The Price One Pays to Post at HuffPo

For a while, there was a big debate on the left on whether it was okay to post, for free, at HuffPo or not. Many argued that someone choosing to post at HuffPo without pay was being exploited, or exploiting others, by working for free.

Except now it appears that posting at HuffPo can get someone jailed for two months.

Daniel McGowan is one of the Environmental Liberation Front-tied activists branded as a terrorist for arson committed in Oregon in 2001. He wrote this post yesterday at HuffPo, describing his time in the Marion, IL Communication Management Unit, and his Center for Constitution Right lawsuit against the government for the CMUs.

What’s also notable about the CMUs is who is sent there. It became quickly obvious to me that many CMU prisoners were there because of their religion or in retaliation for their speech. By my count, around two-thirds of the men are Muslim, many of whom have been caught up in the so-called “war on terror,” others who just spoke out for their rights or allegedly took leadership positions in the Muslim community at other facilities. Some, like me, were prisoners who have political views and perspectives that are not shared by the Department of Justice.

[snip]

The following speech is listed in these memos to justify my designation to these ultra-restrictive units:

My attempts to “unite” environmental and animal liberation movements, and to “educate” new members of the movement about errors of the past; my writings about “whether militancy is truly effective in all situations”; a letter I wrote discussing bringing unity to the environmental movement by focusing on global issues; the fact that I was “publishing [my] points of view on the internet in an attempt to act as a spokesperson for the movement”; and the BOP’s belief that, through my writing, I have “continued to demonstrate [my] support for anarchist and radical environmental terrorist groups.”

The federal government may not agree with or like what I have to say about the environmental movement, or other social justice issues. I do not particularly care as the role of an activist is not to tailor one’s views to those in power. But as Aref v. Holder contends, everything I have written is core political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.  It may be true that courts have held that a prisoner’s freedom of speech is more restricted than that of other members of the public.  But no court has ever said that means that a prisoner is not free to express political views and beliefs that pose no danger to prison security and do not involve criminal acts.  In fact, decades of First Amendment jurisprudence has refused to tolerate restrictions that are content-based and motivated by the suppression of expression.  And courts have recognized that when a prisoner is writing to an audience in the outside world, as I was, it’s not just the prisoner’s First Amendment rights that are at stake: the entire public’s freedom of speech is implicated.

His lawyers have sent out a statement reporting that Marshalls detained him at the halfway house he was supposed to serve out the end of his sentence yesterday, reportedly because of his post.

Daniel McGowan is back in BOP custody.  He was taken by federal marshals from his halfway house this morning, and brought to the Metropolitan Detention Center.  We have received information that this was triggered by an opinion piece he published on the Huffington Post Monday, and we are currently trying to confirm this and learn more about the situation.  We were unable to meet with him today because, we were informed, he was being processed. We will seek to meet with him tomorrow and follow all avenues to secure his release. The name of the piece is “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for My Political Speech.” If this is indeed a case of retaliation for writing an article about the BOP retaliating against his free speech while he was in prison, it is more than ironic, it is an outrage.

In his HuffPo bio, McGowan described himself as an environmentalist and former political prisoner.

It sure looks he spoke too soon.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. Let Wenceslao Mansogo Alo explain your life to you says:

    Don’t waste time with the first amendment, that’s a cast-off pretense of a state that’s gone to war against its population. Article 19 is all you got, and to exercise it you have to go over the head of this criminal state to the treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council. McGowan’s lawyers are living in a dream world if they’re still invoking civil liberties domestically. The Human Rights Committee needs to be reviewing this latest disgrace as the USG hides from the binding requirement of independent scrutiny. Nothing’s going to curb this state but mounting disgrace and the disgust of the civilized world.

  2. Mack says:

    Conversely, when a gun rights activist makes public statements on Fox and other venues regarding the death of the President, he is allowed to attend that President’s inauguration at the invitation of a member of Congress.
    Its not what you say, its where you say it.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    @Mack: I have a much more cynical take. My read is that people who, on the surface, are “supposed to be” or “should” be against Obama (e.g., wing-nuts, bankers, NWO-types, the religious, the stupid) can get away with almost anything because he and Holder won’t do anything for fear of looking like they’re out to get those people. But if you’re from a group that “should” be supporting this idiot (e.g., environmentalists, anti-torture folks, whistle-blowers, the intelligent), then you better not step out of line for one moment. I don’t know if Obama et al. is too terrified of the “scary black man” meme or just can’t help but suck up to power, but I’m kind of sick of the whole thing and don’t really care why any more.

    Sorry. Tired.

  4. orionATL says:

    the “communications management unit” ?

    you’ve got to be kidding!

    the title in itself should guarantee a successful outcome for a claim of violation of a prisoner-citizen’s first amendment rights. prison after all is where the state sends those who oppose its policies or society’s traditional practices.

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