He called me that in response to a piece I’d submitted to him about Christopher Chaney, a hacker who’s just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for hacking into the private email accounts of several female celebrities (actress Scarlett Johansson and singer Renee Olstead to name a few) and leaking very private, very revealing photos of them online. The first half of the piece was a simple recycling of the original report by the AP—typical internet fodder. The second half was my half, a wholly original, typically opinionated, and everything-but-objective reflection on Chaney’s actions.
That was the half my former editor chose to reject outright, referring to it as a “call for neo-fascism”. (As much as I wish it weren’t so, revealing his identity and the publication he works for—even to my dear detractors so they can seek him out and thank him—is still in poor taste.)
In this rant-heavy half, I stressed how vulnerable we are in the digital age; with one stolen phone, one fake email account, and one click, you can quite literally ruin someone’s life—if, for instance, Tyler Clementi and Amanda Todd are any indication. (Olstead, whose photos were by far the raciest, claimed in court that the leak had at one point motivated her to attempt suicide.) Chaney’s story reminded me of a development in the U.S. Senate less than a month earlier when the Senate Judiciary Committee, spearheaded by committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), voted in favor of a bill that would force authorities to obtain search warrants to review emails, Facebook messages, and the like. And in reminding me of this bill, which will soon see a full Senate vote when it reconvenes this year, Chaney sullied my once pristine perspective on it:
He helped me realize that hackers don’t ask for warrants—nor do identity thieves, drug traffickers, child pornographers, Islamist terrorists, wives who conspire to murder their cheating husbands, and kids who want to bomb their schools at lunchtime.
Needless to say, out of my personal disgust for this audacious violator, I suddenly found myself sympathizing with the lawmakers, the justice department, and most importantly those in law enforcement and the intelligence community who oppose the bill in question for very sensible, pragmatic reasons. I can no longer pretend to feel like the idealist I once was; nowadays, when I read James Baker’s remarks, the associate deputy attorney general who over a year ago had urged the committee “to consider the adverse impact on criminal and national security investigations if a warrant were the only means for law enforcement officials to obtain emails and other digital files,” he finally makes sense to me.
I’d snuck in an awfully meager caveat at the end of the piece, assuring that on better days, in more levelheaded moments, I’m as likely find my own views extreme as I am to find them—at worst—cynical. Admittedly, this caveat came after I’d perhaps recklessly implied that we should make like J. Edgar Hoover in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and instruct our “G-Men” to, “as they say in Italy these days, take off the white gloves”: in other words, to ignore the formalities, the red tape, the legality of certain actions that are deemed not just best-suited, but necessary and even obligatory, from time to time, for making sure its employers—American citizens and guests—sleep soundly at night.
That said, the damage had already been done; in this editor’s eyes, I was advocating an “unlimited police state”—which compelled him to call me a fascist. (His first name is a very prominent biblical name, and so there’s a good chance he’s Jewish, which would explain his rather sensitive Nazi radar.)
At first I was offended, but in it I’ve since been able to find some amusement—comfort even—thanks in no small part to the wisdom of George Orwell, who once remarked that “fascism” was, in his words, entirely meaningless. (In The Market for Liberty, published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute, fascism is defined as “simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism”; by anarcho-capitalist standards, if you’re even remotely statist, you’re also a fascist, and thus it goes without saying that the United States has always been a fascist country, even in its “purest”—for the Founding Fathers, contrary to what Ron Paul or Glenn Beck would have you believe, were all statists too.) I’ve been managing well at forgetting this event, but thanks to the New York Times, I suddenly have occasion to remember it.