(Expanded) Special Update, May 7
Wired News's Threat Level column is reporting that Ashton Lundeby is not being held under the USA PATRIOT act. Since the case is under seal at present, the only source for the relevant details is Annette Lundeby; admittedly, she is not an objective observer, but the same would be true of the prosecution, as well.
A memo marked "Not for distribution outside law enforcement" was circulated today accusing Mrs. Lundeby of making "false claims" about the use of the PATRIOT act
and her son's present circumstances.Those claims led the office of US Attorney David Capp to issue a press release today insisting that the charges against 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."
I am informed that the facility where Ashton is currently incarcerated is the Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend, Indiana. Although he is subject to federal prosecution, the detention center is a county facility. Ashton -- as noted below -- faces prosecution under federal statutes for making bogus interstate bomb threats.
As the press release notes, Annette Lundeby was present during the initial hearing in North Carolina, and until today she was the only source available to describe the details of her son's arrest and the terms of his detention. In interviews I conducted with her both on May 5 and 6, Mrs. Lundeby has insisted that the PATRIOT act was invoked by the Feds in this case.
I reported her claims in good faith, buttressed by the assessment presented in the WRAL report from former U.S. Attorney Dan Boyce, as well as the fact -- noted in the original essay below -- that the PATRIOT act has been used in at least one other case involving a juvenile accused of a serious crime. Interestingly, the Feds have not denied that they're applying the PATRIOT act in this case; there's no reason not to issue such a denial if Mrs. Lundeby's claim is untrue.
As indicated in the first update below, which was filed just hours after the original post, a source close to the prosecution (not directly involved in the prosecution, but with detailed, first-hand knowledge of it) insists that the case against Ashton is strong enough that the use of such extraordinary measures would not be necessary.
Title 18, Section 844 (e) of the US Code makes it a felony punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years to make a bomb threat, either real or bogus, using "the mail, telephone, telegraph, or other instrument of interstate commerce...." That provision would explain the involvement of the FBI in a suspected bomb threat made from North Carolina against Purdue University in Indiana. Whatever the wisdom of that statute, its existence would appear to make use of the PATRIOT act gratuituous. This doesn't mean that the Feds didn't take the easy route, as Mrs. Lundeby claims, of course. But it does mean that if Ashton was involved in making bomb threats, he bought himself more trouble than he expected.
Expect a follow-up on all of this today.
(For the other updates, please go to the bottom of the essay.)
It's been said that a lie is a poor way to say "hello." It is also the standard greeting one receives from government employees, particularly those who carry guns.
Around 10:00 p.m. on March 5, a wolf-pack of armed men gathered at the front door of the Lundeby family's home in Oxford, North Carolina.
When she answered the doorbell, Annette was greeted with the sight of a State Highway Patrolman who introduced himself with a lie. Things went dramatically downhill from there.
"He told me that my son Ashton had committed a hit-and-run with somebody's car," Annette told Pro Libertate in a phone interview. "I said, `No, that's not true -- it was exactly the reverse; he was on the receiving end of a hit-and-run, and that was last January.'"
The State Trooper's lie was a pretext to rouse the home-schooled teenager from bed and bring him to the doorstep. Once the falsehood shattered against Mrs. Lundeby's polite resolve, however, the pretense was dropped and roughly a dozen armed men in body armor stormed into her home. One of them demanded that Annette go get her son; the others fanned out to search the house.
"They wouldn't tell me who they were, or where they were from," Annette recalled. "All I knew was that if I said the wrong thing I'd be dead on the floor, and there would be nobody here to protect my children." So she went upstairs and woke up her son, as instructed. When she returned with Ashton she demanded to see a search warrant. She was shown the paperwork, but the intruders were still reluctant to explain why they had invaded her home.
At some point over the next three and a half hours, Annette and Ashton learned that the men who had barged into their home were from the FBI, and that the teenage boy, who had never been in trouble with the police, was suspected of making several bomb threats via the internet. The one that brought the FBI had been made against Purdue University in Indiana at 9:05 Central Time on February 15.
