Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia has requested a federal inquiry into the practice known as SWAT-ting, after several conservative bloggers reported they were victims of it.
Chambliss has asked the Department of Justice to determine whether federal laws were broken by perpetrators of SWAT-ting hoaxes. According to Chambliss’ letter sent June 6 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, SWAT-ting involves “a perpetrator contacting a local police department to report some type of violent incident at the home of the target…. In response, a dispatcher then sends a large number of … police units, in a heightened state of readiness, to the home of the still unsuspecting target.”
Robert Bluey, director of media and public policy for The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said, “In all the years I’ve been working with bloggers, I’ve never witnessed attacks so dangerous and threatening as the recent SWAT-ting incidents. This appears to be an attempt to intimidate and stifle free speech. It’s a shameful practice and deserves more attention from the media and lawmakers.”
Silencing Conservative Bloggers
Chambliss stated initial contact with dispatchers by SWAT-ting perpetrators is conducted through traditional telephony or Voice over Internet Protocol technology to create the impression the calls originate from the intended victims’ homes. This harassment allegedly has occurred as an organized attempt to silence conservative bloggers, including Mike Stack of The Crying Wolfe, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, and Patrick Frey from Patterico’s Pontifications.
Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Legal Foundation in Midland, Michigan, questions whether interstate law enforcement of SWAT-ting laws will be any more successful than it is for “filing a false police report.” He asks, “Are they asking for more criminal laws? Bigger fines?”
SWAT-ing is not the first legal infringement on bloggers’ First Amendment rights, though it is the first coordinated partisan attack to this degree. So-called SLAPP lawsuits, defined as legal actions intended to censor or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition, have plagued authors and publishers for years. Anti-SLAPP legislation is strongest in California, where the original anti-SLAPP legislation was passed in 1992. According to www.anti-slapp.org, 27 states have enacted similar laws.
Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason magazine, says a federal anti-SLAPP statute would be the most appropriate approach for Congress to take. “Basically, SLAPPs and SWATs are legally unrelated. But everyone who works in the public sphere is at risk of being tied up in court forever by truly bizarre legislation. When it’s against an individual blogger, it’s tough.”
Lindsey Dodge ([email protected]) is an assistant editor at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“Chambliss Demands Inquiry Into Attacks Against Conservative Commentators,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss Press Release, June 6, 2012: http://www.chambliss.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=9f27a0be-cc7d-43e7-bbd8-6b794f5ba0fd