1. a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.; a timid or easily intimidated person.
Cowards, it has been said, are “those who refuse to engage in a good or righteous struggle or those too frightened to defend their rights or those of others from aggressors.”
In the last two years, I have had the distasteful experience of reading and listening to anonymous “experts” who have made it their business to keep two innocent kids in an Italian prison. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are believed by most, including nearly the entire fourth estate, to be innocent and victims of a horrible, possibly intentional miscarriage of justice.
During their ordeal, a handful of vociferous, malicious Internet posters have dogged these two and anybody on the web who had the audacity to proclaim their obvious innocence. I, too, have experienced their vitriol. One poster, in fact, allegedly posted that it was his life’s goal to “bring Steve Moore down” because of my advocacy for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. (Subsequent investigation proved him to be an impotent poseur.)
Certainly, people on the Internet can differ on causes and beliefs, and that’s one of the wonderful things about it. People of all persuasions can discuss and advocate. But the debate can have a dark side. When I worked domestic terrorism cases in the FBI, I would arrest people who had bombed synagogues or attacked people of ethnic minorities. They would frequently ask me as I was stuffing them in the back of an FBI car; “Since when did it become a crime to believe one race is inferior?” I would always tell them the same thing. “It isn’t against the law. But killing someone because you believe that crap is against the law.” The fact that there are people who (though misguided) post about their belief in Amanda and Raffaele’s culpability, this is not the problem. It is a problem because the rhetoric of these anonymous posters has become malicious and personal. It is still not wrong to disagree with people on the Internet. But when you make it your business to try and harm them or their family financially or otherwise, you have crossed a line. Internet trolls, for those who are new to the genre, are posters who purposely and deliberately attack others on a forum or post with fallacious arguments, frequently ad hominem or straw-man attacks.
These “trolls” (Urban Dictionary: “Troll--One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”) from the anti-Amanda Knox side hide behind on-line pseudonyms. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that using pseudonyms on-line are always wrong or offensive, especially during on-line debate. When people are discussing opinion or debating facts that others have provided, pseudonyms are fine. But when one purports to be providing new “facts,” and attributes these facts to their own investigation or expertise, then pseudonyms are suspect at best and cowardly at worst.
Pseudonyms are fine when one is not claiming to have special knowledge of a subject which would influence others. But, if someone claims to be a lawyer close to a case, a confidant of someone “in-the-know,” or a subject-matter expert, for instance, then a pseudonym is no longer appropriate. If someone claims to be someone “in-the-know” but refuses to provide bona-fides, then that person should be disregarded. No one walks into a courtroom, swears to tell the truth, and when asked their name says, “bluedawn5.”
This is the reason hearsay is not allowed in courtrooms. This is the reason newspapers do not accept unsigned letters to the editor, this is why unsigned allegations sent to police departments are most frequently ignored—its usually not an informant, it’s an angry ex-spouse. Anything is easy to say and lie about when you are not forced to put your name beside your statement. Poseurs can claim an expertise as, say, “former United States Senator” then assert the possession of inside information to influence a political debate. But absent proof, this person is just as likely to be a sweaty, fat, 40 year old posting from his mother’s basement in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Standing behind what you say is in many ways an act of confidence, of bravery, and of nobility. When the signers of the Declaration of Independence set their hand to that marvelous document, they were indeed signing their lives away if they lost the war. Signing it was treason. Signing it took guts and courage. Everyone used their real name. Boldly. And not one signed the document, “fatherofthecountry4.”
In the Amanda Knox case, many qualified, bona-fide, subject-matter experts have come forward using their actual names (!) to advocate for Amanda Knox. Michael Heavey, a sitting judge; Maria Cantwell, a United States Senator; Anne Bremner, attorney; Mark Waterbury, scientist and author; Paul Ciolino, a well-known investigator; Douglas Preston and Bruce Fisher, authors; Peter Van Sant, a CBS journalist; Michael Scadron, a former prosecutor for the United States Department of Justice; and myself, a retired FBI Agent. Each of us (and many more) came forward using our actual names and identities and have been subjected to scathing criticism and harassment bordering on criminal acts. But we knew the job was dangerous when we took it. The difference between the malicious posters and the aforementioned experts is that the people who have lent their names have all had careers and/or experience which gave them valuable insight into the Kercher murder investigation.
But the trolls and others have tried to have people fired from their jobs at least four times--simply for voicing their opinion that the evidence clears Amanda Knox. Free speech does not apply to their causes. They tried to have a professor in England fired, a journalist in Seattle, a judge in Seattle, and others fired. Why? For having the audacity to speak what they consider truth. But if it’s not the trolls' truth, then it must be stopped. Books must be burned.
