Patterico's Pontifications


Teacher Arrested for Praising Columbine Shooters in a Blog Comment

Filed under: Blogging Matters — DRJ @ 1:37 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

There’s a report about a West Bend, Wisconsin, high school teacher and former teachers’ union president who was arrested for praising the Columbine shooters in an anonymous blog comment:

“As readers of a conservative blog debated the subject of teacher salaries, a writer using the pseudonym “Observer” weighed in. The West Bend teachers’ salaries made him sick, the person wrote, adding that the 1999 Columbine High School killers had the right idea.

“They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time! Too bad the liberls (sic) rip them; they were heros (sic) and should be remembered that way,” the writer said.

But police say the writer was a teacher himself – and the past president of a teachers union – apparently posing as a teacher-hater. James Buss was arrested Thursday by West Bend police, and the 46-year-old Cudahy man could face criminal charges. He has been suspended from his job as a teacher at Oak Creek High School.”

A West Bend school official read the post and contacted law enforcement because the comment “one shot at a time” was interpreted as a threat. Police arrested Buss on criminal misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of computerized communication systems and disorderly conduct.

First, this seems like a clear First Amendment issue and I don’t see how the authorities can successfully prosecute Buss for his comments.

Second, I ran across this story last week at Boots & Sabres, the conservative blog where the comment was left. Here’s the background from the blog host:

“Yes, the comment in question was posted in a comment thread on B&S. Let me fill in the details…

Late on the evening of Friday, November 16th, Jed and I received an email from a detective with the West Bend Police Department asking me about the above comment. Do you remember what was happening that weekend? Yep. Gun deer season.

I saw the email at about 7:30 AM on the 17th while I was sitting in my deer stand. I promptly called the detective and consequently woke him up. He asked if we would provide the IP address of the commenter. Since I wasn’t anywhere near a computer and wouldn’t be for some time, I emailed Jed who sent the information in a matter of minutes. I guess Jed was let out of the bunker for a while.

The next week the detective called and we spoke about it. At no time did the detective even so much as hint that the proprietors of B&S were at fault. He asked us to remove the comment if we could preserve a permanent record. He also revealed that the complaint was filed by a member of the West Bend school administration.

The next thing I knew about this was when I read this news story saying that the commenter had been arrested. In case you were wondering, you are not anonymous on the internet. I have received several calls from reporters with various news organizations seeking comment. I haven’t returned any calls yet, because I wanted to write out the story in full form before somebody misquoted me.

This evening I called and spoke to the detective. He did confirm that no other evidence was found at the man’s home and that the charges are based on the comment he left here at B&S. It’s an ongoing investigation, so he couldn’t say much, but between him and some other sources, I think I have the majority of this story put together. The paperwork for the investigation was finished this afternoon and it will likely be referred to the District Attorney as soon as tonight (which probably means Monday, in reality).”

The blog hosts believe the police overreacted but they also point out that Buss posed as an illiterate, teacher-hating commenter, apparently in an attempt to defame those who oppose a local school bond:

“What do I think?

At first blush, I think it’s a gross overreaction for a comment left on a blog. Yes, the comment was idiotic and over the top, but it hardly constitutes a direct threat to anyone. It was explained to me that it was not believed that the commenter had any intent to harm anyone, but that the mere presence of a comment appearing to condone such violence had to be punished because it might encourage someone else to engage in violence against schools. I don’t buy that argument. In fact, let’s put it in context with the commenter’s next comment on that thread.

I am NOT advcting shootng teachrs. I agree with Mark belling when he said that theese kids were pushed into doing this by the stupid union teachrs at Colmbine. belling said that to bad only one teachr got it and lots of kids. shuld have been the other way. belling hates teachrs I like belling

It appears to me that the commenter is attempting to do one of two things. Option 1: the commenter is a right wing whack job that isn’t violent, but likes to engage in outlandish rhetoric. Option 2: the commenter is a liberal who is trying to discredit conservatives by acting like option 1.

As you can see from the story, the commenter is actually a union teacher from Oak Creek, but it gets more interesting than that. The commenter was also once the president of his local teachers’ union. This leads me to believe that Option 2 is the truth. This commenter is just a liberal union teacher who was trying to make conservatives look bad by pretending to be one and acting like an imbecile.

