L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 336, September 11, 2005
"Freedom from Freedom Itself"
'Blogger Favors Freedom First
Special to TLE
There's little question that free speech is endangered in America today. Witness, for example, those protesters at both the Democrat and Republican national conventions who were relegated to "free speech zones." Consider hate speech laws that are often broad and, as a result, even more broadly interpreted. Remember that we now know that protesters in California were the subject of surveillance by the National Guard, and that the FBI, too, has been monitoring those who would speak out. There have been noises made that Internet 'bloggers should, perhaps, be subject to campaign finance reform laws (which, as they currently exist, are effectively free speech curbs). And then take note of the fact that an Ohio prosecutor recently referred to a 'blogger as a "paper terrorist," and you'll begin to get an even clearer picture as to just how endangered our First Amendment rights have become.
Bryan DuBois is a former marine who lives in northern Ohio with his wife and two young children. When an area attorney began logging complaints of corruption in local government, he took an interest. When Elsebeth Baumgartner was subsequently arrested, charged numerous times with numerous crimes, disbarred, and, it is claimed, harassed by officials, he determined to take a role. It's been just about a year since DuBois began producing his politically oriented 'blog. Entitled "Erie Voices" after the Ohio county in which he resides, the 'blog is his way of publicizing and demanding accountability for what he says is unacceptable if not illegal behavior among local and Ohio state officials ranging from prosecutors to politicians, and from judges to law enforcement personnel.
This summer, DuBois was arrested himself and formally charged with a variety of offenses in two Ohio counties. The charges are serious and could see him jailed if he is convicted. After his arrest, DuBois spent some three weeks behind bars with a combined bail of $190,000. The bail was eventually reduced, and DuBois is currently out on bond and awaiting further legal proceedings. With the permission of his attorney, DuBois agreed to be interviewed via email about his activism and the price he may have to pay for it.
Lady Liberty: You were recently arrested and charged with varying offenses in two different Ohio counties. Exactly what is it you're accused of doing?
Bryan DuBois: I was indicted on seven felony counts of "extortion," "intimidation," "retaliation," and "possession of criminal tools" in Cuyahoga and Ottawa Counties. The criminal tool is the computer I'm typing on right now. For some reasonas you can seeit was not confiscated.
I'm accused of sending an "intimidating" email to a judge who I've conversed with a half dozen times after he received the email. He knew that I was writing about his activity in courtand tried to act like he welcomed the scrutiny. During a court recess, I flirted with him about getting his autograph on a book he wrote (Ohio Civil Procedure) and he laughed and told me that his signature wasn't worth anything. He warmly greeted me every time he saw me in court (addressing me on the record sometimes)but now, apparently as a result of some of the things I wrote about him, he's claiming that I "intimidated" him seven months ago.
LL: It's likely that none of this would have happened to you if you hadn't established Erie Voices or taken such an active interest in the accusations made by Elsebeth Baumgartner. Why did you first get involved?
BD: I started the 'blog because I think that the press is the ultimate check on governmentand I've heard stories about government powers running wild in Erie and Ottawa Counties because of the lack of accountability forced by the local establishment media. When the media becomes too friendly with the government, bad things can happen.
So the purpose of my 'blog is to get the stories to the public that go unreported by the local media. This act in itself seems to be revolutionary enough to make me a target of those who have been protected by their friends in the media, in particular, the local prosecutors who pretty much violate the law at will without any repercussions. Much of my 'blog is exposing documentation that proves misconduct in the offices of local prosecutors.
LL: The First Amendment was originally crafted largely to protect political speech. As such, your allegations of political corruption would seem to be thoroughly covered. As much as you can discuss at this early date, will that fact comprise a large part of your defense?
BD: The First Amendment definitely plays a huge part of my defensebut even on the technical side of the law, I didn't break any law because the email "threat" was to expose a judge's misconduct. I "threatened" him with an investigation. It's a citizen's duty to report misconduct, but in this situation I'm being charged with a crime for telling a judge that I'll investigate him and publicly report his misconduct. Their position that I broke a law is pretty wacky, but like I said, the local government can do whatever they want if the media and public lets them.
