Abusing Power to Shut Down a Twitter Parody Account

This is a pretty horrible story of a small-town mayor abusing his authority -- warrants where there is no crime, police raids, incidental marijuana bust -- to identify and shut down a Twitter parody account. The ACLU is taking the case.

Posted on May 19, 2014 at 7:07 AM • 25 Comments


Clive RobinsonMay 19, 2014 8:04 AM

Similar abuses of power have been used in the UK and other places. Thus I suspect it is realy a standard political weapon these days, along with deliberatly manipulating voter lists etc.

WinterMay 19, 2014 9:01 AM

"incidental marijuana bust"

Strong arguments have been brought forward that all illegal drug legislation was brought in place for the explicit aim to harass and criminalize political opponents.

The drug laws are the driving force behind the mass incarceration of poor people in the USA. It is used everywhere to lock up youths who are considered a nuisance.

BoscoMay 19, 2014 9:52 AM

Welcome to the new America. Tyranny is here and for those who accept it, get used to licking boots, among other things. Wake up, get mad, and don't take it anymore. We hang together, or hang separate. Use strong public crypto too. Don't let them fool u.

EchMay 19, 2014 10:27 AM

Winter: "Strong arguments have been brought forward that all illegal drug legislation was brought in place for the explicit aim to harass and criminalize political opponents."

Do you have any sources on this?

Ollie NanyesMay 19, 2014 10:49 AM

Welcome to my world. I live in Peoria, IL. Yes, we are the laughing stock of the rest of the nation. But sadly, there are many people in Peoria who APPROVE of the Mayor's action; many of these don't even know what a Twitter account is or have a conception of what a small following this person had.

NobodySpecialMay 19, 2014 11:10 AM

"Welcome to the new America" is this really new?
I assumed that "Dukes of Hazard" was basically a documentary of anywhere south of Portland

AnuraMay 19, 2014 11:41 AM

There are so many layers of failure here. Beyond the mayor, the search warrant shouldn't have gone to a judge, and the judge shouldn't have signed it. It feels like the whole court system has turned into a rubber stamp organization when it comes to warrants.

AnuraMay 19, 2014 11:49 AM


The state doesn't always exercise this tremendous power under rigorous oversight, either. Though the apparatus of oversight was in place, the judges who signed off on the warrants never pushed back on them, even though the warrants misstated the day on which Ardis learned about @peoriamayor and even though one of them said that the offense in question was a "violation of child pornography laws" rather than the actual claim of "false personation."

Shouldn't someone be prosecuted for perjury if they falsified an affidavit for a search warrant?

AndyMay 19, 2014 12:17 PM

Highlight from the article:

The case serves as a reminder of the true power of the state. Thanks to the Internet, even local cops can now track down random Twitter miscreants without leaving the office—something that would have been impossible in the days of anonymous handbills plastered to brick walls around town. And those local cops can get as much information about your life as even the FBI could glean in a major felony investigation.
How valuable an anonymizing service and non-traceable monetary transactions are...

The Last Stand of FrejMay 19, 2014 1:08 PM

Every day there's another story illustrating a slow move toward a fascist state and an oligarchy. I didn't even know that was possible.

Emma BullMay 19, 2014 1:11 PM

Relatively speaking, Peoria is small. But at 115,000 population, it's the seventh largest city in Illinois, and should have plenty of access to the kind of public employees with both the authority and the knowledge to tell the mayor, "Sorry, you can't do that."

Mr. PragmaMay 19, 2014 5:31 PM

I found it particularly interesting that the "police" (or should I say "hitmen in uniform"?) obviously and clearly assume that they are working for the mayor - and not for the citizens.

SkepticalMay 19, 2014 6:46 PM

I believe that Coyne (?) brought this up in another thread.

It's unfortunate when this sort of thing happens at all, and this certainly isn't the first, nor the last, occasion on which government power will be abused.

But, there is a silver lining to the story. In liberal democracies with good rule of law, the courts and the law are not simply instruments of those in power; they are also shields and swords against those in power. Thus the courts and the law that the mayor sought to wield against ordinary individuals are now being used, by the ACLU on behalf of those ordinary individuals, against the mayor.

And as they have been in previous, similar cases, they will be effective in this one as well. No elected official in the United States can view this as anything but a cautionary tale.

To the ACLU: Good hunting.

To the DOJ: Likewise.

RampantTyrannyMay 19, 2014 9:02 PM

Isn't this at all laughable ?

Read: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/singapore-pm-demands-apology-blogger-084428281.html

A Prime Minister of a well known nation bending down to use very nasty legal coercion to attempt to shut down a small blogger which have commented about the policies of the PM. The PM, The previous PM and the previous-previous PM are all known to use such nasty means to coerce any unfavourable view.

Talk about the over extension of power to attempt to take down their own citizens in this way which is close to the acts of North Korea and China.

At least Obama doesn't do that .... oh ... I forgot he has BlackOps and Drone Strikes .... Hmmm...

