In the interests of fuller disclosure, here is more background on a case that is getting limited coverage in the dominant media. Reports in the September 6-12 Cityview and the September 7 News-Gazette indicate that a local man, 21-year old Max Weissberg of Champaign, was indicted this week on a federal charge of sending a threatening communication. Weissberg appeared in federal court in Urbana on Friday, August 30, following his arrest on August 26. He was released on bond, ordered to have no access to the Internet and then was allowed to travel to Oregon to attend college, pending further court action on his case. What is left unclear in the above reports is the apparent motivation for Weissberg’s alleged threat.
The incident that led to Weissberg’s arrest, and an FBI raid on his mother’s Mahomet home where a computer was seized that was used in the commission of the e-mail threat, began when the editors of the CU Cityview received a threatening e-mail in the supposed name of ‘terrorists’ in opposition to the Cityview’s recent decision to suspend Carl Estabrook’s column until after this November’s election. Estabrook isrunning on the Green Party ticket for the Congressional seat currently held by Republican Tim Johnson.
The threat mentioned blowing up buses and implied that, unless Estabrook’s column was immediately restored to the Cityview, such action would be taken by the fictional group in support of the Green Party’s campaign at some unspecified date and location. The clear implication behind the threat was that ‘terrorists’ were working in support of Estabrook’s campaign.
The FBI was then called in by the Cityview editors to investigate this threatening communication. The FBI tracked the source of the message to the computer in Mahomet, which was seized after a warrant was issued authorizing a raid on the house of Weissberg’s mother.
Left unmentioned by both the News-Gazette and the Cityview articles on the arrest was Weissberg’s apparent motivation. He has been a regular writer of letters to the editor in the Cityview, hotly disagreeing with Estabrook’s stance on the Middle East, in particular the situation that exists in the struggle for a Palestinian state and the current Israeli government’s brutal suppression of this desire. It seems that Weissberg, like President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft, and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, has a myopic view of why opposition exists to brutal policies of oppression and hoped to connect all resistance to such policies to a vast international “terrorist” conspiracy.
Weissberg apparently chose to imply that the “terrorist” group in whose name he sent the threatening message was of Arab or other Middle Eastern origin in the hopes that the faked threat would draw an FBI crackdown on local Muslims, in addition to smearing the Estabrook campiagn by associating it with “terrorism”. The message was sent in name of the non-existent “Mohammed Arkady, Al-Aman Martyrs Brigade.”
This incident follows other recent attempts to smear local activists by associating them with unpalatable groups or messages. University of Illinois Law Professor Francis Boyle, a well-known international law expert and supporter of a Palestinian homeland, was the subject of a fake e-mail campaign earlier this summer. This was apparently done as part of a wider campaign of disinformation against supporters of the Palestinian cause that is said to have been traced to Israeli computer hackers. The Urbana-Champaign IMC site, like much of the rest of the IMC network, has been bombarded by supposed pro-Palestinian posts that have a distinctive white supremacist message in an apparent attempt to smear opponents of Israeli policy by falsely associating supporters of Palestine with neo-Nazi ideas and viewpoints.
The next court date for Weissberg was not mentioned in other coverage of this incident. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if convicted of the charge.