Let someone else say “Bottle of gas, rag stopper” go to Prison.

The legal escalation in the USA has reached ridiculous levels on several fronts. From the change of “rape” to mean all sorts of non-rape things (like failure to ask for an OK at every individual step of a sexual encounter – that can be applied retroactively – or honestly thinking that a 17 1/2 year old was 18) to “assault on a police officer” meaning they grabbed your arm and you tensed up (who wouldn’t? but they claim that is a pulling away and not just “resisting arrest” but assault on the officer).

I’d not expected this one, though. Seems that back in about 1990 a law was passed that makes it illegal to speak about fire. Yup. “Incendiary Devices”. How did I come to this knowledge? Well, it’s an interesting little story in it’s own right. I started at airplanes. The B-36. It has always interested me as it had 10 engines, 6 of them radial prop engines (with 4 banks of 7 cylinders each for 28 pistons and 56 spark plugs per engine! That’s 348 spark plugs to change at a tune up!) and 4 of them jet turbines. Looking at it, there was a link to the Pumpkin Bomb. I’d never heard of that one, so off I went. That, then, lead to other bombs, including the widespread use of incendiary bomb loads in W.W.II by lots of folks, including the USA and Britain. That page mentioned other incendiaries and I ended up looking at a Molotov Cocktail page (the Finns named and invented it, BTW, for use against Russian tanks). Another random search landed me on this page:


But before I explore that in a bit more depth, that Pumpkin Bomb…

It’s an interesting story, scattered between the B-29 pages and the Pumpkin Bomb pages. Turns out there was a whole lot of work needed to convert the B-29 into something that could actually carry a nuke. They decided to make a “mock up” of the Fat Man bomb for testing (using cement inside) and someone else thought “Hey, why not use one full of explosives and get some practice?”. The end result was what looks a whole lot like Fat Man with about 10,000 lbs of explosives in it. 49 of them were dropped on Japan as the pilots practiced the “drop and turn away” for the real nuke. This, too, conditioned the Japanese to think that the small flights of 3 planes didn’t drop many bombs and were not all that important, so didn’t bother sending up a bunch of fighters. All rather well thought out. A fascinating little story all on its own.

But back at that Sherman Martin Austin page…

It is the sad tail of a juvenile (at the time it happened, 20 when sentenced) running a web server with radical ideas getting busted for having someone ELSE put directions on how to make a Molotov cocktail on his server. (He had open posting space, rather like many folks do). Now I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the guy based around the rest of his attitudes and antics (the typical “tear down the oppressor establishment” radical stuff); BUT, the case against him was VERY weak, partly a “set up” (aka “sting”) and essentially came down to “don’t like what you said”. So they got him on a “Let someone ELSE speak in an unapproved way” charge. Really.

IMHO, he could have beaten this both on the facts of the case and on the need for “intent” for that to do damage, but his mom and lawyer had him take a plea bargain and he went to prison for a year. The details of THAT are even significantly dodgy, IMHO. But you can read the article to get the details. Here’s a couple of quotes as “teasers”:

OCTOBER 11, 2003
The Strange and Tragic Case of Sherman Martin Austin

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003, Sherman Martin Austin began serving one year in federal prison under terms of a plea agreement for which he was sentenced on Aug. 4, 2003.

Austin, the 20-year-old African-American founder and former webmaster of the anarchist website www. raisethefist. com, pleaded guilty to “distribution” of information about making or using explosives with the “intent” that the information “be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.” Such was deemed illegal under a relatively obscure federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 842 (p)(2)(A), pushed through Congress by Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the late 1990s. The offending material, which Austin repeatedly has emphasized he did not author, was housed on an isolated section of Austin’s web server, and a small portion of it contained amateurish instructions on how to assemble simple explosives.
Austin’s anarchist site, which still operates today and is maintained by a group of volunteers, contains articles and sub-sections about a hodgepodge of topics, including protest announcements, police brutality, and anarchist theory. It also features what is known as an open publishing newswire, made famous by the indymedia.org network of sites, that allows users to submit text and photographs that instantly appear on the newswire at the push of a button. Additionally, Austin provided free web storage space–or hosting space, to use proper Internet terminology–to activists who asked for it. Activists who took up Austin’s offer could, independently of Austin, and at their leisure and will, post, remove, and alter web pages they themselves created and authored.

In other words, if you were to ask Austin for hosting space, and he granted it to you, he would “host” your page, and you would be able to author web pages and place them on his server for public view without Austin’s necessarily knowing their exact contents or what subsequent alterations you might make (unless, of course, he vigilantly policed your pages regularly for changes).

