When Hate and the F Word Can Lead to Prison

The first amendment protects speech. However, this freedom has important limitations. A former State department official and an Arab American from Michigan learned about these limitations the hard way in 2008.

In "Ex-Diplomat Sentenced for Anti-Arab Threats," Carrie Johnson wrote in the Washington Post of July 12, 2008: 'A retired Foreign Service officer was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison for making threats against Arab American Institute President James Zogby and other employees there. W. Patrick Syring, 50, who served two tours in Beirut during his 25-year State Department career, pleaded guilty to violating civil rights laws. The charges stem from messages he left at AAI in the midst of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah."The only good Arab is a dead Arab," Syring said in a profanity-laden July 2006 voice-mail message delivered to AAI, which promotes Arab American participation in elections and policy issues. After federal prosecutors in the District accused him of intimidating the workers based on their national origin, Syring sent an incendiary message to a television station where Zogby had been interviewed. In the March 2008 e-mail, Syring repeated some of the language from his phone call and accused Zogby of "promoting the interest of Hezbollah, Hamas and Arab terror."The move prompted the government to withdraw its initial plea offer of no prison time, according to court records. Earlier this year, after the latter incident, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declared Syring in violation of the terms of his release and ordered him to report to the D.C. jail, where he has spent the last four months. Under the terms of yesterday's sentence, the Arlington resident also must perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine."There is no room in our society for the intolerance of other races or national origins, particularly by those who hold positions in the government," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor.'

Another person to get penalized for using hate speech is a member of the Dearborn community who was convicted for sending threatening e-mails to a Michigan blogger, Debbie Schlussel, a blogger deemed by the Muslim and Arab communities an anti- Arab anti-Muslim bigot. Schlussel has been using her blog to promote and defend, in a zeal tantamount to idol worship, Israel and its convicted and unconvicted spies, as well as to attack Arabs and Muslim, especially the activists in the community, using tactics and language reminiscent of the Nazis and the late terrorist Meir Kahane.

The two incriminating emails sent to Schlussel stated:
" HEY WHITE BITCH JEW. WE WILL KILL YOU. HEZBOLLAH IS AWESOME. WE WILL NEVER DIE BITCH. WERE GONNA BLOW YOU UP."
"FUCK YOU AND YOU WILL SOON BE RAPED AND WILL DIE"

These two emails got the sender in serious trouble.
The defendant pled to the charge of interference with a federally protected activity, 18USC 245 (b) (2) (c) that has a statutory maximum penalties of one year imprisonment and $ 100, 000 fine.

The elements of this offense are:

1. defendant used force or threat of force;
2. defendant willfully injured, intimidated, or interfered with a person, or attempted to do so
3. defendant acted because of the victim's religion; and
4. defendant acted because of the victim was engaged in the federally-protected right of enjoying employment by a private employer.
The plea agreement read "on or about August 22, 06 defendant sent two emails to a Jewish woman as part of her employment writes blogs and speaks on topics that include Arab American and Muslim affairs."

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