DOJ Forces Libertarian Site To ID Threatening Commenters

The Department of Justice has sparked a fierce debate of First Amendment rights after it demanded the libertarian website Reason to help it track down six commenters who left threatening remarks.

“Its [sic] judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” wrote one commenter.

“Why waste the ammunition?” added another commenter. “Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you feed them in feet first.”

The online argument was in response to the federal judge who handed down a life sentence to Ross Ulbricht, founder of the virtual black market known as the Silk Road. Commenters were quick to voice their opinions, and some even issued death threats to the judge.

According to the DOJ, that’s a no-no and is not protected by free speech.

“The subpoena commands Reason to provide the grand jury and all identifying information Reason has about participants in what the subpoena calls a ‘chat,’” said Popehat’s Ken White.

Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel also weighed in on the issue, claiming the DOJ’s bold move to cross the First Amendment line shows that free speech can actually be quite expensive.

“Subpoenaing Reason’s website records, wasting its staff’s time and forcing it to pay legal fees in hopes of imposing even larger legal costs and possibly even a plea bargain (or two on the average Joes who dared to voice their dissident views in angry tones) sends an intimidating message: It’s dangerous not just to create something like Silk Road. It’s dangerous to defend it, and even more dangerous to attack those who would punish its creators,” said Postrel. “You may think you have free speech, but we’ll find a way to make you pay.”

Many believe that the legal elements required to constitute criminal threats do not exist in the online messages, pointing out that none of the messages included the judge’s name, and that there is indication they have any knowledge of where the judge lives, making it all but impossible for the threats to actually be carried out.

Both Reason and the DOJ declined to comment on the situation.

(This article was submitted by freelance writer Brent McCluskey)

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Richard September 9, 2016, 10:56 am

    Is it only threats against judges that get the DOJs attention? Why are they any better than Trump, or any other Republican? Why are they better than Rush Limbaugh or other conservative talk radio hosts? I say it’s time for the DOJ to be fumigated and all the lifers be put out to pasture along with their progressive brethren at ATF, DEA, VA, DOD, EPA and a multitude of other agencies being managed by anti-American whores.

  • Rockytop June 16, 2015, 12:18 pm

    I can’t see the DOJ wanting to arrest someone for giving an opinion? The writer didn’t give and names or specific threats to any one Judge in fact didn’t threaten any one at all under the letter of the law.His posting about Judges was in fact a very general opinion with no threat involved. With the reasoning of the DOJ wanting to arrest the poster then the Lawyer joke about what do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start should also be treated as a threat to all lawyers and people should go to jail for that too. It’s stupid and without merit. The Black Panthers said on line and in public rallies that they were going to kill white babies and their mothers in hospital nurseries and nothing was done to them. This is a typical Marxist move by people who want total control over us, plane and simple.

    • loupgarous September 9, 2016, 5:38 pm

      The New Black Panther Party also posted a bounty on George Zimmerman’s life. That IS actionable conduct – it’s soliciting a murder. Did DoJ rush in there? No. In fact, asked about the Black Panthers menacing voters with machetes at a polling place in Philadelphia, Attorney-General Holder said “I’m not here to prosecute my own people.”

      That really says it all. Obama appointed this man and failed to fire him for a massively racist remark. Because Obama would, later, say (of the young man shot after trying to break someone’s head on a curb) “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”

      The “take away” was pretty clear. Defend yourself from someone with the same tan as the President, and expect the Department of Justice to land on you with full force, coerce your state to try you for murder, threaten to try you on capital civil rights act violation when you’re acquitted of murder by that court, and orchestrate a press campaign to smear your name.

      Because racism isn’t just a bad idea – when Democrats are in office, it’s the law.

  • mr grey June 15, 2015, 11:32 am

    the supreme court ruled on this years ago in favor of anonymity. let the feds take it to the supreme court again where they will get shot down just like the crooks at tmrt.

    The seminal (and only federal) case on this issue is Doe v. 2TheMart.com, Inc. In this 2001 case, shareholders of 2TheMart.com filed suit against the company amid allegations of fraud. Some of the disgruntled shareholders made their discontent known by posting messages critical of 2TheMart.com on Internet bulletin boards. The bulletin boards were created and maintained by InfoSpace, an ISP to which these shareholders subscribed. The messages, one of which referred to officials of 2TheMart.com as “lying, cheating, thieving, stealing lowlife criminals,” were posted anonymously or by people using such pseudonyms as “Truthseeker,” “Cuemaster” and “NoGuano.” 2TheMart.com responded by presenting a subpoena to InfoSpace in an attempt to obtain the identities of these people.

