A Word of Caution

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

I allow a pretty free range of discussion in the comments section. I generally only delete comments that are gratuitously bigoted or gratuitously insulting. That is, if you make an actual point, I’ll let most things stand. I’ve only banned about 20 people in nine years, most for habitual trolling.

All of that said, I won’t tolerate death threats. This site hits public officials pretty hard, I like to think only when it’s merited. Threatening to kill a public official is never merited. It isn’t an argument, and it taints everything we try to do here. Do it on this site and you’ll be banned. Immediately.

Something else: I’m not sticking my neck out for you. When you make a death threat here, you put me in potential legal jeopardy. In most cases, I’d go to jail to protect a source who gives me information that’s important to a story. I won’t do that for you. If you abuse the platform I’ve provided for you by playing Internet tough guy in a way that results in me getting harassed by Johnny Law, I’ll turn over your IP address and any other identifying information I have on you in a heartbeat.* If that makes me a hypocrite or a bad libertarian (and I don’t think it does either), so be it. These are the conditions for you commenting here.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is common. It isn’t. But it has happened twice in the last week. So I want to be sure we’re clear.

(*Note: I’m only talking about actual death threats, here. I’d of course oppose any government attempt to get identifying information for other purposes, though I doubt it would ever happen)


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85 Responses to “A Word of Caution”

  1. #1 |  Gordon Clason | 

    C’mon, Balko!! The motto of the State of Virginia (sic semper tyrannus) refers to Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar and is uttered by Brutus at the moment of assasination. It is loosely translated as “Death to tyrants”. This is the motto of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty must be refreshed with blood of patriots. Patrick Henry said, “liberty of death”. Jefferson’s personal motto was “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God”. There is ample documentary evidence to believe that the founding fathers believed that assassinating tyrants was a protected civil right!!

  2. #2 |  Joseph.Mark | 

    I agree with that policy 100 percent. It is sad that so many want to ignore the first rule of morality — aggression is always wrong.

    Great site; great work you do; I thank you.

    By the way; could you do a post on the general state of the American “justice” system someday soon? What is the biggest problem today? How many are in cages and should not be? Things like that …

  3. #3 |  Mike T | 

    a legal hunting season on all elected officials, appointed chairwarmers, and GS 10-and-ups.

    Congratulations, you’ve just advocated the killing of virtually the entire Department of Defense on the civilian side since most of its civilian employees are professionals, not grunts like secretaries and admin staff (all of that is contracted out).

  4. #4 |  Mike T | 

    So who was it that made the threats and what did they say (in summary)?

  5. #5 |  Terry | 

    The FBI will come to your home over this kind of thing. It happened to me several years ago. I had volunteered to moderate part of a forum. Some guy appeared to threaten a judge. It didn’t help matters that the guy’s handle was “bushmaster”. I was told I could answer questions on the spot or answer them in DC. I answered the questions. (I honestly didn’t know anything anyway) The agent pretended ignorance and asked me to explain how this kind of thing worked. I sensed that he already knew the answer to everything he asked and just wanted to see what I would say. I don’t know what ever became of the matter.

  6. #6 |  Bart anarch | 

    Is this okay?

  7. #7 |  JOR | 

    “A death threat is unlibertarian and cowardly.

    Self-defense is libertarian and courageous.”

    What about self-defense by death threat? And what’s so bad about cowardice?

    “That being said, amongst agitator readers, what is the role and/or morality of tyrannicide?”

    Perfectly moral in and of itself, usually unwise (and often immoral because of necessary constituent actions and immediate forseeable results, e.g. turning a country into a wasteland and blowing up its cities to get to its kleptocrat is wrong because turning a country into a wasteland and blowing up its cities is wrong).

    “How many deaths must someone or some group be responsible for in order to be considered a tyrant?”

    One.

    “If someone or some group were responsible for the deaths tens of thousands of people, what could one justifiably do in order to stop him/her/them from continuing to murder others?”

    Anything up to and including exterminating them. This does not include actions that harm third parties.

