The 9th District Court of Appeals recently overturned a civil jury award against the anti-abortion Nuremberg Files which had collected personal information about abortion providers and created “Wanted Posters” affixed with the names and pictures of abortion doctors. The Court ruled that unless they directly threatened or participated in a criminal conspiracy, the Nuremberg Files site was protected by the First Amendment. This would seem to put an end to civil |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization| lawsuits against animal rights activists, but there may be an alternative — stalking laws might apply to such groups.
Ironically in the 9th District Court there is a trial going on right now based on this theory. The case involves anti-government activist Jim Bell. Bell was jailed for a few years for tax evasion and other crimes he plead guilty to as part of a plea bargain arrangement. Bell is most (in)famous for his “Assassination Politics” idea. This was a computerized system using strong encryption that would allow people to arrange for the assassination of public officials.
After he was released from jail, Bell began using publicly available sources to compile information about federal judges. He also apparently visited the home of at least one judge to case the house out. After an investigation, Bell was indicted for stalking. It is my understanding that the indictment specifically argues that Bell’s compilation of personal data about judges constituted stalking, even though it came from publicly available sources.
If this prosecution is successful — and survives any challenges — this could be a possible legal avenue for individuals and businesses who are being harassed by animal rights activists. Various Animal Liberation Front-style sites publish both information about how to go about committing terrorist acts as well as information about the addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information about researchers. Assuming the Bell prosecution is successful, these sites and their authors would seem to be even more vulnerable since almost none of the people targeted by animal rights activists even come close to being public figures (unlike federal judges).
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