You've probably heard that Jesse Curtis Morton, aka Yonus Abdullah Mohammad, writer at Revolutionmuslim.com, has been charged by the feds in Virginia for threats against the creators of South Park.
I've pulled the affidavit in support of the complaint and hosted it here. I'm going to try to write about it this weekend or Monday. It's going to take time — the "true threat" doctrine is one of the more fascinating areas of First Amendment law.
I do, however, have some quick first impressions:
1. Why the hell did they do this by complaint rather than by indictment?
2. Given the significance of this case — both politically and in terms of First Amendment law — I find the affidavit remarkably shoddy. Whoever wrote it, and whatever AUSA approved it, needs to learn about proper attribution. You can get away with all sorts of stuff stateside — or in some federal districts, I suppose — but in a properly drafted federal affidavit, the document should explain exactly how the affiant knows each fact they assert. That's woefully lacking in this affidavit. The magistrate judges I used to practice before would bounce it.
3. I've seen federal complaints and indictments that review, briefly, a complicated statutory scheme in order to provide context for facts supporting charges. But I've never seen an affidavit offer an argumentative First Amendment discussion about the true threat doctrine that doesn't even offer case citations, but asks the judge to accept the legal reasoning based on what the agent has "been informed." It's odd, very odd.
4. The affidavit makes a strong case that the defendant was trying both to convey threats and to stay on the legal side of the line between legal and illegal speech. The implications are complex and quite interesting — in part because over the years the "true threat" doctrine has been in flux as to whether the standard is subjective (the speaker intended that the statement be interpreted as an actual threat), objective (a reasonable hearer would interpret it as an actual threat).
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