Chesser characterized the information he provided as “just a place to start.” According to federal prosecutors, the lives of the private citizens and Facebook users Chesser identified as EDMD supporters “will remain at risk for many years to come.” Frightened by the threats, Molly Norris recanted and disavowed EDMD, but it was too late. On September 15, 2010, the Seattle Weekly informed its readers:
You may have noticed that Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly. The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, “going ghost”: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity….
The Choudhry Incident
On May 14, 2010, Roshonara Choudhry, a British prize-winning student at King’s College, London, stabbed former British MP Stephen Timms in London because he supported the Iraq war.
In interviews immediately following her arrest, Choudhry told police she resolved to strike Timms after viewing over 100 hours of video sermons given by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, which she had found posted on Revolution Muslim and other websites. She began listening to the sermons in November 2009, and completed them just days before she carried out her attack.
After her attack, members of Revolution Muslim published praise of Ms. Choudhry as a “heroine” and expressed the hope “for her action to inspire Muslims to raise the knife of jihad against those who voted for the countless rapes, murders, pillages and torture of Muslim civilians as a direct consequence of their vote.” The organization also posted a list of 383 British lawmakers who voted for the Iraqi war, accompanied by instructions on how to track these lawmakers’ movements, as well as a link for buying a kitchen knife.
The British government demanded the website be taken down and on November 5, 2010, Revolution Muslim’s website closed. Shortly thereafter the website resurfaced as IslamPolicy.com.
To defend free speech rights from intimidation by the likes of Revolution Muslim, the Legal Project has proposed the Defend Expression from Islamists (DEFI) Act. This legislation would make it a federal crime to threaten or use force against individuals exercising free speech rights.
A federal statute is both necessary and proper. Islamic radicalism is a national concern. Frequently, when Islamists threaten Americans they do so over the internet and from another state or country. At the same time, existing state laws are inadequate. The heightened standard of proof deters local prosecutors from investing scarce resources, explicit grounds for a civil suit do not always exist, and damages can be difficult to quantify.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of DEFI — which is lacking in criminal statues like 18 U.S.C. 875(c) — is that it empowers victims of Islamist threats to sue for damages. This provision transforms them from passive victims into private attorneys general to defend their rights in a setting with a lower burden of proof and preset damages.
One law, by itself, won’t entirely halt groups like Revolution Muslim from threatening free speech. But it is about time we did something tangible to punish them for their threats. When Comedy Central was intimidated into censoring itself on American television, the federal government did nothing. When Molly Norris was forced to go ghost, the federal government did not pick up the tab. And when the Revolution Muslim jihadists inspired a British Muslim to attempt to assassinate a member of the British Parliament, and then threatened the lives of other British legislators, the federal government’s sole response was allegedly pressuring Google to shutter the site.
Revolution Muslim simply changed its website name and migrated to another server, without any legal consequences for the true threats it made. This kind of appeasement should end, now.