Conservative websites are going dark today in order to deliver a message to their readers and, in particular, to the Republican elected officials who have relied upon sites like Bearing Drift so much over the years to advance their legislative agendas and political prospects:
Our freedom of speech is under a premeditated, coordinated attack. And we need your help.
This all stems from a case in Maryland, where blogger Aaron Walker was arrested for blogging about a man named Bret Kimberlin (more on his colorful life later).
But matters did not end there.
Other conservative bloggers have been threatened, or, more ominously, subject to “SWATings” at their homes – where attacks use spoofing technology to use a blogger’s phone number are to call police and admit to a violent crime or hostage situation, bringing a heavily armed police presence to their home under false pretenses. The American Center for Law and Justice has said it will defend bloggers who are facing legal harassment and at least one Senator, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the “SWATings” of conservative bloggers, which has happened multiple times in the last few months.
Good for Chambliss. But what about Virginia’s congressional delegation? Do they intend to add their voices — and not inconsiderable clout — to Chambliss’ effort?
Update, from Congressman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6):
“Any time First Amendment rights are jeopardized it should be of great concern to the American people. As a member of the Media Fairness Caucus, I am concerned that some bloggers are being targeted unfairly because of their political affiliation. I signed on to a letter today to Attorney General Holder concerning the growing threat of “SWAT-ting” and demanding that he review each of these cases to determine whether any federal laws have been breached and prosecute those crimes accordingly. I will also encourage the House Judiciary Committee to conduct oversight of this matter and continue to monitor the situation.”
If you live in their districts, we urge you to contact them using the links above. If you are reading this from another state, even if you’re represented by a Democrat, contact your congressman as well. This pattern of intimidation goes at the very core of who we are as Americans – the right to speak freely and engage in public political debate.
If you or the congressmen are unaware of the back story and the stakes involved, Tim Donner wrote an excellent account last week.
We are reprinting it here, in full:
Have you heard of Brett Kimberlin? I hadn’t until recently.
You should know about him, though, and you should care about his heretofore successful attacks on the most fundamental free speech rights of his critics.
This story should send chills up the spines of all journalists, and those who take the first amendment seriously.
It all started with a group Mr. Kimberlin co-founded called Velvet Revolution, and that group’sattempt to have conservative activists James O’Keefe, Hanna Jiles and Andrew Breitbart criminally prosecuted for the famous expose of ACORN. Mandy Nagy (who blogs at libertychick) wrote anarticle on Breitbart exposing Velvet Revolution and Brent Kimberlin.
It turns out Mr. Kimberlin had good reason to wish people didn’t dig into his past, as that past includes terrorist bombings, drug trafficking, perjury, and parole violations. All of the above cost Kimberlin almost 20 years in prison.
It also turns out that some of the most high-profile leftists were bankrolling Kimberlin. His tax exemptJustice Through Music Project has been funded generously by the George Soros funded Tides Foundation, Barbara Streisand, and Tereza Heinz-Kerry, netting this two-employee “social justice” organization over 1.8 million dollars in six years. All this was red meat for Nagy, as well as other conservative bloggers who seized on the story.
Mr. Kimberlin obviously did not appreciate his felonious past being exposed for the world to see and decided to do something about it. He used his time in prison to become very familiar with the legal system, filing more than 100 lawsuits, including many against bloggers.
Prosecutor and blogger Patterico has the breakdown on how Kimberlin succeeds at his plan:
“…this serial litigant forces his critics into his jurisdiction with a frivolous civil action. If Kimberlin’s critics complain that the action is frivolous, he calls that criticism “harassment,” and through a process of seeking frivolous peace orders and/or filing frivolous criminal complaints, obtains an arrest warrant for the critic. When the critic shows up to court as required, he or she is arrested on the trumped-up charges.
Success! The story becomes about the critic’s arrest. The critics look worse because authorities seem to take Kimberlin’s side; and he gets the satisfaction of putting his critics behind bars, even if for a short time.”
Where, you may ask, are the judges? Surely when confronted with two people with differing stories about harassment, abuse, libel and slander, the Yale-trained lawyer with no record would be accorded more trust than the convicted perjurer, bomber, and federal felon, right?
Not in Montgomery County, Maryland. Rockville judge C.J. Vaughey granted Kimberlin a new “peace order” (essentially a restraining order), and in doing so demonstrated a near total ignorance about how blogging and social media works. Here is an audio transcript of the hearing.
Now I’m not a big twitter user, but if I were judging a case about its use, I would make sure I understood exactly how tweeting, tagging, and re-tweeting works. Judge Vaughey apparently has no need for such facts. Since so many people have written negative things about the violent felon Kimberlin, Kimberlin simply represented to the judge that those people were directed by blogger Aaron Walker and the judge decided to take the word of the perjurer!
So the judge – and this case brings to mind the old adage that a judge is just a lawyer with a politician for a friend – takes our precious First Amendment and throws it in the ashcan by granting another order suspending Aaron Walker’s free speech rights, enacting a prior restraint.
I can understand how Judge Vaughey might not be familiar with the twitterverse, but that he is also unfamiliar with two hundred and twenty two years of First Amendment jurisprudence is profoundly troubling.
I’ll leave it to Chief Justice Warren Burger to articulate the terrible problem with such a ruling:
“[P]rior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights. A criminal penalty or a judgment in a defamation case is subject to the whole panoply of protections afforded by deferring the impact of the judgment until all avenues of appellate review have been exhausted. Only after judgment has become final, correct or otherwise, does the law’s sanction become fully operative.
A prior restraint, by contrast and by definition, has an immediate and irreversible sanction. If it can be said that a threat of criminal or civil sanctions after publication “chills” speech, prior restraint “freezes” it at least for the time.”
This decision must be reversed for any of us to be free to speak our minds. Brett Kimberlin said “I have filed over a hundred lawsuits and another one will be no sweat for me. On the other hand, it will cost you a lot of time and money and for what?”
For the most fundamental of rights – the right to speak my mind – that’s what. Political speech is the form of speech that was most valued by America’s founders, and what has most profoundly defined freedom in the American republic.
Incredibly, there is an even darker side of this story. A number of Mr. Kimberlin’s critics have become victims of “swatting.” Swatting is when someone who doesn’t like what you’ve said calls the police and pretends to be you, reports to be at your residence, and then says something crazy such as, for instance, they just killed their family.
The police take the caller at their word and respond in kind, putting everyone at great risk of death, as the police think they’re dealing with a homocidal lunatic.
It is my profound hope that Americans from all over the political spectrum recognize the existential threat to decent society this kind of behavior represents, and will join me in standing against this atrocity being committed against the First Amendment, and the civilized world.