  8. #8 |  Joe | 

    tyrannicide: when is the last time you saw a Tyranasaurus Rex?

  9. #9 |  JOR | 

    I don’t watch tv, but I see his picture on some websites I visit.

  10. #10 |  claude | 

    Yeah really. Death threats arent necessary. This isnt FAUX News.

  11. #11 |  jimc5499 | 

    Your house, your rules. I’ll respect them. Even if I sometimes disagree with your views, I think the world is a better place with this site in it. Merry Christmas.

  12. #12 |  Kent | 

    Talk about death threats. Police recruits in Las Vegas are now told they are warriors and that they are fighting a war. See the very last paragraph of this article. Sad, Sad, Sad.

    http://www.lvrj.com/news/training-culminates-with-advanced-techniques-112302409.html?viewAllComments=y&c=y

    PS…whatever you do, don’t copy and paste anything from the Las Vegas Review Journal, they will sue you for $150,000 and take away your web site domain (if you have one). I’m not kidding.

  13. #13 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #49 | random guy — “I agree that death threats against specific individuals is profoundly stupid in this day and age, and certainly not in keeping with the non-violent image that libertarians want to maintain.”

    Non-violence is more than skin-deep for a libertarian. It is a defining characteristic. In other words, anyone who advocates the initiation of violent non-defensive aggression against another individual is not libertarian, period. The word for that person is “statist.”

    I believe it is paramount for libertarians to hammer home the message that the violent, dangerous ones in the room are the statists. Shaming is one of the few weapons available to the libertarian.

  14. #14 |  Mario | 

    Here’s the footer on Slashdot:

    All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are owned by the Poster. The Rest © 1997-2010 Geeknet, Inc. [Emphasis: Mine]

    At the very least, Radley, you should put something at the bottom of your page stating that comments made on this site are not yours and do not represent your endorsement. (You should still remove any comments you like.)

  15. #15 |  albatross | 

    cApitalist:

    One thing to remember is that violent revolution isn’t noted for its high rate of providing good government afterward. It worked out well here in the US once, but that’s probably an anomaly.

    Violent revolution here, if it happened, would not lead us anywhere close to a libertarian society. My guess is, the main question would be whether we’d end up with a religious police state or a secular one. (That is, are the guys applying the electrodes to your tender bits called secret police or inquisitors.)

    Similarly, campaigns of assassination or terror seem incredibly unlikely to lead us anywhere we want to go, even if you could manage them so they only struck at pretty unambiguously evil targets. The pinpricks[1] we’ve suffered from terrorism have not made us a freer country. Nor have they made us less imperialistic, which was probably one of the goals of the attackers.

    [1] Yes, 9/11 was a pinprick compared to what real wars look like. Go ask an Iraqi what real wars do to your country. Or a older Vietnamese. Or a Chechen.

  16. #16 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #57 | JOR — “What about self-defense by death threat? And what’s so bad about cowardice?”

    The beauty of being human is that one must decide for oneself. The ugly of being human is that one is always judged by one’s actions by one’s peers.

    Rather than threaten death to defend oneself(???), why not simply kill your aggressor, then attempt to defend your actions as self-defense? From a practical standpoint, you would have eliminated the threat, whereas merely threatening death (cowardice) prolongs the situation and lets your target know that it might be in his best interests to kill you first. While I deplore the violence, I could at least respect the cold, reptilian logic of it.

    Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Pretty sure you were just being cheeky, JOR.

  17. #17 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #65 | albatross — “One thing to remember is that violent revolution isn’t noted for its high rate of providing good government afterward. It worked out well here in the US once, but that’s probably an anomaly.”

    I have come to believe that what is commonly called the American Revolution, as is the case with most statist history, was nothing of the sort. It was a civil war between the landed classes of England and the Colonies, each group vying for political control of the Colonies. I’m not sure how government has fared post-civil wars in general.

    And in light of subsequent history, I believe your conclusion is speculative at best. Government by England then was vastly superior and preferable to the utter monstrosity we live under today. But in fairness, it’s absolutely apples/oranges as modern America bears no resemblance whatsover to colonial America. So, we’ll really never know.

    But I absolutely concur with you that where colonial governments worldwide were overthrown and replaced with strong-man dictatorships, the quality of government deteriorated catastrophically.

    For more analysis of the efficiency of British colonial governments in history, Unqualified Reservations has written volumes on the subject derived from source material analysis.

  18. #18 |  Token | 

    How would banning them make you a bad libertarian? You’re doing what you want/choose to do with your property (in this case, the website) because it’s your right to do what you want with what you own; I’d say that’s pretty closely aligned with libertarian values.

  19. #19 |  Just Plain Brian | 

    “And what’s so bad about cowardice?”

    “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” – Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

  20. #20 |  Cynical in CA | 

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101223/ap_on_re_eu/eu_italy_embassy_blast

    Bomb Blasts in Rome, Anarchists Smeared

    Just so we’re clear again, if you are violent, you are not an anarchist, you’re a statist. What you call yourself is irrelevant.

  21. #21 |  random guy | 

    CiCA:

    Non-violence is more than skin-deep for a libertarian. It is a defining characteristic.

    You are absolutely right, my original post was poorly worded in that regard. Many posts here testify to the fact that non-violence is a core tenant of libertarian ethics. It is one of the things that largely distinguishes the movement from the reactionary and frequently bloodthirsty rhetoric present in political discourse today.

    In other words, anyone who advocates the initiation of violent non-defensive aggression against another individual is not libertarian, period. The word for that person is “statist.”

    Here is where I am going to disagree with you. I am not advocating aggression against individuals, I am talking about a more general response to the aggression of the state. Though neither of these is in itself the act of a statist. Using violence and advocating statism are mutually exclusive.

    I absolutely agree with you that initiating violence against another person is unconscionable, one of the just purposes of government in a free country is to serve as mediator for conflicts to better ensure the safety and prosperity of all. But the calculus is a little more muddled what talking about the state and its agents. The state has the power to arrest, try, imprison, and execute an individual. If the government behaves unjustly the balance of power is woefully in its favor. I wish that as an individual I had the ability to arrest, try, and imprison those government agents who have violated their oaths to defend the constitution and who continue to violate the rights of citizens. If I had that ability execution would be unnecessary, unlike the state I don’t believe in the death penalty. Buy you and I can’t do that when it comes to dealing with an increasingly lawless police state, our options are limited to what we can do with our own means.

    JOR said:

    Anything up to and including exterminating them. This does not include actions that harm third parties.

    Really thats where you draw the line? Waiting in a train on your way to a death camp? Why fight at all if you’ve already given up the other 99% required to get to this point?

  22. #22 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #71 | random guy — “The state has the power to arrest, try, imprison, and execute an individual. If the government behaves unjustly the balance of power is woefully in its favor. I wish that as an individual I had the ability to arrest, try, and imprison those government agents who have violated their oaths to defend the constitution and who continue to violate the rights of citizens. If I had that ability execution would be unnecessary, unlike the state I don’t believe in the death penalty. Buy you and I can’t do that when it comes to dealing with an increasingly lawless police state, our options are limited to what we can do with our own means.”

    Truth, every word of it. This is why violence is not just immoral, it’s atrocious game theory. The corollary is that there are several modern examples of non-violence being used to achieve political goals against the State (Gandhi, King, etc.). Of course it could be argued that these peaceful political movements exist in the context of statism and that the State wins either way, which it does. But for the lowest in society, these movements had meaningful positive results for a significant minority of individuals, so I have to give credit where it’s due. Kind of like how Balko wins some battles but the war seems unwinnable. I guess it’s all about scale and picking battles wisely.

    Still Kant’s categorical imperative commands my interest, that if the vast majority can be persuaded to abandon violence as the organizing principle of society, then the State will disappear. Human nature seems to be the impenetrable barrier to that ever happening. Too much fear, too much greed, too much death.

