By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By “taking the case seriously,” Wilson said, he meant setting an example to deter other would-be revolutionaries. He hinted that he favored an 8-to-10-month sentencing range. “Maybe I’m just living in another world,” he said of the plea deal. “I just don’t understand it.”
“I don’t need their approval —” the prosecutor began.
“How old are you?” the judge suddenly inquired.
“Thirty-eight,” the surprised prosecutor replied.
“You look younger,” Wilson pronounced, before telling the court that Austin’s case “has national and international implications.”
Wilson then announced he was postponing sentencing until July 28 and ordered Castro-Silva to contact the Justice Department and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller for their views on the plea arrangement.
Filing out of the courtroom, Castro-Silva was heard to mutter, “Well, I have my marching orders.”
Much of the Internet is a cricket chorus of disaffected voices, and Raisethefist.com, which Austin still operates, is no different from any other of the woollier one-man sites on the left and right. Perhaps, in another time, the feds would have merely regarded Sherman Austin as a minor irritant, marginally worth watching. But then 9/11 hit, and the rest, as they say, is hysteria. The feds have also used petty crimes as excuses to apprehend Austin and intensify their case against him. “On or about June 24,” the FBI affidavit notes with deadpan seriousness,
“. . . Austin was cited by San Diego Police Department (SDPD) for a traffic violation, California Vehicle Codes Section 21456(8), ‘pedestrian crossing against a don’t walk or wait sign’ . . .” It would appear that it’s not the PATRIOT Act so much as the DMV book that’s been thrown at Austin: A driving-without-a-license citation was used to bump up his sentencing schedule in the same way the possession of a handgun might be used to raise the severity of a robbery charge.
Although the American Civil Liberties Union is not involved in Austin’s case (it does not assist defendants in criminal proceedings), his plight seems to be one of those small stories told in quiet courtrooms that define the liberties we can or cannot take for granted during times of national emergency — or, at least, the government’s self-declared emergencies.
“Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote more than 75 years ago in a case involving what were then called Reds. “Men feared witches and burnt women . . . To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to believe that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced.”
How much of a threat RTF has posed is a point that’s becoming moot. Sooner or later, Sherman Austin is going to jail, having agreed to plead guilty rather than risk a much longer sentence that could be put into place through “terrorist enhancements” provided by the PATRIOT Act. Except for the “RTF Legal Defense Fund” advertised on his own Web site, there are no “Save Sherman” committees and no petition drives.
“The whole thing’s like a movie script,” Jennifer Ruggiero says, again reflecting on the surreal logic of her son’s ordeal. “We’re not bomb-throwing radicals. I raised my kids to be good people and to give back to the world — we have faith in this country.”
When asked what he’ll miss while in custody, Sherman Austin’s reply is simple: “Probably just being out seeing people I know.”