Open Thread: Failing to Respect the “Norms” of the Internet

You may threaten random women in cyberspace without fear of retribution. You may even, usually, threaten women celebrities in cyberspace. But it’s a bad idea to threaten women who happen to be Federal attorneys in cyberspace, because the Feds have no sense of humor. Buzzfeed reports:

The Justice Department has issued a federal grand jury subpoena to Reason, a prominent libertarian publication, to unmask the identity of commenters who made alleged threats against a federal judge.

In the June 2 subpoena, first published by the blog Popehat on Monday, the Justice Department orders Reason to provide a federal grand jury with “any and all identifying information” on the identities of commenters who mused about shooting federal judges and/or feeding them through a wood chipper.

A May 31 article on Reason’s blog about the prosecution of Silk Road founder Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbricht spurred the anonymous commenters’ vitriol. Ulbricht pleaded for leniency, but a federal judge sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for setting up the illicit online drug market.

“It’s judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” one Reason commenter wrote.

“It’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot,” another responded.

“Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly,” a third wrote. “Especially if you feed them in feet first.”

Another comment suggested shooting such judges on courthouse steps instead.

Other comments flagged by the Justice Department were less violent, such as one that wished for “a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”

In the subpoena, the Justice Department says it is seeking evidence regarding possible violations of federal laws against interstate threats…

Kimberly Chow, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the comments on Reason clearly fall within the internet’s regular, if outrageous and often vile, discourse.

“In terms of the comments, everybody knows the internet is a forum where exaggeration and hyperbole take place,” Chow told BuzzFeed News. “These comments are in that category. Nobody believes that these people are going to go and put this judge in a wood chipper.”…

I just hope the Reasonoids aren’t depending on their old pal Rand Paul to speak up in their favor, because I misdoubt that Rand will risk getting crosswise with anybody possessing actual power.

59 replies
  1. 1
    EconWatcher says:

    Shall I state the obvious? Commenters on this blog say as much or worse than those Reason commenters on an everyday basis (just directed toward different political targets). Rusty chain saws, tumbrels, who will be put up against the wall when the revolution comes, etc. This is regular fare, and though it’s not my cup of tea, it’s a harmless way for people to blow off political steam.

    That subpoena is chilling.

  2. 2
    Little Boots says:

    everyone is deeply angry.

  3. 3
    John Revolta says:

    DoJ: We Are Aware of All Internet Traditions. You’re Still Fucked.

  4. 4
    beltane says:

    @EconWatcher: I agree, especially since even a mention of hell fire was flagged by the Justice Dept.

  5. 5
    srv says:

    @EconWatcher: It’s just proves how much a better sense of humor we have, the John Coles of the Left would have been in jail a long time ago if we’d run to a judge every time someone offended our fee fees.

    People need to be very careful about what they say.

  6. 6
    Little Boots says:

    wait, who’s the john cole of the left?

  7. 7
    Valdivia says:

    Not that I think it’s the right thing to do, this subpoena, but I think our level of invective is a little more creative. We talk a lot about rusty pitchforks, and taking out the Village with an asteroid, but I don’t think anyone here has ever said someone specific should be taken out and shot.

  8. 8
    KG says:

    some websites have adopted some form of Facebook comments, apparently, when people have their actual name and photo (and profile) attached to their comments, they end up being not assholes (or at least less assholish). anonymity makes it easy to say stupid shit.

    @EconWatcher: a US Attorney isn’t going to seek an indictment unless there’s something there, not on a case like this (besides the obvious ZMOG FURST AMENMENT!!! crap from the wingularity, it’s not going to look good on a resume when they’re trying to get a seat on the bench). I wouldn’t be surprised if there were verified threats against the judge and this is part of something much bigger.

  9. 9
    Little Boots says:


    which is a relief.

  10. 10
    beltane says:

    @KG: The comments with names attached tend to be even worse. It’s almost as though the lack of anonymity drives the cautious people away, leaving the field wide open for lunatics who just don’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of them.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    a US Attorney isn’t going to seek an indictment unless there’s something there, not on a case like this

    I agree. Nothing mentioned here seems remotely actionable. If there are real threats, that is something different.

  12. 12
    Little Boots says:

    oh great.

  13. 13
    sharl says:


    …This is regular fare, and though it’s not my cup of tea, outside of extremely rare occasions it’s a harmless way for people to blow off political steam…

    I added a bit (bold italics), but even with my edit, I totally agree with you. This response from DoJ is totally inappropriate and chilling, and to me rather reminiscent of fans* of the TV show ’24’ using its stories/plots to justify torture by government functionaries.

