Terrorist communications

Should conveying a terrorist threat be a crime? I think so.

Here’s a legal question. I don’t know what the law is, but I have a strong view about what the law should be:

If A makes a statement in public, conveying a threat from B against C, is A (should A be) civilly and/or criminally liable?

Consider a live example. The Animal Liberation Front, after two unsuccessful arson attacks on UCLA scientists, makes a successful attempt to flood the home of a third scientist. An outfit called the North American Animal Liberation Press Office claims to have received an “anonymous communique” from ALF, and issues a press release purportedly quoting from that communique, including the following text:

One more thing Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first. We compromised because we in the ALF don’t risk harming animals human and non human and we don’t risk starting brush fires.It would have been just as easy to burn your house down Edythe. As you slosh around your flooded house consider yourself fortunate this time.

We will not stop until UCLA discontinues its primate vivisection programe.

Now I take it as uncontroversial that the quoted text constitutes a threat to firebomb Prof. London’s house unless she gives in and stops her scientific activity, and that making such a threat is actionable both civilly and criminally. The question is whether, by quoting from a purported “anonymous communique,” someone such as “Press Officer Jerry Vlasak, MD” can convey such a threat with impunity. I should hope not.

Note that Vlasak is clearly an accomplice rather than a neutral conveyor of information. The press release states as fact that the communique is from the ALF. If it were truly anonymous, how could Vlasak be sure about its source?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com