The “True Threats” of the Right-Wing Blogosphere

Like Tom said earlier, go read Glenn Greenwald’s piece about the terror-inciting tactics of the right wing. For me, this is the most chilling part of the post :

This weekend, prominent neoconservative David Horowitz proclaimed that the United States is fighting a war and “the aggressors in this war are Democrats, liberals and leftists.” In particular, he cited the now infamous NYT Travel section article on Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld’s vacation homes as evidence that the employees of the NYT are among the enemies in this war, and he then linked to and recommended as a “proposal for action” this post from his associate, Front Page contributor Rocco DiPippo. The post which Horowitz recommended was entitled “Where Does Punch Sulzberger Live?” and this is what it said:

I issue a call to the blogosphere to begin finding and publicly listing the addresses of all New York Times reporters and editors. Posting pictures of their residences, along with details of any security measures in place to protect the properties and their owners (such as location of security cameras and on-site security details) should also be published.

DiPippo published the home address of NYT Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, along with directions to his home, and linked to a post by right-wing blogger Dan Riehl which contained directions to Sulzberger’s home along with photographers of it. In a now-deleted post, DiPippo also published the home address of Linda Spillers, the NYT photographer who took the photograph of Don Rumsfeld’s vacation home (with Rumsfeld’s express permission), and he urged everyone to go (presumably to the home address he provided) and confront Spillers about her actions.

In an update, Greenwald links to the Supreme Court’s 1982 NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware and notes “I do not believe that the despicable statements referenced in this post can or should be grounds for criminal or civil liability…The point is that these statements are despicable and dangerous, not illegal.” While I respect his adherence to the First Amendment, I believe the conduct of Horowitz, DiPippo, and their fellow thugs have more in common with their tactical brethren American Coalition of Life Activists. The ACLA as you may recall made headlines with their website “The Nuremberg Files” in which they posted the names and addresses of abortion providers. Just last month the Supreme Court refused to hear the final appeal by the ACLA, essentially upholding the 199 Oregon District Court decision that concluded :

I conclude from my independent review of the evidence produced at trial that plaintiffs have proven by clear and convincing evidence that each defendant, acting independently and as a co-conspirator, prepared, published and disseminated the “Deadly Dozen” Poster, the Poster of Dr. Robert Crist and the “Nuremberg Files” with specific intent and malice in a blatant and illegal communication of true threats to kill, assault or do bodily harm to each of the plaintiffs and with the specific intent to interfere with or intimidate the plaintiffs from engaging in legal medical practices and procedures.[1]

I totally reject the defendants’ attempts to justify their actions as an expression of opinion or as a legitimate and lawful exercise of free speech in order to dissuade the plaintiffs from engaging in providing abortion services.

The law requires a higher level of scrutiny and proof for an injunction involving speech than for an award of damages for violation of a statute. [See Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, 512 U.S., 753 (1994). I find the actions of the defendants in preparing, publishing and disseminating these true threats objectively and subjectively[2] were not protected speech under the First Amendment.
. . .
For purposes of this Order and Preliminary Injunction, I consider a person to make a “true threat” when the person makes a statement that, in context, a reasonable listener would interpret as communicating a serious expression of an intent to inflict or cause serious harm on or to the listener (objective); and the speaker intended that the statement be taken as a threat that would serve to place the listener in fear for his or her personal safety, regardless of whether the speaker actually intended to carry out the threat (subjective).

That last part decribing a “true threat” from the footnotes of the opinion is especially important in that it decribes the threshold that must be crossed in order for unpopular speech to no longer be covered by the First Amendment. The “true threat” test was also discussed in the recent Supreme Court ruling that cross-burning by the Ku Klux Klan isn’t a constitutionally protected form of speech. (PDF)

“True threats” encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. See Watts v. United States, supra, at 708 (“political hyberbole” is not a true threat); R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U. S., at 388. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats “protect[s] individuals from the fear of violence” and “from the disruption that fear engenders,” in addition to protecting people “from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.” Ibid. Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death. Respondents do not contest that some cross burnings fit within this meaning of intimidating speech, and rightly so. As noted in Part II, supra, the history of cross burning in this country shows that cross burning is often intimidating, intended to create a pervasive fear in victims that they are a target of violence.

By posting the personal information NYT employees, the right-wing blogosphere is engaging in the exact same conduct as “The Nuremberg Files” (which resulted in a $5 million judgement against the ACLA). This isn’t political speech we’re talking about here. The right-wing bloggers are targeting their percieved enemies through implied threats of violence. The First Amendment gives us tremendous leeway when it comes to expressing unpopular and reprehensible ideas, but it doesn’t give you the right to incite terror.