That being said, I still believe that the arrest was unwarranted. I realize that in a post-Columbine world that everyone is hypersensitive about any mention of Columbine or school shootings. But this comment was clearly just talk. When I gave the detective the IP address, I assumed that they would find him, chew him out a bit for being an idiot, and leave it alone. The fact that the West Bend Police decided to actually arrest him in the absence of any additional evidence of this guy being a threat is out of line.”

The blog hosts have solicited comments on the blogging ethics of providing the commenter’s IP address to the police. Mosey on over to Boots & Sabres if you have an opinion on the subject.


34 Responses to “Teacher Arrested for Praising Columbine Shooters in a Blog Comment”

  1. Blogging from a deer stand? Man, have we come a long way.

    As for the ethics of releasing the IP address, I don’t think that’s really a question. Every commenter willingly leaves that calling card every time they visit. If it were a business, or a site with a posted privacy policy, that would be different. But without some promise to protect that information, there is no obligation to do so.

    Pablo (99243e)

  2. Pablo,

    You pointed out in the very first comment the sub-points from this story that I noticed, especially deer stand blogging. And they’re Aggies, which makes it even more impressive. (Just kidding, Boots & Sabres!)

    DRJ (a6fcd2)

  3. What kind of stuff is it when someone prases a couple of cold blooded killers?

    krazy kagu (b3aac5)

  4. Step one: Threaten teachers.
    Step two: Demand extra hazard pay for teachers facing threats.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  5. I don’t support the action…I’d place it as an example of “wrong but not illegal.”

    On the other hand, I have a nasty little voice in my gut that is very gleeful that some idiot is actually getting in trouble for trying to make other folks look like possibly homicidal idiots.

    Foxfier (72422d)

  6. I believe this ties in quite well to the recent news from Gallup regarding mental health, or the lack of it, amongst what seems to be a majority on the left.

    It’s the only rational answer, which you can read more about here
    Want Better Mental Health (for yourself)? Vote Republican

    — Bob

    Bob Leibowitz (3dde57)

  7. There’s another point here regarding the IP address. It does not, by itself, take you directly to an address or an individual. It only leads you to the ISP from which you’d have to get the rest of the information. They probably have a privacy policy, may require subpoenas, etc…

    Pablo (99243e)

  8. I agree that he shouldn’t be prosecuted, but I would condition dropping the charges on a full written confession, an abject apology, and (most important) immediate resignation from his teaching job, never to return.

    Dr. Weevil (2640f1)

  9. My goodness one would have thought he said something with the N word in it, (N=noose not that other one)! :)

    Gotta agree with #5, the idiot posed seemingly for the sake of effect. Though I can’t understand why, I suppose I don’t need to. It’s still nice to see him getting slapped a bit for his actions though.

    The up side may be some awareness for all about who or what we portray ourselves to be and what we say that can be and will be misunderstood or misused.

    TC (1cf350)

  10. “Just say no to being a Moby troll, kids–it could lead to a big police officer wearing rubber gloves touching you in places where you *really* don’t want to be touched.”

    M. Scott Eiland (56ea55)

  11. Talk of 1st Amendment rights seems a bit premature.

    Blog says teacher arrested for “unlawful use of computerized communication systems”. If the IPS identified a school computer then (a) no question of free speech; and (b) the teacher would seem to have no defense.

    It does not matter what you said through a bullhorn, if the charge is stealing the bullhorn itself.

    Michael Spencer (3a5900)

  12. First, this seems like a clear First Amendment issue and I don’t see how the authorities can successfully prosecute Buss for his comments.

    Forget that it’s the internet where he said these things. If he, a teacher no less, had been video recorded praising the Columbine killers to a small group of people somewhere…what is the point of insane asylums if not to keep people like this teacher away from our children?

    Because it was on the internet where he said this, it is also an incitement. Some say he was doing a liberal sock puppet/straw man routine to present a liberal’s fantasy of conservatives. I don’t see how that defense will work for him since he posted his threat on what I’ve heard is a conservative site and if he wants to argue that conservatives are this way, his actions would seemingly be an attempt to incite them to sympathize with the Columbine murderers.

    If he is released from jail, how do the parents in the community accept this teacher’s presence in the community and wouldn’t any town where he relocates to need to be made aware of his presence? How does it get explained to the parents that this guy is safe?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  13. The news stories have said he posted from his home computer, not a school computer. Yes, the blog owner rolled quickly and handed over the IP info, even though he’s later stated that he didn’t think the comment was a threat.

