Blogifesto for October, 2009

Criminalizing Books

October 20, 2009 — by e. chris lynch

criminalizing books(re-posted because it's important...)

The arrest of Hugh Farrell and Tiga Wertz is ridiculous and upsetting enough.  The two Bloomington, Indiana environmentalists were arrested back in April 2009 under a federal law that was created to target corrupt businesses, specifically the mafia.  But award-winning journalist Will Potter has found a piece of information that truly calls into question the ethics of these arrests.

While combing through the motion for Hugh's $20,000 bail (keep in mind, they were arrested for conspiring to commit non-violent crimes - not even for committing them), Potter found an interesting justification for the high amount:

“The defendant has been observed advocating literature and materials which advocate anarchy, property destruction and violence, including ‘Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching’ or ‘Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook.’”

You may recognize these books from our catalog (here and here).  Potter is correct in stating that criminalizing anarchists is nothing new, but that this case has very significant social impact.  From Potter:

  • It reflects more wasted resources on surveillance of First Amendment activity. Why was Farrell being “observed” by law enforcement while allegedly “advocating literature” in the first place?
  • It is intended to punish people for their political beliefs. Even if it is true that Farrell was observed advocating literature and that the literature advocated “anarchy,” how does this relate to whether or not he’ll show up for his court date (which is what bail is all about)?
  • Criminalizing books has no place in a democracy. Make no mistake, that’s what this is about: criminalizing dissent. The government isn’t burning the books, and it isn’t saying it is illegal to own them, but prosecutors are saying that if you *do* own them or “advocate” them it reflects negatively on your character.

Ignore for a moment the horrifying implications of monitoring someone for a legal activity such as "advocating literature."  A place where our reading material (or advocacy thereof) can be held against us in a court of law is certainly no democracy.  It intimidates the population into reading only titles that they hope fall off the radar of political dissent or subversiveness.  If we are unable to read dissenting opinions and form our own analysis, we do not live in an informed democracy, but rather some form of totalitarianism or fascism (mind you I don't like using those terms lightly).

Potter concludes:

As with so many of the cases I write about on this site, this isn’t about threats to public safety, it isn’t about property destruction, it’s about demonizing people because of their political beliefs. Well, in this case, it’s not even about that: It’s about demonizing people because of their books.

A case must be built upon facts, not implications based upon what one reads.  If anything, this should serve as a call to read those books that are deemed dangerous.  Investigate with vigor those ideas which are deemed dangerous.  It doesn't mean you have to agree with them. [We suggest researching] why a government representative would actively censor them (in any form).  Follow the rabbit down the hole to see just where this case takes you.  Perhaps it's true.  Books can be dangerous.  But only to those that care to maintain control over us.

For more info about this case:

Support Hugh and Tiga site

Mafia Law Used Against Environmentalists for Tree Sits, Civil Disobedience, Blog Post

Stop I-69

Image credit: Cliffard Harper from Reproduce and Revolt

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