A Raise The Fist Primer, no.1
This document is meant to be a "reader" or "pathfinder" presenting an overview of the social and legal situation surrounding the Raise The Fist raid and arrest. It's being produced to clarify what's happened. I hope it helps the reader understand the current conditions of political protest, social dissent, cyberlaw, and the FBI's understanding of anarchist groups and hackers. Follow the links to get deeper information.
Facts About the Case
- Sherman Martin Austin was the webmaster of RaiseTheFist.com, an anarchist website.
- He lives in Los Angeles County with his siblings and mother. It was raided on the 24th by a team comprising the LAPD, Secret Service and FBI. He was not arrested at that time.
- He drove to the east coast, with the intent of protesting the WEF in New York. At the protests, he was arrested on misdemeanor charges.
- The charges were dropped, and he was immediately re-arrested by the FBI on charges of publishing bomb-making information, an alleged violation of the USA PATRIOT act.
- Sherman is scheduled to be extradited to California on Wednesday the 13th.
More information about this case is available on the LA IndyMedia, SF IndyMedia, and Cryptome websites.
Contemporary Political Dissent and the Law
Contemporary acts of political dissent are being prosecuted under increasingly harsh laws with fines that are larger, and prison terms longer, than in the past. The following excerpt by Patricia Nell Warren, taken from the online anthology The Darkness Arrives, compares what political people today face compared to those of the Civil Rights era. (The linked article also includes information about the IMC case against the FBI.)
In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus, in a time of unrelenting segregation law, when blacks were still lynched in the South. Was Parks jailed for a year? No. She was arrested and fined . In 1958 the Rev. Martin Luther King was fined for ignoring a police order at a demonstration. (King chose fourteen days in jail rather than paying the fine.) Through the '60s and '70s, the campus takeovers, anti-war marches, and grape-pickers' strikes, these arrests were usually treated like parking tickets. Charges were summary, and the cops let you go. A long arrest record was an activist's badge of honor. Only a few did serious prison time because they advocated overthrow of the government.
Today the United States has suddenly junked its respect for civil disobedience. Quietly, when Americans weren't looking, law enforcement and legislators have slapped a high markup on the penal price of protest. They now consider that kind of activism to border on "domestic terrorism," and are prosecuting it under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the way organized crime and harassment of abortion clinics are now prosecuted. A key court decision, NOW v. Scheidler, has "created outrageously prohibitive sanctions for what are essentially minor violations of law," according to Crisis magazine. Nonviolent protesters are being hammered with huge bails, huge fines, multiple counts, and many months, even many years, in prison. A single arrest can now destroy your life. -- Patricia Nell Warren "Fourteen Dollars"
The DOJ on Terrorism and Anarchism
The media spin has been generally negative, presenting the story in the most sensationalistic and accusatory narrative (see LA Times article). Most articles almost state that publishing bomb making information is illegal. In fact, the legal precedent, as restated in a lengthy DOJ report published in 1997, shows that it is legal, protected speech. Later, in 1999, the court found, in a case by Planned Parenthood against groups listing abortion doctor's home addresses, that some specific kinds of speech were illegal if they were a "true threat" against individuals described in the speech. It's unclear whether there were any specific individuals being threatened on RaiseTheFist, as the bomb information didn't specify an individual to target.
Regardless, what matters isn't that the text of USA PATRIOT law forbids the bomb information, but whether the law itself is constitutional. That's what will be determined in court.
"Anarchism" is showing up as a threat on the FBI's radar. A recent report, Threat of Terrorism to the United States, listed "anarchist" groups along with foreign terror groups, right wing militias, and the ELF (which this author regards as actual terror groups).
In the report, the FBI haphazardly threw together leftist groups to create the appearance of a large threat, demonstrating some basic lack of understaning about the groups they were demonizing. They listed as "anarchist" three things which are not anarchist groups: Reclaim the Streets (is an unlicensed rave), Workers World Party (is a communist, not anarchist group -- see link), and Carnival Against Capitalism (is an umbrella term for a style of protest with planned entertainment).
An Overview of the FBI and Hackers
IMPORTANT: Sherman is NOT being charged with computer tresspass at this time. By my own amateur estimation, there's not sufficient evidence that proves that he was involved with entering computers and changing web pages. He's only being charged with violation of PATRIOT. This information is presented to shed some light on government raids of computer systems in homes.
The FBI has a long and strange history with computer hackers. Their early efforts involving bulletin board shutdowns in the 80's were generally ham-handed and appeared to be driven by a fear of savvy computer users. More recently, computer tresspass and vandalism has taken on a more social edge and is being used by young people to spread political messages. Penalties for cybercrime are considered, by many, to be far out of proportion for the actual damage inflicted. Wheras spraypainting a wall is a misdemeanor with a fine ranging from 0 to ,000, computer tresspass is a felony with fines that typically range in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Secret Service - an anthology of the Secret Service targeting of computer hackers (2600, hacker magazine, late 80's early 90's)
The Hacker Crackdown - about SS and FBI attacks on hackers in the 80's. (book published in 1990)
Global Hell - story about the youth who hacked whitehouse.gov (CNN story, 1999)
Pimpshiz, pro Napster cracker who propagandized for music trading (CNET)
This document is incomplete...
This document lacks information about the USA PATRIOT act, First Amendment case law, and probably other information relevant to the case. There's also been an inflammatory article in the NY Post that could use some deconstruction. These subjects require some coverage, and any assistance researching these issues is appreciated.