State Patrol Investigates Threats

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

State Patrol Investigates Threats

by Ari Armstrong, January 31, 2000

The Colorado State Patrol began investigating The Colorado Freedom Report today because someone who sent a threatening e-mail to several state legislators apparently plagiarized my work and perverted it in the body of his or her message.

I have always publicly condemned violence. In the first article I composed for the Report, in November of 1998, I wrote:

CFR certainly isn't violent. (Libertarianism is the antithesis of violence, except for self-defense.)... CFR does not advocate violent struggle against the state, or even non-violent civil disobedience such as tax-evasion... [O]ur rights of speech remain relatively unabridged, so CFR seeks to take advantage of this viable right in the hopes of moving the culture via persuasion closer to the acceptance of a fully free, civil (libertarian) society. (

In that article, where I described my general political philosophy which guides the policies of the Report, I also condemned the actions of terrorist Tim McVeigh. In my opinion, that article contains the most coherent criticism of McVeigh's actions from a libertarian perspective yet to appear.

So, for the public record, let me here reiterate: I oppose the use of violence and threats of violence.

Unfortunately, Representative Doug Dean failed to consult with me before he notified the State Patrol about my web site. If Dean had done so, I could have cleared up a mis-perception immediately. Dean got the wrong idea about the source for a line in my story Showdown on Guns, in which I wrote:

HB-1245 would remove the only line of defense children now have against mass murderers in schools -- lawful concealed gun carriers.

No lawful concealed carrier has ever shot up a school. One school principal stopped a school shooting with his gun. So this bill is not a response to Columbine, it is just another mindless infringement of the right to bear arms.

The Representatives responsible for this threat to endanger the lives of our children are Windels, Bacon, Coleman, Gordon, Plant, Tupa, Kester and Swenson.

That list of legislators is incorrect. I pulled that list straight from the copy of the bill as provided on the state's official web page. (Click on bill 1245 and read the results on Acrobat. Please note that bill may be updated in light of the present story, but the names I mentioned appeared there originally, as Dean confirmed.) However, the state's web page incorrectly lists Representatives Kester and Swenson as co-sponsors. So allow me to here publicly and humbly apologize for wrongly naming Kester and Swenson in that list. (And let that serve as a warning concerning the accuracy of the state's web page.) Today is the first day I was notified of that error.

This is relevant to the State Patrol's investigation because Dean thought the error was mine and that the threats corresponded accordingly. Dean checked the paper-version of the bill, which lists the correct co-sponsors. It was not until after Dean already notified the State Patrol and I heard about his actions third-hand that I was able to correct his mistaken interpretation.

In general, I believe Dean handled the situation rather badly. He failed to inform me about his action to notify the State Patrol, even when doing so would have allowed me to add valuable information. In addition, he chose to tell House Minority Leader Ken Gordon about the affair, when Mike Soraghan from The Denver Post just happened to be listening in. Not only did Dean fail to keep the matter quiet, but he purposely made it public. He interprets the matter merely as Soraghan "overhearing" his discussion with Gordon, but I'm skeptical that a savvy politician such as Dean would just accidentally miss a major newspaper reporter listening in on his conversation.

What might explain Dean's actions? It might be that he's still bitter about an article I wrote about him in October, 1999: Rep. Dean Poised to Trample Constitution. (In a more recent article, I've defended some of Dean's positions while criticizing others.) I'm particularly annoyed that he would leak the story to Soraghan, as I've been critical of some of Soraghan's reporting. (I've also complimented Soraghan on a couple of his articles which I found to be informative and balanced.) My concern was that those who don't necessarily agree with my viewpoints might use the current investigation by the Patrol to demonize me or at least exaggerate the circumstances of the case. In addition, Dean notified the Governor's office about his contact with the State Patrol, another action I see as unnecessary.

Of course, Dean was miffed that I didn't contact him before I released the initial critical article. That was Jon Caldara's main argument when he revoked my "Senior Fellow" title at the Independence Institute over Dean's criticisms of me. (Caldara is President of the Institute.) But be that as it may, there's a huge difference between not calling someone about a political position which is public record, and not calling someone about a matter which involves criminal allegations against the unknown author of the threat. So, even though Dean reminded me of my handling of the initial article while on the phone, there is simply no analogy to the present situation.