    Merry Christmas!

  23. #23 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #72 Cynical in CA:

    “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

    Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

    “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

    Thomas Jefferson

    “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”

    Thomas Jefferson

    Some classic quotes on the nature of government from two of the most radical of the founders (I am partial to Paine, but Jefferson was certainly brilliant, though deeply conflicted). A holiday gift from me to you, Cynical!

    Your reference to Kant is very relevant and timely. In my area, violent crime has increased as the holidays get closer. The homicide numbers continue to grow, and with it the calls for the state to “do something.” As much as I abhor the drug war, I believe that the people involved in this illegal market COULD work together to reduce the violence if they had the desire, morality or mental stability. Instead they shoot randomly into houses and cripple children for life (no, their bullets don’t always hit their intended rivals).

    People could also do things to reduce the likelihood that they will injure each other, whether through violence or traffic incidents (drink a little less, seek counseling for substance issues or relationship problems, etc). Instead, their irresponsibility becomes a criminal justice problem when they impose on or injure others. We The People are largely responsible for the growth of government and the associated infringements on liberty because we are a violent, entitled and litigious society that doesn’t really know what it wants.

    In spite of it all, enjoy your holiday season. Cherish family, friends, good times, reason and learning. These are the things that make our society a “blessing,” not government, and not those among us who do everything in their power to encourage its growth and power.

  24. #24 |  Grenadier1 | 

    So did my last comment disappear in the aether or have I been banned?

  25. #25 |  Grenadier1 | 

    I am an advocate of violence. In fact I advocate sudden ultra violence.
    That said however I advocate it only as a response to tyranny or direct threat to my or my family’s person or property. Thankfully I have had to resort to this only a few times in my life. I consider myself very libertarian but I am by no means a pacifist. Some of you seem to blur the two. On a personal level I do not feel that it is wise to allow someone to strike you before you respond. You may only get one chance. At what point do you consider it moral and valid to respond with violence? Do you think that your libertarianism is going to be enough to assure your safety from tyranny?
    It is fine to be an advocate of non-violence however consider this.
    If Dr King or Ghandi had been in Russia or Iraq they would have never been known to history. They would have been just another body in a hole. Non-violence works when the state must keep a measure of restraint. When it is still in a position that demands that it appear fair and just. But what makes the state show restraint? King and Ghandi offered the governments an alternative path to resolution because of the unspoken threat of violence from the populace. It was because that chaos was so unwelcome that the non-violent solution could be even an option.

  26. #26 |  MPH | 

    Why would one advocate violence against a particular government official anyway? Let’s say your most hated government official dies (who cares how). He’ll be REPLACED.

    Advocate for the removal of the office in question, or for the removal of the authority being used. Changing the person in the office using the authority will have little effect.

    It is NOT the “abuse of power” that is the problem, it is the “power to abuse”. If a government official lacks sovereign immunity (too few do), when they exceed their authority they should go to prison, and certainly should be subject to civil penalties.

    We need to take our authority back from the government. That cannot be done by threatening those who are currently “in power”. Indeed, this gives those “in power” the excuse for even more draconian measures. Don’t give them that. Use peaceful means to remove their office from the governmental structure, and return the authority of that office to the people.

  27. #27 |  Dox47 | 

    So, you might say that some people got a little *too* agitated?

    I guess that’s a compliment of sorts, the site is clearly effecting people’s feelings and opinions in a very strong way. Some people just need to cool it on the “vote from the rooftops” rhetoric, it’s unseemly and feeds an unfortunate stereotype.

  28. #28 |  Michael | 

    So your cool with Voltaire?

  29. #29 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Peace to you and your family Helmut this Christmas, thanks for the words of inspiration!

  30. #30 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #76 | MPH — “It is NOT the “abuse of power” that is the problem, it is the “power to abuse”.”

    Great line, MPH. Ties in with what’s wrong with “if we only had the right people in office.” The whole system is the problem. What to do about it?