    *Including at least two USSC justices, if I recall correctly. Not very reassuring.

    ETA: I see a couple folks, including at least one law-talkin’ fellow, don’t think this is quite so dire. That’s reassuring. And I’m glad to see that Ken White (Popehat) is on this; occasional libertarian asshole though he is, he’s right more often than he’s wrong IMO.

  14. 14
    srv says:

    @Little Boots: You clearly aren’t aware of all internet traditions.

  15. 15
    KG says:

    @beltane: ah, well I stand corrected. this is the only place I comment regularly, and I’ll occasionally read comments at LGF and a couple of other places, otherwise I try to avoid them.

  16. 16
    Gene108 says:

    Watching the NBA Finals. ABC is running a promo for a show called Quantico, with line “the FBI’s top recruit is now the FBI’s most wanted”, and I am wondering is how the FBI ranks its recruits. Is there a draft? Was she the number one over all pick? Just a weird statement about a show to me.

  17. 17
    Little Boots says:


    I blame omnes.

  18. 18
    beltane says:

    @KG: It’s amazing how many people will proudly associate their name-and place of employment-with the most vile language imaginable.

  19. 19
    KG says:

    @Gene108: I think the FBI has some sort of academy/training program, where recruits get ranked based on test results. maybe that’s what they mean? either that or real life is more like comic books than we realize?

  20. 20
    srv says:

    @Little Boots: On that, we can always agree.

  21. 21
    Kropadope says:


    Not that I think it’s the right thing to do, this subpoena, but I think our level of invective is a little more creative. We talk a lot about rusty pitchforks, and taking out the Village with an asteroid, but I don’t think anyone here has ever said someone specific should be taken out and shot.

    The mention of a specific person is definitely an important distinction. Musing about revolution is way different than a specific individual threat, particularly when considering plausibility. ETA: With revolution, they won’t come after you until you start preparing to rebel and declare an independent Dumbfuckistan.

  22. 22
  23. 23
    lamh36 says:

    Lately I’ve taken to watching a “video that makes me smile” daily before I go to bed. All the crazy happening lately just leave my brain rattled. So a nice lil video helps to quiet my mind enough to go to sleep.

    So tonight’s video of the day “to make me smile” is this one:


    If I live to be nearly 90, I’d like to hope that I’ll be as spry as Dick Van Dyke. Oh and I had no idea the lady in video is his wife, who’s 46 years his junior! Well go on ahead Mr DvD!

  24. 24
  25. 25
    EconWatcher says:


    Not sure where you guys have been. The references on this blog to rusty pitchforks, rusty chainsaws, tumbrels (ie, beheading) and “up against the wall” (ie, shooting) are almost always directed to a particular person, in response to a particular news item about that person’s dastardly behavior.

    And a grand jury subpoena can have a chilling effect all on its own, even if no prosecution follows.

  26. 26
    Little Boots says:


    me too. I know we have our things, our hatreds, but I don’t think we are actually vicious. we can be, but we really aren’t.

  27. 27
    Gene108 says:


    Probably right. Just made me think of sports…

  28. 28
    Kropadope says:

    @EconWatcher: Perhaps individual instances may be triggered by the actions of a particular person, but represent a more general sense of wanting to depose the new aspiring American Aristocracy.

    I abhor violence, I don’t even think it’s generally the right approach for revolution. But I can’t say I have ever seen a comment here that concerned me as a true threat to any person or people. If anyone does, that person is welcome to raise the red flag and, if the threat is against that person themselves, take legal action.

  29. 29
    Kropadope says:

    @EconWatcher: Note, I say this as someone who is often not on the right side of most of the commenters here. Still, I love this place.

  30. 30
    sharl says:

    @lamh36: That was a fun video, and the dude is as spry as you said.

    From the early 90s, here is Mary Tyler Moore delivering a joke on Letterman (audio is good, video is…meh). The inherent lameness of the joke is more than compensated for by the quality of MTM’s delivery IMO.

  31. 31
    Gene108 says:

    Judge in the Silk Road case received death threats and had someone ‘dox’ her info on the Internet during the trial.

    Maybe the Feds are treating this like people, who make threats against the President and are investigating it more rigorously than other comments, because of the actual threat level of someone taking action being higher.

    Edit: They also threatened her family by stating they will dox them as well and mess with the in various ways, such as a letter containing anthrax.

  32. 32
    Kropadope says:

    @Gene108: Her personal info was exposed too, damn….

  33. 33
    Brachiator says:

    Can’t the attorneys just call their buddies at the NSA and get the info on these dopes? Then again, libertarian nutjobs love to preen as brave lovers of liberty, so they should be happy to provide their names and addresses. As it is, I could see them invoking the recent Supreme Court decision on rancid Facebook comments as a defense of their nasty remarks.

