First Amendment Issues

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Westboro Baptist Congregants Meet Human Wall of… Zombies

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues

Westboro Baptist loons run into protest wall—made of zombies?
by Howard Portnoy
August 2, 2012

The Supreme Court may have greenlighted the hate-filled demonstrations by misguided adherents to the teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church, but the high court never said that counter-protests were not also covered by the First Amendment. Ever since the court handed down its controversial ruling, “human walls” have become commonplace at military funerals—gestures meant to neutralize the church group’s message of hate. In one widely reported example of the trend, the rock band Foo Fighters showed up in Kansas City in September of 2011 to “serenade” Westboro congregants.

Now one trend has meshed with another. KIRO-TV reports that last Friday, protesters assembling outside the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in DuPont, Wash., were met by—get ready for it—a wall of the living dead. (more…)

Cartoonist to Face Criminal Charges for Parodying Legislator?

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Parody, Political Pranks

Moderator’s note: This won’t be the first time a satirist co-opted official letterhead to make a statement (see Joey Skaggs’ Brookyln Bridge Lottery Hoax, done in 1992), but it may be the last!!

Dane County DA considers charges against cartoonist who sent fake news
by Sandy Cullen
Wisconsin State Journal
March 14, 2012

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Wednesday his office is considering whether to file a felony charge against a political cartoonist who reproduced the letterhead of state Rep. Steve Nass on a phony press release sent to a Madison newspaper.

Ozanne said Capitol Police have asked his office to determine whether Mike Konopacki of Madison should be charged with violating a state law that makes it a felony for someone who is not a public officer or public employee to act in an official capacity or to exercise any function of a public office.

The Class I felony is punishable by up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Ozanne said his office has the discretion to file a different felony or misdemeanor charge, or to not prosecute.

Konopacki, 60, said Wednesday he believes his parody — which makes fun of Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, for his role in canceling an art exhibit related to last year’s protests at the state Capitol — is protected political speech.

He said he sent the fake news release to the editorial page editor at The Capital Times, which posted an erroneous story on the paper’s website and on Capital Newspapers’ website,, on Feb. 25. It was removed a short while later after the paper learned the source document was a fabrication.

Konopacki, who specializes in labor issues, has drawn editorial cartoons for The Capital Times for many years on a freelance basis, the paper said in an online statement.


Is There a Right to Lie?

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Is There a Right to Lie?
By William Bennett Turner, Op-Ed Contributor
The New York Times
February 19, 2012

Berkeley, Calif. Xavier Alvarez is a liar. Even the brief filed on his behalf in the United States Supreme Court says as much: “Xavier Alvarez lied.” It informs us that he has told tall tales about playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, being married to a Mexican starlet and rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. But as the brief reminds us, “none of those lies were crimes.”

Another of his falsehoods, however, did violate the law. In 2007, while introducing himself at a meeting of a California water board, he said that he was a retired Marine who had been awarded the Medal of Honor (both lies). He was quickly exposed as a phony and pilloried in the community and press as an “idiot” and the “ultimate slime.”

But his censure did not end there. The federal government prosecuted him under the Stolen Valor Act, which prohibits falsely claiming to have been awarded a military medal, with an enhanced penalty (up to a year in prison) for claiming to have received the Medal of Honor. Mr. Alvarez was convicted but appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that the act violated the First Amendment.


Occupy the Truth: Whistleblowers Conference, Feb 17-19, UC Berkeley

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Political Challenges

Joey Skaggs will be in Oakland for this open space Whistleblowers conference, February 17-19, 2012. Admission is free and open to the public.

From the conference website:

“There is no truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.” – Thomas Jefferson

Transparency needs your brain. Whistleblowers need your protection. Fresh Juice Party, Courage to Resist and Bradley Manning Support Network invite you to bring your ideas.

Please join journalists, former military personnel, academics, activists, policy makers, media experts, filmmakers and whistleblowers for an open discussion designed to encourage unexpected interdisciplinary alliances and action.

