Because so many people are looking to this blog for my Very Important Thoughts on Very Important Things, here, briefly, is my gut reaction to Friday’s “terrorism” arrest.
It seems like the FBI is arresting people based on their character; specifically, based on their hypothetical ability and willingness to carry out a crime given the correct conditions.
I can think of a whole bunch of hypothetical situations in which I’d be willing to commit a crime. (And a few not-so-hypothetical ones—I did drink a few beers in my teens and I rarely follow the speed limit.) But you can’t arrest me for committing a crime that I only have a theoretical willingness to commit. Obviously.
Here’s some sci-fi, because sometimes that’s good at illustrating the truth. This sci-fi isn’t even particularly far fetched. Say the FBI develops a realistic virtual reality environment in which they may place suspected potential terrorists and present them with opportunities to commit terrorist acts. Within this virtual environment, a suspect successfully completes a mission that results in catastrophic loss of virtual life. Can you then arrest that suspect for terrorism or murder?
Clearly not, because the suspect didn’t actually do anything except allow herself to be influenced by her environment. We can conclude that the suspect is gullible, maybe, or immoral, or corrupt. But those are all character traits, and you can’t prosecute someone for defects of character.
Unless you’re in a dystopian novel, I guess.
So, draw what you will from this scenario about Friday’s sting. There are important differences (like, this did not take place in virtual reality), but also some pretty stark similarities. My conclusion is that these FBI sting operations lead us to arrest people for some pretty frightening reasons, and I really hope that the defense will argue entrapment (it seems like they will/are).