FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

First They Came for Backpage

The First Amendment to the US Constitution is pretty clear: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”
 
The Communications Decency Act is similarly clear: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
 
But even after repeated judicial rebuffs on these grounds the federal government continues to attempt to “get” Backpage.com for allegedly “facilitating” sex work by accepting advertisements  — usually, and usually falsely, described by rabid demagogues like US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) as “human trafficking.”
 
On April 6, several federal agencies stole (the word they used was “seized”) the site’s domain names and raided its co-founder’s home, arresting him pursuant to a 93-count indictment from a grand jury.
 
As of the raid, the indictment remained “sealed,” legalese for “why should the US government be obliged to tell mere serfs what it is up to or why?” That’s a rotten kettle of fish in and of itself. A “justice system” that operates in secret has no legitimate claim to the title.
 
News accounts that may be based on leaks (I’ve been unable to verify that the indictment has been un-“sealed”) describe the charges as relating to “money laundering” and “human trafficking.”  The “money laundering” nonsense brings an additional disturbing element with it to the extent that it’s described as being about the use of cryptocurrency (Bitcoin), another activity that the feds would like to bring under their control.
 
I hesitate to describe the secrecy and cryptocurrency angles as distractions. They’re absolutely important. But the most urgent problem from my point of view is that the federal government has openly arrogated to itself the power to outlaw speech and punish publishers for allowing that speech on their platforms, so long as it clicks its collective heels together and says “there’s no crime like human trafficking” three times first.
 
In 2016, after a court slapped down the attempts of Kamala Harris (D-CA), then attorney general of her state and now a US Senator, to prosecute Backpage for “pimping,” I suggested that merely dismissing the charges was not enough. I am still of that opinion.
 
The ringleaders of the Backpage crackdown — legislators, prosecutors and law enforcement chiefs — need to be charged with conspiracy against rights under United States Code, Title 18, Chapter 242:
 
“If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same … They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years …”
 
These bad actors have completely abandoned rule of law, and they’ve done so for the express purpose of violating the First Amendment. If they are not brought to bay and severely punished, Backpage will merely be their first, not their final, victim.

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail