Guy Charged With Harassment For Sending Email Complaint To Senator Jim Bunning

from the careful-who-you-get-angry-with dept

We’ve talked multiple times about the problems with various online “harassment” laws, many of which are written so broadly as to outlaw using email to try to “annoy” someone. Basically, they try to outlaw being a jerk, which doesn’t seem to make sense if you believe in the First Amendment.

With the recent situation involving AT&T threatening to take legal action against a customer for sending a complaint email to AT&T’s CEO, it seems like lots of people are overreacting to email complaints. The latest is Senator Jim Bunning, from Kentucky. Bunning got a lot of attention back in February when he decided to become a one-man filibuster against extending unemployment benefits (much to the annoyance of politicians from both major parties). DavidClerk alerts us to the news that Bruce Shore, an unemployed man in Philadelphia, got so upset at Bunning that <a href=”” target=_blank”>he sent some angry emails to Bunning and his staff. Fair enough. These are the basics of representative democracy.

The emails were definitely angry, but it’s a stretch to claim they are real harassment. Yes, the final line could cut it close, but is hardly a direct threat.


I am at a LOSS of words for SENATOR BUNTING blocking unemployment benefits for me and my children. If I do NOT get my check next week I WILL HAVE NO FOOD AND WILL BE ON THE STREET.

What kind of people are you? 10 Billion goes to the war every couple days and to Wall street weekly. I want my benefits or there will be people starving and dying.

What is wrong with you people. NOW is NOT the time to play politics with childrens lives.

ARE you’all insane. NO checks equal no food for me. DO YOU GET IT??



Brad Shore
Louisville, KY 40202

Now there are lots of ways Bunning and his staff could respond to such emails. But the way he did respond was to get the Capitol Police and the FBI involved leading to the guy being indicted for online harassment, specifically that he “did utilize a telecommunications device, that is a computer, whether or not communication ensued, without disclosing his identity and with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, and harass any person who received the communication.” You can see the indictment here:

Part of the issue appears to be that he also claimed to be in Kentucky when he was really in Philadelphia. Hence the “without disclosing his identity.” But, no matter how you look at it, to charge him with harassment seems like a huge stretch and could present a clear chilling effect on people expressing their concerns to elected officials. Even if you think it made sense for the FBI to check things out to make sure there was no real threat implied by the email, to then go ahead and indict him seems like it’s going way too far, and is hard to square with our concept of the First Amendment. Shore has since plead not guilty, but will face a trial starting in July. However, it seems like it never should have gotten this far. Expressing your displeasure with an elected official should not lead to felony charges against you.

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Comments on “Guy Charged With Harassment For Sending Email Complaint To Senator Jim Bunning”

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Ryan says:

Re: Re:

by Anonymous Coward
you have to be an idiot not to be able to see the threat involved here. mike, are you that big of an idiot?

utilize a telecommunications device, that is a computer, whether or not communication ensued, without disclosing his identity and with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, and harass any person who received the communication.

Seems to me that your post is an open-and-shut case of online harassment. You guys think we should we notify the police?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

when someone uses “come to your offices and make our point” and “life and death” one after another, it is more than enough to imply that they will make their point not with a noisy protest, but with something that could be a matter of life and death for the senator. considering the number of total whackjobs out there, the senator’s reaction is not only reasonable, but actually prudent. it might keep other people from making similarly stupid mistakes.

Anonymous Coward says:

he decided to become a one-man filibuster against extending unemployment benefits

stop listening to the MSM so much… He had absolutely no problem with extending unemployment benefits – he just wanted Congress to follow the PAY-GO law it had passed days earlier and find a way to pay for those new benefits

Anonymous Coward says:

More than anything, I think the e-mail itself is a very sad commentary on the type of mentality that’s created by a permanent entitlement state – “If the government doesn’t take money from someone else by force and give it to me, my children and I are going to die.”

I feel sorry for this guy, actually.

aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I half agree with you, but I wish I had more information. Unemployment insurance, his particular situation prior to becoming unemployed, and how long he has been receiving these benefits makes a large difference in exactly how I view him. If he has been out of work for a month or two and just needs that extra push until he can get a job (and he has been actively searching), then I feel genuinely sorry for the guy and they’re doing him dirty. If he’s been on unemployment for a while and has been laying on the couch watching Judge Judy or Sponge Bob then your entitlement statement is right on the mark.

Either way the harassment charge is stupid. Seriously, harassment because he falsely reported his location?

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m not sure why his situation makes any difference regarding the unabashed entitlement he apparently feels to other peoples’ money; if somebody robs my house or steals my identity for bank fraud, I’m not less violated because he really needed the money. My girlfriend doesn’t hate being raped any less because it’s been a year since he’s had sex and happens to be really horny at the moment. If we wants something he can ask, but the entitlement is what’s really maddening…

aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Upon further reading (I was too lazy earlier to really pay a whole lot of attention) I do agree with you. The guy seemed to be betting his ‘livelihood’ on the bill passing, which means he was at the end of unemployment benefits to begin with. Which means he is a douchebag. If his family needed it that bad, he would be out flipping burgers or digging ditches before his benefits dried up. Some people, however, are entitled to unemployment benefits for some period of time, such as those who pay into unemployment insurance while they are working and lost their job through no fault of their own. This guy isn’t one of those guys, but that doesn’t makes a difference in this lawsuit.

