Why everyone should care about journalist Barrett Brown's sentencing today

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Journalist Barrett Brown is expected to be sentenced by a judge today in a highly controversial case brought by the Justice Department. The below excerpt is an adapted and updated version of the foreword to Barrett's most recent book, written by author Barry Eisler.

If you don’t believe America has political prisoners, you’ve never heard of Barrett Brown. Which would be a shame on several fronts, because you’d be missing out on one of America’s most fearless and talented reporters, and on an object lesson regarding just how far the government is willing to go to suppress journalism and intimidate journalists.

I first came across Barrett in a 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, where he had written an article called “Thomas Friedman’s Five Worst Predictions.” The article perfectly showcased what I subsequently learned were the Barrett Brown trademarks: iconoclastic insight; hilarious wit, ranging from the dry to the outrageous; a broad and deep frame of reference; incisive argument; complete fearlessness about offending anyone deserving of offense; an abiding sense of citizenship and patriotism.

I was wowed by the article—both its substance, and, even rarer among political writers, its style. I sent Barrett an email telling him how much I had enjoyed it. A conversation ensued, during which Barrett asked if I’d be interested in reading the manuscript of his forthcoming book, Hot, Fat, and Clouded, with a chapter apiece on Friedman and other such bloviators. I told him it would be my pleasure. And it was—the book is a knockout, a hilarious, inarguable skewering of the self-indulgent empty-headedness and hypocrisy of Friedman and various other members of establishment punditry, the strength of whose brands somehow mysteriously manages to outpace the wreckage of all their mistaken judgments.

I told Barrett at length how much I enjoyed the book. He made a few changes, then sent me the revised manuscript and asked me to safeguard it in case anything untoward happened to him. I thought he was being melodramatic.

He was not.

In 2009, Barrett founded Project PM, “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence, and surveillance.” He was particularly instrumental in using documents obtained by the hacktivist collective Anonymous to expose secret collaboration between the government and various contractors. The covert factions Barrett’s work threatened are powerful, and fought back. Two years ago, Barrett was arrested and threatened with 100 years in prison—yes, you read that correctly—allegedly for threatening an FBI agent, concealing evidence, and linking to a website that contained stolen credit card numbers. The allegations themselves are sufficiently preposterous, and the threatened sentence sufficiently draconian, to make it clear that Barrett, like William Binney, Thomas Drake, Daniel Ellsberg, Jeremy Hammond, Jon Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, Jesselyn Radack, Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Thomas Tamm, and many others, is in fact being persecuted as an example to anyone else who would dare challenge America’s Deep State.

Eventually, Barrett signed a plea deal on three of the lesser charges against him, the other charges were dropped, and the threatened sentence reduced from over a hundred to eight and a half years. His sentencing hearing has been repeatedly scheduled and then delayed, and is currently set for December 16.

If you agree with Martin Luther King’s dictum that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and if you believe that threats to journalists like Barrett are a threat to the dignity and freedom of all citizens, there are a number of ways in which you can make a difference:

In doing what you can, you’re not just standing for Barrett. You’re standing for the First Amendment and for the values of freedom and Constitutional government that all Americans should hold dear.