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Cops Invade TJICistan

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I noticed a day or few ago that was down. I thought it was either a hosting problem or something related to a site upgrade.

It was not:

Police Captain Robert Bongiorno said Monday that police suspended Corcoran’s firearms license on the grounds of “suitability” pending the results of an investigation into whether a comment Corcoran allegedly made online was intended as a threat in reference to the Jan. 8 shooting in Arizona that left six people dead and 13 wounded.

After U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in the rampage, Arlington Police Captain Robert Bongiorno said police received information that Corcoran posted a comment online saying “one down 534 to go” in reference to Giffords and the other 534 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Bongiorno said police found the comment reposted on in a story that said Corcoran first made the comment in a blog. Bongiorno said Corcoran has since redacted the comments, but police consider the threat to be credible until they can prove otherwise. Police have also contacted federal law enforcement agencies about the comment.

Travis (TJIC) has not been charged with any crime, but all his weapons and ammo have been seized.

I was an active participant in the relevant discussions. It seemed to me that Travis went on a great length about how he had no plans and no intent to attack anyone. There weren’t even any anonymous drive-by commenters calling for more heads to roll. The arguments revolved around theoretical and philosophical points.

There was much outrage from outsiders about Travis’s insensitivity. And plenty of accusations—that seem silly to a regular reader—that he was in some way in favor of killing nine-year-olds in the name of liberty.

I notice that the police assumption is to presume guilt. They take it upon themselves to prove innocence.

It’s not a free country, no matter what you heard on the playground.

There’s still an active discussion at the site of Travis’s comic shop, Heavy Ink. Now the chatter is not about what TJIC posted, but about the government’s reaction. Commenter “Kurt” lays it out:

The article makes clear that Travis had a license for his guns, and that the license was suspended and the guns confiscated because what he said made people uncomfortable. Again, I don’t mind people not wanting to be affiliated with him, but the cops should know better. Unless new details are released, this really doesn’t look like an acceptable response from law enforcement.

Allow me to slip into professor mode, and yes IAAL [I am a lawyer]. Offensive speech is protected under the First Amendment. Angry speech is protected under the First Amendment. Even violent rhetoric is typically protected under the First Amendment.

There are really only two ways threatening speech can be punishable. First, if it’s a true threat (“a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence”). I read most of what Travis read, and unless something new was posted and then quickly yanked, he never even came close to making a true threat. Even in the comment I found most questionable where he stated he thought it was morally acceptable to assassinate pro-regulation politicians (that’s not verbatim, don’t quote me), he only expresses APPROVAL of a certain kind of violent act. He didn’t threaten to commit it.

Second, speech can be punishable if it’s “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” This falls apart all over the place, since he wasn’t inciting or encouraging anyone to kill people, any murder inspired by the post certainly wouldn’t have been imminent, and you’d have to be an idiot to think it’s “likely” someone would start killing politicians because of Travis’s blog post.

This is all a long way of saying: it’s okay to disagree with what Travis said or find it stupid or reprehensible. That DOES NOT mean that what he said is not constitutionally-protected free speech. We do not live in a country where it is acceptable for the government to punish someone for saying something unpopular. In fact, free speech protections really only do their job when the speech is unpopular since no one’s trying to silence popular speech.

Here’s a recent, handy guide to how free speech applies to threats to public officials, written recently because of all the calls to bring civility to political discourse:

I quibble with Kurt in that he describes the kind of country we’re supposed to have. The actions by the Arlington Police dictate the country we actually have.

As I repeat when I forecast the end of the world (which is not apocalytic, just briefly very ugly), what matters most is which side the cops will come down on. This time it was government before people.

But then, Arlington is a Boston suburb by Cambridge, where the local yokels famously arrested Harvard professor Skip Gates for breaking into his own house. Even the current President said they acted stupidly. I wouldn’t project the choices of all cops based on a handful of hard-ons near Boston.


Thought I would see what other chatter this event inspired. It merited a post on the big-name leftoid site Daily Kos. The main entry is another example of what I call irreconcilable differences between the Progs and people like me:

About the only reason I can think of for why Corcoran isn't sitting in prison is that the police in his town are afraid of coming off like they're punishing speech.  Sorry, but to my non-lawyer's mind, his blog post sounds like the very definition of "overt incitement" (in other words, the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater).

Umm, afraid of coming out against speech but seizing property based upon what he said? And if we are to be judged not by our own intent, but instead by how anyone mght perceive our intent, there is no truth, no law and no justice. We’re just a mass of competing whims.

Surprisingly, the comments offer several defences. Not of what Travis wrote, but of his right to speak and how the Constitution and government are supposed to protect his exercise of those rights.


What struck me is that the people wanting Travis in jail have absolutely no idea what he wrote on his blog. At least, nothing beyond he "called for the assassination of federal lawmakers", as Christian from Daily Kos puts it.

I read the posts that day. Travis did not call for any assassinations. And when he was threatened with being reported to the authorities, he posted his address for an answer. Travis is smart, and he knew he did not break any laws.