As you can tell from the fact that I wrote one post in May (albeit quite a good one), wrapping up the school year took the majority of my time and energy, so some stories slipped through the cracks. Let me rephrase that: some stories were too complicated for me to understand in the time I had available to think about them, so I put them in the “To Read” pile, and there they sat until summer.
One of those stories involves a convicted felon named Brett Kimberlin, who would prefer, among other things, that people not refer to him as a convicted felon. There seems to be an entire conspiracy of people committed to withholding that information from the public record, including, but not limited to, Neal Rauhauser and Ron Brynaert. What happens if you mention the fact of Kimberlin’s incarceration in public? If you’re Aaron Worthing, Kimberlin drags you into court for violating a “peace order” of dubious legal standing, then has you arrested for daring to question its dubiousness. If you’re Patrick Frey, Kimberlin’s companions spoof your home telephone number, dial the police and, while impersonating you, claim that you’ve shot your wife. That’s correct: they anonymously send SWAT teams to your door because of things you said on the Internet.
In fact, the aforementioned Aaron Worthing got a taste of the Frey treatment shortly after a judge modified the “peace order” in a way that annoyed Kimberlin and his cohorts, being that it allows him to post about Kimberlin and his cohorts on the Internet. Are there another hundred twists and turns to this case that I don’t fully comprehend? Without a doubt. But the fundamentals are simple: people who write about Kimberlin and his extended family tend to find themselves at the wrong end of frivilous lawsuits or SWAT teams.
Why are Kimberlin and his conspirators so interested in moving conversations from the (relatively) friendly confines of the Internet to the messier realms of legal proceedings and illegal impersonations? Why risk being dismissed as a serial litigant or arrested for abusing the stretched resources of local police departments? I can only come up with two reasons:
The first is that they are children increasingly impressed with their ability to do things to people they dislike. They are bullies. They have no politics, only petty vendettas against perceived authorities, and the fact that they have largely targeted conservatives indicates who they believe their mother and father proxies to be. It says something that being the generation of re-directed aggression is the most charitable reading I could muster. The only problem with the charitable reading is that it simply isn’t plausible.
The second, much more likely, reason is that Kimberlin et al see in the world a mirror of their own conspiratorial thought. They coordinate their criminal enterprise because they still see a representative of the Man behind every suit. They assume their ideological opponents must belong to similarly organized social construct, such that an attack against one Man constitutes an attack against the Man himself. The transcipts of their secret communications—by which I mean, “the images of their Twitter accounts,” many of which can be found here—leave the impression that Kimberlin and company consider themselves to be the last guardians of a failed Left. Who they decide to harass and SWAT seems less a function of coherent plan than the actions of a paranoid ideology. They believe that harassing a lawyer who helped a friend fight a case (Worthing) and having SWAT teams sent to the houses of innocent men (Worthing and Frey) constitute victories against the Man and the System, two entities that only exist as a function of their own paranoiad thought.
But whether Kimberlin and Rauhauser and Brynaert belong to an amorphous group of aggreived childen lashing out at their parental proxies, or whether they represent a paranoid organization devoted to using any means necessary to silence critics—both real and imagined—it is thunderously obvious that they ought not be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Because this is not about politics. They shouldn’t be plauded by those who share their specific aims nor meet with the silent approval of those who support their general goals. They should be shamed, because that’s what this should be about: shaming people who have proven themselves willing to escalate when escalation suits their needs. As the number of avenues available to them dwindle in number and efficacy, it should surprise no one that their tantrums are increasingly taking the form of sending SWAT teams to the houses of their critics.
What can we do about Kimberlin and company? Weeks of attention at the hands of conservative bloggers indicates that sunlight isn’t an effective disinfectant here, as Kimberlin et al seem to adore the attention of the court, if only for the money they can bleed from those they baselessly attack. Shame only works so long as they remain in the sun, but criticism drives them back to their impenetrable Twitter dens, where they’re free to continue conspiring 140 characters at a time. Coordinated action could vindicate their paranoia and lead to further escalation of the sort already witnessed or of a tactical variety. (I’ll leave imagining the unimaginable to the kind of experts who respond to legal difficulties with SWAT teams.) So what can we do about Kimberlin and his ilk?
Continue to argue, in principle, against the principles they hypocritically claim to uphold. Continue to note that criticism that results in frivilous legal actions acquires greater rhetorical power by the fact that the response is disproportionate to the perceived offense. If I say “orange,” for example, and you respond by filing a court order against me, everyone knows that you’re trying to hide something about “orange.” You have made yourself look very suspicious when it comes to “orange.” If the court rejects your claim and allows me to say “orange” and you respond by sending a SWAT team to my house, everyone knows not only that you’re hiding something about “orange,” but that whatever “orange” is, it must be incredibly important to you. At this point, I’m not sure what Kimberlin’s “orange” is, or why he’s created a network of like-minded “orange” paranoiacs to defend it, but given that that defense threatens to impinge upon the rights of everyone to practice free speech, I think it’s in all our interest to figure out what “orange” is.
And now I’m talking about “orange” when I should be talking about outrages. I’m still not sure what we can do to put a stop to Kimberlin and those who anonymously abet him, but it’s a conversation we ought to be having. As someone who’s been harassed in the past—and is facing a new wave of harassment at the present moment—I think it’s incumbent on the left to listen to and contribute to the conversation going on across the blogs on the right. Because dumb luck trumps ideology in the sweepstakes to determine who Kimberlin or the like targets next, and tomorrow may be your “lucky” day.