Other non-political websites like www. tripod. com or www. geocities. com provide a similar service. For example, on his or her designated area of the tripod.com web server, a user who signs up for free web hosting space on tripod.com can post web pages visible to an entire Internet audience. Services like tripod.com and geocities.com act as “hosts,” but typically do not have the time to screen the contents of all the web pages they host for thousands of users.

It is Austin’s offering of this service that led to the sole charge on his guilty plea, which resulted in the one-year sentence. One user who asked for free hosting space on Austin’s site used a portion of it to house a tract called the Reclaim Guide. Prepared originally for a September 2001 IMF protest that never occurred due to 9/11, and colored by amateurish rhetorical bombast, the Guide contains, among other things, protest tactics, notes on how to avoid trouble with law enforcement at political events, and a small section with recipes for explosives. Its latter part appears cobbled together from and inspired by instructions on explosives freely available on countless websites accessible by simple Google searches, as well as published books. They do not appear very detailed, or for that matter, effective.

Further down, you find out it isn’t “explosives” but “incendiaries” that’s the real “crime” here. Oh, there’s also a wiki about the guy with a shorter less politically aware version of the story:


But the “bottom line” for me was that he was the Admin of the site and not the AUTHOR of the information. (Sure, he authored a lot of other stuff, and maybe even had some questionable materials, but for the thing charged, he was just the site Admin). So if you have a page like this:


And someone can plausibly attach to you the notion that you had “intent” that it be used in some way, you can go to prison. For speech.

The law in question, at the very end, makes it a Felony to “teach” or “demonstrate” a “destructive device” or “weapon of mass destruction”

(2) Prohibition.—It shall be unlawful for any person—
(A) to teach or demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence; or
(B) to teach or demonstrate to any person the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute to any person, by any means, information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, knowing that such person intends to use the teaching, demonstration, or information for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.

OK, we’re all Fine With That, right? Not wanting nukes in our back yard and all… But remember that escalation of what are crimes thing? Maybe we need to look a tiny bit deeper, eh? Bold bits mine:


(c)Definitions.—For purposes of this section—

(1) the term “national of the United States” has the meaning given in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22));
(2) the term “weapon of mass destruction” means—

(A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
(B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
(C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
(D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life; and

[… skipping down to that section 921]

(4) The term “destructive device” means—
(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
(i) bomb,
(ii) grenade,
(iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
(iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
(v) mine, or
(vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;

So now “weapon of mass destruction” via that chain of definitions ends up as a model rocket with more than a 4 ounce engine, or any incendiary with more than one-quarter ounce in it (bottle rockets anyone?) and thanks to that provision ‘A’ any incendiary “grenade”, i.e. a coke bottle of gasoline. Who knew? Though even if it escaped from the WMD relabel, it’s still a “destructive device” and telling someone how to put gas in a bottle is, it seems, “teaching” or “dissemination”.

Now it does include a ‘softener’ in that one must be doing it for the furtherance of a Federal Crime of violence, but again, that ‘what is a violent crime’ might not be so violent… Remember that “Assault” on a police office can now just be that you tensed up when your arm was suddenly grabbed. Oh, and the officer need not be in uniform.

Further down in the article, it is clear that folks in law enforcement and government want more of this, not less:

But progressives and civil liberties advocates might want to start paying attention. On the day Austin began his prison sentence, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who helped push through the federal statute to which Austin ultimately pleaded guilty, issued a Sept. 3, 2003 press release lamenting that Austin’s conviction is only the first under the law, which has been on the books for a few years. The press release excerpted a letter Sen. Feinstein sent to Attorney General John Ashcroft hoping for more.

“However, I remain concerned by reports that federal prosecutors may not be taking this important anti-terrorism tool seriously,” wrote Feinstein to Ashcroft. “Thus, I write to request your assistance in ensuring that DOJ [Dept. of Justice] personnel know about section 842(p) and are aggressively enforcing it.”

The letter also indicates that FBI Director Robert Mueller, at Feinstein’s request, recently sent out a memo to FBI field offices “encouraging awareness and enforcement” of the statute.

And just a few weeks ago on Aug. 28, 2003, a home in San Diego was raided by FBI. The warrant for the raid invoked 842(p) and called for seizure of a videotape that allegedly contained footage of controversial environmental activist Rod Coronado explaining to an audience how to make an incendiary device.

