Getting an internet troll out of prison, and back to IRL.
"Did you know they have special laws to protect kid-fuckers in federal prison?” Andrew Auernheimer asked me with a grin on his face. “I can't hit them, it's a five year felony if I do. We're not held to the same standard because the feds protect kid-fuckers, and don’t want them to have a bad time in prison.”
On Friday night, Auernheimer, better known as “weev,” emerged from Allenwood Federal Correctional Center in Pennsylvania at about 10:30 PM. 28 months earlier than expected, he was free to leave just hours after learning his conviction had been overturned by judges in the 3rd Circuit US Court of Appeals. I rushed out to retrieve him in a van with his victorious lawyer, Tor Ekeland, as well as a videographer and a mutual friend of weev's and mine.
Video by the author
Weev was sentenced in March of last year to 41 months in prison under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for exposing a security flaw on AT&T's website, and providing Gawker with a list of 114,000 users’ email addresses.
Last month, Orin Kerr argued for weev’s appeal, saying that New Jersey was an improper venue for weev’s case to be brought, as his alleged hacking hadn’t taken place there. In their response, prosecutors exhibited an embarrassing lack of internet know-how, and implored the court to “think broadly” when it came to the question of venue. When judges vacated weev’s appeal on Friday, they ruled on venue, and Judge Michael Chagares wrote: “Cybercrimes do not happen in some metaphysical location that justifies disregarding constitutional limits on venue.”
As happy as he and his friends are to see him come home from over a year in prison, weev is still determined to fight the CFAA, which went untouched in the 3rd Circuit’s ruling that freed him. His original argument—that he had not obtained “unauthorized access” to the list of emails—is one he’s fully prepared to go back to trial for. And while the ruling on venue is a significant new precedent for computer cases, the CFAA, a 1986 law that's unequipped for the internet age, has yet to see a significant challenge.
When weev received the news of his vacated conviction Friday morning, he briefly considered that a hunger strike he’d recently undergone—in protest of having his letters and reading materials confiscated—had made an impression.
Weev reads the 3rd Circuit's ruling on his way home from prison. Photo by the author
Weev was sent into the SHU (Secured Housing Unit) in mid-February, "because I had the wrong literature," he said. "You see, if you're white, and you're listening to classical music and reading poetry in federal prison, then you’re classified as a terrorist-white supremacist,” or part of the Aryan Brotherhood, and a potential threat to other inmates.
A white power anthem blared from the van’s speakers while I drove away from the prison, and weev sang along, "There's no crime in being white!" As we headed back to New York, weev detailed his experience behind bars, where he’d smelted jewelry, read some epic poetry, and started a small Greek yogurt business. “A lot of pedophiles like to tell other people in prison that they're hackers,” he said. “And I got to call all of those fuckers out, which was great. I say gas ‘em, just gas ‘em all."
If you know weev, this doesn’t surprise you. Anyone who takes him too seriously will end up offended, as he utters his off-color commentary like a 4chan comment thread read aloud. Notorious troll or not, weev's lack of a filter has made him many a friend; I learned that famously abrasive comedian Doug Stanhope contributed $100 to weev's post-jail fund, a fund that swelled by over $3,000 in the time it took us to drive out to the prison and pick him up.
Exiting the Holland Tunnel, and heading into Lower Manhattan past the familiar sight of Zuccotti Park, weev reflected on his time at Occupy. We parked, reunited him with a backpack he’d left behind 13 months ago at his sentencing, and walked upstairs to a friend’s apartment where a small welcome party had assembled. Close friends and supporters awaiting Andrew’s arrival popped champagne bottles, applauded, and cheered, “Hail Eris! Hail victory!”