A Chicago man has been arrested for allegedly putting out a call on social media to loot during the civil unrest that gripped the city last August. James Massey, 22, has been charged with one count of inciting a riot. If convicted, he could face up to five years in federal prison.
Calls for Violence Not Protected Under First Amendment
Calls to incite violence against either another person or their property is illegal. The First Amendment does not protect you from making credible, actionable threats, or encouraging others to do the same. The key words here are credible and actionable. If you have the means to carry out the threat or are calling upon others to help you carry out the threat, then you are in violation of laws that have been passed at both the federal and state level.
Just how ironclad is this prosecution? There are very few prosecutions in which a defendant is as “dead to rights” as this one. Essentially, the defendant put out a call on social media encouraging others to go downtown and loot. The man is further believed to have participated in a raid on a marijuana dispensary. Massey also took a picture of himself that he later posted to Facebook saying something like “let’s get ready to steal <expletive>.”
Massey’s Potential Defenses
Massey left an obvious trail for the FBI and other authorities to follow. But that is part of the current political zeitgeist. Individuals on both sides feel that they know what is best for everyone else and because (in their minds) what they are doing is right and just, it never even occurs to them that they might be breaking the law. Hence why you see folks advertising that they are going to break the law directly prior to breaking the law and then videotaping themselves breaking the law.
In fact, Massey’s conduct is not unusual for either extreme. Several individuals responded to his Facebook post by discussing their own intentions to loot that night. Each of these individuals is now going to face prosecution from the federal government if the government can prove they were there. This will be easy. Why? Because people like Massey took pictures and videos of themselves looting. So they have essentially made the prosecution’s case for them.
In fact, when Massey was told his posts were illegal he responded by saying, “F dem. Freedom of speech.”
Again, freedom of speech does not include the right to incite violence against others, plan a criminal event, or anything of the sort. In fact, freedom of speech refers to the right of a free press and prevents the government from either retaliating against someone for stating the truth or an opinion or preventing that opinion from being published. Massey’s conduct falls outside of those protections, and never in the history of American jurisprudence has the right to rally others to violence been protected.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with inciting a riot, you need a criminal defense attorney who understands the law and can remedy the situation in the most favorable possible way. Even in a situation like this where the defendant has provided the prosecution with the bulk of their case, there is room to maneuver under the law. Call David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 to learn more about how we can help.