Ignorance of the Law Should Be an Excuse

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse” and “I’m a law abiding citizen” rank towards the top on my list of hated phrases. Law enforcers and prosecutors like to claim that ignorance of the law is no excuse when they’re arresting and taking you to court respectively. Judges are even in on the game. They tell jurors, while wearing a straight face no less, that their verdict must be based on the letter of the law. Then there’s the defendant. Up until he found himself in court he very well may have said that he was a law abiding citizen. He might even compound his ignorance by saying he looked forward to his day in court so he could prove his innocence. The lawyers, prosecutors, and judges are demanding that people be held to an impossible standard. The person who calls himself a law abiding citizen is a fool.

I’m sure there’s at least one person who considers themselves a law abiding citizen scoffing at my previous sentence. If that person is you, there’s an exercise that you can perform to prove me wrong. The only thing you need for this exercise is a pen and paper. Without looking any up write down every law for the municipality, county, and state in which you live. Then write down every federal law. When you’ve finished writing down all of the laws you know, look up all of the laws you missed.

You’ll find that you missed most of them. I know this for certain because if you did start writing down every law under which you live, you would die of old age before you finished. Maybe you think you could do so if you had enough time. If you believe that, begin reading through the laws under which you live and only write down the ones you didn’t know. Since legal professionals like lawmakers, judges, and lawyers don’t know the entirely of the law, I have my doubts that you do.

The bottom line is the everybody is ignorant of the law. Since everybody is ignorant of the law, it’s impossible for anybody to know that they’re a law abiding citizen.

This situation is even more dire when you stop to consider that the body of law is in a constant state of change. City council members, senators, congressmen, and other lawmakers are constantly tweaking existing laws and creating new ones. Even if you did manage to learn every law under which you live, your knowledge would quickly be outdated. Then you have to take into account the rulings made by various judges. Their rulings ultimately decide what the letter of the law actually means. And they frequently invalidate each others’ rulings so their rulings too are in a constant state of flux.

I’m left with a question that should seem obvious at this point. Why isn’t ignorance of the law an excuse? If legal professionals who attend specialized schooling can’t comprehend the entirety of the law, why are laymen expected to do so? Why is a system built on a practically uncountable number of laws that are frequently conflicting and always changing considered just?

I call bullshit on the entire concept. Ignorance of the laws should be an excuse.

The Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted

Comparing the civil unrest at the Capitol to the 9/11 attacks seems to be the trendy thing to do. Doing so is idiotic, but most trendy things are. However, there is a noteworthy characteristic they share: they preceded crackdowns on heterodox ideas.

This crackdown has been more obvious because it follows the popularization of social media. We get to witness Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube ban users. The posts and videos made by politicians and orthodox thinkers calling for the suppression, oftentimes through violent means, of heterodox thinkers are shared far and wide. What makes it even worse is that there are quisling everywhere. Numerous people are bragging about having reported friends of family members to authorities and administrators for the crime of expressing wrongthink.

Social media sites have made it clear that they will not host heterodox ideas. The revolution won’t be tweeted. So what’s a heterodox thinker to do?

The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is establish additional means of contacting your fellow heterodox thinkers. Secure means of communication are preferable. My tribe and I have make extensive use of Signal and Element. But even e-mail is enough to notify your tribe that you were purged.

The second thing is tidy up your tribe. In an environment where friends and family members are bragging about selling each other out, it pays to raise some walls between your social circles. Take a page from the freedom fighter book and establish cells. Despite what social media encourages, not all of your friends have to know all of your other friends. Not every person with whom you sleep needs to meet your parents. It makes sense to separate your social circles into cells. Treat your family as one group. If you’re a Linux enthusiast, treat your Linux enthusiast friends as another group. If you’re also an anarchist, treat your anarchist friends as a third group. You may have friends who fall into multiple groups, which is fine. The purpose of tidying up your tribe isn’t to separate all of your friends from one another, it’s to separate those who ideologically opposes one another. Having family members is great. Having fellow anarchists is great. But some of your family members may be orthodox thinkers and thus ideologically oppose your heterodox thinking anarchist friends. If those family members know who your anarchist friends are, they may choose to report them (possibly to the authorities, possibly to the service administrators, or possibly to both).