Ashton had an alibi so tight it could be used as a space capsule: On the evening in question he was at a meeting held in the Union Chapel Methodist Church in Kittrell, North Carolina until after 9:00 p.m. local time, a fact that could be confirmed by interviewing any of several dozen witnesses.
After helping his mother clean the chapel, Ashton accompanied her to a local grocery store to buy food and litter box filler for the family's three cats. Once again, this element of Ashton's alibi -- for which his mother was an eyewitness -- would be relatively simple to confirm.
The Union Chapel church is about 35 minutes away from the Lundeby family's home. Annette recalls that the family got home shortly after 10:00 on February 15, which wouldn't have given her son adequate time to log on to the Internet and make a bomb threat by 10:05 Eastern Time (which would have been 9:05 p.m. in Indiana). She also insists that her son "went straight to bed" without turning on his computer.
The FBI insists that the threat was made using Ashton's IP address. Mrs. Lundeby insists that her son was the victim of identity theft, and that he was not the family's only victim. Her late husband, a former employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons, also had his personal financial information stolen, and Annettee herself recalls that her bank account was hacked a couple of years ago.
For the past several months, she explained to Pro Libertate, "our family has been receiving bizarre and threatening phone calls from people" because of the malicious activities of at least one hacker.
"We had the police call here claiming that someone had called 911 to report drugs in our home. I told them that there wasn't anything going on here, but they were free to come and search the place to see for themselves."
That's an invitation she wouldn't extend again under similar circumstances.
According to Annette, at least one of Ashton's friends can identify, by screenname, the hacker who made life miserable for the Lundebys. Once again, there is no shortage of leads for an honest, competent, reasonably resourceful investigator to follow in establishing Ashton's alibi. The unfortunate truth is that the FBI is, as far as I can tell, entirely devoid of people meeting that description.
Annette and her children were held hostage in their home until 1:30 in the morning. The 12-year-old daughter was dragged from her bed by an armed stranger -- an act that left the girl traumatized (and one for which the assailant should be thrashed to within a centimeter of his tax-devouring existence). Annette insisted that Ashton not answer any questions without an attorney present, but she wasn't permitted to call one.
The Feds confiscated Ashton's computer and gaming equipment, and made off with a great deal of family paperwork. But they couldn't find a particle of evidence anywhere to suggest that the teenager had built a bomb, or that possessed the necessary knowledge and intent. Nonetheless, they handcuffed Ashton and hauled him away to jail.
A hearing was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., which meant "that I couldn't get an attorney -- none of their offices was open," Annette recalls. Her son was given a court-appointed attorney, an ineffective nebbish who -- in the fashion of too many court-appointed "defense" lawyers everywhere -- was entirely disinclined to contest the prosecution's assertions.
At this point it's appropriate to note that too many "court-appointed" defense lawyers perform exactly the same function as "jobbers" in professional wrestling: Their role is to lose every contest. And judges in federal cases generally serve the same purpose as referees in pro wrestling "matches": They offer a pitiful pantomime of objectivity as they advance the pre-determined storyline. In this case, the script called for Ashton to be taken into federal custody under the terms of the Sovietesque PATRIOT (sic) Act.
"The standard that they used to arrest and detain my son was not `probable cause,' as the Constitution requires, but rather `good faith,' as specified in the PATRIOT [sic] Act," Annette Lundeby observes. "This meant that they didn't have to provide real evidence of a crime, because they didn't have any. All they had to do was assert their `good faith' reasons for arresting and holding Ashton, and the judge simply let it stand."
Before and after the hearing, Ashton -- a sixteen-year-old -- was kept in detention with as many as thirty adult criminal suspects. He was then transferred to a federal detention center in South Bend, Indiana, where he has been for more than 60 days.
As of today (May 5), a criminal complaint in this case does exist, but Ashton has yet to be charged with a crime. Were we living in a country in which the habeas corpus guarantee was operational, Ashton would most likely be free, and a lawsuit against his persecutors would probably be in the works.
