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White Supremacists Make Death Threats Against Imprisoned Webmaster (Sherman Austin)

Sherman's site has been an open one, available to anyone wanting to post articles or use space. This other young man's site included crude instructions on how to make explosives.

Sherman was prosecuted under a 1997 law sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which makes it illegal to distribute information related to explosives with the intent to use that information in a "federal crime of violence."

The young man who authored the website with the bomb-making instructions has not been charged with anything, but Sherman is now in federal prison. The other young man is white and the son of wealthy Orange County Republicans; Sherman is African American and the son of a single mother with no property.

The key element in the case against Sherman hinged on the question of "intent," and because Sherman's site espouses anarchism and is critical of U.S. government policy, police brutality, globalization and racism, the prosecution and judge maintained that his politics provided grounds for intent.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is not only defending this application of the law she sponsored, but she is encouraging prosecutors to use it more aggressively. This law has not been used against the white supremacist and anti-choice groups that host websites with more explicit information on how to build bombs and carry out acts of violence. Sherman, someone with no history of violence and who did NOT author the website with the illegal information, is the first person to be prosecuted under this law.

Sherman was told a PATRIOT Act "terrorist enhancement" would be applied to his case if he went to trial. This meant he would have been subjected to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Sherman accepted a plea bargain, which the judge, a Reagan appointee, subsequently rejected, sentencing Sherman to a term longer than what the prosecution suggested.

Sherman agreed to a plea that was rejected, but it's also important to question how voluntary his plea was when he was threatened with the "terrorist enhancement." This same judge ignored testimony from the court psychiatrist who said Sherman poses absoutely NO threat to anyone and is more likely to be victimized because of his peaceful nature. The judge also stated that he wanted to "send a message" to other activists.

Two days after entering prison, Sherman was moved into isolation because of death threats made by white supremacist groups. At that time, he was in a prison with a large "Aryan Brotherhood" population in San Bernadino, Calif. While efforts are underway to plan a withdrawal of his plea, his safety while in prison is of great concern.

One of the posted threats against Sherman read, "What I find funny ... niggers were found shot to death in their homes along with their nigger families, shows what niggers are. Dumb." The threat was signed "Hail Hitler" by a person calling himself Himmler.

Intellectual Noam Chomsky said, "Sherman Austin appears to be the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I hope this matter is pursued quickly, fairly and justly." Chomsky made this statement after reading a letter signed by over 300 people so far, including Zack de la Rocha, formerly of Rage Against the Machine, Ozomatli, historian Howard Zinn, and the Indigo Girls, in support of Sherman Austin.

Unfortunately, the story of Sherman Austin hasn't received a lot of media coverage. Please spread the word about this injustice towards humanity and do whatever you can to help ensure Sherman's safety.

If you can, please make a donation to Sherman's legal defense. You can make checks payable to Jennifer Martin, Sherman's mother, or to Sherman Austin himself, and mail them to: Jennifer Martin, 12115 Magnolia Blvd. #155, North Hollywood, CA 91607. Letters of support to Sherman can also be sent to that address.

Send a message to Sen. Dianne Feinstein asking her to examine the misapplication of her law, 18 U.S.C. 842(p), in this case, or you may want to challenge the law itself. Ask her, too, to ensure Sherman's safety in prison. Call her D.C. office at (202) 224-3841 or fax her at (202) 228-3954.

Adrienne Carey Hurley, Ph.D., is a Japan Studies postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies, Stanford University. To add your signature to the letter in support of Sherman, email her at ahurley@stanford.edu . Send your full name, the way you'd like to be listed and a verifiable home or work address, which will not be made public or shared.