What can possibly explain the Justice Department’s subpoena of Reason demanding the identities of anonymous commenters on its website? Bloomberg columnist Virginia Postrel (the editor of Reason magazine back in the 1990s when I wrote for it frequently) explains:
This is happening in America — weirdly, to a site I founded, and one whose commenters often earned my public contempt.
Los Angeles legal blogger Ken White has obtained a grand jury subpoena issued to Reason.com, the online home of the libertarian magazine I edited throughout the 1990s. The subpoena seeks information about commenters who posted in response to an article by the site’s editor Nick Gillespie about the letter that Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht wrote to Judge Katherine B. Forrest before she sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Ulbricht was convicted of seven felony charges, included conspiracies to traffic in narcotics and launder money, and faced a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. . .
In this case, [commenters] were furious and, in their fury, some of them got nasty. “Its judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” wrote Agammamon. “Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you feed them in feet first,” responded croaker. “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman,” commented Rhywun. “I’d prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well,” chimed in ProductPlacement. (Reason has since removed the offending comments.)
No one in their right mind would take this hyperbolic venting seriously as threatening Judge Forrest, who back in the fall had personal information published on an underground site, along with talk of stealing her identity or calling in tips to send SWAT teams to her house. The Reason commenters, by contrast, included nothing so specific. . .
Venting anger about injustice is not a crime. Neither is being obnoxious on the Internet. The chances of one of these commenters being convicted of threatening the judge are essentially nil. Conviction isn’t the point. Crying “threats” just makes a handy pretext for harassing Reason and its commenters.
Beyond this free speech merits of this episode, are the people working at the Obama Justice Department so clueless as to have no grasp that initiating an inquisition of one of the most popular nodes of the libertarian world is like giving a free tank of high-octane gasoline to a drag racer? Either the Justice Departments lawyers who filed this subpoena are politically stupid (likely), or they are secretly in league with Rand Paul’s campaign. In which case they’re violating the Hatch Act.