[Update: Wired article by ex-con hacker Kevin Poulsen claims that "Teenage Bomb Threat Suspect Was Internet Prank-Call Star ". According to Poulsen, Ashton Lundeby used an alter online ego named "Tyrone" to make lewd and racist prank calls and even bomb threats. This still does not destroy my argument that the government went to far in using Police State tactics against a prankster. Luckily I did not jump to conclusions in my article. Also, it is yet to be proven in court that Poulsen's allegations are true, although it is increasingly likely that they are. Still, I wonder about the accuracy of some of the quotes that Poulsen attributes to Ashton's mother in his article.]
I have to admit that I'm struggling with trying to write an article about the case of Ashton Lundeby. I like to stick to verifiable facts when writing a piece, but in this case there are very few facts that are available. But if this case only serves to remind us of the dangers of the Patriot Act, then it is well worth exploring.
Here's what we know so far about this case
Ashton Lundeby is 16 years old. He is home schooled by his mother, Annette Lundeby. He's never been in trouble with the police before.
On March 5, 2009 Ashton was arrested at his home in Oxford, North Carolina. The arrest was carried out by FBI officials accompanied by North Carolina State Police. According to accounts by Mrs. Lundeby the State Police were from the state terrorism task force.
The charges against Ashton seem to be that he placed a bomb threat against Purdue University on February 15. I say "seem to be" because it is not quite clear what the exact charges are. He may be charged with placing bomb threats against other universities as well.
Ashton is currently imprisoned in a detention center for juveniles in South Bend, Indiana. Some have reported that he is in a federal detention center, but the only juvenile detention center I have been able to locate in South Bend is run by the Indiana State Government.
No evidence of any bomb making material was turned up at the Lundeby home. There is no suggestion that Ashton ever made a bomb or actually planned to make a bomb. The only charge that has been made public is that of a bomb threat.
Ashton Lundeby and the Patriot Act
What's not so clear is whether Ashton was arrested under the Patriot Act. Some say he was, and others say he wasn't. His mother has gone on record saying that the Patriot Act is somehow involved in his arrest. The government has had no comment on the case.
I'm one of those that believes that Ashton was arrested under the Patriot Act. I wish I could be more definitive about this, but I'm not a lawyer. Neither are most of the other people commenting on this case. Clearly Mrs. Lundeby needs a competent lawyer that can argue this case forcefully and clear up the issues with regard to the Patriot Act.
Here is what one person who is a lawyer, Scott Horton, has to say about this case.
How did this happen? It’s called the USA Patriot Act, and it grants law enforcement authorities police-state powers whenever they think national security is affected. In many cases, they no longer have to justify themselves to courts and secure warrants, and when they do need warrants, the process is steamrollered. Ms. Lundeby says they used the USA Patriot Act to “suspend her son’s due process rights.” That’s exactly right. All they have to do is call him a terrorist. And no matter how absurd that claim is (as is the case with a 16-year-old who can prove he was at a church function at the time an alleged bomb threat was made), the National Surveillance State’s police powers are essentially beyond question. Maybe it’s time to repeal the Patriot Act.I'm not sure how Mr. Horton came to these definitive conclusions. I will say this. The Patriot Act defines a "domestic terrorist". Once a person is declared a "terrorist", domestic or international, the Patriot Act kicks in. The PA can be used by law enforcement officials to "streamline" the arrest and conviction of said "terrorist". Essentially the PA is designed to strip an accused "terrorist" of his civil liberties. This applies even to US citizens. In fact a person can be stripped of their citizenship once they have been accused of being a "terrorist".
In the case of Ashton, presumably the bomb threat was deemed to be an act of terrorism. That makes Ashton a "terrorist". As Mr. Horton points out this is stretching the definition to the point of absurdity. Before 9/11 and the Patriot Act there were kids making bomb threat hoaxes. Such kids got detention. They weren't arrested by the FBI.
Yes, there have been cases where teenagers shot other students in school. That is certainly a very serious matter. But again, there is no evidence that Ashton had at his disposal any kind of weapon or bomb making material.
Is Ashton guilty or innocent?
His mother asserts that he is innocent and that he was the victim of a setup by some hackers that made it appear that he phoned in the bomb threat to Purdue. This is probably the area where there is the least amount of verifiable information.
Common sense says to me that a kid living in North Carolina is not going to call in a bomb threat to Purdue which is in Indiana. Why? Because if it's intended to be a prank, then where's the fun in that? You don't get to see the building empty out or talk to some of the kids affected. Still it's possible that he could get his jollies from just the reaction of the person on the other end of the line.
So let's just assume that he did do it. And that he called other universities as well with bomb threats. Does that make him a "terrorist"? Not under my definition. That just makes him a prankster. Terrorist... prankster - big difference! Both acts are illegal, but one involves a real threat to human life.
The Terrorist State
Which is the bigger act of terrorism - a kid making a bomb threat, or police bursting into someone's house? There is a point where the police while pretending to protect us from terrorists become the terrorists themselves. This is the point where we cross over into a Police State. Under the Patriot Act suspected "terrorists" can literally and legally be disappeared. The PA is inherently unconstitutional because it strips citizens of their civil liberties.
More information on the Ashton Lundeby case
Here are some links I found online.
- The original WRAL report by Amanda Lamb. Here is the video and here is the accompanying article. This is the definitive report that broke the story.
- Article on Pro Libertate blog by William N. Grigg titled "Free Ashton Lundeby!". Mrs. Lundeby was interviewed for this story. It is the best account online of the story after the WRAL report.
- Story on Wired by ex-convict and hacker, Kevin Poulsen, who insists that the Patriot Act has nothing to do with the story of Ashton Lundeby titled "Bloggers, TV, Go Nuts Over Misleading ‘Patriot Act’ Arrest Claim". I have no idea why this non-lawyer thinks he has any authority to talk about the legal aspects of this case. It could just be a case of trying to stretch his 15 minutes of fame at the expense of a 16 year old kid.
- Interview of Mrs. Lundeby by Alex Jones. I don't think that Alex did a particularly good job of interviewing Mrs. Lundeby, but at least he was the first to air this story nationally.
- Interview of Mrs. Lundeby by Ron Reagan on Air America. Again, not a great interview. Mrs. Lundeby needs to get a lawyer that can explain her son's case to the public better.
- Scott Horton has a short article on the Harper's Magazine website that I cited above. He gets right to the point with regards to the Patriot Act although he doesn't have any new information about the case.
This just appeared online. William Grigg has published this statement.
It appears that, contrary to what I reported two days ago, Ashton Lundeby is not being held under the USA PATRIOT act.Mr. Grigg has been updating the story on his blog at :
Earlier today, a memo marked "Not for distribution outside law enforcement" was circulated among officials in Indiana -- where Ashton is being held at the Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend. The memo complained of hostile publicity given to the case inspired by what were described as "false claims" from Ashton's mother, Annette Lundeby, about the use of the PATRIOT act in the arrest and detention of her son.
Those claims led the office of US Attorney David Capp to issue a press release today insisting that the arrest and detention of Ashton Lundeby "is unrelated to the PATRIOT act."
"The juvenile has appeared in court on three occasions, once in North Carolina for an initial hearing and a detention hearing, and twice in Indiana for a continued initial hearing and a status hearing," the press release relates. "At each hearing, the juvenile was represented by counsel.... The juvenile is presently housed in a juvenile facility in the Northern District of Indiana where he does not have contact with adult offenders. His mother has been apprised of each court appearance and has attended the hearing in North Carolina; she did not appear at either of the hearings in Indiana."
As I said in my introduction, whether or not this case is directly related to the Patriot Act is somewhat irrelevant. It still represents an example of the Police State tactics used by law enforcement. For me this is a reminder that the Patriot Act is still in effect under the Obama administration. The fact that this case can be prosecuted without the PA is indeed more proof that the PA is not needed for law enforcement to do its job.
As for justice in the United States of America, let me remind you that Bernie Madoff who stole billions of dollars was allowed to stay in his luxury penthouse while awaiting trial. In contrast, Ashton Lundeby was incarcerated hundreds of miles from his home and his mother. I wonder how this case would have proceeded if Ashton were the son of Hank Paulson for example.
And as far as I'm concerned, if there is anyone that should be arrested for false threats against America, it is Hank Paulson. But in the American legal system he is "too big to jail". In America we have "the best legal system money can buy".
Everyone thinks that "it can't happen to me". That is until they actually have an experience with the police and the legal system. That is when they realize that the system is not setup to protect the common person. For me, this is part of the story of the Lundeby's. Hopefully, Ashton and his mother will remember this when they read about how law enforcement treats those even less fortunate than themselves. Hopefully, this event in their lives will act to permanently awaken them to the dangers of a Police State and the perils of remaining silent.