Skip to comments.Free Justin Carter Now - The 19-year-old has been in prison since March for the crime of sarcasm.
Posted on 07/01/2013 11:48:53 AM PDT by neverdem
When defending the liberty of unsavory characters, I usually write of my native England. Not this week, alas. In the state of Texas, a 19-year-old man named Justin Carter sits in prison, ruthlessly stripped of his freedom for making an offensive joke. After a Facebook friend with whom he played video games described him as crazy and messed up in the head, Carter replied sarcastically, one imagines Oh yeah, Im real messed up in the head, Im going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts. He added lol and jk for good measure. For this he was arrested, charged with making a terroristic threat, and thrown into prison. He may languish there until the start of the next decade.
In free countries such as the United States, one is permitted to be a fool. The keystone of our virtuous departure from the damnable norms of human history is the axiom, so memorably put by Chesterton, that to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it. Americans may scream racial epithets, attack others deeply held beliefs, and communicate whatever vile and cretinous things pop into their heads. And they may do this not because they are allowed to by a state that grants privilege but because the state has never been granted the permission to intervene. The heirs to the constitutional settlement of the late eighteenth century are as entitled to its bounties as were its architects idiot boys included.
In explaining to hostile parties the consequences of their positions, many of my fellow First Amendment absolutists stress that the price of maintaining the rights of those who deserve them is that silly or undesirable people will be protected by the Constitution, too. I object to this line of thinking, not only because it presumes to judge virtue, awarding our betters a claim to exclusive truth, but also because, as John Stuart Mill argued, free men must not be stripped of their right to hear what others have to say however offensive.
Naturally, standards evolve. At one point in history, this caustic observation from comedian Richard Pryor mightve been correct: You cant talk about f****g in America, people say youre dirty, but if you talk about killing somebody, thats cool. Now, one suspects, the rule must be inverted. Either way, Americans enjoy unique latitude to discuss dark and queasy topics, topics that range as far afield as the killing of other human beings and the violent overthrow of the established order. It is likely that neither murder nor insurrection will ever come into conversational vogue desirable, too, that they do not. But it is not the place of authority to judge what is and what is not acceptable, and it is certainly not the place of the state to designate casual discussion as terrorism.
In 1969, the Supreme Court correctly swept away the restrictive and injurious precedents that the Wilson administration had struck against constitutional liberty, and restored American freedom of speech to its rightful and unyielding norm. In the seminal Brandenburg v. Ohio, justices dispensed with vague notions such as fighting words in favor of the determination that ones speech could be curtailed only in the event that it presented an imminent and likely threat. In practice, this recognized a right to sedition. As a rule of thumb, you cannot announce that you intend to start a revolution in the parking lot of your local Staples tomorrow at 9 a.m.; but you can call generally for the overthrow of the government. You can say that you might shoot up a school, too, and the most authorities can do in return is investigate whether you are serious.
In the petition advocating for his release, Carters defenders add to their case against the state by noting that the only items seized from his home was his personal computer. No weapons of any kind were seized. This revelation might well provide fussbudget Canadian proto-despots with their evening calm. But it is irrelevant. As a condition of their liberty, free men may own weapons while joking in good or bad taste about killing children just as they may own weapons while calling in the abstract for the toppling of the government. Sandy Hook being still fresh in the memory, one does not have to wonder for too long why Justin was singled out from the hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of Internet postings that threaten violence. This does not come close to excusing the Texas police. If we started rounding Americans up for making egregious comments about contemporary events, the prison system would collapse in short order.
Justin was the kind of kid who didnt read the newspaper, his father told the newspapers. He didnt watch television. He wasnt aware of current events. . . . These kids, they dont realize what theyre doing. They dont understand the implications. They dont understand public space. Perhaps they do not; who knows what informs the minds of strangers? Either way, I struggle to see why this matters. We do not have different laws for the ignorant than those we have for the learned. If Justin were a prodigious literary talent, second to none in his grasp of current events, would the equation change? Would we hang Mark Twain but spare Jose Canseco?
