Well, Jesus Christ. This is unbelievable. (h/t Dutch.)
When Sen. Jim Bunning complained on the Senate floor in February that he’d missed the Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game because of a debate on unemployment benefits — a debate the Kentucky Republican himself prevented from proceeding to a vote — Bruce Shore got angry.
“I was livid. I was just livid,” said Shore, 51, who watched the floor proceedings on C-SPAN from his home in Philadelphia. “I’m on unemployment, so it affects me. I’m in shock.”
Instead of just being angry, Shore took action: He sent several emails to Bunning staffers, blasting the senator for blocking the benefits.
“ARE you’all insane,” said part of one letter Shore sent on Feb. 26 (which he shared with HuffPost). “NO checks equal no food for me. DO YOU GET IT??”
In that letter he signed off as “Brad Shore” from Louisville. He said he did the same thing in several messages sent via the contact form on Bunning’s website. “My assumption was that if he gets an email from Philadelphia, who cares?” he said. “Why would he even care if a guy from Philadelphia gets upset?”
Bunning might not have cared, but the FBI did. Sometime in March, said Shore, agents came calling to ask about the emails. They read from printouts and asked if Shore was the author, which he readily admitted. They asked a few questions, and then, according to Shore, they said, “All right, we just wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything to worry about.”
But on March 13, U.S. Marshals showed up at Shore’s house with a grand jury indictment. Now he’s got to appear in federal court in Covington, Ky. on May 28 to answer for felony email harassment. Specifically, the indictment (PDF) says that on Feb. 26, Shore “did utilize a telecommunications device, that is a computer, whether or not communication ensued, without disclosing his identity and with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, and harass any person who received the communication.”
The language of Shore’s indictment is taken directly from the statute — there’s no description of the actual crime. The Kentucky U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, but said it’s a typical indictment. The crime carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $250,000 maximum fine.
Shore swears he didn’t intend to make a threat. He thought sending angry letters to Congress was a First Amendment thing. “If I send 50 letters to Congress, is that illegal or is it just me wasting paper?”
Harvey Silverglate, a prominent civil liberties lawyer and the author of “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent”, has long argued that vague laws allow the federal government to prosecute citizens for things most people wouldn’t consider crimes. (The message of his book’s title is that the average person unintentionally commits three felonies a day. “Half of the anonymous Internet comments would” be illegal according to the statute used against Shore, said Silverglate.)