A California blogger named Gary Hunt who defied a federal judicial order to remove the names of eight confidential informants from his website was arrested by the FBI March 30. He is charged with contempt for disobeying Federal District Judge Anna J. Brown. He is currently incarcerated in Sacramento.
Hunt was not merely a writer but also a supporter of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The leader of that occupation was a man named Ammon Bundy, and he in turn was the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had his own standoff with federal officials in 2014. The elder Bundy had refused to pay Bureau of Land Management grazing fees for two decades. The BLM sought to recover the unpaid grazing fees by seizing Cliven Bundy’s cattle. During the so-called “Bundy standoff” that followed the Bundys became heroes to some conservatives.
The Bundys and their various followers thought they had discovered a constitutional right. They subscribed to an ideology called the sovereign citizen movement – which believes free men can ignore the laws they don’t like – and they fervently believed that the BLM and the Forest Service had a duty to turn over the land they controlled to the states. The FBI calls sovereign citizen believers “extremists” and, not surprisingly, there were nine FBI informants among the Malheur occupiers.
The occupation ended after a man named LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed by state police. Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan and three other occupiers were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.”
Some defendants, including Ammon Bundy were acquitted, some took plea deals and some were found guilty. The result of all this has been a complicated legal mess in which Gary Hunt finds himself charged with trying to report the truth.
For the record, the informants Hunt dared to name were Terri “Mama Bear” Linnell; Allen “Wolf” Varner; Dennis Dickenson aka Dennis Jones; Fabio Minoggio aka John Killman; Mark McConnell; Robert “Rob” Seever aka R.W. Seaver; and Thomas S. Dyman.
There. Can you feel the foundations of the Republic shuddering yet? No? That’s okay. No one else can either except the FBI and a judge named Anna Brown.
The Hunt case is being reported here for two reasons. First, nobody except Maxine Bernstein at the Portland Oregonian has bothered to report Hunt’s arrest – not the New York Times, CBS, Fox News or Entertainment Tonight. And second, Hunt’s case may repercuss into the sorts of stories this page covers, particularly concerning the highly secret shenanigans that surround the Waco Twin Peaks case.
This page has sought, obtained and reported the identities of informants as varied as Steve Veltus, Dan Horrigan and Ashley Charles Wyatt because informers are integral to making federal cases, they are often very immoral people and an informed citizenry has a right to know who they are, what they do and how much they get paid.
The issue is over a slight point of law called “informant’s privilege” that arises out of a 1957 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a case titled Roviaro v. United States. Roviaro overturned three previous appeals courts cases that had all ruled that “the Government’s right to withhold the identity of an informer who helped to set up the commission of the crime and who was present at its occurrence… must be disclosed whenever the informer’s testimony may be relevant and helpful to the accused’s defense.”
What the Seventh Circuit actually ruled was “no fixed rule with respect to disclosure is justifiable.” It never forbid that disclosure in the press or, for that matter, in a conversation in a bar.
It is unprecedented for a federal judge to order a blogger to censor what he has published after the fact. The truth always matters in a free country. Louis D. Brandeis, the often quoted Supreme Court Justice who died a mere lifetime, 76 years, ago argued “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
Judge Brown should re-read both Roviaro and Brandeis. American journalism should rise to Gary Hunt’s defense. If the government can censor him it can censor anybody.