Another 'Internet Threat' Results In Six Months In Jail And A Five-Year Ban From Social Media

from the so...-we've-rounded-up-all-the-REAL-criminals,-then? dept

Another person has been arrested for sending out "terroristic threats" via social media. Caleb Clemmons, a (former, obviously) Georgia Southern student, has spent the last six months in jail because of a Tumblr post that said the following:

hello. my name is irenigg and i plan on shooting up georgia southern. pass this around to see the affect it has. to see if i get arrested.
Within three hours, he was. Achievement unlocked: Bull fucked with; horns acquired.

Clemmons attempted to explain his post, calling it "an experimental literary piece and an art project." No sale. The police charged him with "making terroristic threats via a computer," which seems to be on par with doing it over the phone or by mail or in person. Why the delivery system matters, I have no idea.

Now, there's no disputing the utter stupidity of the post and pretty much daring the police to take action only makes it worse. As I've said before, the police should definitely investigate possible threats like these. The problem is that the investigations come and go without turning up any evidence that the person delivering the threat poses a danger. And yet, the arrestee stays locked up.
Although police found no weapons or evidence of an actual plan to attack the school, a judge set Clemmons' bail at $20,000, which was too much for him and his mother to pay. As a result, he spent the full time waiting for his court date in jail.
Not only did the police find nothing, but the administration at Georgia Southern didn't even bother notifying the student body at the time of Clemmons' arrest because it felt "there was no continuous threat." In fact, no statement at all was made until Clemmons' story resurfaced a week ago, over six months since the date of his original post.

At this point, Clemmons is technically free. He's been sentenced to five years probation, along with six months in jail (which he already served). Perhaps more harshly, he's been banned from social media for the entirety of his probation.

Like Justin Carter and Cameron D'Ambrosio, Clemmons said something stupid on the internet and is now paying the price for it -- one that seems to outweigh the "crime" itself. And like the other two, he was investigated (which is good) but still remained imprisoned despite a complete dearth of evidence to support his ability to carry out the threat (which is terrible).

The overreaction of law enforcement to these "threats" is usually justified by pointing to recent school shootings or terrorist attacks. But what's unsaid is that the perpetrators of the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Bombing (both cited frequently) didn't deliver threats via social media (or anywhere really) before carrying out their acts of violence. Somehow prosecutors and law enforcement have gotten it into their heads that terrorists and mass murderers will be sending Tweets and lighting up Facebook before carrying out their plans. I think most murderers and terrorists would prefer to carry out their acts of violence unmolested rather than be detained or imprisoned, hence the lack of advance notice.

Not only would this sort of heads-up be an anomaly, but bombers and mass murders generally have some sort of evidence laying around, like stockpiles of weapons or bomb-making components. When these threats are investigated, one would expect the police to find something that backs up the words. But in all three of these cases, they haven't.

Not only that, but the cases are weak enough that law enforcement and prosecutors have resorted to editorializing the actual "threats" made by these individuals in order to make their cases stick. In Ambrosio's case, the police chief repeatedly dropped the part of his Facebook post where he said "Ima be famous rapping," making it appear as though his fame relied solely on some vague allusions to other violent acts. In Carter's case, prosecutors dropped the first part of his response (provoked by another person) -- "I'm fucked in the head alright" -- and presented the rest of the post ("I think I’ma shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them") as a standalone statement in the indictment.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing looks like it will only get more common, rather than just become a time-dependent anomaly due to the proximity to acts of terrorism. The police need to take these statements seriously, but they also need to let it go when their investigations come up empty. To move forward with prosecution is to punish someone for stupidity, something that still isn't a crime no matter how often we wish it was. There's no terrorism prevention going on here -- it's just abuse of an easily-abused law and the end result makes no one any safer.


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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 21 Aug 2013 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: First Amendment

    Technically, threats can be protected speech. It all depends.

    Generally, speech is not protected if it presents a clear and present danger, is "fighting words," is intended to incite imminent lawbreaking, or a reasonable person would take understand it as an actual threat of violence.

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