July 2, 2015

Man accused of terrorism because of his book collection set free


Marcus Dwayne Robertson, an Orlando–based man of letters, faced a possible two decades of prison time after prosecutors sought to latch charges of terrorism on to Robertson’s otherwise unrelated charges of conspiracy to file a false tax return and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Pouring through Robertson’s collection of over 10,000 ebooks, the prosecution discovered “controversial passages” in at least 20 titles.

This additional terrorist enhancement, an amendment added to the Cold War-era Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would, according to the latest United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines, automatically kick up Robertson’s charges by 24 levels – about the difference between, say, a trespassing and a kidnapping charge (a level 6 and a level 32 offence, respectively).

While the charges Robertson was accused of only have a maximum penalty of 10 months, he has been in jail since 2011 pending the charge that the errors in his tax forms were vital in facilitating, the prosecution claims:

 the operation of a travel facilitation network, with members in New York and Orlando, that sends individuals overseas, specifically to Mauritania … to commit violent jihad.

The phrase “violent jihad” appears 27 times in the prosecution’s brief. Interestingly, some of the passages highlighted by the prosecution as evidence of “extremist beliefs” include some oft-common criticisms of American foreign policy:

This war [against terrorism] is indeed about the battle for control of the world’s precious and diminishing energy resources, because that is what all the Western industrialized societies run on, from production and distribution to transportation to plastics to military machines to textile and manufacturing, all need oil and energy.

The bulk of the evidence originally used against Robertson, however, were recorded conversations between Jonathan Paul Jiminez, an unemployed 26-year old who Robertson had taken under his wing, and a federal informant. However, Florida District Judge Gregory A. Presnell quickly threw those conversations out as nothing more than evidence that Jiminez “wanted [the informant] to believe that he was in the process of becoming – to use the vernacular – a badass.”

Judge Presnell was similarly unimpressed by Robertson’s online book collection:

There was no evidence produced that Robertson ever accessed these particular documents […] It is not at all remarkable for an Islamic scholar to study, among many, many others, the writings of Islamic extremists.

The additional charges were thrown out and Robertson was sentenced to time already served.

Not all might agree. According to Fox News, Robertson’s book reading and tax evasion made him so dangerous that, during his time waiting for trial, he was:

Held in a windowless cell in an otherwise empty wing of the prison facility and kept shackled to the floor with an armed guard assigned exclusively to him around the clock […] with at least a 7-car armed caravan of federal marshals escorting him to his court appearances.

To defend these seemingly extreme measures, Fox highlights a quote from an unnamed former colleague of Robertson who claims that “He is good at selling the dream.”

Too good.