Graphic Novel Declared A Terrorist Operation By US Government, Advance Money Seized

from the insanity dept

This story is almost too bizarre to believe. Journalist David Axe wrote a graphic novel about “the Lord’s Resistance Army” rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which many people may be aware of due to the controversial viral “Kony 2012” story from earlier this year). No matter what you think of the situation with Kony, it seems bizarre that the book itself (which is just about Kony) should be declared a product of a terrorist organization and the money associated with it frozen. But… that’s apparently what happened.

In 2010 I went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to report on the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. In 2011 I wrote a graphic novel script based on my reporting and artist Tim Hamilton agreed to draw it. Cartoonist Matt Bors edited the story and early this year the Dutch Website Cartoon Movement serialized the art online, following which book publisher Public Affairs acquired the paperback rights. And last month, the federal Office of Foreign Assets Control confiscated the majority of the advance payment, claiming that we were laundering the money for onward transfer to a terrorist organization.

Yes, you read that right: the feds believe Tim and I are terror financiers.

This seems like a massive overreaction by the US government (and, perhaps, a First Amendment violation). The graphic novel appears to be a journalistic account of Joseph Kony’s actions in central Africa:

In the press release that Axe and Hamilton sent out about this, they were told that book’s title, Army of God, “threw up a red flag.” You would think that once that red flag went up, some bureaucrat somewhere would then have looked at the damn book and realized that it’s not some terrorist conspiracy. I guess that’s too much to ask.

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Comments on “Graphic Novel Declared A Terrorist Operation By US Government, Advance Money Seized”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘some bureaucrat somewhere would then have looked at the damn book and realized that it’s not some terrorist conspiracy.’

dont be ridiculous! that would have meant actually doing something reasonable and constructive. that’s the last thing a politician wants to be associated with. however, making a prick of themselves, that’s a different story!!

Ellie (profile) says:

Re: Graphic novel and money laundering

It isn’t the publisher that’s they’re saying is the problem. The government seized the money received as an advance payment for the graphic novel. The government seized it because they believe that the authors of the novel have transferred that money to a terrorist organization.

Although… maybe I understand your point now… there aren’t enough details in the TechDirt post to tell. If the publisher is directly transferring the advance payment for the graphic novel to the terrorists, rather than to the authors, that would be a problem. In that case, both the authors (who would have had to request their advance payment be made to someone else), and the publishers who had completed the money transfer would be at fault.

You’re right: The funds seizure needs to be based on specific evidence, which shouldn’t be a problem to obtain, if it exists.

Toot Rue (profile) says:


I wish we could implement a kirk like premise whereby the US government would acknowledge that it is a de-facto terrorist organization and therefore it would have to seize the money it is seizing as it is funding a terrorist organization which would mean it would have to seize the money it was seizing and therefore it would have to seize the money it was seiz…


Ed C. says:

I guess the government is taking a page from the MAFIAA playbook, using automated takedowns to fight “terrorist”. Taking a ramshackle system used to remove dancing babies videos, sending cease and desists to the deceased, and slapping grandmas with civil suits, to create a system to tag terrorist for indefinite detention, treason, or drone strikes. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?

anonymouse says:


“the federal Office of Foreign Assets Control”

Was this book released in the Congo, or America, as I and I am sure many Americans did not know there was a communist like department in the US Government. Also there is a thing called freedom of speech in America so by preventing this book from being released that would be removing the right to freedom of speech which has given many hate groups the opportunity to spread there hate throught the country for example the evil Westboro Baptist Church.

Ellie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you wire transfer the proceeds that you receive for your novel, regardless of the subject matter, to terrorists, you will likely have problems. As a British citizen, if you reside in the U.K., I don’t think the U.S. government will be arresting you though. It would be U.K. law enforcement, as they do not encourage the funding of terrorist organizations.

Ellie (profile) says:

Re: Banning books

Of course, you’re correct. It is not new, nor does it only happen to books, or obscure works. Movies too, such as “The Manchurian Candidate” were banned. In that situation, the movie was pulled from theatres after release, with a requirement that re-release be allowed after the passage of 25 years. It is a good movie, starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Murder-She-Wrote. I saw it a few years ago. (How did the government decide that 25 years was the right length of time to wait, I wonder?)

Don Craig says:

Large, Stupid, and Powerful, and doesn't do comics - The Department of the Treasury

Hmmn. Looks like someone was dumb enough to put the text string “Army of God” in the metadata accompanying the wire. That triggers a strong match with the “Specially Designated Nationals List” and the money is frozen by the transferrer You get to fill out, submit it, and wait. Good Luck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not Insanity; Strategy! Innocent Treated As Terrorist Financiers

One of the problems with horrible tragedies is that evil men get to do evil things while we are in shock and distracted. Thus, evil compounds evil.

On December 21 Techdirt posted a story that very few people seem to have picked up on, but which deserves attention. The Office of Foreign Assets Control seized most of the advance money paid to a couple of Americans for producing a comic book. They did so on the grounds that money sent to write the comic book was supporting a terrorist organization!

The script for the graphic novel was written by David Axe, an American journalist who had spent time in Africa covering the terrorist/criminal group, ?The Lord?s Army,? and the leader, Kony. He wanted to present his information in comic book form and joined with an artist and a cartoonist. The content was published online and you can go read the ?terrorism? for yourself. Public Affairs paid to publics a paper version.

The book is obviously not terrorism nor is it propaganda for terrorists. It is simply a graphic novel alerting people to Joseph Kony?s crimes. The Office of Foreign Assets Control took their advance money without any evidence but simply on the basis of the title of the book.

The Techdirt post expresses real frustration

?In the press release that Axe and Hamilton sent out about this, they were told that book?s title, Army of God, ?threw up a red flag.? You would think that once that red flag went up, some bureaucrat somewhere would then have looked at the damn book and realized that it?s not some terrorist conspiracy. I guess that?s too much to ask.?

Techdirt filed this story under ?insanity,? implying the government did not know what they were doing. I don?t think that is the right way to think about this absurd action on the part of the government. As much as it is tempting to blame everything the government does as senseless as stupid or insane.

But why assume the government is acting from ignorance? If it was mere incompetence then the government would make mistakes in our favor about half the time. I think a much more plausible hypothesis is that people in government occasionally experiment to see how much they can get away with. Can they classify these men as terrorists, take their money, and get away with it? The only way to measure if they are reaching the point of being able to classify and loot people at whim is to try it every once in awhile and see if they manage to get away with it? Will the media pay attention to the story? Will the victims get widespread sympathy or will they be ignored?

We cannot afford to be na?ve about what our government is doing. Assuming they are always making mistakes because they are so stupid is a pathway to seriously underestimating their agenda. They did what they did because they wanted to do it, not because of some ?accident.?

?Oops, we thought your book was an act of terrorism?? No way!

The government is trying to expand its power, and unless there is evidence to the contrary, we should assume these bureaucrats are competent and know exactly what they are doing.

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