Lonnie Coffman is one of the many citizens who attended a massive protest at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to authorities.
Unlike most at the rally, Coffman allegedly came to the Washington, D.C., area with a small arsenal of weapons and an inferred desire for destruction.
In Coffman’s arsenal were, among other weapons, 11 Molotov cocktails, three guns and over 100 rounds of ammunition, investigators said, according to AL.com. The alleged possession of these weapons led to Coffman being arrested and held without bond on 17 charges.
Judge REJECTS request for release from Lonnie Coffman, man accused of bringing 11 Molotov Cocktails and cache of guns to US Capitol area on Jan 6. His next hearing is in two weeks pic.twitter.com/WNAfaBAhOG
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) January 14, 2021
The nature of Coffman’s arrest is a nightmare for many members of the law enforcement community because he is an individual with a relatively clean past who had no social media presence.
It is no secret that intel is crucial to any law enforcement agency, and those who fly under the radar and who have the will and means to terrorize others are among the most dangerous citizens in the United States.
Thankfully, many criminals and dangerous individuals are active on the internet and social media. This internet presence allows law enforcement agencies to track threats and plans to commit crimes by individuals or groups like antifa.
On the surface, Coffman’s arrest looks like a great win for law enforcement and a prime example of getting one of the alleged bad guys off the street.
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However, Big Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are inadvertently making it harder for organizations like the FBI to find dangerous domestic terrorists.
Clint Van Zandt, a retired profiler for the FBI, “said it’s essential for law enforcement to understand what Coffman planned to do with all of his weapons and what was motivating him in order to identify others like him,” according to NBC News.
This becomes infinitely harder when there are fewer avenues that agencies can explore in searching for domestic terrorists.
Van Zandt further “pointed out that the purging of people with radical views from popular social platforms, which has escalated in recent weeks, deprives investigators of a crucial tool in tracking people who might move along the continuum of ideation to action,” NBC added.
Now, the NBC article doesn’t say whether Coffman used to have social media accounts and was banned or simply never had any to begin with. (According to Reuters, his lawyer told a judge that Coffman takes drugs for mental illness.)
Still, Van Zandt’s statements suggest that increased censorship of accounts that Twitter and Facebook deem dangerous is inhibiting law enforcement agencies from keeping the public safe.
While it is unlikely that this is the intent of these platforms, censoring accounts can be extremely dangerous.
Most would agree that tracking and arresting a violent criminal is much more important than limiting their speech on the internet if this limitation could mean they are no longer on law enforcement’s radar.
In the Supreme Court’s landmark 1919 decision in Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously used the analogy of shouting fire in a crowded theater as an example of speech designed to cause a panic — speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.
Shouting fire in a crowded theater is obviously dangerous, but what is more dangerous is not being able to stop someone who is about to set the theater on fire. If this censorship continues, the theater could go down in flames.
At the end of the day, this sort of censorship cannot be up to the discretion of Big Tech companies alone when the use of their platforms impacts nearly every citizen in America.
There are obvious reasons to censor an account, but a minor breach of a platform’s policy could provide valuable information for law enforcement.
These heroes already have one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and this censorship and purging of accounts could be making their jobs much harder.
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