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How NOT to do Illegal Liberty Activism

If your activism is illegal, don’t incriminate yourself. Be discreet instead.

If you’re going to engage in activism that’s illegal, be prudent. Don’t videotape it. Don’t publish it on your YouTube account. Don’t show yourself doing it. Don’t leave fingerprints! Don’t show your silhouette at the scene of the crime. And whatever you do, don’t publish evidence of your presence at the scene of the crime at the time of the crime! Going to jail is not fun. It’s expensive. It’s painful. If you can avoid it, don’t incriminate yourself. At least make the thugs break a sweat.

I am a huge fan of Pete and Adam, but they screwed up with this video. They incriminated themselves in vandalism of stop signs in the Atlanta area. Libertarian activists often find ourselves in the grey area between lawful and legal. If your activism might be illegal, don’t talk about it with untrusted associates. Certainly don’t broadcast it to the world. Oh and don’t allow a third party to post to your website the name of the person who is distributing the stickers! Come on people. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Pete and Adam are happy with their video as it stands. But if anyone is thinking of repeating their work, my hypothetical advice is do the op, shoot the video but don’t show the stickers being placed. Show them only after they’ve been placed. Use gloves so there won’t be fingerprints. Place them somewhere you are never known to frequent. Don’t show any landmarks in the area. Before you publish the video, make sure to remove any metadata that might connect it to you or your camera. Publish it through a proxy or Tor using a one-off throwaway YouTube account. Let someone else discreetly break the story in social media.

Going to jail for a cause is noble. Going to jail because you weren’t discreet is a downer. Choose wisely.

P.S. Don’t get me wrong. I love Pete and Adam. I’ve learned a lot from them. They are at the cutting edge of liberty activism, especially for accelerating it with online video. For some of their other videos, see:

By George Donnelly

I'm building a tribe of radical libertarians to voluntarize the world by 2064. Join me.

7 replies on “How NOT to do Illegal Liberty Activism”

George,

– First, what is illegal? I understand it to be words on paper that people who claim to have authority over me decided on. It’s not something I agreed to nor is it something that should keep anyone from doing something that they feel is right. Especially when it doesn’t violate anyone’s person or property but I’ll touch on that later.

– Pete and I always weigh the risk vs reward factor when doing activism. I highly doubt that people would call the cops once seeing a sticker on a stop sign. Something that has been happening for decades. Let alone get a finger print technician to come out and finger print the signs/stickers. Something your readers, ones less experienced in activism, might be lead to believe here.

– Even if they did call the police so what. I’m in full support of activism that doesn’t infringe on someone else’s person or property. You used the term vandalism, which I think is incorrect. How do you vandalise property that isn’t owned by anyone?

– Also in terms of incriminating yourselves. Aren’t most forms of activism illegal? Even if not clearly illegal, like FIJA outreach, the police/state will group you under some catch all law like disorderly conduct or assaulting/obstructing an officer.

Are you suggesting that people who do FIJA outreach, openly use drugs in public spaces and the Grafton Gulch folks refrain from videoing their peaceful acts? When I do activism I do it not only to encourage others but also to show the violence the system will use against one. If I’m unable, due to your recommendation to refrain from filming, to show my peaceful act then how could I expect people to support me when the state uses violence. Point being that if the police would come to arrest me for allegedly putting stickers on stop signs they could lie and say I did more than what can be seen if I had such a video. I feel that people who can see a peaceful act on video and then see/hear the force the state will use would side with the peaceful acts. Or at least decide that they wouldn’t want their (stolen) money used to cage a person for such act.

I hope your readers understand that there is always a risk when engaging the state. Whether that be doing activism, pulled over by the police or paying your taxes. I hope they understand that they need to decide, for themselves, what is on the line and if they are willing to lose such things because I feel this post only scares them from taking a public/active roll in doing so.

You could be charged with vandalism. That’s what is illegal.

I respect your ability to weigh risks. I would regret to see someone else repeat this and then get put through the ringer over it because they were careless. It costs the state nothing to send out someone to pull a fingerprint and run it. We know that cops will make special efforts to hurt people that cross them. And we know that liberty activists sometimes cross cops.

While in reality you may have homesteaded those signs, or a part of them, in our current context state agents may think you have committed vandalism. I’m not criticizing you guys philosophically. I’m not saying it’s a bad op. I’m just saying you should have been more careful about how you went about your op.

That the cops hang any charge they like on you is a separate issue. What I am talking about is self-incrimination. You could have achieved your goals without incriminating yourselves.

Handing out fully informed jury pamphlets in front of courthouses is not illegal yet.

Is there actually video out there of 420ers lighting up cannabis in public? Of the Gulchers selling food without state permission? While I haven’t specifically gone looking for that, I watch a lot of activism videos and haven’t noticed it. I have seen Gulchers cooking food and talking about selling food but I don’t remember seeing anything that could end up as Exhibit A in a criminal trial.

That said, there is a significant difference. Gulch and 420 activists who violate state edicts in public do so for a cause and without trying to hide (much?). Judging by the style of this film, you guys *were* attempting to be discreet. You just seemed to be going about in a careless manner.

My point is you could have done your activism op, achieved your goals, without putting evidence against yourselves in front of the world.

I’m not sure why you think my comments would scare people off. I suggested an alternate way of doing the same op that doesn’t lead to self-incrimination. I like your op. I just think it’s a dangerous example to imitate. Activists should be aware of the dangers of illegal activism before they find themselves in a world of hurt. I hope posts like this one can help people identify where exactly the line is.

I know that we don’t always see eye to eye, George, but then you go and put up something that makes me adore you.

I agree wholeheartedly (including your follow up comment directed at Adam). The funny thing is that I’ve been working on a post about internet privacy and how easy it is to track down info like your address, phone numbers, employers, etc. (or, as they say on ye olde 4chan: your dox). This video might as well say “Hi, my name is so and so and this is my friend so and so. We’re now going to break the law! We’re currently in this location and will be hitting the following stop signs! You can reach me here, here, or here.”

It’s already easy to track someone down with just one little clue. It’s even easier when you give them a road map to do so.

This qualifies as poo-pooing in my book.

Maybe they care so much about their activism that they would risk detention and hassling by the police and possibly even *welcome it* as an opportunity to jam up the system?

Some people are willing to fight the enemy head on, and they should also have your support and respect if they are willing to be held publically accountable for their actions.

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