In George Orwell’s 1984, the world first heard of the concept of “thought crime.” No, Orwell didn’t invent the concept, but he named it. The idea that even thinking incorrect things could, potentially, become a criminal act.
When the book was first published, I’m quite sure a lot of people laughed at the idea of people’s thoughts being criminalized. After all, how can you criminalize what’s in people’s heads?
But, thoughts give rise to words. Once words are spoken, people’s thoughts can become public, and that’s where we see thought crime become a real issue.
Now, a man in California has seen his firearms be seized. The justification? He thinks bad things.
A heinous act of violence at a church in South Carolina was carried out in 2015 by Dylann Roof. The then 21-year-old murdered nine people at Emanuel AME Church. His crime would go on to inspire others to do the same.
Both Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and Dylann Roof have been canonized as “bowl saints” by the “Bowl Patrol.” The Southern Poverty Law Center told CBS13 the name “Bowl Patrol” was inspired by Dylann Roof’s distinctive “bowl-cut” hairstyle.
For years the self-proclaimed leader hid behind the pseudonym Vic Mackey, hosting the Bowl Cast, a podcast spewing hateful rhetoric and language. But his true identity was not known until now.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, along with participating federal agencies, has identified Vic Mackey as Orangevale resident Andrew Casarez.
The sheriff’s office served a search warrant just weeks ago at this house.
“We’re able to obtain a gun violence restraining order against him and a search warrant, and a firearm was seized,” Nelson said.
Detectives used Casarez’s online activity to get them in the door
“This search warrant it’s the first of its kind at least in the country. As far as how we obtained it and were able to serve it,” Nelson said. “He was posting enough racist rhetoric and propaganda on Facebook that it was concerning that his behaviors could become violent in retaliation.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing about Casarez’s opinions–including the glorification of mass shooters–that isn’t repugnant. By every measure we can see, he’s a disgusting excuse for a human being.
However, that’s not illegal. If it were, half of Congress would probably be behind bars as well.
Yet has Casarez’s actions been sufficient to warrant a gun violence restraining order? I don’t think so. Of course, I’m not an attorney. Yet attorney Eugene Volokh over at The Volokh Conspiracy seems to agree with me.
If Casarez was actually involved in specific acts of violence, or conspired to commit violence, or solicited specific acts of violence against particular people, he could certainly be arrested for those crimes (again, whether the completed crimes, or conspiracy or solicitation, which are themselves crimes). His gun could then potentially be seized, either if they were evidence or perhaps as a condition of pretrial release; and some courts have upheld restrictions on gun possession by people who are under indictment, especially if there is some specific reason to be concerned that the person will use the guns illegally. And the TV segment in the story above suggests that Casarez had mentioned that some particular (bleeped-out) person “still deserves to be raped and murdered,” which might in context justify at least a search and perhaps a charge for solicitation of crime (though it all depends on exactly what Casarez was said, which isn’t clear).
But nothing in the quoted statements from Sheriff’s Office officials suggests that the “gun violence restraining order” and gun seizure stemmed from any crime he had committed (including conspiracy or solicitation); it sounds like the basis for the “gun violence restraining order” is his political rhetoric.
He added that he has what looks like the relevant court documents, but he hasn’t been able to verify that.
Based on what Volokh and I can see, though, it looks like Casarez was targeted because he was “the wrong sort” and not because there was any actionable intelligence that he was a threat to anyone. So far, it looks like he’s a big talker and that’s about it.
Of course, it’s easy to overreach with a person like Casarez. Authorities can do all kinds of stuff that would get them eviscerated in the media with someone like him because so few people would want to defend him. His opinions are that vile.
The problem is, if we don’t stand up for someone whose opinions we find vile, we’re hypocrites. Personally, I’ll defend the rights of anyone, even those I’d spend a lifetime opposing in every other way.
At the end of the day, it sure looks like Casarez had his guns taken away because of what he said and thinks, not because of what he may or may not do. If that doesn’t bother you, it should.
After all, the next person whose guns might get yanked because they voiced some unapproved thoughts might well be yours.