The third thing is to establish appropriate long-term methods of communicating with your cells of friends. If your family are mostly orthodox thinkers then phone calls, standard text messages, e-mail, and even social media sites (if you haven’t already been banned) may be appropriate. Your Linux cell is likely more technologically savvy but still mostly on the up and up in the eyes of orthodox thinkers so tools like Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Discord may be appropriate. Your anarchist cell will be populated by heterodox thinkers so secure communications, preferably using decentralized and even more preferably self-hosted tools, will be appropriate.

The final thing only applies to cells with an external mission. You and your cell need to determine appropriate ways of publishing your propaganda. The more orthodox the thinking of a cell is, the easier this is. Your Linux cell is still mostly free to post its propaganda on social media sites. But your heterodox thinking cells need to put more effort into this. Anarchists, for example, can’t rely on social media platforms. They need to consider setting up self-hosted websites, establishing mailing lists, etc. Distributing local propaganda may require resorting to old-fashion pamphlets.

Mainstream acceptance of free expression ebbs and flows. We are currently in an ebb, but just because acceptance of free expression is moving back out to sea doesn’t mean it won’t return. It also doesn’t mean we can’t express ourselves. We just need to practice more caution and exercise more creativity.

They’re Not Real Anarchists

Facebook performed another purge. Amongst the disappeared were a number of anarchist groups:

Today Facebook deleted a variety of far-Right militia and Qanon accounts along with anarchist and antifascist pages, including It’s Going Down and CrimethInc. The following is a joint statement in response.

This follows on the heels of Biden saying anarchists should be prosecuted and Trump taking a swipe at anarchists.

There’s nothing surprising about these events. Anarchists are a threat to the very system that Biden and Trump depend on for power and Facebook is usually quick to demonstrate its loyalties to the political class by banning whatever they’re criticizing at the moment. What is more fascinating to me are the anarchists who start going down the those aren’t real anarchists wormhole. Shortly after Facebook finished its purge I started seeing a number of anarchists, mostly those who identify as voluntaryists, posts memes saying, “Real anarchy is,” followed by any number of nonviolent but illegal or quasi-legal activities such as buying raw milk, homeschooling children, and dodging taxes. This is the same reaction I see whenever violence is attributed to anarchists by the mainstream media.

I take umbrage with this response for two reasons. My first reason is that it ignores a huge part of anarchist history. Anarchists have participated in revolutions, political assassinations, bombings, and other acts of violence. There is even a term amongst anarchists for such actions: propaganda of the deed. Anarchism shouldn’t be treated as a single unified philosophy, but as a number of different philosophies that share the common cause of opposing statism.

The second reason I don’t like this response is because it strikes me as pleading. Trump, Biden, and Facebook are not friends or allies to anarchists. Anarchists shouldn’t give two shits what any of them say about anarchists. Anarchists should setup and use their own social media platforms if for no other reason than to avoid having all of their personal information handed over to law enforcers by Facebook, Twitter, and other social media household names. Instead of telling them to go pound sand, the anarchists making these statements are effectively saying, “Your criticisms are fair, but I want you to know that my friends and I are not like that. We’re real anarchists! Please like us!”

When politicians or Silicon Valley companies say something disparaging about anarchists, I’d rather give them the finger than people who at least agree with me on a foundational level about the need to abolish government. I understand that an anarcho-communist is unlikely to agree with a vast majority of my individualist anarchist views, but I certainly have more common cause with them than I do with the likes of Trump, Biden, or Facebook.

