A special report by correspondent Douglas Lucas.
Journalist Barrett Brown has been released from FCI Seagoville today.
The 35-year-old, known for his advocacy of Anonymous and an incarceration of more than four years in part for journalism related to the 2011 hack of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, was arrested April 27 while on home confinement the day before an interview scheduled with a camera crew for the government-funded Public Broadcasting Service.
In Dallas, the prisoner had recorded two April 26 phone calls in which he asks for the basis for attempts to compel him to obtain permission for media interaction. During the first, his case manager Victoria Dean and Merrill Wells, the state director of the Volunteers of America halfway house system in Texas, ask him to turn in forms for approval of the upcoming interview. During the second, he asks Luz Lujan of the Bureau of Prisons for the portion of the program statement he says she said would give the agency the right of prior restraint over his journalistic discussions.
Less than 24 hours after these conversations, the United States Marshals Service took him into custody. One of the marshals actually knew him and reads his columns, according to Brown.
But what of the legal dispute between Brown and his interlocuters? Alex Friedman, managing editor of Prison Legal News, told this writer:
If he was on home confinement, then he was effectively under the custody (and thus the rules) of the BOP [Bureau of Prisons]. If the rules and/or conditions of his home confinement included limits on media access, then he was supposed to follow them. Of course such rules may be unconstitutional and violative of the First Amendment, but that’s something that needs to be challenged in court.
Until that happens, the BOP can (and has) returned him to prison for failure to abide by BOP policies related to media access. This is simply a way for federal prison officials to silence and punish someone based on their media activities, which is done selectively. Had Mr. Brown given media interviews lauding the BOP, it’s doubtful he would have been arrested, for example.
Basically, people on home confinement may have the right to participate in media interviews, but do so at the risk of angering the BOP and thus returning to prison absent a court order that prohibits the BOP from doing so.
In response, and hoping to clarify further in the coming days, Brown argued to me:
There are no such conditions. Even if you’re an inmate–in the federal Bureau, there’s a program statement that says what you’re getting into. There’s nothing in that program statement–which is publicly accessible–that says I can’t contact [media]. I don’t have to get permission to talk to a journalist. The forms they were trying to have me fill out were the forms for journalists to get into a prison and talk to a prisoner at an institution–the form is very clear on that, what it is. They never actually claimed I was under a rule, they just kind of like, they didn’t really answer that question. I’m aware of the home confinement thing, what I’m subject to, what I’m not subject to. I’m subject to a lot of the same things as inmates, but even inmates do not require prior permission to talk to the press.
Indeed, Brown has been communicating with and publishing in press the throughout his incarceration. A case similar in some respects was that of environmental activist Daniel McGowan.
Zoom all the way out
Imagine that by reading the above you were just examining something on the ground very closely, and now you are warping out far into outer space to look at the entire globe.
The planet is likely doomed soon. According to some climate forecasts, human extinction occurs in under 3200 days. At any moment Trump might blow everyone up. This is not new, but it’s getting worse.
How do these two scopes of analysis connect? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. May I suggest reading A Societal Singularity by Heather Marsh and checking out GetGee and using that content as a way to bridge the gap I’m leaving. For my part, I’ve been trying, inter alia, to write a post comparing anti-democracy in Binding Chaos and Nietzsche…