News not fit to print -- armed feds shut down teenager's website

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Tue Feb 5 23:55:32 MST 2002

You'd think that if a couple of dozen government agents in full military
regalia busted into a family's home in a quiet, residential neighborhood to
confiscate a teenager's computers and thereby put his website out of
business, because the government doesn't like what the young man is saying,
someone would notice, someone would say something, someone would raise an

But not in America today, and not when that "someone" is the capitalist

A couple of weeks ago what I described is what happened to a young man in
the LA area. Sherman Austin's home was raided by heavily armed feds who
confiscated all his computers (he had 8), thereby shutting down, of which he was the founder, and putting him out of a
job (he's a self-employed computer geek -- web pages, networks, the usual).

Sherman wasn't arrested, and he got a version of back
up in short order, with news of what had happened. It got picked up in
Indymedia, and from there on various internet mailing lists, including
Declan McCullagh's politech (Declan is Wired's DC correspondent and a minor
luminary in EFF and internet-public-policy type circles). Newsbytes picked
it up here: , from there it
went to slashdot ("News for nerds. Stuff that matters.") and the LA Weekly: (it's halfway down the

Now here's one interesting thing: Newsbytes belongs to the Washington Post,
and provides much of the material for the Post's Washtech site as well as
tech stuff for the Post's main web site. But the story wasn't picked up by
either one. I guess the prowar types running the Post's newsroom don't have
all that tight a control over Newsbytes, or perhaps "management" was in
meetings, but it did make it there. Not that you can find it *now* on
newsbytes unless you have the story's URL, within a day or two all active
links to the item from anywhere on the site a web surfer might visit had

But by that point every journalist covering the Internet as their beat
either had heard of the story or should have. All the serious ones --the few
that are left, a handful or less at each site-- follow slashdot and each
other's sites promotional emails as well as various listservs. Yet its been
absent from the more popular sites like ZDnet and Cnet and Wired, as well as
from the tech sections of others that try to follow the sector seriously,
like the NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN.

Not that I believe any conspiracy is involved. The American "free press" now
consists entirely of housebroken puppies as far as I can tell. Their bark
was always worse than their bite, but now they don't even bark any more.

The only other article about Sherman is in Tueday's New York Post. It
reports that Sherman was arrested during the protests in New York (typically
on a BS disorderly conduct charge) but is
no longer in the hands of the NYPD:

"February 5, 2002 -- A would-be teen terrorist, wanted by the FBI for
allegedly posting a how-to-blow-things-up Web site, was nabbed during World
Economic Forum demonstrations, cops said yesterday.

"Sherman Austin, 18, of tony Sherman Oaks, Calif., was arrested Saturday for
disorderly conduct during a demonstration at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.

"They soon discovered that Austin was suspected by the feds of posting
explosives information on the Internet. When investigators raided his
apartment Jan. 24, they said they discovered a treasure-trove of
mischief-making tools.

"In addition to computers, they found literature advocating revolution, gas
canisters, iced-tea bottles filled with flammable material, gas masks and an
anarchist flag.

"Austin's car contained fertilizer, cans of brake fluid and two gas
canisters. He runs an anarchist Web site that provides a litany of methods
that can be used for urban thuggery - including making explosives.

"He has been turned over to the feds...."

Imagine that! "Mischief making tools" like "computers" and "literature" and
even "an anarchist flag." Not to mention the brake fluid found in a car.

In the current political climate, calling someone a "would-be teen terrorist
wanted by the FBI," in addition to being libelous and defamatory, is
tantamount to issuing invitations to a lynching. Which is probably an
appropriate point to note that Sherman is Black.

The best place to get what information is available on Sherman's case, as
well as to see a mirror of most of the banned web site (from Google's cache
of web pages and other sources), is at a page put up by Prof.  David S.
Touretzky. He is the computer science sr. research scientist at Carnegie
Mellon University, and the author of the 500-odd character perl script
implementing the DeCSS algorythm (which allows you to view DVD movies on
computers running operating systems that the movie monopolies don't aprove
of, like Linux).

That page is here:

Obviously, the government has targeted Sherman for victimization as a test
case. That they have not trumpeted the raid on his home is an indication
that the feds are testing the waters, waiting to see what reaction there
will be before proceeding further.

I'll spare everyone the corresponding rant, first amendment, an injury to
one, and so on: the post is long enough as it is.

And it is much later than most of us seems to realize.


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