I stand my my statement that the harassment charge is stupid either way.

Greg G says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What do you expect from someone that lives PA? He resides in the “rude belt” (Maryland and the DC area, west to Ohio and north all the way to Maine) and demonstrates said rudeness in his email to the senator. And his entitlement mentality is par for the course for (not all, but the vast majority) liberals that refuse to work and want the gubment to take care of him and his family.

To life’s leechers: Get a JOB, ho’s!

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re:

More than anything, I think the e-mail itself is a very sad commentary on the type of mentality that’s created by a permanent entitlement state – “If the government doesn’t take money from someone else by force and give it to me, my children and I are going to die.”

This sounds like it came from someone who doesn’t understand a very basic part of unemployment benefits: You pay into the unemployment system with every paycheck you receive while employed. Utilizing those benefits when you become unemployed is not “taking money from someone else”, it is utilizing money that you put into the system for specifically that purpose.

Of course the true intent of unemployment benefits is to hold you over while you search for another job, and some people do take advantage of the system. aguywhoneedstenbucks statement is spot on: It all depends on the facts of the individual situation. Most who utilize the unemployment benefits are not crooks.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re:

Way to polish a turd. Because we were taxed involuntarily for the intended purpose of handing back to somebody else those earnings, it’s all okay. I guess there’s no such thing as wasting taxpayer money, or for holding down government spending at all then.

On the other hand, if he wanted to seek out unemployment insurance that patronizes those people that voluntarily wish to be covered in exchange for a regular fee – that I have no problem with.


this is a threat

heres what a threat should look like


kill your family slowly by roasting them over the fire
and video tape everything so i can give copies to your corporate war mongering friends

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That's how the Nazi's operate

I call Godwin.

Bunning is a lame duck and has been for years so he has no one to please. The GOP forced him out to run their own conservative candidate. He lost to Rand Paul who immediately began to self destruct in excess Libertarian doctrinaireism.

Bunning has a Pennsylvania link though he was a pitcher for the Phillies.

AC says:

men on the edge

I am reminded of a scene in the movie “The Green Mile” where one guard is being chastised by Tom Hanks’ character for agitating the inmates on death row. Men on the edge have a tendency to break under pressure. Somehow I think that charging a guy who believes the health and safety of himself and his children is at risk with a crime is not an intelligent response. Coming from the ONLY senator to filibuster the vote on extending unemployment, I’m not surprised.

e100 says:


Maybe Mr. Shore should have saved his money and planned on being unemployed at some point in his life.

Fact is he would not starve, I’m sure his local church operates a charity food pantry that he could visit. Maybe he could have worked a part-time job. Maybe he could have shovelled snow or mowed lawns. Maybe he could have worked as a day labourer for a temp agency. Instead he choose to send harassing emails in hopes he gets paid.

People need to stop expecting the government to be their nanny!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Planning


You are so correct. What ever happened to personal responsibility. It is not the government’s job to provide our food. It is ours. If Mr. Shore were a responsible husband and father, he would have been saving the whole time in the event of a situation just like this.

Americans have too long been bleating like sheep down the pathway of government dependence. What ever happened to liberty? What happened to the freedom to succeed or fail on our own? The American dream is to opportunity to make something great of ourselves. How is that manifested in the mediocrity of “what can the government do for me?”

Come on America! Wake up and become great again. Loose the chains of entitlement and make something of yourself!

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Planning

He was saving. It’s called unemployment insurance. And quite honestly, your attitude is idiotic. Who the hell knows what that guy can or cannot do for work, what he has been trying to do etc? Maybe he is not physically capable of being a day laborer. Maybe they don’t need inexperienced day laborers. Maybe people aren’t being hired to flip burgers in his area.

And this is not about the freedom to fail or succeed on your own. This is about making sure that when you fail, you don’t starve. The possibility of starving is a much more significant deterent to entrepreneurship than any taxes and regulations. It’s insurance. Everyone pays into a big pool. When your life fails, you get to have some part of the pool so you get a chance to try again. If you don’t like it, you can leave the country…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Planning

Your ignorance and lack of compassion are astounding. Just the other day I got a phone call from a friend, asking if I’d contribute $20 towards stocking the cupboards of a couple we know.

Two adults well over the age of fifty, who never had kids, live in a house they paid off more than 20 years ago, and both have always been fully employed and self-sufficient. My friend said “Blank is so ashamed, he wants to kill himself.” His unemployment, with all the extensions, had finally run out, they’ve tapped out their last savings account, and the wife, a highly educated woman, is working part-time as a security guard. This was the last couple on earth I would have pegged as being at the end of a financial and emotional rope, and it has made the rest of us who know this couple to realize none of us should be complacent.

e100 says:

Re: Re: Re: Planning

It is great that you and your friend are charitable enough to donate money/food to people who are struggling.

