In 1971, a slim volume filled with instructions detailing how to create explosives and other weapons proliferated across bookshelves. The Anarchist Cookbook was one ideological young American’s attempt to make a political statement; in this case, the author was registering his opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft letter he had received. The book set off an urgent and fearful debate. In a letter to a top official at the Justice Department, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote “of the inherent threat that distribution of the book poses to this country’s internal security.” But, he lamented, “the FBI has no control over material published through the mass media.”
Five years ago, another ideological young American published another kind of how-to manual. In the 21st-century iteration of the story, the medium is the internet, not a book; and instead of half-baked plans to build ineffective bombs, there are blueprints that can be downloaded as code and used to create functional plastic guns from a 3-D printer. At the time the material was published, the State Department claimed that 3-D-printed guns posed a direct threat to America’s national security. The State Department argued that the publication violated its arms-export controls, and sued to force the removal of the plans from the internet. The blueprints’ creator—Cody Wilson, an anarchist firearms enthusiast who enjoys trolling gun-control advocates and is based in Austin, Texas—begrudgingly took the plans off his website.