LL: In light of the First Amendment, what makes these prosecutors think you're a target?
BD: I'm a target because I'm a threat to their way of life. What small town prosecutor wants to deal with a young journalist who is not constrained by politics? I say what I wantand from what I hear, my reporting/opinion is widely read by insiders throughout the area. Those who benefit from the lack of accountability are sure to have a problem with someone who rocks the boat like I do.
The problem for them right now is that I'm probably drawing as much web traffic as the local newspaper, and my site is addictive because I back it all up with evidence and what I call "spider web links." I try to make the site as dense with links as possible so people can get all the background on a story that can get very convoluted.
LL: The publicity of any trial could be helpful you. But do you think it will hurt the plaintiffs?
BD: A trial certainly won't be helpful to the plaintiffs. Just the simple fact that I'm exposing misconduct is reason enough to avoid any more publicity, so a trial will actually help us get our story out. By prosecuting me, they're giving me a chance to report in real time how prosecutors act on behalf of the people. As you can see, they're not acting in an honorable manner.
LL: Slander and libel are crimes, and they should be. Yet you've not been charged with either of those things or with anything similar. If what you're writing and saying is so wrong or untrue, why do you suppose the obvious charges are being ignored?
BD: Well for one thing, these men are not going to spend their own money to pursue me on defamation charges. Even if one were so inclined, they'd have to prove that what I'm saying about them is untrue. I think that Ohioans should be appalled by this fact because what these government agents are doing is using public resources to silence my criticism of how the same agents are abusing public tax dollars. In other words, they're using your money to shut me up about how they're misusing your money.
LL: There have been some recent comments made by federal authorities that merely speaking out against government policies could be considered the equivalent of terrorism. Given your circumstances, how do you feel about that idea?
BD: I guess I'd have to say, "Welcome to the United Police States Of America!" We're on a slippery slope, and if we allow federal authorities to slowly indoctrinate that idea that dissent is "terrorism," the liberties we've taken for granted for so long will soon be history. We can stand up and quash that idea or we can sit back and let them run roughshod over the First Amendment. It's the people's choice.
LL: You've been called a "paper terrorist." What was the justification for that appellation, and how do you feel about it?
BD: The government loves to use labels to discredit people who criticize them. The difference between me and most other government critics is that I don't waste time in public forums before public bodies. I take my words and proof to the Internet so that people can make up their own mind after reviewing the evidence. This is how it's supposed to work with the press: Instead of leaving it up to the government to police themselves, we use the power of the pen to expose what they're doing.
It's like Louis Brandeis said: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. Electric light the most effective policeman."
LL: With indictments and arrests, even some jail time, you're learning some tough lessons here. But what exactly is it you're being taught?
BD: As I was quoted in the Port Clinton News Herald: "I learned a few things in jail...being afraid [to criticize] the government was not one of them." I have learned that my wife and children are very important to me and that my children need an example to look up to. I learned a lot about my familybut I'm not talking about that anymore because that's none of your business. [A smiley face icon was inserted here.]
As far as the legal problems go, Elsebeth [Baumgartner] once told me: "You're not a real activist unless you've been indicted."
LL: There's talk of regulating 'blogs and other political speech on the 'net either under Campaign Finance Reform or some other measure. Do you think that's a good idea?
BD: The repercussions would eventually be mental slavery. If that sounds a little overboard, pick up your history books and look what has happened every time political speech has been criminalized or controlled. What we've discoveredas have many other Internet organizationsis that we now have the ability to level the playing field through 'blogs. Peggy Noonan has a great article out about why 'blogs are so popular. She says that instead of becoming popular because of corporate sponsorship, a 'blogger can become popular based on his own writing and credibility. Her point is that 'blogging doesn't take money. It takes an opinion and an effective writer to deliver that opinion. If we let the government regulate 'blogs through campaign finance reform, we're missing the point that an Internet 'blog is campaign finance reform.