This will be a unique participant driven environment where we will co-create the agenda for the day. [It] will be a first of its kind activist/expert un-conference mix so expect to be surprised. Sharing, networking and creating new alliances will be central to providing strategies and support for whistleblowers.

Come and enjoy the freedom of discussion and mobility of an unconference where serious discussion interplays with an open space atmosphere of creativity and play.

Check the conference site for more information. Register at Event Brite & Check for updates on Facebook and Twitter @OccupyTruthCon #TruthCon

Toying with Authority

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Submitted by Deborah:

Doll ‘protesters’ present small problem for Russian police
by Miriam Elder
26 January 2012

Police in Siberian city ask prosecutors to investigate legality of protest involving display of toy figures holding miniature placards

Russian police don’t take kindly to opposition protesters – even if they’re 5cm high and made of plastic.

Police in the Siberian city of Barnaul have asked prosecutors to investigate the legality of a recent protest that saw dozens of small dolls – teddy bears, Lego men, South Park figurines – arranged to mimic a protest, complete with signs reading: “I’m for clean elections” and “A thief should sit in jail, not in the Kremlin”. (more…)

The Art of the Prank Supports SOPA/PIPA Resistance Day!

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From Ars Technica
January 18, 2012

Today is SOPA Resistance Day at Ars. Sites across the ‘Net, from reddit to the Internet Archive, from Wikipedia to Google, are protesting the excesses of the Stop Online Piracy Act. SOPA remains a flawed bill that treats piracy as an existential threat to the US economy and to a sacred class of rightsholders—and in doing so loses all perspective on appropriate remedies. The discussion is absolutely unbalanced.

Many sites have chosen to go dark (i.e., offline) today, a stance we respect—but it’s not the right path for us. Ars Technica has, for 14 years, tried to be an information resource, and the most appropriate response from Ars is to provide even more information on the legislation, how you can fight it, and what’s really at stake. (more…)

Live Canvases on 42nd Street

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, First Amendment Issues

From ArtInfo

Artist Andy Golub takes to the streets using locals as his canvas:

Jingo by Andy Golub

Related Story:

  • Today, Street Artist Andy Golub Paints Naked Bodies in Times Square (Again)
  • Syrian Cartoonist Beaten

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    Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues

    Syrian security forces break hands of political cartoonist Ali Ferzat
    by Elizabeth Flock
    Washington Post
    August 25, 2011

    Renowned Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was kidnapped, badly beaten, and left bleeding on the side of the road in an attack Thursday blamed on the security forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Ferzat had once had high hopes for Assad as leader, having been visited long ago by the aspiring opthamologist, who told the cartoonist all his work should be published — even cartoons banned in the country, the Guardian reports.

    But in recent years, Ferzat, now 60 and based in Damascus, had increasingly criticized not only the bureaucracy and corruption in Assad’s regime but also his brutal crackdown on protesters.


    Artist Mideo Cruz on Art & Exorcism

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    Filed under: First Amendment Issues, The Big One

    Editor’s note: This article from ARTINFO brings to mind Joey Skaggs’ Crucifixion Performance.
    As a young artist living on the Lower East Side of New York City, Skaggs created a two hundred pound sculpture depicting a naked rotting skeletal corpse with a human skull, barbed wire crown of thorns, long human hair, and a metal penis dangling between the legs to protest the hypocrisy of the Church and man’s inhumanity to man. From 1966 to 1969, on Easter Sunday, Skaggs dragged the crucifix to various locations in New York City causing a range of violent reactions and police actions. The crucifix was destroyed by the public.

    “You Might End Up in a Casket”: A Q&A With Mideo Cruz on His Controversial Dildo Jesus Sculpture and the Perils of Political Art in the Philippines
    August 16, 2011

    What is Philippines-based artist Mideo Cruz going to do now that his native country’s former first lady Imelda Marcos personally demanded that an exhibition of his work to be closed? Cruz’s installation “Poleteismo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines plastered the walls with a dense assortment of political and religious imagery — as well as reliquary-like boxes and a large crucifix affixed with a dildo. It sparked the largest uproar over free speech of recent memory in the country, making international headlines, and leading the show to be shuttered amid rage from offended Catholics. Such was the uproar that even shutting the show wasn’t enough: an exorcist was called in to cleanse the space of “Poleteismo”‘s taint.

