Friday, February 20, 2009


Idea: Abort stupidity

Stupid Oklahoma City police officer harrasses stupid man over poorly and stupidly expressed opinion.

Like Oklahoma needs some more bad press!


Given that abort means to terminate and impeach means to bring an accusation against, the cop is marginally smarter than the guy with the sign. And, also given that the number of credible death threats against Obama is apparently setting an all-time record, I'd rather law enforcement over-reacted than under.

OTOH, it might have been smarter to quietly get a license number and then just turn the information over to the Secret Service for some subtle investigation rather than openly annoying the sign's owner.
Remember Tim McVeigh?
I do.
Maybe the cop did.
The Secret Service did interview the guy and search his home, and declared him just stupid not leathal.
Then the cops gave the sign back to guy.

You can't hollar FIRE in a theater.
Can you hollar BURN?
Same kind of thing.
I go with the cop.
I suspect Neil will be putting out a special edition.
The guy's choice of words was threatening. I read it to mean "do harm to" Obama. But, the cop's decision to confiscate the sign was an overreach; if it wasn't worth arresting him on the spot, especially. The Secret Service wanting to check out the guy's house isn't surprising; but if he let them in, the guy has no room to complain, as far as I'm concerned. He should've had 'em get a warrant.

Neil and others might need medical attention over this!
I have a hard time believeing that a guy that stupid could manage to affix the sign to his car without becomeing a road hazard...perhaps that would have been a better thing for the officer to focus on?
Maybe the cop wasn't too far out fearing an Anti-Abortion sign as a threat.

Former Presidential Candidate Alan Keyes told an Abortion Conference in Nebraska today:
"Obama is a radical communist and I think it is becoming clear. That is what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it is coming true. He is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist."
- Alan Keyes

When does something become an "incitement"?
When does something become an "incitement"?

In my world, it takes a weapon and an immediate and direct threat, not an ideological position. I look at this from a content-neutral perspective: I think a bumper sticker or protest banner during the previous administration that said, "Bomb the White House, Not Baghdad" or "Execute Saddam AND Bush" or "Waterboard Cheney" is protected speech. But I'm an extremist that way,
There is such a fine line, and we live in a time when the unhinged among us need little prodding to do something crazy.

Yet, freedom of speech becomes meaningless if we say that we can set it aside because of the sewage that is rampant on the right. Alan Keyes is little different from the folks at American Descent - sounds like he's been reading their blog, actually - but they are both dumb and cowardly.

Part of me wants to side with the cop. Really. Erring on the side of caution when a perceived threat to the President of the United States is involved might be a good thing. But, this was just a sign - as Teresa says, it's a wonder the dude could afix the sign to his car without endangering himself - and the message was kind of, well, odd.

Are there real threats out there? Obviously. Is TStockman correct that it's action, not words, that constitute the real threat? That creates the false distinction that angry words aren't also acts, acts intended to spur on those whose backbones may need a little assistance. All one needs to do is read the fever swamps of the right on the internet to know that the murderous fantasies of many, many people are tickled by thoughts of attacking the President.

This is a case of many people being not that bright, the cop being more earnest than prudent, and a whole lot of folks looking on becoming red in the face over a whole lot of nothing. Yet, at some point, there will come a time when one of the doofuses crosses the line, and it will come out that he or she or they were questioned by the Secret Service because of a speech, or a blog post, or a letter to the editor, and nothing was done.

Sadly, we live in interesting times once again, and the blurry lines at the edges between speech and action, between expressing and opinion, and getting the torch-and-pitchfork brigades ready to storm the White House are getting blurrier by the day. As a 1st Amendment absolutist, I would say that we might tread this fine line by (a) certainly not arresting someone for carrying around a stupid sign, or posting something on the internet; and (b) keeping an eye on these people precisely because speech is also an act, and could betray an underlying propensity to do violence. This is just as dangerous, in its way, as some of the things the Bushies did, but I don't know what else to say.
Why not see these episodes as instances of a democratic nation at work in a situation of competing but equally legitimate interests?

Free Speech

Executive responsibility for protection.

As long as the man is not assaulted, but only questioned, as long as the man is not racially profiled, but only investigated cautiously on the interest in protecting elected officials, why is this not a more or less good outcome?

Should we expect that our laws and our social practice will never be in tension, come into conflict?

What is the protection of Free Speech if not a choice to add protections to one side of well known competition of interests, but surely not a guarantee from any and all questions from authority?

Checks upon the practice of speaking in a society with a principle of Free Speech serve a vitally important role to that principle. Not all speech is protected! Sometimes it takes some time of reasoning by society (via its agents in legal adjudication) to decide whether a particular speech act does indeed fall under Free Speech.

Is this not one case, weak or strong, of the agents of a society raising questions of whether this particular instance of speech may indicate nascent harm to peaceful social organization than mitigates the speaker's freedom?

The questions were resolved. This may be a seemingly weak case, but not to expect moments of investigation is to be Pollyannas, and it forgets the experiential knowledge of our founding fathers that convinced them of the need for principles of such protections and to forget that in our history we are always experiencing the need to interpret those protections.
Is TStockman correct that it's action, not words, that constitute the real threat? That creates the false distinction that angry words aren't also acts, acts intended to spur on those whose backbones may need a little assistance.

Well, not really - just as the non-self-incrimination Fifth Amendment overwhelmingly protects the guilty and almost incidentally protects the innocent and the exclusionary interpretation of the 4th amendment ONLY protects the guilty (whereas penalties for violations of it would protect both). Rights are there despite the damage they cause. The "Constitution is not a suicide pact" quote uses the extreme case advisedly - we will take a lot of harm INCLUDING the death of an elective official as the unavoidable consequence of our rights.

These rights, btw, are part of a mutual pact - I don't buy the inbor and inalienable part, and am delighted that Christopher Hitchens, the arrogant prick warmonger, got beaten up over trying to exercise them in Lebanon.
TStockman makes the point quite well - the 1st Amendment exists to protect these most extreme cases (not the one in question, but the general atmosphere of murderous rage rampant on the right at the current historical moment). Yet, the Supreme Court has made it quite clear that not all speech is protected; at what point does eliminationist rhetoric reach the threshold at which it becomes a danger? After the President is attacked? When a plot is foiled, a plot involving some who have been outspoken in their rage at the current Administration? Indeed, would "plot" consist of a spoken or written will to act, a collection of otherwise legal firearms, and perhaps a series of communications detailing how an act might take place? Is this "speech", or an a criminal conspiracy?

I agree that the nonsensical "Constitution isn't a suicide pact" line was meaningless in the context in which it was presented, i.e., as a defense of extra-constitutional actions by the executive, including illegal detention and torture. Here, however, we are discussing the fine line between speech as only speech, and speech as a prelude to action presaged by these speech acts.
GSK asks, "Indeed, would "plot" consist of a spoken or written will to act, a collection of otherwise legal firearms, and perhaps a series of communications detailing how an act might take place? Is this "speech", or an a criminal conspiracy?"

And these are questions that have a socially sanctioned forum for adjudication. We have laws and courts to interpret them and due process to set this in motion.

In the current case, tension between citizen and the executive is resolved by procedure. In a democratic society there are conflicts, and as long as the courts are wise when resolution cannot be reached we have approximate justice.

This case is more about media's inflation of conflict and our appetite to indulge.
I would agree with Feodor's last comment, and go further and state that asking theoretical questions, absent actual cases, gets us nowhere. I will go further, though, and say that this particular case is one of those "bad cases makes bad laws" examples; it's far enough this side of the incitement question to give the benefit of the doubt to the sign guy.

Which brings us, in as roundabout a way as possible, to where we began.
Some really good thinking going on here. In that this is Oklahoma City, all actions like this occur within the framework of Tim McVeigh's actions.
I agree with Feodor that it is a balancing act. In OKC it does not trouble me that we may lean a little too far towards the stop and investigate side of the balance.
I haven't seen any reports that indicate that the officer in question was disciplined in any way. I suspect he was quietly told that it was a bit much, but keep up the good work.
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