    The deeper and far funnier story, in a karmic or ironic sort of way, is that the blog owner Owen had led an AFP-sponsored robo-calling effort against West Bend’s school referendum a month or so ago. School officials might’ve been eager to pin a threat on his commenters. Who knew it would turn out to be a teacher from a different school district? I have other commentary on my blog.

    It only goes to show you – on many conservative blogs, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between the real posts and the fake ones. This teacher was trying to pretend to be a “right wing whack job”, as the blog owner put it. This teacher was merely trying to blend in by imitating the spelling, typing and logic skills of many other B&S commenters. Read a few comments to find other examples.

    John Foust (3795e5)

  14. No, j curtis, his comment does not meet the constitutional standards for an incitement exception.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  15. No, j curtis, his comment does not meet the constitutional standards for an incitement exception.

    Maybe not, but it doesn’t help his case that he shouldn’t be in an insane asylum. But go ahead and tell me why it doesn’t meet the standards for criminal incitement, just for discussion’s sake.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  16. The constitutional test for regulating speech using a claim that it incites is that “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action”.

    The comments don’t meet that test and prosecution for what he said would not be constitutional under First Amendment.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  17. What is the measure of immenentness? How is mens rea figured, as what he might expect those he’s inciting to do or what those he’s inciting actually have a mind to do?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  18. I’m pretty certain that SPQR is right about the prosecution. I can’t imagine that it would hold up in any competent court. The prosecutor should not file.

    But getting this guy fired? Absolutely. The school district should do whatever it takes to get this guy out.


    JRM (355c21)

  19. 18

    Contentions of “he should” or “he shouldn’t” are worthless without making your case.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  20. Mens rea is not part of the constitutional test, j curtis. Here, there just is neither an intention to incite violence nor a likelihood of doing so. This won’t be prosecuted on the content of his comment.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  21. 20

    How is it explained to parents that this “teacher” is not a threat and he should be able to reside in their community?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  22. j curtis, what kind of question is that? If someone writes an offensive statement on a blog comment, then he should be exiled from his community?

    I’m puzzled by what would cause you to write such a comment here.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  23. 23

    Did the teacher make comments that a parent who lives in the community where the teacher resides should be concered about?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  24. j curtis, it does not matter. Our nation is not about punishing offensive speech, that is why we have the bill of rights. It is not the role of government or anyone else to “explain” why someone who has not committed a crime is not punished and exiled.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  25. 25

    Then is it safe to say that your belief is that the parents who live in the same community as this Columbine massacre worshipping psychopath shouldn’t be concerned that he’s a threat to their children?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  26. Not it is not safe to completely misrepresent what I’ve written.

    I wasn’t at all sympathetic to this clown, because it looked more likely to me that he was a Moby troll trying to discredit opposition to teacher pay raises. But you are making him look more like a victim, and less like the clown that he is, with your comments.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  27. How do you explain to the parents in this community that you have a strong belief that this guy is a “moby troll”, so therefore they have nothing to worry about?

    Do you educate the community on “moby trolls”?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  28. John, I would think that “robo-calling” implies recorded messages. Why would you need to “lead an effort” to do that? All you need is a phone bank and a list of numbers. I suspect that what he really led was a grass-roots calling effort.

    And although there is no sure way to identify a leftist troll, it’s easier than most leftists think. That’s because leftists don’t really understand conservatives so they are always making comments that sound weird. I actually gave a couple of examples, but then deleted them. Why give camouflage lessons to the trolls?

    Doc Rampage (ebfd7a)

  29. I just wanna know where in the US a teacher is overpaid, so my mom can move there…

    Scott Jacobs (e3904e)

  30. Yes, the effort was prerecorded, automated calling – not a bank of humans. It wasn’t grass-roots, it was supported by AFP.

    John Foust (3795e5)

  31. Then in what sense did he “lead an effort”? There was nothing to lead. There was no effort.

    Doc Rampage (ebfd7a)

  32. Doc, are you suggesting that the computers did it on their own? Owen’s wife recorded the message. It said it was from AFP. Owen’s a player in AFP. You think there’s no connection?

    John Foust (3795e5)

  33. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

    Idetrorce (807c9a)

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