San Diego activist Michael Cardenas, who shot the footage, and who used to live in the raided home where his girlfriend now resides, said that he had invited Coronado to “Revolution Summer,” a summer-long series of San Diego teach-ins on miscellaneous topics that Cardenas helped organize. Cardenas says that someone in the audience randomly asked Coronado how to build such devices, and that the latter proceeded to explain.

Cardenas is not sure how the FBI knew of his videotaping.

So just remember, if anyone asks you how to make a Molotov Cocktail, say in response: “I don’t know, ask the internet.” I think professed ignorance can’t be called “teaching”… though maybe a pointer to The Internet could be considered “disseminating”… On second though, just say “I don’t know. Don’t do it.”…

Just To Be Clear

It is not my intent, in any way, that anything on this blog be used for anything criminal or impolite or even that might annoy the neighbor’s cat. Everything here is just out of curiosity about how the world works, nothing more. Anyone with any criminal intent is forbidden to read anything here at any time. (Hopefully that’s enough to assure that if I accidentally say how to make ANFO I don’t end up in the slammer. ANFO stands for Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil as that’s what it’s made of, but I won’t tell you how much of each as that might be “teaching”…Though apparently the Wiki can do it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANFO )


In Conclusion

I’m not sure there is a conclusion. It’s now reached the point where saying “if you mix those it might blow up and kill you” can get you arrested, or if you DO mix them, it’s a crime even if it doesn’t blow up. That same law makes the ‘manufacture’ of explosives a crime. Since a whole lot of things can blow up all on their own, like, oh, dust; that’s a mighty wide net. So if I’m teaching a safety class and I say “Take the dust filters out of a grain silo operation and having a sparking engine or open electric motor spark nearby can blow the place up”, I guess I’ll need to prove my intent was only that folks NOT do that? Somehow? So we all better make sure we don’t make dust anywhere, as that could be seen as “manufacture of an explosive”…

I fear the world of law has gone insane. A roman candle is a weapon of mass destruction and making dust in air is a federal offence. And a kid goes to prison because someone else said “put a rag stopper in a bottle of gas” on his web site. But it’s OK because he had “bad think” and “intent”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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15 Responses to Let someone else say “Bottle of gas, rag stopper” go to Prison.

  1. omanuel says:

    Thanks for this post. The US Department of Justice and the US Attorney General have discussed prosecution of scientists that doubt AGW dogma.

    Ted Cruz may be one Presidential candidate in the 2016 election that will know he cannot trust advice from the US National Academy of Sciences:


    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  2. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes things go places which were not intended very often in government. Laws that require good intent for proper enforcement are absolutely evil because sooner or later someone with bad intent will twist the law to suit their own ends and then you end up with our current situation where most people commit a technical felony several times a week.

    Years ago when I worked for the state of Colorado in Emergency Management the issue of home made devices like Molotov Cocktails got lots of attention, and one of our legislators tried to write a law outlawing their construction. The wording of the law was so broad that it included kerosene lamps with glass bottoms and common alcohol lamps with glass bottle bases used in children’s chemistry sets and by all sorts of hobbyists for years (still available at Hobby Lobby last time I checked).

    I called her up and explained to her that her overly broad definition was a problem and would make thousands or Colorado citizens criminals without their knowledge.

    As a result of my discussion with her she amended her proposal, and added the last sentence in this definition. (by the way, is the law in violation of the law, by describing construction of the device??)

    Colorado Revised Statutes 2014
    9-7-103. Definitions.
    (5) “Molotov cocktail” means a breakable container containing an explosive or flammable liquid
    or other substance, having a wick or similar device capable of being ignited, and maybe described
    as either an explosive or incendiary device.
    A molotov cocktail is not intended to mean a device commercially manufactured primarily
    for the purpose of illumination or other such uses.

  3. Ian W says:

    Unfortunately, this is what happens when the people’s representatives are professional politicians eager to make their name and with woeful lack of logic or understanding of the real world. When anything happens their first reaction is that they have to legislate, rather than understand which of the existing plethora of laws should actually have been correctly applied. While Texas is almost there with its limit on the number of days representatives are in session, politics should not be seen as a career and livelihood. Nobody should be allowed into politics without 10 years record of constructive employment in a field completely unrelated to politics (i,e, not a lobbyist or political science professor etc.) they should also have a term limit of say 15 years total in politics, and that includes town councils. Finally, no Bill introducing a law should be passed without the repeal of an old law.

  4. wyoskeptic says:

    Recent events are starting to make me wonder if maybe the entire solar system has somehow, in moving through the space time continuum, drifted into either the Twilight zone or The Outer Limits. Nothing much seems to make much sense to me any more. No matter where I look it seems like sheer madness stacked on top of more madness.