  34. 34
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    As it is, I could see them invoking the recent Supreme Court decision on rancid Facebook comments as a defense of their nasty remarks.

    It is.

  35. 35
    NotMax says:


    In a stroke of oddball (mis)casting, there’s a nearly complete production of The Sunshine Boys with Dick Van Dyke and Jerry Van Dyke playing the leads on YouTube.

  36. 36
    sharl says:

    @Gene108: I went to your link, but its content doesn’t match your description. In fact, the issue under discussion is nowhere to be found on that page. That page starts as follows:

    May. 28, 2015 9:07 PM ET
    10 Things to Know for Friday

    By The Associated Press

    I tried searching the AP site just using the judge’s name, and only came up with a link from May 29. Maybe a more diligent search would turn up what you describe, but I’m not seeing it so far on Twitter or several news sites I normally haunt.


  37. 37
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @EconWatcher: I thought tumbrels just meant a ride on the shit cart.

  38. 38
    mike with a mic says:


    The tumbrels were what the French used to transport people to the guillotine. Mary “let them eat cake” famously took a ride in one.

    A “ride in the tumbrels”, means “carted off to have your head cut off”.

  39. 39
    Tree With Water says:

    Recall that poor schmo who went to prison circa 2005 for badmouthing GW in a bar? I do. He uttered the phrase “burning bush”, which prosecutors submitted as evidence against him. Beyond that and his conviction, I don’t remember much else. But as GW’s yellow streak is pronounced (desertion in time of war; desertion during all those many hours on 9/11, when he boarded a plane and disappeared; plotting and waging illegal war that others fought and bled in), I wonder now if maybe he was chickenshit enough to insist the barstool guy be prosecuted and convicted. That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

    Oh, and remember the “freedom cages” that he insisted protestors be penned in, invariably located far, far away from wherever he was appearing? Because people have a right to assembly, and he respected that right (doubtless grudgingly), so long as they were caged.

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Seriously? It was the transport method to Le Rasoir National.

  41. 41
    PIGL says:

    It seems to have passed unremarked that life without parol is a grievous sentence for what I understand to be a virtual crime. Maybe, there is good reason to be angry?

  42. 42
    Tree With Water says:

    And don’t get me started on his asshole brother:

    Laura Basset of Huff Post reports- “Public shaming would be an effective way to regulate the “irresponsible behavior” of unwed mothers, misbehaving teenagers and welfare recipients, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) argued in his 1995 book Profiles in Character…

    In a chapter called “The Restoration of Shame,” the likely 2016 presidential candidate made the case that restoring the art of public humiliation could help prevent pregnancies “out of wedlock…”

    ..[and] as governor of Florida in 2001, Bush had the opportunity to test his theory on public shaming. He declined to veto a very controversial bill that required single mothers who did not know the identity of the father to publish their sexual histories in a newspaper before they could legally put their babies up for adoption. He later signed a repeal of the so-called “Scarlet Letter” law in 2003 after it was successfully challenged in court”.

    R.I.P. Terry Schiavo.

  43. 43
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @PIGL: This wasn’t really a thread about the trial. And it doesn’t appear that anyone around here saw what the comments as anything other than internet talk. So, where are you going with this?

  44. 44
    Kay says:

    @Tree With Water:

    I haven’t read the proposed Florida law on publishing the names of possible fathers and it sounds extreme, but adoption has very stringent notice provisions. Rightfully. It’s permanent. The parents lose all rights to the child and it’s almost impossible to undo- again, rightfully- it’s intended to be permanent.

    Publishing in a newspaper is one way to notify a possible father that an adoption petition is in the works. They would need to be aware of the child and then get notice of the adoption in order to come forward and object.

    The adoption/notice dilemma for never-married parents is really old. Been going on forever. Ohio still has a rule where one can post a notice at the courthouse or other public building if they can’t afford to buy space in a newspaper. Of course it’s not 1911 so we don’t all check the notice board at the county courthouse for news, but people can and do still rely on that rule if all other notice efforts fail.

  45. 45
    different-church-lady says:

    Kimberly Chow, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the comments on Reason clearly fall within the internet’s regular, if outrageous and often vile, discourse.

    And Reason doesn’t tell these “often vile” people to buzz off why?

  46. 46
    Geeno says:

    I think the subpoena is because of the actual threats against the judge. They want to use that population of commenters as an initial suspect pool for who made threats. The threats are actionable; the comments are not.

