October 14, 2011

Panic On Infowars

Hatched by Dafydd

Be not afraid; be very not afraid!

The website Infowars.com has once again gone off the rails on the hysteria train. They sent out an alert today (picked up by Drudge) which was headlined:

House Bill Would Criminalize Satire of TSA!!1!

(I added the prank punctuation at the end, but it's clearly implied by the header.)

Infowars plucks a single, one-paragraph section from the bowels of a bill wending its way through the House of Representatives. The bill appears to be a resolution funding the Transportation Security Agency -- those kind folks responsible for treating us all like dog dirt whenever we make the mistake of moving about the country by means of any public transportation whatsoever; but section 295 of that bill, which elicited the squeal from Infowars, deals with a somewhat different topic:

SEC. 295. PROTECTION OF THE NAMES FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL AND ADMINISTRATION.

Section 709 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting ‘or’ after the semicolon at the end of the fourteenth undesignated paragraph; and

(2) by inserting after such paragraph the following new paragraph:

‘Whoever, except with the written permission of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Security (or the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service for issues involving the Federal Air Marshal Service), knowingly uses the words ‘Transportation Security Administration’, ‘United States Transportation Security Administration’, ‘Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘United States Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘Federal Air Marshals’, the initials ‘T.S.A.’, ‘F.A.M.S.’, ‘F.A.M.’, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, or the likeness of a Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service badge, logo, or insignia on any item of apparel, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or with any play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a matter that is reasonably calculated to convey the impression that the wearer of the item of apparel is acting pursuant to the legal authority of the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service, or to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or such play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service;’.

(The curious emphasis in the paragraph above is courtesy Infowars; I have no idea why they chose those particular words to boldface. Why not also boldface reverences to the "Federal Air Marshal Service badge, logo, or insignia," which is covered by the same section? Could it be because federal marshals, unlike the TSA, actually test positive in public-opinion polling?)

Here's Infowars' "analysis" of that section:

In the past, satire was protected under the First Amendment, but it may soon be illegal to poke fun at the TSA or use its logo or even utter its name. Notice there is no exception in the above language for parody.

Political satire is as old as the Greeks and the Bible. But it may now become a punishable crime if this legislation is enacted.

I hope nobody gets the mistaken impression that I like the TSA; alas, I'm on their side on this one, teensy, special occasion. Section 295 amends a previous law (USC Title 18, § 709 False advertising or misuse of names to indicate Federal agency) by adding the new TSA/Federal Air Marshal Service paragraph that's got Infowars' twickers in such a knist.

All right, that bumps understanding to the next train station; what does that section say? Section 709 of title 18 comprises, funnily enough, a series of protected names and titles of federal agencies or corporations, making it illegal for other folks or corporations to falsely use those names or titles in order actually to deceive, under penalty of a fine or imprisonment. For example, it makes it a federal crime for someone not authorized by, say, the FBI to send a letter falsely purporting to be from the FBI, or to flash a fake FBI badge, in order to induce the mark to buy some product -- supposed access to the FBI's fingerprint file, for example.

And lo! Check out the shocking coincidence of this earlier paragraph, which has long been found in section 709:

Whoever, except with the written permission of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, knowingly uses the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation” or the initials “F.B.I.”, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or

Or the very next paragraph:

Whoever, except with written permission of the Director of the United States Secret Service, knowingly uses the words “Secret Service”, “Secret Service Uniformed Division”, the initials “U.S.S.S.”, “U.D.”, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with, or as a part of any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, other production, product, or item, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, product, or item, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by or associated in any manner with, the United States Secret Service, or the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division; or

Sound familiar? The new paragraph from the TSA funding bill simply mimics the previous language, appending the TSA and the Air Marshals to the end of the list of protected agency names (and adding t-shirts to the prohibited media).

In fact, the first fourteen paragraphs of section 709 (soon, perhaps, to be fifteen paragraphs) comprise nothing but the same wording above (or words to like effect), protecting the names of a number of different federal agencies, such as the FDIC, or the Federal Home Loan Bank, HUD, DEA, etc, from actual criminal misuse -- not from satire or parody, or other dramatic depictions. After all the "whoevers," the statute of section 709 ends thus:

Shall be punished as follows: a corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business entity, by a fine under this title; an officer or member thereof participating or knowingly acquiescing in such violation or any individual violating this section, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

In other words, the law punishes people who falsely represent themselves as agents of some federal agency with the actual attempt to mislead. How do we know that? Just read the U.S. Code and pay particular attention to the following language, included (with slight variations) in every parargraph that defines the crime:

...in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the [agency]. [My own emphasis -- DaH]

As I read the history of the act, section 709 appears to have been first enacted in 1948; the language quoted above protecting the name of the FBI was added in 1954. So the same language that Infowars is freaking out about today has been in federal law for more than sixty years.

In all that time, I'm sure a case or two must have come to court and been adjudicated. Yet writers appear to have written many movies, tv shows, books, and even pointed satires or parodies about the FBI, et al, with nobody going to jail or paying a fine for the crime of lèse-majesté.

I certainly wouldn't demand an apology or retraction from Infowars; the First Amendment gives us all the right to exercise freedom of speech by making utter fools of ourselves -- a sacred right I've wallowed in myself on many occasions!

But at the very least, Infowars (and anyone taken in by them) should turn crimson with embarassment.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 14, 2011, at the time of 2:15 PM

Comments

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)


Remember me unto the end of days?


© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved