Noted steampunk arrested for tweeting G20 demonstration

Margaret Killjoy from Steampunk Magazine writes, "One of the founders of modern steampunk thought, Professor Calamity, is facing multiple felony charges after having been accused of running a twitter account that communicated with protesters during the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh last month. To add insult to injury, they raided his house in Queens, confiscating everything from hammers to copies of SteamPunk Magazine."

EFF has all the court documents on this.

We put our hands out where they could see them. They ordered us out of bed. They wouldn't let us dress, but they did put a random assortment of clothes on some people. We were handcuffed, and although the upstairs and downstairs groups were kept separate initially, we were soon all together, sitting in the living room, positioned like dolls on the couches and chairs. We were in handcuffs for several hours, and we were helpless as our little bird, a Finch we had rescued and were rehabilitating, flew out the open door to certain death, after his cage had been battered by the cops in their zeal to open the upstairs bedroom doors by force. We shouted at them, but they stood there and watched.

And they stood and watched us for hours and hours and hours. 16 hours to be precise, 16 hours of the NYPD and FBI traipsing through our house, confiscating our lives in a fishing expedition related to the G20 protests of September 24th and 25th. The search warrant, when we were finally allowed to read it, mentioned violation of federal rioting laws and was vague enough to allow the entire house to be searched. They kept repeating that we were not arrested, that we were free to go. But being free meant being watched by the FBI, monitored while using the bathroom, not allowed to make phone calls for hours or to observe them ransacking our rooms. Being free meant they took two of us away on bullshit summonses, and even though this was our house, where we lived, if we left, we could not re-enter.

SteamPunk's Professor Calamity faces multiple felonies for twittering

Man Arrested for Twittering Goes to Court, EFF Has the Documents


  1. I wonder if twitter users are as interested in US civil liberties as they are in the Iranian kind, so I set up a website where you can turn your avatar red and black in solidarity with this case.

  2. “modern steampunk thought”

    Clarify please.

    I’m hoping the answer isn’t “copper, brass and leather is sexy” but I’m not optimistic.

  3. This is outrageous!
    If you read carefully the main document you will find (page 21) that a POSTER WITH A CAT IN IT was seized!
    What kind of world is this that is illegal to own a lolcat poster?

  4. Steampunk thought focuses on the effort and imagination of the individual.

    “Love the machine, hate the factory” is an oft quoted phrase. Steampunks believe that factories tend to reduce the humans in them to nothing more than additional cogs. That the domination of the mechanical assembly line over the human worker is a complete subjugation of the rightful order of things.

    Recycling/Repurposing and craftmanship are also important values

    Brass and goggles and leather are cool and all but they don’t encompass the entirety of steampunk culture.

    At least that is my perception of Steampunk.

  5. To follow the typical Daily Mail headline posted the other week, this is the typical boingboing headline: twitter, steampunk AND the G20 protests. Awesome.

  6. “One of the founders of modern steampunk thought” is possibly the most ridiculous string of words I have ever seen.

    1. +++
      Truly. Steampunk as a fashion statement and literary sub-sub-genre is…cute. Sometimes even entertaining. But, “steampunk thought”??? Please…

  7. This is pretty insane – the guy was running “comms” for the protest, which generally involves the following: sitting in a room away from any protest, taking phone calls and twitter reports about what’s happening on the streets, and then trying to confirm it. When confirmed, send out twitter updates with that information, which anyone can read. These updates can be about any number of things – changes in event scheduling, where food is being served, where police violence is happening, etc.

    Basically, he was doing what journalists do all the time: aggregate eyewitness reports, confirm them, and then send out an organized report. He was just doing it very rapidly. And more importantly, he was doing it in a way that sometimes made demonstrators more aware of what was happening around them, and therefore more difficult for police to dominate and brutalize them.

    It’s pretty obvious no laws were broken here, I think the cops just know that twitter (or better yet, FOSS microblogs like are game-changing for bottom-up organizing, and they must be stopped at any cost. Remember Iran?

  8. Use Twitter to defy the government in Iran and you’re a hero in the US. Use Twitter to defy the government in Pittsburgh…

  9. In this case, Professor Calamity is considered the author of “My Machine, My Comrade,” a philosophical piece that places steampunk as an arts movement on the map of how people interact with technology somewhere between the contructivists and the futurists, as well as being part of “The Catastraphone Orchestra,” which penned “Colonizing The Past So We Can Dream The Future,” one of the early 21st century steampunk manifestos that helped spark the revival of steampunk. It’s not all brass goggles, dear. Cultural and philosophical ideas come out of it with regularity, the same as any other art movement worth speaking of.
    Imagine if you’d said: Sure, I like surrealism okay, it’s pretty, but “modern surrealist thought?” please.