In Dean's defense, after I heard about the affair third-hand and called him by telephone, he was willing to listen to additional facts and consider how they impacted his interpretation of the events. In addition, he said he made a phone call to Soraghan to stress that I was in no way responsible for the threats and that the previously cited list of legislators is a matter of public record (though in error) on the state's own web page.

"I don't hold you responsible for this," Dean emphasized to me on the phone. (He was glad to give that quote "on the record.") He also encouraged me to reprint his e-mail, in which he wrote, "I am not suggesting that you are culpable in any fashion (no more than Al Gore is culpable for Ted Kazinsky's actions)." I think that analogy is apt. Gore is an environmentalist, with whom Kazinsky, the so-called "unabomber," shares a variety of views. But just because Kazinsky echoed some of Gore's sentiments, that doesn't mean Gore's writings or statements are in any way behind Kazinsky's crimes. Similarly, those who favor more gun restrictions, such as Gordon, cannot be blamed for the threats Doug Dean received in the wake of Columbine. Obviously, somebody could quote (or plagiarize) Dean, Gordon, Soraghan, or anyone who has made public statements, and incorporate those sentiments into a threatening message.

In reference to HB-1245, Dean said, "I agree with you on the bill."

In conversing with Dean and with State Patrol officials stationed at the Capitol, I learned enough about the case to understand that my work was likely plagiarized. As a courtesy to the Patrol and its investigation, I'm not going to reveal many of the details I've learned about the case. However, I'll recount some facts that should be obvious to anyone who uses the internet. My web page is available to everyone in the world who has computer access. In addition, information is frequently pulled from web pages and distributed via e-mail to friends and mailing lists, again around the world. It's completely possible that whoever wrote the threatening e-mail didn't even know the plagiarized passages originated with me.

If the person (or persons) who issued the threat used their own e-mail accounts, the police will be able to discover the identity of the sender (and I understand they are looking).

I have some advice for the person(s) who issued the threats. Don't plagiarize others' work. It's incredibly annoying and potentially damaging. Don't threaten people! And don't plagiarize others while making threats. Instead of spending my day advocating human liberty, I spent my day defending myself and setting the record straight. Instead of writing an article today defending civil liberties, I had to write the article you're now reading. Instead of having a relaxing, productive day, I had to worry about a State Patrol officer asking me about my e-mail account. It's harrowing for me and others and it's a complete waste of my time, as well as the time of the State Patrol and the legislators.

Threatening legislators is stupid. There are enough stereotypes against gun owners without you making threats. We're making big strides with rational discourse. Advocates of the Second Amendment have the distinct advantage of being correct on the issues. There's a saying that a lie travels halfway around the world before truth even laces up her shoes, yet I still believe that, ultimately, the truth will set us free.

I would urge disarmament activists and members of the press not to stigmatize the entire pro-gun-rights movement based on the actions of one person or a handful of persons. As I've told several people today, every group has its kooks.

Some try to justify violence in modern America by quoting the Declaration of Independence. But we must not read from those mighty words selectively. That document expressly forbids uprising except in the most dire circumstances:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.

To be sure, that document continues:

But when in a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Americans have not yet been reduced to a state of "absolute despotism." While many of our freedoms have been slowly eroded, many yet remain. Most of us can still own many types of arms. The First Amendment is alive and well, with certain notable exceptions. The Fourth Amendment still provides some protection. The Mt. Carmel center burned because of a horrible abuse of power, yet even many government officials are outraged about that today. I believe America is headed down the wrong path generally. Taxes, regulations, and disarmament laws keep getting more and more onerous. Yet many states have also passed concealed carry legislation -- a step in the right direction.

The time is now for peaceable, political and cultural action. If the wisdom and the passion of our words rise together in freedom's song, we may yet restore the vision of liberty of which our Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights. The opportunity lies before us to live the principles of freedom more consistently than ever before, to extend the blessings of civil rights to more people than history has ever witnessed. Utopian socialism is dead. Yet our task lies before us: to awaken freedom from troubled sleep and rise with her to renewed prominence.

The Colorado Freedom