07 August 2008

Presumption of Innocence

Raymond Hunter Geisel is being prosecuted for allegedly saying that he would like to kill Senator Obama and/or President Bush. We ought to view his case the same way we've learned to think about alleged terrorist cells that get broken up. In these cases, the plots that the government boasts of thwarting prove to be little more than pipe dreams or wishful thinking. Geisel happened to own guns, and might be considered a gun nut, but words and gun ownership do not prove that the man planned to kill a politician. Given what we know about Geisel, some people might say "better safe than sorry," but the logical extension of that thought is the pre-emptive imprisonment of anyone who thinks that revolutionary change might someday be necessary for this country. That would be inconsistent with a nation founded on an affirmation of the right to revolution. The nation need not acquiesce or capitulate to any new revolution without a fight, but until someone is actually fighting, there should be some room for theoretical talk, even if it sounds violent or dangerous. In some cases, revolutionary talk might well serve as a warning that the country is going wrong, or as a cue for peaceful reform. In others, it can all be dismissed as crackpot talk. But if we arrest people for talk alone, without proof of concrete plans for action, then we've established "thoughtcrime" as a legal category, and it might well be time for people to consider all their options.

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