Third Party & Independents Archives

Activist sent to Federal Prison for 1yr

“Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that in a letter while in Paris about his present state of American democracy to William Smith. Yet, a mere two centuries later, repeating his statements and ideology could land you in federal prison. And it has cost Sherman Austin of, one self-proclaimed revolutionary his bodily freedom for one year, and political freedom of speech for three years.

The synopsis of Austin’s crime is linking to sites that contain information on building bombs. Federal proscecutors argued that his political beliefs were the violent overthrow of the government, or a revolution combined with information on how to acheive it. Austin’s account and rebuttal of the case (lots of comments) can be found on’s website. Extrapolated within reason, this case lays the foundation requiring political journalists to navigate a political minefield when reporting terrorism acts and U.S. policies. For example, any site that has information on weapons (e.g. - CNN’s article on the risks of building dirty bombs and the difficulty in acquiring material), combined with an acerbic or dissenting viewpoint of the government’s policies (e.g. - a CNN article on the U.S. helping Saddam in the 80s) could be grounds for proscecution.

So watch what you say, the First Ammendment is officially abridged. Is it going to get better? Apparently not (a Q&A concerning Patriot II).

Posted by Stephen VanDyke at August 8, 2003 2:01 PM