Altering the Deal Again

Most people don’t realize the power that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) wields. The agency can make an arbitrary decision and it effectively becomes law. What makes this matter worse is that the agency isn’t bound by previous decisions. It can (and frequently had) change its mind whenever it wants.

Case in point, the ATF previously decided that using an arm brace to shoulder a pistol was a felony. It later changed its mind. Now…

It sounds like the ATF is secretly (another problem with its ability to arbitrarily change its mind is that the process can happen behind closed doors) changing its mind about arm braces again:

Congressman Matt Gaetz announced today on his podcast the ATF is crafting secret rules restricting the possession of certain pistol braces by American citizens, and that he has sent them a letter demanding they stop.

“We understand that ATF is currently considering restricting one arm brace model owned by over 700,000 Americans,” Congressman Gaetz writes along with six other members of Congress. “We strongly urge ATF to cease taking any actions and reconsider or rescind any secret determinations which call into question the legality of firearms owned by millions of law-abiding Americans.”

If the ATF decides that possessing some or all arm braces is a felony, then possessing them becomes a felony. No bills have to be written, no laws have to be passed or signed. One day you own a perfectly legal firearm and the next you’re a felon because you possess of a short barreled rifle. The only difference between the day that you became a felon and the day prior is that somebody in a government agency changed their mind.

The Police Aren’t Coming

A law enforcer killed a black man in Atlanta and is being charged. This has ruffled the feathers of many other law enforcers in the city and now they’re coming down with the blue flu:

Hours after the Fulton County district attorney announced felony murder and other charges against the former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, in the back, a number of Atlanta police officers called in sick just before a shift change Wednesday evening.

A lot of people argue that nobody needs tools to protect themselves because if they’re in danger, they can call the police. I along with many (probably most) other advocates for gun ownership have argued that you can’t rely on other people to protect you. This argument often falls on deaf eras. Even when you point out that law enforcers have no duty to protect you, gun control advocates will argue that a cop isn’t going to just stand by and let something bad happen to an innocent person.

The recent civil unrest that started in Minneapolis has done a wonderful job of illustrating that law enforcement departments can easily become overwhelmed and when they’re overwhelmed they don’t send resources to protect you or your business. Atlanta is now illustrating the fact that there are circumstances where law enforcers will refuse to show up for work. As with Minneapolis just a short while ago, it appears that the people of Atlanta are on their own.

This is why defense in depth is such an important concept. You want redundant self-defense plans in case any single plan fails. This is especially true if any of your plans rely on anybody but yourself to execute (the only person you can 100 percent rely on is yourself because that’s the only person whose actions you can control).

How You Can Help Fight Law Enforcement Brutality

Here’s an idea for something you can do right now to help fight law enforcer brutality.

Stop calling the cops over stupid shit like your neighbor’s grass being too tall, an individual openly carrying a firearm walking around and minding their own business, a voluntary transaction of cash for illicit drugs happening in a parking lot, or kids playing at a playground without parental supervision.

Interactions with law enforcers always carry the risk of turning violent. Reducing the number of interactions will reduce the number of opportunities for harmless activities turning into violent encounters.

Do your part, don’t be a snitch.

Minneapolis Police Department Added Another to Its Body Count and People Became Upset

Yesterday morning saw another unarmed black man added to the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) body count. In a surprisingly short period of time it was announced that four officers were fired from the department over the situation. However, that failed to assuage the masses who are all too familiar with the cycle of law enforcers being fired only to be reinstated after their union argues that the firing was unwarranted. During the evening the inevitable happened. Protesters made their feelings clear to the law enforcers.

The protest, which I followed courtesy of the live streamers at Unicorn Riot, was larger than previous protests against MPD’s brutality. Eventually the protesters made their way to the Third Precinct in Minneapolis and went to town. The protesters surrounded the Third Precinct, tagged it with graffiti, smashed many of its windows, and messed up a couple of law enforcer vehicles. The evening festivities culminated with MPD reinforcements arrived and clashing with protesters for quite some time.