However, the late Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of nearly every conservative commentator and activist of any consequence, quite thoughtfully disposed of the habeas corpus guarantee. And since Ashton is being held on terrorism-related charges, his status is analogous to that of an "enemy combatant" -- which is to say, he can probably be held indefinitely, and even be subjected to the same "enhanced interrogation" methods that so enchant many of the pew-defilers in conservative "Christian" congregations.
Ashton hasn't been mistreated yet, according to his mother. However, the 16-year-old -- who is "in every sense still a child," in his mother's estimation -- is in an environment defined by cruel, arbitrary regulations designed to break his will.
"I've been able to talk with him several times since he was taken into federal custody," Annette told me, "but there was a period of about three weeks in which I didn't hear from him, and nobody would let me talk to him. I was frantic, and my mother -- she just turned 81 -- had to be hospitalized for stress."
When that long silence was finally broke, Ashton explained to his mother that "he was being punished for `moving his eyes in the lunchroom,'" Annette related in a voice heavy with incredulity. "He told me, `Mom, all I did was try to find out what we were eating. But I got written up for moving my eyes.'"
If the case goes to trial, Ashton would be prosecuted as an adult, and would face a 15-year prison sentence. The Feds, who at this point appear to have no case, are quite likely using the leverage offered by the PATRIOT (sic) Act and similar measures to terrorize Ashton and his family into a plea bargain that would preserve the State's sense of infallibility and reinforce by precedent its ability to terrorize citizens at random.
Pioneering case: Brent Clark was a troubled and potentially violent 8th grader in Tempe when he was accused of "domestic terrorism" under the provisions of the PATRIOT (sic) Act.
Something of this sort took place last time a teenager was charged with terrorism under the PATRIOT (sic) Act -- specifically, section 802, which makes practically any crime committed on "public" property an act of "terrorism."
Two years ago, Andrew Thomas, the demented and politically ambitious prosecutor for Arizona's Maricopa County, filed "terrorism" charges against Brent Clark, a 14-year-old deliquent from Mesa who pulled a pocketknife on a schoolmate. Thomas also charged the eighth grader with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which seems like a sufficiently serious offense. But invoking the post-PATRIOT (sic) definition of "terrorism" helped extract a pre-emptive guilty plea from the adolescent and his family.
In Brent Clark's case, there was an actual crime committed: He threatened a girl with a knife and tried, albeit not with much ardor, to take her hostage before permitting her to flee to her home. Brent's parents apparently discovered evidence suggesting that the emotionally disturbed teenager harbored ambitions -- how serious, we'll never know -- of carrying out Columbine-style violence.
None of that applies in the case of Ashton Lundeby. [At least some of it may apply; see the update above -- WNG, 5/7] Apart from the use of Ashton's ISP information -- a fact for which he and his mother have provided a persuasive and easily inspected alibi -- nothing connects the 16-year-old to a bomb threat anywhere. Under traditional Anglo-Saxon standards of evidence and due process there is no case against Ashton.
This is precisely why the Feds are apparently using the Stalinist PATRIOT (sic) Act to keep this youngster confined for as long as it takes to extort some kind of confession from him.
If they determine the situation requires such measures, the Feds can draw upon the precedent set in the case of Jose Padilla, the first U.S. citizen to be designated an "enemy combatant" and held indefinitely without criminal charges. In Padilla's case, federal authorities conducted a prolonged campaign of psychological torture designed not only to break his will, but literally -- in the words of a Bush administration official -- “to destroy Mr. Padilla's ordinary emotional and cognitive functioning in order to extract from him potentially self-incriminating information.”
Annette Lundeby once attended a police academy; her late husband, as noted previously, was an employee of the Bureau of Prisons. The family's home in North Carolina is decorated with U.S. flags. The three of them are devout Christians who spend most of their free time in church-related activities. The loss of Annette's husband was a severe blow, and the continued harassment they have suffered from hackers and identity thieves is the sort of thing one reads about in the Book of Job.