  5. Larry Ledwick says:

    I sometimes get the same feeling, many of the things going on now would have been absolutely unthinkable just a couple decades ago. I think this is what the Chinese mean by “interesting times”.

    I have come to the conclusion that we are in a period of rapid change and upheavel in all sorts of things we used to take for granted and people in their own way are frantically flopping around like fish out of water trying to get to something that they are comfortable with.

    Some of the same feel was in the air in the late 1960’s into the early 1970’s, as entire social constructs got tossed on their head. Flower power, LSD, the anti-war movement for Vietnam all have a familiarity to them in today’s events. For example the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention street riots and burning and looting in Watts are direct analogs to Ferguson, Missouri riots and the Baltimore riots in April 2015 and last nights protests at the Trump rally in Chicago. Interestingly enough some of the same actors involved in both, as Bill Ayers who was with the Weather Underground, and participated in bombings of the New York City police headquarters in 1970 was out in the streets last night in Chicago talking up the protest against Trump.

    We I guess are just going through another cycle of that sort of street theater for change by the professional protesters, trying to stir up discontent and create as much chaos as possible.

    The recent political correctness antics of the college kids of today is very similar to the totally bazaar events of the hippies in the 1960s where they tried to see how far outside the social envelope they could go with things like drugs nudity and protests against all levels of government.

    Sort of a swinging pendulum I guess and we are back on the swing to the left cycle now. If events follow history we are in for a year or two of increasing social disorder and another cycle of violence like the weather underground, and like last time the extreme left will do it and justify it by the vices of the right. Only this time they have a society that has prepped for 20 years by the far left culture in the universities and 7 years of extreme behavior in government which has vilified the police and encouraged street actions, and a media who is complacent with encouraging that sort of behavior. I can guess where that is going to go if sane players don’t get involved soon.

    This guy posted on the results of officially sanctioned encouragement of grievance politics and where it can lead if not restrained. I hope it never goes that far, but I am worried that the social powder keg is ready for just the right spark.


  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, on the positive side, at least now we can say with absolute certainty that there WERE WMD in Iraq… as just about every military munition falls under this official USA legal definition.

    1/2 ;-)

    or maybe that’s a 8-{}

  7. spetzer86 says:

    And maybe it’s just all part of the general plan. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/319903-did-you-really-think-we-want-those-laws-observed-said

    Ayn Rand got a lot of things right decades ago. Of late, it just seems like you can riffle through the pages of Atlas Shrugged or read today’s NYT and get the same stories.

  8. omanuel says:

    For the 2016 Presidential election, we need Ted Cruz to beat Hillary Clinton and transform the US National Academy of Sciences back into an organization to benefit the American public and away from being a front organization for Stalin’s “consensus Science:


    Cruz might appoint Donald Trump to represent the United States at the UN and change that organization back from being a front organization for the USSR government.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    Everything about the United Nations reeks of One World Socialist Government or Communism. It is setup and operated as a communist party organization. Every part, during it’s creation, had to be agreed to by the Soviet Union’s Joe Stalin and the American Communist lead State Department.
    Repairing it is not possible. It is flawed from top to bottom in all parts. It is the Golden rope funded by the west and being used by the communists to enslave the world…pg

  10. omanuel says:

    I agree with p.g.sharrow.

    The 2016 presidential election is getting ugly because the outcome might end seventy years (1946-2016) of Stalin’s falsehoods disguised as “consensus science.”

  11. John Robertson says:

    Under these conditions, we cannot be said to have any rule of law.
    The blind worms gnawing on the foundations of civilization, as each root is chewed through civil society becomes weaker.
    Everything we do is a crime in one or another branch of our kleptocracy.

    The biggest oldest lie in society;”We are from the government,we are here to help you”.

  12. poitsplace says:

    It is sad that the body of laws are now so massive and convoluted that it is impossible for anyone, no matter their level of legal knowledge (even in a specific area of law/regulation), to know all of the activities that might be technically illegal.

  13. tom0mason says:

    As the new style CFL light bulbs contain mercury, a known hazardous substance, the incorrect disposal must surely be considered as an act of deploying a “weapon of mass destruction”?

    As lithium batteries are highly flammable surely owning a Tesla vehicle is an act of terrorism?

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    Hmmmmm… And is telling someone how to buy a Tesla “dissemination” of WMD knowledge, so a crime?

  15. tom0mason says:

    For the crime of “dissemination” of WMD knowledge, look here.
    Under the guise of making fireworks you could make …

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