Not surprisingly online viewers were arguing about whether or not the protesters’ were villains or heroes. I think that argument missed the most important point. The morality of the protesters’ actions depends on your personal views, but what happened last night was inevitable.

MPD has a sordid history with unarmed black men dying in its custody. The decision makers in the MPD, City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, State of Minnesota, and federal government have blocked any justice for the families of those killed by MPD. The officers involved seldom receive any meaningful punishment and are almost never charged with a crime. When they are charged, they are almost always found not guilty because the law give law enforcers, unlike the rest of us, tremendous leeway in the use of deadly force.

If you take away all forms of recourse that we like to consider civil, wronged individuals will eventually resort to violence. What happened in Minneapolis yesterday evening was the direct result of government personnel continuously protecting MPD officers from punishment for their wrongdoing. The fact that such a situation hadn’t happened earlier is rather miraculous. Likewise, the fact that the situation wasn’t far worse is also miraculous.

The truth is MPD was damn lucky. The protesters massively outnumbered the officers in the Third Precinct. They could have easily overrun the building and killed every officer inside. They didn’t, but if the status quo with MPD continues, the next incident will likely be worse and eventually a spark will light the powder keg that is the city and a lot of people will die. I hope that last night’s conflict puts enough fear into the decision makers to convince them that the status quo is no longer viable. Unfortunately, I doubt it did. It may take citywide rioting before the decision makers are finally scared enough to stop shielding MPD’s officers from justice.

The Importance of Open Platforms

Late last week I pre-ordered the UBports Community Edition PinePhone. It’s not ready for prime time yet. Neither of the cameras work and the battery life from what I’ve read is around four to five hours and there are few applications available at the moment. So why did I pre-order it? Because UBports has been improving rapidly, my iPhone is the last closed platform I run regularly (I keep one macOS machine running mostly so I can backup my iPhone to it), and open platforms may soon be our only option for secure communications:

Signal is warning that an anti-encryption bill circulating in Congress could force the private messaging app to pull out of the US market.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the free app, which offers end-to-end encryption, has seen a surge in traffic. But on Wednesday, the nonprofit behind the app published a blog post, raising the alarm around the EARN IT Act. “At a time when more people than ever are benefiting from these (encryption) protections, the EARN IT bill proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee threatens to put them at risk,” Signal developer Joshua Lund wrote in the post.

I used Signal as an example for this post, but in the future when (it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when) the government legally mandates cryptographic back doors in consumer products (you know the law will have an exception for products sold to the government) it’ll mean every secure communication application and platform will either have to no longer be made available in the United States or will have to insert a back door that allows government agents and anybody else who can crack the back door complete access to our data.

On an open platform such a Linux this isn’t the end of the world. I can source both my operating system and my applications from anywhere. If secure communication applications are made illegal in the United States, I have the option of downloading and use an application made in a freer area or better yet developed anonymously (it’s much harder to enforce these laws if the government can’t identify and locate the developers). Closed platforms such as iOS and Android (although Android to a lesser extent since it still allows side loading of applications and you can download an image built off of the Android Open Source Project) require you to download software from their walled garden app stores. If Signal is no longer legally available in the United States, people running iOS and Android will no longer be able to use Signal because those apps will no longer be available in the respective United States app stores.

As the governments of the world continue to take our so-called civil rights behind a shed and unceremoniously put a bullet in their heads closed platforms will continue to become more of a liability. Open platforms on the other hand can be developed by anybody anywhere. They can even be developed anonymously (Bitcoin is probably the most successful example of a project whose initial developer remains anonymous), which makes it difficult for governments to put pressure on the developers to comply with laws.

If you want to ensure your ability to communicate securely in the future and you haven’t already transitioned to open platforms, you should either begin your transition or at least begin to plan your transition. Not all of the pieces are ready yet. Smartphones remain one area where open platforms are lagging behind, but there is a roadmap available so you can at least begin planning a move towards open an smartphone (and at $150 the PinePhone is a pretty low risk platform to try).