  47. 47
    Another Holocene Human says:

    I’m with Reason, actually. This is the internet version of “shop talk”. Nowhere in that exchange do you get the vibe of someone planning actual violence, nor do I hear instigation.

    And if this holds up, what of us liberals who talk about “tumbrels” in a political context?

    But good point, Anne Laurie, if the federal judiciary wanted to make themselves useful they should be directing all their not inconsiderable firepower on “anonymous” commenters on Twitter and elsewhere who make rape and/or murder threats against female celebrities, especially internet and games celebrities*. And let’s not forget the random private people who get threatened and doxxed for having an opinion.

    *-screen actors have some laws that protect them. dunno how well they’re working, but they do.

  48. 48
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @different-church-lady: Villago Delenda Est hasn’t been banned from this board, and yet you’re still here. Why?

  49. 49
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Kay: Really? Too much trouble for the authorities to locate and contact this guy, so you have to out their private business to thousands of gossip hound elders in town? What if the kid gets adopted locally? Talked about behind their back in elementary school, etc?

    There is such a thing as open adoption. In fact, most adoptee-advocates (because they grow up and become adults who can speak for themselves–it’s much like disability community self-advocacy because of the condescending attitude they receive and the way they’re talked over in the media) feel that those old-school totally closed adoptions are a human rights violation because they are denied:

    *medical records
    *the ability to contact the birth family if they so choose
    *connection to their birth culture (in many cases)
    *in the US, their birth certificate, which can have significant consequences

    As for permanent, that’s an issue too. There are laws at long last in the US to prevent whites from baby-snatching of Native American children, and in most states they’re enforced, but would-be snatchers know to go to South Carolina where sympathetic judges will facilitate their genocidal intentions. In one case that was all over Indian Country News Network the father was in the military and deployed when the adoption occurred.

    I’m sure it was noticed in the Greenville Scribbler 30 days in advance as required.

  50. 50
    gene108 says:


    Link is above.

    I do not know why the wrong link got copied. I was working off my tablet.

  51. 51

    […] Here are some other links: , Balloon Juice, The Last Refuge, Techdirt, Hot Air, Power Line, The Daily Caller, Washington Post […]

  52. 52
    sharl says:

    @gene108: Thanks! That is an October 2014 article, and in my searching last night I did see a number of similar articles that came out around that time. But those references in last year’s articles to threats against the judge concerned anonymous postings on the “Dark Web”. I see no mention there of similar comments at Reason‘s website, whose anonymous authors are now the targets of the subpoena recently filed by DoJ.

    Until I see otherwise, I’m gonna go with Ken White (Popehat) in assuming that the DoJ AUSA who issued this subpoena is being a wee bit too aggressive based on very flimsy “evidence”.

    On one level I sympathize with DoJ: mainstream libertarians, including Virginia Postrel, the former Reason editor who founded its blog, think the blog’s commenters are largely a bunch of flaming assholes and dirtbags. But if assholery is made a crime, we’re gonna need a LOT more prisons, especially since a future Administration could always define assholery in a dangerously broad way. [Recall what Dubya’s Administration sometimes did with peaceful antiwar protesters in public spaces.]

    Unless the AUSA has solid evidence of credible threat situation(s) coming from those dickheads in Reason‘s comments, DoJ really needs to be called out on this.

  53. 53
    cokane says:

    Why are you celebrating this prosecution? Seems like a pretty chilling thing for a government to do. Those comments are not true threats.

  54. 54
    Big Wayne says:

    @EconWatcher: Oh, bullshit. This kind of talk is almost exclusively the provenance of the right. You almost never hear anyone who isn’t a conservative talk this way. And it’s just rampant where it is found – among conservatives.

  55. 55
    Big Wayne says:

    @different-church-lady: Because they wouldn’t have any commenters at all, then. This kind of talk is totally routine on the right.

  56. 56
    Ksmiami says:

    Silly reasonoids- People can say whatever they want. But they cannot expect that their words have no consequence esp when they threaten violence against a specific person or entity. Threatening a federal judge is a serious and profound event in a country that does pride itself on the rule of law and where said judges have vast power invested in them.

  57. 57

    I came here to see if anyone had recalled “I am aware of all internet traditions.” So relieved to know that two before me have invoked it.

  58. 58
    Procopius says:

    @lamh36: Holey moley! I’m only 78, and I’m not sure I could do that. They look like they’re really having fun.

  59. 59
    tim maguire says:

    No educated person could read those statements as threats. It’s obvious the subpoena was filed in bad faith to create a chilling effect against criticism of government. A little more outrage from people whose livelihoods depend on free speech would be nice.

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