Online threats target Denver investigators
R. A. Hettinga
rah at shipwright.com
Mon Jul 7 20:17:50 PDT 2003
Online threats target Denver investigators
Anarchist says e-mails
harmless; feds disagree
By Jim Hughes
Denver Post Staff Writer
July 07, 2003 - An anarchist using the online moniker "Professor Rat" has
threatened the lives of two federal terrorism investigators in Denver,
advocating that they "need killing."
The threats name an FBI agent
assigned to the local multiagency Joint Terrorism Task Force and the
government's lead prosecutor of terrorism cases in Colorado.
those who travel in the same online circles as Professor Rat say his
provocations are not to be taken seriously, officials say they are
concerned about the threats, which were sent to an e-mail listserv and
posted on the Internet in April.
"The recipients of the threats have no
way to discern their validity," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S.
attorney's office. "They cause fear and they disrupt lives, and it's for
that reason that they're taken very seriously.
"It's more than the
individual targets. It's the families and those associated with them," he
That is the purpose of the postings, an Australian man who admits
to using the Professor Rat name and to posting these kinds of threats said
in a telephone interview and a series of e-mails: To scare people out of
working for the government.
He refused to admit to any specific threat,
to avoid prosecution, he said. He already is charged with making similar
threats against police in Australia, according to the Victoria Police in
Saying that his real name was Matt Taylor and that he was 48
years old, Professor Rat said he promotes a theory called Assassination
Politics that emerged at the periphery of cyberanarchist circles in 1997.
The concept is that of an online lottery in which people bet on a date
that public figures will die. The implication is that the lottery "winner"
likely helped arrange the death. Winnings would be paid in untraceable
digital cash, which does not yet exist.
The development of digital money,
and encryption software restricting government's ability to monitor
Internet activity, are common goals among the online anarchists and
libertarians known as "cypherpunks."
The ultimate purpose of
Assassination Politics is to deter people from working for government
agencies, corporate media outlets or institutions "beholden to the violence
of the state," Taylor said.
Professor Rat also has threatened a
University of Ottawa law professor, a columnist for The Boston Globe and a
Cincinnati police officer.
Many of those threats were posted to a
listserv called Cypherpunks.
The e-mail distribution network allows
libertarians and anarchists interested in the tension between government
oversight and individual liberty on the Internet to discuss those issues
via e-mails that when sent to the listserv are distributed to all members.
Dorschner would not say whether there was an investigation into Professor
Rat, calling the matter an issue of "internal security."
for The Boston Globe, whose sin, in the eyes of Professor Rat, was to
criticize civil libertarians for objecting to the Patriot Act of 2001, said
he did not take the threat at all seriously.
He learned of the threat
only last week, when told of it by The Denver Post, he said.
The Post is
withholding the names of the subjects of posts by Professor Rat to avoid
promoting any specific threats.
"The way I see it, this kind of talk is
pretty cheap on the Internet," the columnist said. "This is something I
would consider casual hate speech. This person didn't send me an e-mail
saying 'I'm going to kill you."'
But officials in Denver see nothing
casual about the statements, Dorschner said.
In an interview, Taylor
taunted the Denver officials named in the April 8 statement.
welcome to come and get me extradited," he said. "Here I am. Come and get
The Cypherpunks listserv is also where Jim Bell, an MIT-trained
chemist and Washington anarchist who now is in prison for interstate
stalking of federal agents, unveiled his Assassination Politics. He was
convicted in 2001.
Federal prosecutors in Seattle that year also won a
conviction against Carl Johnson, a Canadian man accused of threatening
federal judges and Microsoft founder Bill Gates by e-mail.
Later in 2001,
Thomas Wales, a federal prosecutor in Seattle, was shot to death. Though
his death was noted on the Cypherpunks listserv, no connection to
Assassination Politics has ever been made. The case remains unsolved.
John Hartingh, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle,
declined to comment on Wales' death.
Taylor said his threats are intended
solely as a rhetorical deterrent.
"No one has to die," he said. "All that
has to happen is for people to accept the system."
If anyone Taylor
threatened ever was assassinated, "I would totally reassess my involvement
in it," he said. "It would totally change the whole situation. Basically,
I'm a nonviolent person."
The posts made by Professor Rat fall under a
relatively new category of crime known as "cyberstalking," said Jim Doyle,
a retired New York City police sergeant who now works as a cybercrimes
consultant for a Connecticut company called Internet Crimes.
statements made by Professor Rat constitute prosecutable offenses, he said.
"The bottom line is what the victim feels," he said. "Is the victim
threatened? Is the victim alarmed? Hey, that's a crime."
Eugene Volokh, a
law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles and a First
Amendment specialist, said the threats were probably criminal, given
Taylor's description of the purpose of Assassination Politics.
order to (prosecute), you have to get your hands on the guy," he said.
Most current Cypherpunks subscribers have set up their e-mail in-boxes to
block any messages coming from Taylor, said Declan McCullagh, a reporter
for the high-tech website CNET.com. He has subscribed to Cypherpunks for 10
years, he said.
Taylor exists on the "radical fringe" of online
anarchists, McCullagh said. "He's routinely ignored and 'kill-filed' by
just about everyone on the list. I'd be surprised if more than a small
handful of people are reading his postings, let alone taking him
Taylor acknowledged that he does not not have much support in
"Most anarchists see what I'm doing as
counterproductive. ... I'm not exactly at the center of anarchism by
promoting Assassination Politics, that's for sure."
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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