I, like John Updike, am prejudiced toward a government whose constitution guarantees free speech. Justin Carter, whether polite society considers that he deserves it or not, lives under such a constitution. It is the responsibility of all of us to police the government and to punish it when it violates its authority. Carter must be set free and this insidious precedent smashed to pieces. Our liberty depends upon it.
Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.
Well, yeah, but we’re not a police state, because nobody in uniform shot the kid’s dog.
Welcome to the new Amerika comrades.
On another thread, a FReeper wrote this was no big deal, because Justin Carter could bail out and still had the right to a trial by jury. I think that FReeper is hopelessly naive. As I understand it, the bail in this case was set incredibly high. Plus, going through a trial is hit or miss even when one is clearly innocent (case in point, Zimmerman trial).
The government can make your life a living hell. It has virtually unlimited resources, and the full weight of the bureaucratic state can come down on you even if you’re innocent.
I’m a Texas defense attorney and I recently beat a case where the “threats” were worse than the ones alleged here.
The key (and difficulty of) to proving a felony terroristic threat charge is the State must prove that the communication was made in such a way that it would cause the public or a substantial part of the public imminent fear of death or serious bodily injury.
The classic case is a bomb threat resulting in a building clearing out very quickly often with people in a panic.
But the very worst comments or threats imaginable that don’t cause that kind of fear of an imminent danger don’t constitute this offense.
This guy needs a good lawyer now.
Again I’m a TX criminal defense attorney, so private message me if you need to.
He is an ungood oldthinker who failed to use crimestop, committing thoughtcrime.
Of course, so are most of us here.
It’s a travesty for him to be jailed. Reminds me of the kid who posed proudly with his new Christmas rifle, posted on FB, and the local cops rousted him. Outrageous.
“In free countries such as the United States, one is permitted to be a fool.”
To make an accurate sentence we need to take out the words between countries and one and eliminate the comma. In free countries one is permitted to be a fool. The United States of America is NOT a free country. If there is one on the planet I would not undertake to name it but the USofA is certainly not one.
I had this conversation with people. They don’t understand what its like to be some ordinary person on the wrong side of the law. You can do nothing yet stand accused and spend years and have your nice orderly life turned inside out over nothing.
Then even if proven wrong you can try and get recompense for your troubles but that path lay through the same state that attempted to prosecute you in the first place.
Thx for the comment.
What town is this in? The link doesn’t mention what area of TX he’s from. Thanks.
” Carters joke was witless and flippant ”
Spend a week at FR and see what flippant and humorless remarks really loom like.
Guy’s a piker compared to many of us
One minor problem:
All this stuff is happening in Austin.
Been a long time since I was there, but that town struck me as in a different universe even then....
He is not a Korrect Citizen
A real demonstration of the ability to discern a threat to the country by the alphabet soup groups. Al quada trembles I am sure.
Couple this to the MASSIVE influx of false leads generated by data mining the entire phone records of the country and I suspect the FBI is up to their noses in stupidity and totally rendered useless.
Someone had to “reasonably” determine that a threat of deadly force was imminent to warrant an immediate investigation to track down the offender and make an arrest...
So if someone were alarmed enough to call law enforcement in this case, why did the investigation determine that it was a reasonable threat, considering the source???
Seems to me someone wasn’t doing their job very well...
While I'm sure the town matters, the name and town of the Komrade from Canada who made the unfounded accusation would be far more useful.
I can actually wrap around that analysis...FReepers subtleties, when realized, can be as harsh as a 10 year olds on Xbox...
Some people just need to grow a pair I suppose...
In the book the Thought police would blame the person they were torturing of failing to discipline himself and then accuse him of insanity.
There was even something called ‘facecrime’, e.g. failing to look properly ecstatic when Big Brother made an appearance. You see this kind of stuff in North Korea, never thought I’d see it here: the Zimmerman show trial.
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