But the treatment of Ashton by the Regime is like something from modern dystopian literature; indeed, Franz Kafka might find the story nearly implausible.
"This isn't America -- not the America I knew, the one I grew up in," Annette told Pro Libertate. "This is like something out of a Third World dictatorship where the people in power just do whatever they want to anybody they choose. I want my son back, and I'll do anything I can to free him. But people need to know that if this isn't stopped now, any of us at anytime can be treated the same way. The next time it will be your house they visit in the middle of the night, and your children they take away."
Update, May 6: The Other Side of the case, a strengthened alibi
Owing to the federal gag order on the officials involved in the arrest and prospective prosecution of Ashton Lundeby, it's not possible to get the official reaction to Annette Lundeby's view of this case.
However, I received a message from a source close to the federal side of the story who insists that the case against Ashton is a "slam-dunk," owing to information obtained from various documents and other sources. Without getting specific permission from that individual I can't share the details he shared with me. I have described some of them, in broad outline, to Mrs. Lundeby in order to get her view of the matter.
Although the alleged crime here is inter-state in nature, the source in question agrees that the so-called PATRIOT Act (which this person opposes) shouldn't have been used in this case. The alleged offense here is the cyberspace equivalent of maliciously pulling a fire alarm in school. Yes, it's disruptive, obnoxious, and destructive of time, money, and whoever phoned in what the source describes as multiple bomb threats should be punished.
I'm convinced that the reliance on the enhanced powers under the PATRIOT Act wouldn't be necessary if the case against Ashton is anywhere near as solid as that source insists.
On the matter of Ashton's alibi:
An early contributor to the comment thread below points out that "if the time of the supposed threat (9:05 pm) and the place (Purdue University in West Lafayette) are correct, then the alibi is even stronger than you claim, since West Lafayette, IN, is on Eastern Time (as is the rest of Indiana with the exception of some counties in the southwest and northwest corners)."
Please allow me one final, personal note. Among the correspondence I received about this essay was a note from a reader who was deeply offended by the reference to "pew defilers" in conservative Christian churches.
That inelegantly phrased comment was perceived by this earnest and well-informed fellow as a gesture of anti-Christian hatred. It was intended as a slap at the hypocrisy of people who profess to be followers of Jesus and yet condone the torture of fellow human beings. It turns out, as the essay hyperlinked to that phrase documents, that self-described conservative Evangelical Christians are the sub-population most likely to endorse the use of torture.
In describing people who harbor such opinions, I suppose I could have used the expression "white sepulchers," which is at least as offensive as the term I used.
Second Update, May 6: Corrections and Observations
In the interest of fairness to the small but stalwart population of genuinely heroic, principled lawyers who act as court-appointed defense attorneys an approach that role with a categorical commitment to protect the rights of their clients, I've moderated my original comments about court-appointed attorneys.
My views on that subject have been shaped by an unfortunate and consistent trend among court-designated defense lawyers to approach their task as if they were working in the Cardassian judicial system. Several writers have properly taken me to task for my overbroad characterization of court-appointed attorneys, which I've tried to correct above.
What if Ashton Lundeby had been involved in phoning in crank bomb threats? Obviously, this would be more than just a cruel prank, but a serious crime -- particularly if it involved disrupting the lives of hundreds or thousands of people by leaving them convinced that their lives were in immediate danger.
It's not difficult to imagine the victims of phony bomb threats fleeing their work areas in panic, making desperate cell phone calls to loved ones, and otherwise experiencing the visceral fear that comes from the thought that they confronted anonymous, arbitrary lethal violence.
We've seen an example of how this kind of thing works quite recently -- a little more than a week ago, when the White House induced widespread panic in New York City by conducting a still-unexplained "photo op" involving a very low pass by one of its fleet of Air Force One 747s in more or less the same trajectory followed by the hijacked jetliners on 9-11.
A reader sent me the following description, provided by a relative who was on the scene, of the coronary-inducing panic that resulted from the White House's bizarre, sadistic little exercise:
On sale now
Dum spiro, pugno!