The pen is mighty, says Scott Humphrey of Springfield, but he’ll be more cautious when he uses it from now on. The 58-year-old construction worker and blogger learned that lesson after his recent acquittal on charges of making threats on the Internet.
Humphrey’s case is among the first local tests of a 2008 Illinois law aimed at dealing with cyber-bullying and electronic harassment. Illinois Times first reported on the case in October 2009. [See “Blogger busted,” Oct. 15, 2009, by Amanda Robert.]
For Humphrey, the conflict began on March 7, 2009, when the State Journal-Register published an opinion article by George Sisk of Springfield, then-chairman of the Springfield Jewish Community Relations Council, defending Israel’s use of force in Palestine. Later that day, Humphrey posted on an Internet message board called “American Everyman,” rebutting Sisk’s points and saying he planned to write directly to Sisk. But one passage among Humphrey’s posts that day apparently sounded threatening to Sisk.
“George Sisk has never heard of me,” Humphrey’s post said. “He doesn’t know I exist and live in the same city he does. That’s about to change…battles are fought by individuals who would rather be someplace else. Here, in my own backyard is a battle that has to be waged, a battle to the truth against the great lies.”
Humphrey says that post earned him a visit from two FBI agents on April 2, 2009. He told the agents he did not intend to harm anyone, he says, and they left.
On April 9, 2009, Humphrey posted on the same message board a story about a rat he had encountered while at work.
“So, I stood there looking down at this…RAT…and pondered its fate,” Humphrey wrote. “We all damn well know what rats are all about. They’re no f—g good…. Killing this rat f—k would serve in the best interests of society,” Humphrey wrote. “Isn’t that right, George? See, everyone, George, agrees that I should kill this rat….Here is what I decided about the rat I had life or death over. It ain’t my f—n’ job to kill the rats over there.”
Asked whether he was making an analogy, Humphrey says he was simply relaying a true story, and the rat was not meant to symbolize George Sisk or even Palestinians.
Still, Humphrey says he was visited by an investigator with the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office on July 13. Again, Humphrey denied wanting to hurt anyone, but the police returned and arrested him on Aug. 16, 2009, charging him with two counts of harassment through electronic communications and two counts of disorderly conduct for his Internet posts. At a bench trial held Jan. 11, 2011, a Sangamon County circuit judge found Humphrey not guilty of all four charges.
George Sisk said he did not wish to answer questions about the case and instead issued a statement to Illinois Times.
“My wife, children and I have been made to endure an extremely painful and gut-wrenching ordeal since March 2009,” Sisk wrote via e-mail. “Through all this, we have concluded that we are essentially powerless to change the antiquated mindsets of the numerous Scott Humphrey-like individuals in society. We do, however, possess the power to decide how we choose to react to these individuals and their mentalities. In short, our reaction or decision, really, is this: to simply allow this hellish, nightmare-like chapter of our lives to close once and for all.”
Humphrey says he is not violent and even urges against violence.
“I’m not a trained writer,” he says. “But nonetheless, within the venue where I submit my written comment, I want to be taken seriously. I feel that if one such as myself resorts to street violence, then one loses all credibility in what they have to say, and they become just a street thug. That is not how I would like to be remembered.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.