    Cruz’s work has been branded little more than “shock art,” but the artist — who says he lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a time in 2009, incidentally, at the PointB Worklodge — has a different take. Following the closure of the show, Cruz talked to ARTINFO about the meaning of “Poleteismo,” explained his take on the country’s political climate, and laughed at death threats from “people who call themselves Christians.”

    Can you describe your piece and your inspiration for creating the artwork that has caused so much controversy? (more…)

    Legal Systems Challenged by Social Networking

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    A sampling of social media sparked flash mobs in the news:

    Sheriff: Rapper incited phone flash mob on Twitter

    AP: The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department says The Game incited a telephone flash mob that overwhelmed the emergency phone system. Read more…

    SF transit blocks cellphones to disrupt protest

    AP: A decision by San Francisco Bay Area transit officials to cut off cell phone service at some of its stations to thwart a planned protest drew angry response Saturday from one transit board member who said she was shocked that officials acted as “this type of censor.”

    Bay Area Rapid Transit officials have said they shut down power Thursday evening to cellular towers for stations stretching from downtown to the San Francisco’s airport after learning protesters planned to use mobile devices to coordinate its demonstration. Read more…

    Philly mayor chides black parents over teen mobs

    AP: The painful images and graphic stories of repeated violent assaults and vandalism by mobs of black teenagers had gotten to be too much for Mayor Michael Nutter.

    As an elected official and a “proud black man” in the nation’s fifth-largest city, Nutter felt he had to go a step beyond ordering a law enforcement crackdown.

    So he channeled the spirit of another straight-talking Philadelphian: Bill Cosby. Nutter took to the pulpit at his church last weekend and gave an impassioned, old-fashioned talking-to directed at the swarms of teens who have been using social networks to arrange violent sprees downtown, injuring victims and damaging property. Moreover, he called out parents for not doing a better job raising their children. Read more…

    Food Critic Punished for Critical Review

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    Taiwanese Blogger Gets Jail Time For Negative Restaurant Review
    Huffington Post
    June 23, 2011

    A food blogger in Taiwan was sentenced to 30 days in jail, given two years probation and fined 200,000 New Taiwan Dollars ($6928 as of 3 PM this afternoon) for writing a negative review of a restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan. The blogger, whose surname is Liu, called the food “too salty” and said that there were cockroaches in the kitchen. A regular customer read Liu’s blog, and told the restaurant’s owner about the review. The owner sued Liu for libel. The Taichung court that ultimately ruled on the case decided that Liu’s review was libelous because it was written after just one dinner, and so was not well-informed enough for such harsh judgment. The decision is final.

    It’s not rare for restaurants to sue reviewers in America, but they almost never win. A 1985 ruling by the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court in New York, in the case Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur S.A., gave critics extremely wide berth for their restaurant reviews. The judge in the case explained that American readers understand that reviews represent the opinion of the writer, and so should not be taken factually. Subsequent lawsuits in America have almost never been decided in favor of restaurants—our critics are too influential for punishment!

    WikiLeaks Top Secret Mobile Information Unit on the Move

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    Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, First Amendment Issues

    From artist, Clark Stoeckley, June 14, 2011:

    I started the WikiLeaks Top Secret Mobile Information Collection Unit on March 19th during a rally for Bradley Manning at the White House. My goal is to bring awareness to WikiLeaks, protest the detention of Bradley Manning, and make the government and corporations sweat when they look out the window and see me parked in front of their buildings.

    Though I am not connected to WikiLeaks, I believe we are all WikiLeaks. I realize that I am not only representing WikiLeaks with this project, but everyone who supports them. I strongly believe that Bradley Manning is a hero and true patriot.

    Video of the WikiLeaks truck’s maiden voyage on March 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.:

    Since [March] I have been driving around New York City, Washington DC, Alexandria, Arlington and Quantico, VA, as well as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. Soon I would like to make a trip to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where Bradley Manning was recently transported.

    Tomorrow (Wednesday) there is a protest at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, VA for the WikiLeaks Grand Jury. David House (Manning’s best friend), Tyler Watkins (Manning’s boyfriend), and Nadia Heninger (WikiLeaks spokeswoman) have been subpoenaed to testify. I will be circling the square all day.


    Wisconsin Legislators’ Next Frontier? Stop Those Damn Prank Callers!

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    Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Phone Pranks, Prank News

    Wisconsin legislature pushing for prank call ban
    by Laura Donovan
    The Daily Caller
    March 2, 2011

    A week after Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker received a prank call from blogger Ian Murphy, who posed as conservative billionaire David Koch, two Wisconsin legislators introduced a bill Monday that would ban prank calls, reports the Badger Herald.

    Republican state Sen. Mary Lazich and Republican state Rep. Mark Honadel said their measure would forbid deceiving the call’s recipient into believing the caller is someone he or she is not.

    “While use of spoofing is said to have some legitimate uses, it can also be used to frighten, harass and potentially defraud,” Lazich and Honadel told the Badger Herald. (more…)

    Sustain the First Amendment: Support WikiLeaks

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    Submitted by Deborah Thomas of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting): Stand with Daniel Ellsberg, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky and others! Sign the petition to support Wikileaks.

    As journalists, activists, artists, scholars and citizens, we condemn the array of threats and attacks on the journalist organization WikiLeaks. After the website’s decision, in collaboration with several international media organizations, to publish hundreds of classified State Department diplomatic cables, many pundits, commentators and prominent U.S. politicians have called for harsh actions to be taken to shut down WikiLeaks’ operations.

    Major corporations like, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa have acted to disrupt the group’s ability to publish. U.S. legal authorities and others have repeatedly suggested, without providing any evidence, that WikiLeaks’ posting of government secrets is a form of criminal behavior–or that at the very least, such activity should be made illegal. “To the extent there are gaps in our laws,” Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed (11/29/10), “we will move to close those gaps.”

    Throughout this episode, journalists and prominent media outlets have largely refrained from defending WikiLeaks’ rights to publish material of considerable news value and obvious public interest. It appears that these media organizations are hesitant to stand up for this particular media outlet’s free speech rights because they find the supposed political motivations behind WikiLeaks’ revelations objectionable.

    But the test for one’s commitment to freedom of the press is not whether one agrees with what a media outlet publishes or the manner in which it is published. (more…)

    A Personal Correspondence from Julian Assange

    Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Propaganda and Disinformation

    Editor’s note: The Art of the Prank is in receipt of previously unpublished content from the vast archive of WikiLeaks documents. We feel we have an obligation, in the pursuit of freedom of information, to publish these excerpts as we receive them. We will continue to post them as they are sent to us. We realize the danger Julian Assange faces. We can honestly say we do not know where he is.


    Thank you for your offer to publish some of the more controversial classified U.S. government documents WikiLeaks brought into the public domain on the 28th of November 2010. Although The New York Times and the Guardian began publishing some of the 251,287 WikiLeaks documents, The New York Times has bowed to government pressure and decided to withhold some passages and in some cases, entire cables whose disclosure, they claim, could compromise American intelligence efforts and even upset U.S. domestic political stability.

    Some of the documents being withheld which will give the world unprecedented insight into the US Government’s foreign and domestic activities, appear to be benign except as to cause some embarrassment to certain public figures. One cable withheld is about Silvio Berlusconi, who, while contemplating a run for the Italian presidency, took a medical holiday in Luzern, Switzerland to have a very large “OMERTA” tattoo removed from his back by surgical laser. Also, he and Vladimir Putin have been described by an aid as having had an alcohol and drug fueled “boys night,” shooting out the windows of the UK Consul General’s empty parked Daimler with automatic weapons the pair borrowed from their bodyguards on a Berlusconi Moscow visit.

    Sarah Palin attempted to secretly adopt two Downs Syndrome infants through an Asian adoption agency. The Chinese balked when Palin revealed that she needed stand-ins for Trig, (more…)