  10. I decided long ago that if I am ever under surveillance I’m going to wire up my place with cameras and post it online a la jennycam. If the pigs want to watch my every move they can get in line.

    I guess it’s easier for the FBI to terrorize geek activists in their homes than seek and capture violent religious extremists, human slave traffickers or other actual threats to this country and its people.

  11. This is just terrible. It’s because of things like this that I am too scared to even participate in any sort of demonstration. I am sure that’s the point of these fear inspiring tactics, but it works. I really feel for these people.

  12. The funny thing is, the nature of communications like twitter is that they can be made extremely difficult to trace and suppress.

    The only reason police were able to arrest people and shut down twitter streams (Twitter disabled certain accounts – presumably at police request – during the G20) is that what they were doing was so completely legal it didn’t really seem like it was necessary to be secretive about it.

    In future actions, I predict we’ll see a more robust, anonymized, effective comms system. If you’re a programmer, you could even help with this effort by collaborating on projects like Tapatio.

  13. Holy freaking crap, why does this post have only 17 comments when the burqini has like 500? Is this not freaking outrageous?

    I am seriously upset by this. Maybe it got lost in the new formatting. Can we please have this story “bumped up” so that everyone can get a long, hard look at it?

  14. @razzabeth: It was published late on monday night (probably as soon as Cory found out about it) and by tuesday it was buried, so i think most people just didn’t see it. On the bright side, lots of other news outlets are picking up the story, so maybe if you spread the word there will be follow-up coverage.

  15. Wow – Just wow! Kinda just takes away your breath and liberties too doesn’t it?

    So if what they were doing wasn’t illegal, and they had no intention of promulgating unrest why is it they were shut down?

    What legal decision prompted this action? If reported correctly why did it take so long to remove ‘evidence’ from the premise? If the goal was the shut down information how do you measure success here?

  16. I am no expert, but don’t the police have to present you with the warrant up front? Not that this is the only thing wrong here, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

  17. This incident seems to confirm the modern American theory of justice: an action is illegal ONLY if you are caught, tried, convicted, and not pardoned for your crime.

  18. @delt664: As he says in the interview, he was presented with a warrant, but it was a “sealed warrant”, which apparently means he wasn’t allowed to read the whole thing. I’ve never heard of that myself, maybe it’s one of the many delights we can thank the Patriot Act for.

  19. @ razzabeth – I was surprised by the lack of comments on this one too. I was hoping some of the more learned boingboingers would supply some commentary on exactly what federal anti-rioting laws are.

    That whole part of this seems weird to me. It doesn’t seem any different from truckers identifying the location of speed traps over the cb. Anybody know if there is any legal history on that subject?

    I was pretty surprised by the whole story. I’m not entirely sympathetic to their cause, but it seems a bit of an overresponse on the part of the police. The gentlemans lawyer seems pretty convinced on the nonsensory of the charges at least.

  20. @starbreiz – They are probably using some bullshit derivation of the RICO act, or some anti-drug legislation from the 80’s that allow confiscation of property due to the property being “criminal” because it was involved, however tangentially, in the commission of a crime. That is how houses get taken from grandparents when their grandkids are selling drugs. I’m not saying that they were involved with the violent idiot contingent of the G20 protesters as they were most likely involved with the peaceful protesters. But that is probably the tack the feds are taking.

  21. The only supposed crime he’s accused of committing is “hindering apprehension or prosecution”. All the other charges stem from the assumption that he’s guilty of that, the other charges are basically “using computers to commit crime” and “possessing computers that are used for committing crime”.

    Hindering apprehension is a charge that many of the activists arrested at the G20 were given. It seems to be a placeholder, sort of like “disorderly conduct” has been in the past. As far as I can tell, “hindering apprehension” basically means you somehow made it harder for police to arrest someone. An example of a hindering apprehension law reads like this:

    “(4) he warned (other) of impending or imminent discovery or apprehension. (Note: this does not apply to a warning given in connection with an effort to bring another into compliance with law, such as a fellow motorist warning speeders to slowdown for a speed trap, or a lawyer advising a client to discontinue illegal activities.)”

    So, if you announce “Watch out, there are cops gassing and arresting people at 5th and Main” and other protesters use that information to avoid getting gassed and arrested, or if you say “The cops are blasting people with a sonic cannon” and protesters use this information to protect their ears, you might be considered guilty of hindering apprehension, provided they could prove that your intention was to keep people from getting arrested, gassed, deafened, etc.

    By their reasoning, it seems that if you’re a journalist or blogger reporting on what’s happening on the street, publishing any information which you know could in some way help protesters avoid arrest is a criminal act. That kind of suppression of speech cannot possibly be constitutional.

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