Fantasy Crimes

I wrote back in July about the “cannibal cop” who was prosecuted, and then acquitted, for criminal conspiracy for describing his sick fantasies online. His case is on appeal now, because the government is intent on trying to make the charges stick. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed an Amicus brief on the cop’s behalf, arguing that to prosecute him for conspiracy simply for talking about his fantasies would open the door to prosecuting people for “thoughtcrime.”

And they’re right. To prosecute someone for their fantasies because we think they’re sick, disgusting fantasies (and they are, don’t get me wrong) is a dangerous precedent that allows the government to crack down on dissenting viewpoints in the future.

As a society we largely stay away from prosecuting people because of their status as something, and instead make certain acts or behaviors crimes. We don’t prosecute someone for being a drug dealer, child molester, or terrible human being; we prosecute them for the act of selling drugs, the act of child molestation, the acts of doing terrible things. To do otherwise would let the government intrude into our thoughts and our beings too far.

The point is this: if the government is able to prosecute the “cannibal cop” for thinking about terrible things, and then talking about them, how long will it be until they start prosecuting other people for talking about dissenting viewpoints? For discussing the Communist Manifesto? For reading the Anarchist Cookbook? For talking to their therapist about paranoid fantasies?