Fascism Is More Dangerous than COVID-19

St. George Carlin once said, “Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter.” While our temporary privileges are in a constant state of erosion, they seem to erode the fastest during emergency situations. During this COVID-19 outbreak we’ve seen our rights erode even faster than they did immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Now you can’t even leave your home without permission:

Citations for violating Gov. Tiim Walz’ orders to stay at home and halt business operations have started trickling in across the state, including a few in the metro area.

As of Monday, eight people were charged with violating the emergency orders. The orders require bars and restaurants to halt dine-in services as well as having residents largely stay at home. Violating the order is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.

I’m not going to discuss the danger of COVID-19 because it’s irrelevant. Instead I’m going to argue that no matter how dangerous COVID-19 is, fascism is more dangerous.

What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is most major governments in the world descend further into fascist ideology. This descent has been happening with alarming speed here in the United States. Not only is a majority of the population under a stay at home order imprisoned in their homes, but the national borders are closed, some state borders are being closed, passports aren’t being issued or renewed, the federal government is telling private companies what to produce, and the Federal Reserve is considering buying stakes in private companies. And this is just the United States. Other countries are following suit. For example, France is nationalizing businesses and Spain is nationalizing private hospitals. Disregard the claims of the nationalizations being temporary. In the government thesaurus temporary is a synonym for permanent.

So we now need permission to leave our homes, the borders are closed, nobody can get papers to travel outside of the country, and private businesses are being controlled by the state. This is a recipe for bad times to come, because these are all planks in the ideology of fascism. Anybody who had read even a base level of history of the consequences of fascism should be aware that the death toll was higher than even the most bleak COVID-19 projections. Moreover, people living under fascist regimes were in a constant state of anxiety because they could disappear at any moment for the transgression of angering a random government goon… or a neighbor.

The world is moving in a dangerous direction and COVID-19 is the emergency being exploited to justify it. If people continue to accept their governments grabbing for more and more power, they will soon wake up to a world far more dangerous and frightening than one where nobody took any precautions against COVID-19. Unfortunately, I know most of the world will ignore this warning because the majority of people are more scared of the threat they see than the threat they don’t see.

The Fragility of the Centrally Planned System

If COVID-19 has accomplished nothing else positive, it has been doing a wonderful job of illustrating the fragile nature of the centrally planned system under which we suffer.

At the tail end of last year the City of Minneapolis, for the good of Mother Gaia, required stores to charge a nickle for every plastic bag. This policy was put into place to encourage people to use reusable bags. Now many stores are banning reusable bags because they can spread disease.

The City of Minneapolis has also been waging a war against personally owned automobiles. I guess when you spend over $2 billion on trains you really want people to use them. But cramming a bunch of people into a small train car or bus is an ideal environment for a spreading contagion. To mitigate this problem, Metro Transit has asked people to avoid getting onto buses and train cars with 10 or more passengers. Oh, did I mention that Metro Transit also reduced service and suspended it entirely between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.? So don’t wait too long for the next bus or train!

Another centralized system that is under a great deal of stress is, as you might guess, the unemployment application system. Some people in Minnesota who have applied for unemployment benefits aren’t getting their checks and are unable to get a hold of anybody in the bureaucracy who can help them. To help alleviate the pressure, Minnesota is asking people to apply for unemployment benefits on specific days based on their social security number. Hopefully you don’t need your benefits right away!

In addition to a stressed unemployment system, Minnesota is also facing a lack of intensive care beds. Perhaps the State of Minnesota shouldn’t have put a moratorium on the construction of new hospitals into law.

These are just a handful of local examples. On a national scale the system is falling to pieces. The Federal Reserved has announced that it will print infinite money to alleviate the crisis brought on by national and state level economic shutdowns. Everybody will receive money, but they won’t be able to buy anything with it for very long.