  31. #31 |  Grenadier1 | 

    MPH-
    If that process works thats fine I have no problem with attempting to work within the system. My issue is that there comes a time when the system has failed and no amount of wrangling is going to phase it. There comes a time that the threat of violence is the only way to back down TPTB. If those in office see no dire consequence for their actions then they will continue to act accordingly. It is when they are faced with violence that they become willing to accept the chains that government should wear.
    Again peacefull non violent protests can be effective provided the alternative is clearly available and spelled out to those in power.

    You provide the peacefull protest and I will keep getting ready for the alternative.

  32. #32 |  Violence, Government Violence, and Anti-Government Rhetoric | The Agitator | 

    […] and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk […]

  33. #33 |  GT | 

    MPH – within the core ‘theoretical rationale’ for systems like Jim Bell’s is the idea that once the brutalising rogue ‘bad apple’ is taken care of, he will be replaced by someone who UNDERSTANDS the costs of behaving like his predecessor. (If not: rinse and repeat).

    Furthermore, the ‘chilling effect’ of the required public-awareness campaign will see to it that ALL members of the state’s thug-drone squads are aware of an increase in the costs of ‘business as usual’; likewise, decreasing the expected net utility of a career as a thug-drone will likewise harm recruitment efforts (with the irksome short-term corollary risk of attracting jelly-minded idiots who think that life is Halo or ‘Call of Duty:Black Ops’… the sublimated-homosexual war-cartoon addict).

    As Grenadier1 pointed out, the British in India
    (a) were already an Empire in the throes of decline who had lost the will to retain India; and
    (b) had had sufficient difficulty in putting down uprisings in the past;
    that they saw no net utility in assassinating Gandhi. Had Gandhi been a leader in the mid 1800s he would simply have been killed, and anyone who pretends otherwise is either a dupe or is selling something.

    It is not clear to me why some ‘libertarians’ think that the Zero *Aggression* Principle means that we have to come over all Buddhist when confronting the sort of swaggering shitbirds who think a badge and gun gives them the right to treat us like mediaeval serfs. One can be ultra-violent without being the aggressor: like Grenadier1 I am perfectly comfortable with massively-asymmetric retaliatory violence – disproportionate response is required to account for the fact that the threat is ongoing.

    Violence is perfectly acceptable – even necessary – as a reaction to tyranny; so long as one is not INITIATING violence. (That said: if one is constantly under the express threat that the State can ice you if it feels like, with no pretence at due process… almost all acts towards such an open threat qualify as defensive).

    And yes, advocates of that sort of thing might be v& – it’s to be expected when the country has degenerated to the point where the people in charge can kill folks without pretending they need to answer to anybody.

    Besides… the required markets already exist on freenet; you can get dox on a jerk in a matter of days and organise anything from harrassment, to a beating, to a dirtnap… so anything posted in an ordinary comments thread is probably only advertising.

    Cheerio

    GT

  34. #34 |  GT | 

    Oh, and PS…

    Banning is fine (your property, your right), but re-think ideas about handing over trace details.

    No sensible wingnut (if there is such a thing) will post genuine Yog-Sothoth level madness without running through a proxy, a VPN, or TOR/JAP/I2P… or perhaps making use of a WPA cracker to access a neighbour’s WiFi router.

    So you might wind up participating in a mechanism whose end point is sending the State’s goons to some poor sod who leaves his WiFi connection susceptible to any numptie who happens to download the required tools to crack the shit-awful encryption used for most WiFi.

    So long as you’re comfortable with adding to the number of no-knock raids on the wrong schlub, you’re golden.

    Cheerio

    GT

  35. #35 |  Michael Ejercito | 

    This site hits public officials pretty hard, I like to think only when it’s merited. Threatening to kill a public official is never merited. It isn’t an argument, and it taints everything we try to do here. Do it on this site and you’ll be banned. Immediately.

    I would not go so far as to say that killing, or threatening to kill a public official is never merited, given recent human history (Holocaust, Rape of Nanking).

    Those of us in America are not there yet. We can only hope and work to avoid getting to such a point.