This is Not Your Father's Political Repression

The last month has been a really volatile one for social media Conservatives. If you're reading this blog you're likely well familiar with the Neal Rauhauser / Brett Kimberline / SWATting / Lawfare issue has taken on a life of it's own. Lawsuits and appeals on all sides, new Legislative branch interest in the matter and law enforcement attention (where local law enforcement is even capable of investigating generally multi-jurisdictional crimes) are finally cresting the ridge and seeing the valley of first amendment crime below.


Imagine, as has actually has happened several times in the US and more often in European countries, a man in the mid to late 19th century sending missives to a president, a governor, a congressman, a mayor; demanding that a policy be changed, or for some stance be switched. A waistcoated figure, writing with flowing handwriting with an ink stylus and blotter, increasingly fervent in attempts to convey just how right he was to affect the policy of another. After several attempts to sway the politician using various means, he becomes upset. Can't this man understand that I am right? How evil this officeholder's policies are?

Finally, rebuffed in the efforts to directly change the ideas of the officeholder, the writer decides that he must be silenced. He writes him again and states that if he doesn't either change his policy- announced at his next speech- he shouldn't attend the speech at all. Or else.

In a quasi-historical mindset, it's easy to imagine the antagonist standing at the back of a stage, made of rough-hewn wood, fondling the hilt of a dagger under his coat, or drawing back the hammer of an old school Derringer in a deep pocket. But what, really, is the difference between his actions up to this point and that of our contemporary leftists attempting to wrest first amendments rights from online Conservatives?

Fast forward to current times. Federal Express, cell phones, phones, television and radio. But none of these methods of modern communication grant the ubiquitous method of mass dispersal of information than that given by the internet. In past times, those with access to the levers of broad access to the gears of mass distribution, one had been in a career or at a level of professional influence that filtered out people of lower inhibitions regarding antisocial (and indeed, illegal) conduct. Those politicians and pundits of past times were published because they had proved themselves to be thoughtful, insightful or in some way worthy of being quoted. That de facto vetting of purveyors of public information is no more, and for the most part this isn't a bad thing of itself.

But if anyone can publish to broad audiences, then we need to be careful what we say. The whole reason it's illegal to threaten someone in such a fashion is because it's generally impossible for law enforcement to determine who means it, versus who is just spouting off. As the recipients of such threats, the same goes-  they don't know if the antagonist is intending to follow through with the threat, and the usually anonymous persona of those leveling the threat adds an additional fear factor.

Many wonder if there is a concerted effort to incorporate these tactics in a coordinated campaign of silencing political speech that doesn't comport with a certain group's ideology (or even a simple marketing strategy). It would be "impolitic" to even mutter this suspicion just several months ago. For the sake of civil discourse, one cannot generally accuse another party of outright policy of intimidation. Individuals, yes... but never as a concerted directive from on high. The very success of the country's political survival up to this point relied upon the assumption of the good intentions of the opposite parties. When this is lost, chaos becomes the norm.

Certainly there was no functional reason someone couldn't send threats before the internet. It happened often enough for laws to be written regarding it. But what kept kept threats uncommon was the fact that these threats often checked the speech of just few numbers of people at a time, and usually only one. In order to keep political ideas from gaining momentum among a populace, the threats must be made to a large number of people for the repression to be truly effective. Writing to two hundred million conservatives can produce a certain amount of writer's cramp. In this, the internet plays a vital role.

As Brett Kimberlin, Neal Rauhauser and others are suspected by many to be behind many SWATting incidents (or knowledgeable of those who are) those interested are looking into the background of these people are more and more focusing on the money behind the apparatus.

Neal Rauhauser has been noted as using the structure of Brett Kimberlin's Velvet Underground 501(c)4 corporation to handle the logistics of unknown political operations. Where the VU statement states to be promotion of electoral participation, the sparse information on the 501(c)4's required filings have gained the attention of journalists and possibly the IRS.

More than just the brand-name entity of Team Kimberlin, others on the left see the effect they have -sans consequences but plenty of notoriety- and likely take it upon themselves to emulate their tactics and success. Rarely is there a day when when some casual twitter acquaintance receives a death threat, or even just an implied one- posting of their phone numbers, pictures of their houses, naming their children or harassing their employers. Perhaps my next line of inquiry will be finding if there has been an uptick in electronic voter intimidation cases as compared to this time in 2008.

Earlier today, a chance login to Twitter produced someone who had been threatened. @Denise_lovell was kind enough to send me pictures of her phone purporting the threat made by @VonniMediaMogul

So what are the odds of seeing something like this occur to people you know on a regular basis? More common than you'd expect. Of course this is a purely anecdotal incident, but don't tell that to the person receiving it.