    A U.S. District Court in Washington state allowed NoGuano to object to the subpoena (as “John Doe”) and the court sustained the objection. The First Amendment, said the court, protects the anonymity of Internet speech. It called anonymous speech a “great tradition that is woven into the fabric of this nation’s history,” and added that “the ability to speak one’s mind on the Internet without the burden of the other party knowing all the facts about one’s identity can foster open communication and robust debate.”

    “People who have committed no wrongdoing should be free to participate in online forums without fear that their identity will be exposed under the authority of the court,” the district court said.

    2TheMart.com argued that the right to speak anonymously did not create any corresponding right to remain anonymous after speech. Once Truthseeker and his cohorts made public accusations, the company said, they had to own up to them, their identity became fair game, and the company had the right to know who its accusers were.

    But the court disagreed, warning that “if Internet users could be stripped of [their] anonymity by a civil subpoena … this would have a significant chilling effect on Internet communications and thus on basic First Amendment rights . … Unmeritorious attempts to unmask the identities of online speakers have a chilling effect on Internet speech.”

    The court devised a strategy to balance the interests in protecting a party’s online anonymity with preserving an opposing party’s right to sue for libel if warranted. The ruling announced a four-part test, such that the identity of an anonymous Internet user could be disclosed if: “(1) the subpoena seeking the information was issued in good faith and not for any improper purpose; (2) the information sought relates to a core claim or defense; (3) the identifying information that is directly and materially relevant to that claim or defense, and (4) information sufficient to establish or to disprove that claim or defense is unavailable from any other source.”

    Applying this test to the facts before it, the district court denied the issuance of the subpoena, concluding that 2TheMart.com’s real purpose in seeking it was to intimidate its critics into silence.

    • deanbob June 16, 2015, 12:59 pm

      How does the SCOTUS ‘Facebook’ decision relate to this DOJ demand? The DOJ has unlimited funds (gratis from “We The People”) that they can waste (bully) taking anyone and everyone, along with each and every city’s police department to court. When the defendent wins, the DOJ should have to pay defendents’ costs; or allow the courts to assign this responsibility when the DOJ sues/bullies frivolously.

      • loupgarous September 9, 2016, 5:45 pm

        Specifically, it’s a challenge to a libertarian website connected to the major libertarian magazine on Earth, Reason, to show they truly are libertarians. It’ll cost money, and the point at which the publishers of Reason decide it’s too much money to fight the most corrupt Department of Justice since Nixon’s is the point at which Reason’s readers may decide it’s not worth reading.

    • praharin June 16, 2015, 1:33 pm

      The problem with your argument is that we’re not discussing libel and slander against a judge, but no doubt about it death threats. That’s a different ball game entirely. I’m not saying that their anonymity should be forsaken, but it was a bad judgement to make threats against a public official in the way in which they did.

      • loupgarous September 9, 2016, 5:53 pm

        Those were not death threats. The necessary element for any interstate conspiracy to commit murder is the ready mind to commit, aid or abet a murder. In the mind of a reasonable man reading those posts, that’s not there/ These were expressions of extreme dissatisfaction with a public servant’s performance. Any judge who views those as operative threats against his or her life ought to reconsider their career choice. Perhaps go to work for the Department of Justice where, apparently, civil rights are only for some folks. “Justice for All” sure went by the wayside there.

        Worse things appear on websites which support the current administration, such as crooksandliars.com, mediamatters.org, and other “progressive” venues. That includes apparently sincere wishes that the people targeted by the articles on those sites meet untimely ends, be raped in prsion, or are otherwise harmed.

  • Uncle Davr June 15, 2015, 7:59 am

    Big Gov’t tracking down libertarians. Ironic.

  • Joe June 15, 2015, 7:02 am

    If you carry a smart phone you can now say without a doubt;
    “No matter where you go, there you are”
    At least that is what big brother looking over your shoulder might say..
    Be careful what you might say in a moment of anger because big brother might hunt you down.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend