In the October/2001 magazine issue of *Yahoo internet Life*, an article in the section; 'talk of the Net', has a one page article on ARS (Page 74; edited by Larry Smith). The front cover photo of the Yahoo issue has 'Steven Tyler' of the band 'Aerosmith', with the caption underneath: "Stream On; Aerosmith and the unstoppable Music revolution." Keith Henson/ARS is spoken of in the below article;;
[Page 74]; VIEW FROM THE WEB
THE CRUISE MISSILE CRISIS
"When Keith Henson posted a joke about blowing up Church of Scientology members with a 'Tom Cruise Missile in the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup, he didn't think it would get him arrested. Granted, it wasn't the cleverest joke ever made, but to date there are no criminal statutes on the books that punish bad humor. Despite this glaring hole in our country's legislation, Henson's posts were admitted as evidence in April when he was brought up on charges of terrorism, attempted terrorism, and interfering with religion to enjoy a constitutional right (freedom of religion). Henson was convicted of the interfering charge (a hate crime) in California court and sentenced to up to a year in prison, in addition to a fine of $3,000. Before sentencing, Henson jumped bail and sought political asylum in Canada where, at press time, he remains. With one quick clatter of the keys, Henson had joined the esteemed ranks of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin----those who've been arrested for telling jokes.
The thread-----which Henson didn't actually start-----is a typical flurry of geek banter, several people riffing on the Tom Cruise Missile concept. Anyone who's spent any time with those infatuated by technology and inflamed by a cause would immediately recognize this type of bonding and blowing off steam.
So how did Henson end up on the run in a foreign country? Setting aside Scientology's widely reported suppression and intimidation tactics (which the church has denied), the issue becomes one of cultural ignorance.
Jokes are inherently unsanitary. They take the stuffing out of our leaders as well as our loved ones, often making the comfortable uncomfortable. And for better or worse, the online "death threat" has become one of the Net's standard jokes. For instance, a quick Web search on 'Britney Spears' turned up an entire domain-as-death-threat: kill-britney.com. It's practically a law of nature: Get enough Netizens together and they're going to start coming up with creative ways to off David Spade.
But if anyone had a mind to selectively edit the above, a process similar to the one Henson experienced, a person could be made to sound like a cult leader instructing his disciples to "start coming up with ways to off David Spade." In a world where the parody site Bonsai Kitten gets investigated by the FBI (see Talk of the Net, May 2001), it appears that everything you say, no matter how ironic the intent, is now fair game.
If Keith Henson had limited his protests to shouting at the top of his lungs about Tom Cruise Missiles out-side scientology headquarters, he probably would have been dismissed as a harmless kook. But once his words went on the Net, they were enough to help convince a jury that a penniless 58-year-old man was planning to deploy a piece of military hardware costing $600,000 and accessible only to top levels of the U.S. armed forces.
Humor may have been the only thing that's kept us from blowing each other off the face of the planet. But there's nothing funny about the Web's free flow of information, jokes, and invective resulting in the decimation of an innocent man's freedom."