ThothMay 19, 2014 9:07 PM


Shhh.. don't remind Obama of his drone strikes ...

Well it's unfortunate for Singaporeans they have to be forced into submission and obedience. I wonder if the blogger that was targeted understood the concept of data jurisdiction. If he has data in the servers in another country, now the Singapore PM and the blogger become clients to the countries judicial system where the data resides and the blogger can resist the legal counsel in Singapore.

In fact, most journalists and bloggers (especially bloggers) have very little concept of personal security and legal rights and that is why they are easy push-overs by political persons in power (and who have massive wealth).

FigureitoutMay 19, 2014 9:15 PM

Shouldn't someone be prosecuted for perjury if they falsified an affidavit for a search warrant?
--Absolutely. These are extremely dangerous crimes that are neglected b/c the prosecutors would have to "police themselves". Just like any other respectable group or profession, they taint all involved in the "justice" system. Maybe they'll go do another swat raid on some small-time marijuana farmer in the middle of nowhere while billionaires literally suck this country dry of wealth.


WinterMay 20, 2014 12:30 AM


Winter: "Strong arguments have been brought forward that all illegal drug legislation was brought in place for the explicit aim to harass and criminalize political opponents."

Do you have any sources on this?


A report by Human Rights Watch states that people of color have the same likelihood to use or sell illegal drugs as whites, but are 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses. Due to these disproportionate numbers as well as laws that bar people with felony convictions (such as drug dealing offenses) from voting, a shocking 13 percent of African American men are denied voting rights.




fajensenMay 20, 2014 1:25 AM

The Singularity Cometh!

Technology will reach a state where it gives single individuals the power to reshape society or at least make a real impact on the world.

The side effect of individual empowerment is that everything becomes unpredictable like in the tribal areas of Pakistan or the Riff mountains; there you may get killed for looking the wrong way, here we get "swatted" over some dum-dum who cannot handle twitter. Morons with god-like powers. Always a good idea.

Chris WMay 20, 2014 1:43 AM


Yup, but it might be hard to prove it was intentional, if you can't prove that I don't see a felony charge, of course it will aid in the civil suit.
If it's true, I haven't been able to find a copy of the warrant to verify it.

The drugs evidence was obtained unlawfully too so the drugs charge won't stick, they're likely not even gonna prosecute for that.
Which means there isn't a single criminal case that will be brought against him.
I see a lot of damages (including punitive) rewarded to this man. The loss of his job alone...

ACLU is gonna have a field day on this case.

John CampbellMay 20, 2014 9:39 AM

All right, so, in hindsight, was there just cause for the search warrant? Did the search warrant specify what, exactly, was being searched for?

I suspect the homeowner has quite a lawsuit against the city for such capricious execution of a search warrant, using it as a "fishing expedition" to look for anything and everything.

What worries me is that if these violations of the law are NOT seen to be properly adjudicated-- with the main drivers, such as the Mayor, facing criminal charges for malfeasance whilst in office, how is trust in the law going to be maintained?

What is the critical percentage where distrust of the law, itself, not merely distrust of the SYSTEMS of law enforcement, where everything unzips into anarchy, or, worse yet, anti-archy.

"It does not matter how well-crafted a system is to eliminate errors; Regardless of any and all checks and balances in place, all systems will fail because, somewhere, there is meat in the loop."

Now we know what happens when there is POLITICAL meat in the loop; Corruption occurs that much faster. Could the city government of Peoria, IL, survive the RICO Act?

wumpusMay 20, 2014 11:52 AM

@Winter "illegal drug legislation was brought in place for the explicit aim to harass and criminalize" scapegoats and be seen as "tough on crime (read scapegoat race)" I'll buy.

Claiming that any politician had to worry about "mass ... poor people" as a legitimate political threat (legitimate as in having a chance to win elections) puts you in serious conspiracy land. The only example I can think of was Marion Barry who was targeted by the FBI after a DC police bust went bust (they were all ready to arrest their drug kingpin, but the Mayor was his guest...).

WinterMay 21, 2014 1:20 AM

"Claiming that any politician had to worry about "mass ... poor people" as a legitimate political threat (legitimate as in having a chance to win elections) puts you in serious conspiracy land."

You might want to read more about the history of democracy. The USA has a very long history of politicians making sure the descendants of former slaves do not vote.

Also, we see copious reports on OUR (non-USA) news shows of how incumbents go the extra mile to prevent potential voters of the challenger from casting their votes. And then we did not go into gerrymandering.

Compare elections in the USA with those in India

(just an example, you can go to the UK, France, or German for other examples)

Bill Higgins-- Beam JockeyMay 29, 2014 11:11 AM

I'm with the estimable Emma Bull. A city of 115,000 is not a "small town." I have asked myself whether a person might be forgiven for referring to Peoria this way if that person came from New York City, but I'm afraid the answer is no.

The phrase "small town" would have very little meaning if we allowed it to be applied to cities as big as Peoria.

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