I do have compassion for his situation, but not his entitlement attitude.

There are plenty of charitable organizations in this great nation that would have gladly provided this man food.
I suspect he also has neighbors similar to yourself who would have gladly helped him.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

If I had received that email...

… I might have called the cops, too. Given how charged the issue was, I don’t blame the guy for taking no chances.

And as far as the First Amendment issue is concerned, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you that no one will question your speech. If you think someone’s speech falls outside of First Amendment protections, you have the right (just as important as the other guy’s First Amendment rights) to bring the issue to a judge/jury to decide. There’s responsibility that goes along with the free speech right. Your speech may be called into question, though it may ultimately be proven to be protected. The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you won’t be sued or prosecuted.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If I had received that email...

“the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you that no one will question your speech.”

True. But questioning such speech with more speech and the government punishing you for such speech are two different things.

“The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you won’t be sued or prosecuted”

I think that’s exactly what it does (as far as prosecution goes), except for the fact that no law is a “guarantee” that it won’t be broken. If the government prosecutes you for protected speech, that’s a violation of the First Amendment.

V says:

I can see how this email can be taken as a threat. The guy should have worded his message differently.
It’s obvious that this person is desperate to “put food on his family” to survive and meant no harm.

The best part about Jim Bunning: not only he has declined to extend unemployment benefits for families, he also wasted resources on charges against this poor unemployed person.
Hopefully Bunning does not get re-elected, he does not deserve his post.

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting article

It’s too bad that the majority of the folks commenting are, instead of discussing the issue at hand, detailing their disdain for what may or may not be the man’s unemployment situation.

He may have been sidelined from work due to injury, or he may very well have no marketable skills. Given how many people in this country (~10%) are unemployed, a large portion of them for OVER A YEAR, perhaps his area is also depressed and without any available employment?

I suppose it’s easier to just judge people from afar with no information whatsoever, in order to feel better about oneself.

Amos E Whetstone says:

Senator Bunning Harrasment

Mr. Bunning has not been very responsive to the people who elected him and it is time that he leaves the Senate. I know he is not running for office again and he probably doesn’t care how he votes. But he has voted no almost 90% since since President Obama took office !!!!!

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Re: Senator Bunning Harrasment

point to any elected official in the last 15 years that people cant make the same claim about.
heck in california late last year the average approval rating for elected officials was 13%. and i point out california for a very specific reason, a fairly overwhelming base of liberal voters electing liberal politicians takes the idea of “conservatives vs a liberal administration” right out the window and shines a light at the fact that its not just a matter of cons vs dems as some would like to believe.
even if you give a very large margin of error thats staggering. and yet, they keep getting elected year in and year out.

Lazarus0000 says:

Amazing that we can sit here and discuss the merits or lack thereof of this slob and his situation. It doesn’t matter! Dearest Morons, the purpose of this discussion is whether or not the man deserves to be charged with harassment. Not whether he is a slacker, a drug addict, an entitled liberal or a hard working right winger willing to pull himself up by his non-existent bootstraps. The only point is whether he is harassing the poor senator, safely ensconced in his walled castle, surrounded by his helpless security guards and FBI agents.

Thomas Jefferson (who, I’m pretty sure, is rolling in his grave) was happy to point out that democracy is totally dependent on a intelligent and well educated populace. Discussions like this make his point and demonstrate that this country has neither. Continue listening to and reading the tripe you do, having the discussions you do and believing the way you do (without the luxury of having anything resembling the facts) and you’ll be right where the Right and the Left want you to be. Moronic sheep that cannot be troubled with thought or the ability to take decisive and relevant action.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you can’t harass the people that represent you, who you can harass and complain to?

Those laws are idiotic, the man could have been anything and still that law is ridiculous, not only that it chip away of one of the most important duties that should come from the people. COMPLAINING, that should be viewed as a metered scale for issues, but it is now being banned because some people feel that comfort is more important to them than having to listen to the people who put them there. Protests will be classified as harassment too in the future? probably because it is harassing the government it is not?

The Pirate says:

Stop emailing me infringing material cousin.

Really, or use steganography, PGP, secure IM, light painting, barcodes, sound water marking so you can embed a second data stream on common mp3 files that will lead you to other places.

Who cares about the judge, he obviously doesn’t understand technology and how can be used and not, why take him seriously when we all know it will not be enforced and anybody that says it will is just dreaming.

Thinking of one (profile) says:


Further to your comments, it’s been said many times he should have been also saving for just this reason to make sure he had money but how many people live from paycheck to paycheck with barely enough for gas and food to make it to the next paycheck. Not a lot of people have the luxury of planning for the new fuel pump their car is going to need next week.

What kind of pompous idiots are commenting here at all!! When an elected government official is using the resources of the FBI and Police to condemn a man for worrying about his family, no matter what his circumstances may be. Then the known fact that others choose professions that will allow them the luxury of taking the winters off because they have paid in enough to cover themselves to sleep away the winter being paid, like landscaping in frigid climates. This does not sound like our guy but to condemn him as so many has without knowing anything aboiut him is similar to the God complex

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