional right to free speech.” And the American Center for Law and Justice, a leading conservative free speech public interest law firm, announced it was providing legal representation to the National Bloggers Club — a new media association that has provided support and raised funds for targets of this coordinated harassment. (Full disclosure: I volunteer on the National Bloggers Club board of directors.)
The ACLJ described the importance of the case very simply: “Free speech is under attack.”
Chambliss and Marchant called specific attention to one terrifying tactic against these bloggers: SWAT-ting. These hoaxes occur “when a perpetrator contacts local police to report a violent incident at a target’s home.” Callers disguise their true identities and locations in order to provoke a potentially deadly SWAT/police response descending upon the targets’ homes.
As online conservatives — and now ABC News — have reported, recent SWAT-ting victims include New Jersey-based Mike Stack, a blogger and Twitter user targeted last summer after helping to expose disgraced former N.Y. Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s shady social media activities; California blogger Patrick Frey, a deputy district attorney at Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office who recently posted a bone-chilling account and audio of his summer 2011 SWAT-ting on his blog, Patterico.com; and CNN contributor and RedState.com managing editor Erick Erickson, whose Georgia home was targeted by a faker claiming an “accidental shooting” there late last month.
A common thread among these and other online targets: They all have published web links, commentary or investigative pieces related to Brett Kimberlin, the infamous “Speedway Bomber.”
In 1978, Kimberlin was sentenced to more than 50 years in federal prison for drug dealing, impersonating a federal officer and a weeklong bombing spree in Speedway, Ind. The violent crimes left one victim so severely injured that he committed suicide. A civil court awarded the widow of the victim, Carl DeLong, $1.6 million. Kimberlin was released from jail in 2001, but has yet to pay up.
Investigative journalist/researcher Mandy Nagy, who blogs for the late Andrew Breitbart’s Internet media powerhouse, Breitbart.com, dared to chronicle Kimberlin’s lucrative business and political ventures over the past two years. Kimberlin has a large hand in two well-funded outfits, Velvet Revolution and the Justice Through Music Project, that have received funding from the likes of George Soros’ Tides Foundation and left-wing activist and singer Barbra Streisand. The charitable groups have viciously attacked prominent conservative individuals and groups, including Breitbart, investigative journalist James O’Keefe and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nagy has been hounded relentlessly online and falsely accused of wild criminal conspiracies by Kimberlin associates for blowing the whistle on his shady online network.
After providing brief pro bono legal services to a liberal blogger who refused to whitewash Kimberlin’s past, conservative blogger and lawyer Aaron Walker lost his job. His employer was terrified by the thought of Kimberlin bombing his office and also fired Walker’s wife, who had worked for the same firm.
Walker is embroiled in Kafkaesque, free speech-squelching litigation with serial lawsuit-filer Kimberlin in Maryland. Last week, an inept judge who admitted abject ignorance about the Internet — and appalling apathy toward key free-speech Supreme Court cases — essentially gagged Walker from exercising his First Amendment rights and blogging about Kimberlin. Kimberlin pulled off a snow job in court, bizarrely claiming that an independent online effort to support Walker and expose Kimberlin’s past amounted to a criminal terror campaign against him. Renowned constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA is providing pro bono help to appeal the order against Walker.
National Bloggers Club President Ali Akbar was targeted for spearheading charity efforts for Kimberlin targets; stalkers publicized his mother’s home, and Texas authorities are now investigating. Another conservative blogger who had the audacity to report on Walker’s plight, Robert Stacy McCain, was forced to move out of his home last month after Kimberlin phoned his wife’s employer and intimidated his family.
Never in the eight years that I have worked as an independent blogger have I seen such a concerted threat to the fundamental right of citizen journalists to speak their minds freely and without fear of bodily harm. As former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams points out, it is a federal violation of Title 18 U.S.C. Section 241 to conspire to deprive someone of his “free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Members of Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution — all of it. Who means it?