Free Speech, Or Plot To Kill And Eat His Wife?

We see these rights as absolute—
No state would dare restrict ‘em—
We have not broken any law…
Until there is a victim.

We’re free to speak of fantasies
Of murder, rage, or hate—
We haven’t crossed the line, of course,
Until… it is too late.

Our whispered, dark conspiracies
Are safely out of reach—
Until you find a body,
Hey, you can’t restrict free speech!

In the New York Times today, a troubling story of the cop on trial for conspiring to kill and eat a number of women, including his wife. She’s the one who accidentally stumbled across the evidence on a home computer. Her husband had been chatting on some fetish sites online, and she found detailed descriptions of how she and some of her friends were to be tortured, killed, and cannibalized.

Or… the officer was merely engaging in fantasy writing, with no plans to actually do anything he described. Torture porn has a market, after all, and the first amendment is there to protect the speech we detest. I have, in satirical verses, linked to a cannibalism site (one I sincerely believe is itself satire). These were only words, after all, and no one is harmed by mere words.

No one harmed. Imagine finding such writing, naming you (some people don’t have to stretch much to imagine such a thing). In this case, the woman moved from New York to Nevada, and contacted the FBI, understandably frightened for her life. No one harmed.

It will be interesting to watch this one play out. Words have consequences, and free speech is not absolute. And while this case is obviously an extreme, we can see the roles in this case reflected in so many other places. To what extent can you say, even to yourself, that hurting someone is any more acceptable because it is just with words?

There is one aspect to this case that sets it aside from the others that spring to mind–the officer clearly never intended his writing to be discovered by his wife. If it was mere fantasy (as the defense claims), any harm it did (and it did do real harm, unquestionably) was unintentional. There are others waving the free speech banner who are quite intentionally attacking others.

In a way, that makes them worse than this guy.

Comments

  1. leftwingfox says

    Personally, I think this crossed out of the realm of fantasy when he named his wife and her friends in it without their knowledge or permission. That’s the difference between finding Grand Theft Auto on someone’s computer and plans to rob the bank downtown.

    I’m going to lay a nasty little truth about myself bare; I’ve engaged in violent role-play in the past, both as predator and as victim. As a fantasy, this always happened strictly within the realm of consenting adults negotiating a scene, knowing there was’t going to be any permanent consequences of the actions. The idea of involving real people I know in those fantasies is horrifying.

    Still, good point about the limits of free speech.

  2. Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says

    Here’s one for you, from 6 or 7 years ago now:

    My daughter, then a HS junior, did a back-search on a social media site to see who’d been visiting her page. She back-tracked a visitor, and through internal evidence was utterly certain that it was her previous year’s homeroom teacher, who’d been hunting for references to himself. Girls in the school had been making many comments on another teacher in his division–enough that their comments were common gossip in the school. His search was designed to pull comments on himself–school name, Mr (Initial).

    Here’s the kicker. When she tracked back to HIS page, she found that it was devoted to teacher-student pornographic fiction.

    My daughter was smart enough to copy and paste the whole site into a word document. 15 minutes later, it was gone. Clearly, he checked his own visitors, and when he found a visitor from the school, he removed it.

    She asked me what to do. I looked it over and came up with a couple of things–

    He clearly stated in his notes to individual stories that he was basing the characters on his current students, though he wrote the stories as “graduated students”.
    He talked about what was essentially “not acting on” what he was writing about, with a strong “not yet” implication.
    This was not the first site he’d set up for this. He talked about other similar sites he’d taken down.
    As a teacher in a public school system, contractually he had an obligation to a level of social norm conformity.

    I told my daughter that I thought his site should be reported to the school principal, and that I would do so if she wanted me to. She said since she’d found it, she should be the one to do it, wrote the email, attached the copied site, had me look it over–and sent it off.

    She found the site the day winter holiday break started; a few days later, she sent the email. The first day back at school, he was called to the office during the 2nd period, and was fired.

  3. says

    I’m pretty strongly free speech, if you have dark twisted fantasies I have no problem with you writing them down or acting them out between consenting adults (for that matter I’ve done both). However it crosses a serious line when you are no longer writing about fictional people and your fantasies involve the deaths of your wife and other real women. However even that I don’t think would generally warrant conspiracy to commit murder charges (as opposed to grounds for a permanent restraining order and supervised visitation with his kids) except that this is one of the other charges: “Officer Valle had also been charged with illegally accessing a law enforcement database to gain information about some of the women he was “explicitly targeting.” That is real world planning not fantasy,

  4. says

    That’s almost the plot of the “Blackadder the Third” episode, “Sense and Senility”. Two actors, hired by the Prince to help him with a speech, are — during a quiet moment — rehearsing a play about murdering a prince …..

    The thing is, stuff like this is only a problem if and when the person mentioned finds out about it. What people keep in their own minds, however distasteful we might find it, is their own business as long as it does not stray beyond the confines their own minds.

    Really, it’s an extreme case of the situation where someone has been reading someone else’s diary and finds something uncomplimentary about themself.

  5. sailor1031 says

    Seems to me from the reports that there’s good grounds to think that this case goes beyond freedom of speech into the realm of criminal conspiracy, What is also very concerning is the fact this guy was a police officer. If NYPD has any psychological screening processes, and it’s not clear from past history that they do, they obviously aren’t working.

  6. leftwingfox says

    Really, it’s an extreme case of the situation where someone has been reading someone else’s diary and finds something uncomplimentary about themself.

    Can’t agree here. At worst, “uncomplimentary things” is just drama. At it’s worst, “I’m going to kill and eat my wife” is premeditation and planning for a crime. Such an act is relatively rare, but not impossible or unheard of, and sadistic serial killers are not all that rare.

    While I agree that there’s a potentially blurry line between planning a crime and fantasizing about a crime, I do think that line needs to exist, to balance the personal freedoms of those who do safely engage in such fantasies, and the protection of others against those who have move beyond fantasy to act in reality.

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