LL: You've worked hard, and you've already begun to suffer for it on several levels. Do you ever get discouraged?
BD: At times. But those times don't last very long. I believe that I've been trained for what I'm doingmentally and physicallyespecially from my days in the marines. So it's very important that I move forward with the mission, and that's to provide an example of how a self made media outleta 'blogcan be used to hold local government accountable through investigative journalism.
LL: I've worked long and hard myself to encourage people to take action, to get politically involved. I look at what's happened to you, and wonder whether or not I can tell those same people that such activism is worth it. Well, is it?
BD: I can't answer that question yet because I'm not sure what's going to happen, but at this point, the only time I've suffered is my 23 days in jail and that was only hard because I wasn't able to see my wife and kids.
For the men who fought and died for our freedom, 23 days in jail doesn't seem like much. We all have a duty to speak out against injustice, and that's really all I've done. I think Dr. Baumgartner has suffered a whole lot more than me, and I kind of knew they'd come after me if I put her horror story out there. She's already spent 260 days in jail, and I think it's pretty obvious that they're not going to break her. I owe a lot to her leadership and strength in the face of all this corruption.
Elsebeth and I are pretty much of the same mind: We can achieve change peacefully by guiding public opinion and holding our government officials responsible despite what they do to us. If we achieve accountability in the end, then yes: It's worth it.
LL: Ideally (aside from not going to jail, obviously), what would the best possible outcome of your case(s) be?
BD: Absolute outrage from the rest of the country. Dr. Baumgartner has taught me a lot about thinking on a large scale and to see the potential for what we're creating with Erie Voices. I hope that freedom lovers can see that 'blogs can turn this country aroundlevel the playing field despite corporate control of major media. It's important that other 'bloggers see that potential and, instead of concentrating on national issues, they turn their writing and investigatory skills to the local scene and rebuild the country from the inside out.
I'm excited about what could happen with my case, and with some support, we could turn seven felony charges into something very positive, so that's what I'm hoping to do.
Overall we're hoping to create an institute for social justice in Northern Ohioand if that happens I'll be happy with the overall outcome. I'd also like to spend some spare time Baumgartner's pub (the "disbar") after this mess is over!
I'd certainly like to thank Bryan DuBois for his willingness to talk about his situation. But we owe him even more gratitude for doing what he's doing. He's right when he says it's our duty as citizens to speak up and take action when we see the government acting in ways contradictory to liberty. It frankly doesn't matter whether or not all, some, or none of his allegations concerning his local government officials are true. What matters is that DuBois believes that they are, and he's doing all that he can to bring these issues to light so that it can be determined by impartial judges once and for all if certain of those in authority need to have that authority curtailed or taken away.
It should be noted that Ohio Governor Bob Taft was recently convicted of ethics violations while in office. His misdeeds came to light as the result of an unrelated investigation into allegations of the wrongdoing of a Taft friend, fundraiser, and investor on behalf of the state of Ohio. Although Taft made an issue of ethics in his campaigns and his administrationand disciplined and fired people accordinglyhe is now himself refusing to resign the office he has sullied. Erie Voices is one among many calling for Taft's resignation.
If malfeasance exists at any level of government in any state, we had best hope that there are more men (and women) like Bryan DuBois out there who pay attention and who are then willing to expose those violations that they see. If the threat of exposure of wrongdoing causes more of us to be tagged "paper terrorists," well, then, perhaps there are worse things to be called. In fact, I can think of one right now: To be accurately labeled a "good citizen" by the representatives of a police state. Is there really any doubt that we'd all be better off to consider becoming the former nowand taking up our responsibilities, whatever the risksso that the latter never comes to be at all?
NOTE: The Erie Voices 'blog is online at http://erievoices.com/blog/.
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