Reaction to threatening comments from President Obama’s U.S. attorney in Idaho following the release of two Muslim boys accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl have been swift and severe.
Wendy J. Olson, the U.S. attorney for Idaho, indicated in a statement Friday that Idahoans who spread “false or inflammatory information” about the alleged Muslim perpetrators may be subject to prosecution. The boys accused are ages 14, 10 and 7, and their families have been evicted from the Fawnbrook Apartments in Twin Falls, where the assault allegedly took place.
The two older boys are immigrants from Sudan and the youngest is from Iraq. They are believed to be refugees but the government has yet to say exactly how they entered the country, only that they have come “within the last two years.”
The Olson statement that is drawing fire from First Amendment advocates is as follows:
“The spread of false information or inflammatory or threatening statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself reduces public safety and may violate federal law.”
First amendment attorneys contacted by WND left nothing to the imagination in their sweeping condemnation of the Idaho U.S. attorney appointed by Obama in 2010.
“Ms. Olson’s not-so-veiled threat is closer to illegal speech by a government official than the speech she threatens,” said David Yerushalmi, who has represented Pamela Geller and other prominent activists. “But this abuse of government power is no surprise coming from the political hacks this president has appointed in the U.S. attorneys’ offices.”
He said Attorney General Loretta Lynch is the latest example, for her threats to prosecute free speech critical of Islam after the jihad attack on San Bernardino in December.
“Nothing tops the abuse heaped upon Lady Justice and the Constitution by Eric Holder, however,” Yerushalmi told WND. “Olson is a small fry in this heap of garbage.”
Daniel Horowitz, who represents WND on First Amendment issues, went one step further. He suggested Olson’s words, insinuated that “false or inflammatory” speech could get an American citizen arrested, consisted of a terroristic threat.
“Wendy Olson should be arrested for making terrorist threats against American citizens,” Horowitz said. “She has abused her position and threatened to use the power of the United States government to punish citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights.
“She is a criminal terrorist who silences Americans through threats of arrest just as violent terrorists seek to silence us by threats of murder. She should lose her job and be jailed and when Trump builds his wall, her prison work gang should help build it.”
Horowitz added that the duplicity and double standard of Loretta Lynch, Olson and other Obama-appointed federal prosecutors is astounding.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan can call for 10,000 black men to “rise up,” “stalk” and “kill” white cops and that is considered protected speech by a U.S. Attorney in Florida, Horowitz said. But citizens in Idaho are somehow forbidden from commenting on an explosive local criminal case involving a heinous crime against a special-needs girl unable to defend herself.
“The basic Brandenburg v. Ohio standard is that even the clear call for violence is not a crime unless it is specifically intended to cause violence in a very specific and ‘imminent’ way,” Horowitz told WND. “This government bully knows the rule but she can destroy lives just by arresting people. She is no better than any of the Third World despots who terrorize the press and their own people. She should be deported to Syria where she can learn all about human rights.”
Even a prominent law professor writing for the Washington Post took notice of Olson’s threatening comments in an op-ed Sunday.
Writing for the Post, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said the aggressive words by Olson “goes beyond calling for accuracy (and trying to deter threats, which are indeed criminally punishable). The prosecutor – a prosecutor backed by the might of the federal government – is not just condemning ‘threatening statements.’ She is equally condemning ‘inflammatory’ statements ‘about the perpetrators or the crime,’ as well as ‘the spread of false information.’”
Volokh said there is no precedent for allowing the government to prosecute “inflammatory” speech.
“There is no First Amendment exception for ‘inflammatory’ statements; and even false statements about matters of public concern, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, are an inevitable part of free debate,” the UCLA professor wrote. “While deliberate lies about particular people may lead to criminal punishment in some states that have carefully crafted ‘criminal libel’ statutes, that would be under state law, not federal law; and though Idaho still has an old criminal libel law, it is almost never used, and is likely unconstitutionally drafted given modern First Amendment standards. Moreover, honest mistakes on matters of public concern are often constitutionally protected, especially against criminal punishment.”
Idaho’s federal prosecutor “surely knows how to speak carefully and precisely about what very limited types of speech she can prosecute,” added Volokh, the UCLA professor.
“Yet she chose to equally threaten federal prosecution not just for the punishable true threats – or for the deliberate lies that may be punished under state but not federal law – but also for an unspecified range of ‘inflammatory’ statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself.’”
Volokh encouraged readers of the Post to imagine if the political valences had been flipped around and it was a little black girl sexually assaulted by a white cop.
“Imagine that there was an allegation of an unnamed white police officer sexually assaulting a young girl, and imagine that there were stories – even highly inaccurate ones – circulating online accusing the police department of covering up the assault, which led to threats to local government officials. And imagine that a U.S. attorney in the Bush administration made a public statement saying, among other things, that ‘We have seen time and again that the spread of falsehoods about police officers divides our communities,’ and that ‘The spread of false information or inflammatory or threatening statements about the police officer or the crime itself reduces public safety and may violate federal law.’”
“I take it that many people would rightly demand that, when calling for calm and accuracy, the U.S. attorney shouldn’t say things that threaten criminal prosecution for allegedly ‘inflammatory’ or even ‘false’ statements. The same, it seems to me, applies here.”
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