Barrett Brown Indictment: Thoughts
by Sue Basko
I just read the Federal Criminal indictment of Barrett Lancaster Brown, the writer who often speaks about Anonymous. It's a 3-count indictment based on his tweets and youtube videos. The first count says he made threats to injure and shoot FBI agents (It is really stretching it to say he made such threats, especially since he repeatedly states that he does not mean he will shoot or kill.). The second count says he urged someone to dox the FBI Agent Robert Smith. The third count says he retaliated against FBI Agent Robert Smith, apparently by making threats/ doxing.
I want to be clear here, since there are criminal indictments going around: I am totally against anyone threatening anyone's safety or endangering anyone. And mentioning a child is reprehensible. I am also totally against anyone doxing anyone. Those are serious things. And doxing is a crime, even against non-government people, where it is considered stalking, cyberstalking, invasion of privacy, etc.
Having said that, let's look at what Barrett Brown actually did. Barrett Brown openly admits he is an on and off heroin addict. At the time he made the tweets and videos, he was apparently on and off suboxone and not eating. And in the tinychat during which he was arrested, he earlier stepped out to buy a "40," meaning 40 ounces of malt liquor, which has high alcohol content. There is talk that he was also taking paxil and abruptly stopped using it. He was obviously trying to get off heroin, but by his own methods, rather than being in a hospital under careful medical supervision.
Barrett Brown's thinking was obviously not very clear. In the videos, he looks fried and senseless. This is not a person taking drugs for recreation. This is a person trying to get off drugs and not having proper medical care.
As a nation, we also need to look at the FBI practice of raiding the homes of activists. Barrett's home and his mother's house were raided in March 2012, and his computers and notebooks were taken. The FBI has been conducting many such raids across the nation, for several years. These are not people who are wanted for any crimes. Subsequent to the raids, I do not know of any who have then been charged with a crime.
The raids are a form of harassment and intimidation. The FBI agents arrive en masse early in the morning. They kick in the door and throw flash bangs. They run in shouting, carrying huge guns. They force people to lie on the floor. They tear the house apart and leave with trucks full of stuff. They take the things the people need for their work and businesses and daily lives -- their computers, their notebooks, photographs, receipts. This is happening all over our nation to people who have done such things as put on protests, attended demonstrations, spoken out. Do you care? You should.
It is suprising that MORE victims of these FBI raids have not flipped out. It is the FBI raids that NEED to be stopped -- not Barrett Brown who needs to be imprisoned. He was rightfully damn angry and he should have been. We should all be angry that these raids are taking place!
The tweets quoted in the indictment are a mixture of Barrett's (and other peoples') ranting, dark humor, silliness, insults, political speech, more ranting, manic boasting. One is a retweet of a tweet by someone on Fox News about killing someone. This retweet is somehow being attributed to Barrett Brown in a criminal indictment. Is this not ludicrous? Does the person who wrote this indictment even know how Twitter works? If I underline a sentence in a book, does that mean I wrote the sentence? Does a sentence I underline in a book get to be used as evidence in an indictment? That's just ridiculous.
If I were in charge, I would have had Barrett Brown taken into custody. He was online, obviously nuts, and making threats. I would then get him detoxed and get him mental health care. And guess what? That is just what is happening now. He is in a minimum security prison that has an all-you-can-eat salad bar, handball courts, and music rooms. He is there getting the poisons out of his system and hopefully getting his head straight. It is reasonable to expect this process to take a good number of months.
When Barrett Brown is all cleaned up, I hope the Feds will see fit to drop the charges. If not, we'll all get to watch a stupendously shameful situation where a man is put on trial for his dark humor jokes, exaggerations, insults, righteous anger, rants, manic paranoia, and the occasional semi-coherent political observation. To be sure, there are sparks of brilliance in the mix, and that is what attracts people to him.
The indictment picks a tweet here and there. If you look at Barrett's whole online presence in the September days in question, you'd see he was having simultaneous tweet conversations with different people, interspersed with the occasional tweet spat with his archnemeses, @Asherahresearch and @TomRyanblog. He was also playing video games, working on research, getting emails and direct messages, running out onto his balcony to make incoherent videos threatening the FBI, and making his manic behavior public on IRCs and tinychats.
From the "facts" section of the indictment:
The indictment makes it sound like Project PM is some sort of terrorist undertaking, rather than a group journalistic research project. Project PM is some people on the internet looking at websites and gathering information about companies that conduct surveillance on the public. These are amateur hobbyist researchers and some of the information is inaccurate. Nevertheless, it is a group research project and totally legal. A lot of it centers around a desire to know about Trapwire, a surveillance software product created by Abraxas Corporation. Trapwire is of interest to many people, including me. Why is our government paying companies to spy on us in daily life? And that's a damn good question. It is our government that is at fault, not the people asking the questions.
This is one of Barrett's tweets quoted in the indictment. Barrett is a writer and the Guardian is a UK and now also a US news publication. Barrett tweets that since the Guardian is not responding to him, he can spend his time on Project PM. So what? Whoever wrote this indictment must not get it that Project PM is the internet equivalent of a knitting club. Why does the government care that a writer not getting work spends his time on a group research project? I don't get it.
The tweet above is in the indictment. What does it mean? It means that mainstream media was not covering the Trapwire story as much as Barrett thought they should, and he meant for Project PM to pick up the journalistic slack on that. Why is this in an indictment? Is journalism a crime?
The indictment says this is a quote from one of the videos. Yes, the videos elicit a cringe response. It is painful to watch a person in meltdown mode. But do we really expect people to keep a stiff upper lip and not lose it when the FBI kicks in the door, takes their important stuff, threatens their mother, sends annoying troll people to harass them nonstop on the internet, and then won't give their stuff back?
Is Barrett Brown really a threat? The indictment quotes this as a video threat:
What is Barrett threatening? That he will be "using the court system, using the media, " and using "Project PM," the research project. Followed by more cryptic boasting. And then what is his big demand?? That he wants his stuff that was taken by the FBI. He wants his computer and his moleskin notebook.
Does this sound like a dangerous man or like a man who is railing against a government that allows storm troopers to burst into peoples' homes and terrorize them and take their things? How can anyone agree with such horrifying acts of intrusion into our lives? And I say "our" because anything that is done to one citizen can be done to any of us. We all have something at stake here. What is at stake is the U.S. Constitution, which is being routinely tromped upon.