This Is Insane: The Intimidation Game Against Conservative Bloggers

Apparent ideological adversaries are spoofing emergency phone calls so that armed police show up at their houses.

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In recent days, the conservative blogosphere has been abuzz about an apparently coordinated attempt to intimidate some of its own. Patrick "Patterico" Frey, an L.A. area blogger, Erick Erickson of Red State, and Robert Stacy McCain, a conservative journalist based near Washington, D.C., all report being subject to threats and harassment as a result of posts they've written.

The most serious incident occurred last summer, though it has only recently come to light. Frey, a prosecutor by profession, was at home after midnight when someone started pounding on his front door. When he opened it, he found several police officers with guns drawn ordering him out of the house. "I had a cell phone in my hand," he writes. "Fortunately, they did not mistake it for a gun." They were at the house because someone had called 911, spoofed Frey's home phone number, impersonated him, and spoke as if he was confessing to having shot and killed his wife. Police arrived on scene poised to confront an armed killer. Frey was cuffed in front of his neighbors. His wife was awoken, taken outside, and frisked. His children were awoken by police going into their bedrooms to make sure that they were okay. It was a nightmare.

Erickson got a milder form of the same tactic. "Tonight, my family was sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner when sheriffs deputies pulled up in the driveway," he wrote Sunday at Red State. "Someone called 911 from my address claiming there had been an accidental shooting."

Writing about this matter is made slightly awkward by the fact that all these writers are persuaded that they know who is behind these attacks against them, having amassed what they call circumstantial evidence. I'm refraining from mentioning the name of the accused because "circumstantial" is insufficient to my way of thinking; I haven't the time to investigate the matter myself; and I have no idea whether or not they are right. In any case, the perpetrator's identity is also irrelevant to my purpose, which is to note and lament that this sort of intimidation is happening, whoever is behind it. As blogger Radley Balko put it, "It's an attempt to terrorize political opponents into silence ... The sociopaths who are harassing Patterico and the other bloggers involved need to be arrested and charged with about a dozen different crimes."

Quite right.

Theirs is a corner of the blogosphere I frequently critique. The rhetorical tactics some of the named writers employ vex me. And it's absurd that some of their defenders are attributing their harassment to "the left," which detracts from the core point that this isn't about ideology. It is vital, for anyone who cares about robust political discourse, that a bright line be drawn separating words and what is effectively violent intimidation. Were these writers employed by mainstream media outlet I cannot help but think that their experiences would garner much more attention than it already has. Law enforcement ought to prioritize catching their harasser or harassers, for the tactic being used has the effect of putting lives at risk, chilling free speech, and undermining the ability of 911 to address real emergencies. (Full disclosure: I've contributed a negligible amount of money to a fund being established to defray costs incurred by victims of this tactic.)

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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