I became involved in the Amanda Knox case when I realized upon examining the evidence that Knox had been railroaded, and that the evidence actually cleared her and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. I began to speak out. If I had done so under a web pseudonym: “fbiguyreally;” I would have and should have been laughed out of the discussion. Instead, so that my expertise could add to the discussion and be taken seriously, I volunteered my name, my resume and my bona-fides to major networks and newspapers, including CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX News. They in turn vetted the information I had provided with the FBI in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, according to the FBI.
Yet immediately, a group of nameless trolls began questioning my credentials. People who refused to identify themselves by name or occupation began to question who I said I was, and cast doubt on whether I really was an FBI Agent. This from people with dignified names such as ‘harryrag,’ ‘fast pete’ and ‘somealibi.’ At the same time, all three of these particular trolls claimed to have inside information and/or expertise on the case. But they would not identify themselves except for the “somealibi,” who claims to be an attorney. (This claim was investigated and is in serious doubt.) “Fast pete,” it turned out, appears to be a certain 70 year-old accused serial-liar for whom no employment records can be found for the last 20 years; and who was recently threatened with arrest by NYPD for stalking young women. Likely the nickname was given to him by his wife.
The final poster, “harry rag,” has not been identified as of yet, though he is by far the most prodigious anti-Knox & Sollecito poster (but is strangely silent about Rudy Guede, the only accused who is not appealing his conviction, and who has admitted his involvement.) He claims to have inside knowledge on the case and speaks with great passion on the matter, but again, refuses steadfastly to identify himself, which raises the question of either his veracity, his motivation or his real concern. All three trolls attack others personally and professionally; demonstrably lying and threatening. One common theme of theirs seems to be sexual. My wife, who has also identified herself by name, has received some of the most disgusting pornography E-mailed from harry rag, and has been the subject of vile sexual suggestions and requests from harryrag and others associated with them. She has been called every name in the book by harry, fast pete and others.
These “honorable debaters” claim to be doing what they do for the sake of the victim in this case; Meredith Kercher. Meredith by all accounts was a beautiful, talented, popular and creative woman who was murdered and sexually assaulted by a burglar. But if one cares so little about finding the real murderer of Meredith that they aren’t even willing to use their real names, it is fair to ask whether the person (poster) even exists (many people have multiple pseudonyms), whether they are paid by another, or whether they even care.
How much passion can someone have about any cause or person when they are unwilling to even risk associating their own names with their statements? I would not care to have a friend who would not defend me without having a paper bag over his head. That person isn’t really a friend, that person cares much more about himself that he does about others. I hope harry rag has people he cares more about than he obviously cares about Meredith Kercher, because he doesn’t seem to be willing to go out of his way to support her. No, he hides behind a name. “With friends like that….” No, whoever he is, harry apparently does not have the concern and/or bravery inside himself to defend Meredith using his own name. Meredith fought for her life with bravery and nobility. She deserves better than friends who show the white feather.
There is a difference between fear and cowardice, of course. On the night of April 10, 1912, everybody on the Titanic was terrified. But people like Wallace Hartley, the ship’s bandleader, and his entire band, spent the rest of their lives not searching for a lifeboat, but playing music to ease the pain and the panic of the passengers. That was bravery. That was noble.
Sadly, many men of “noble birth” did what they could to displace women and children in the lifeboats. One 21 year old passenger named Daniel Buckley testified in the official U.S. inquiry of the sinking that he had somehow boarded a lifeboat that was full. When the Titanic crewmen found that men were aboard this lifeboat, they drew their pistols and ordered the men off at gunpoint so that waiting women and children could board before the boat was lowered. Buckley testified:
“I was crying. A woman in the boat had thrown her shawl over me and told me to stay. They did not see me, and the boat was lowered down into the water.”
So he sat in the lifeboat crying, pretending to be a woman, wearing women’s clothing so that he could live at the cost of the death of a woman with a child. He was so unwilling to face danger or death, that he not only placed his wellbeing above the wellbeing of others, but he engaged in deceit to do so—so that others (the crewmen) could not enforce societal and maritime law.
Daniel Buckley assumed a different identity so that he could achieve an illegitimate goal. By not identifying themselves, or claiming that they are something that they are not, Internet trolls are also assuming a different identity, for equally duplicitous purposes. This is epic cowardice. But instead of taking the place of a woman and child who would ultimately die, they are going after two innocent kids. The difference, of course, is that Daniel Buckley’s life depended on it, so one can almost understand his failure.
What’s in it for the trolls?