Media scoundrels stopped
short of truth and full disclosure. The Wall Street Journal headlined
"An Internet Activist Commits Suicide."
New York's medical examiner announced death by "hang(ing) himself
in his Brooklyn apartment."
Lingering suspicions remain. Why would someone with so much to give
end it all this way? He was one of the Internet generation's best and
He advocated online freedom. Selflessly he sought a better open
world. Information should be freely available, he believed. A legion of
followers supported him globally.
Alive he symbolized a vital struggle to pursue. Death may elevate
him to martyr status but removes a key figure important to keep alive.
The New York Times headlined "Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS,
Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide."
He was an Internet folk hero. He supported online freedom and copyright
reform. He advocated free and open web files. He championed a vital cause.
He worked tirelessly for what's right.
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle called him "steadfast in
his dedication to building a better and open world. He is among the best
spirits of the Internet generation."
Who'll replace him now that he's gone? He called locking up the
public domain sinful. He selflessly strove to prevent it.
In July 2011, he was arrested. At the time, he was downloading old
scholarly articles. He was charged with violating federal hacking laws.
MIT gave him a guest account to do it.
He developed RSS and co-founded Reddit. It's a social news site.
He was found dead weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial.
He was targeted for doing the right thing. He didn't steal or profit.
He shared. His activism was more than words.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) defends online freedom,
free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights. It "champion(s)
the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights."
On January 12, it headlined "Farewell to Aaron Swartz, an extraordinary
hacker and activist." It called him "a close friend and collaborator."
Tragedy ended his life.
Vital questions remain unanswered. Supporters demand answers. So
do family members.They blame prosecutors for what happened. Their statement
following his death said the following:
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product
of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial
overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US Attorney's
office and at MIT contributed to his death."
Swartz did as much or more than anyone to make the Internet a thriving
open knowledge ecosystem. He strove to keep it that way. He challenged
repressive Internet laws.
He founded Demand Progress. It "works to win progressive policy
changes for ordinary people through organizing and grassroots lobbying,"
It prioritizes "civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform."
It ran online campaigns for justice. It advocated in the public interest.
It challenged policies harming it.
He mobilized over a million online activists. His other projects
included RSS specification, web.py, tor2web, the Open Library, and the
Chrome port of HTTPS Everywhere.
He launched Creative Commons. He co-founded Reddit. He and others
made it successful. His Raw Thought blog discussed "politics and parody."
He had much to say worth hearing.
In 2011, he used the MIT campus network. He downloaded millions
of journal articles. He used the JSTOR database. Authorities claimed he
changed his laptop's IP and Mac addresses. They said he did it to circumvent
He was charged with "unauthorized (computer) access" under the Computer
and Abuse Act. He did the equivalent of checking out too many library
books at the same time.
Obama prosecutors claim doing so is criminal. They've waged war
on Internet freedom. They want Net Neutrality and free expression abolished.
They want fascist laws replacing them.
They usurped diktat power. They spurn rule of law principles and
other democratic values. They enforce police state authority. They prioritize
what no civil society should tolerate.
They claimed Aaron intended to distribute material on peer-to-peer
networks. He never did. It hardly mattered. Documents he secured were
returned. No harm. No foul. Federal authorities charged him anyway.
In July 2011, a Massachusetts grand jury indicted him. He was arraigned
in Boston US District Court. He pled not guilty to all charges. He was
freed on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
If convicted, he faced up to 35 years imprisonment and a $1 million
dollar fine. He wanted scientific/scholarly articles liberated. They belong
in the public domain. He wanted everyone given access. It's their right,
He wanted a single giant dataset established. He did it before.
He wasn't charged. Why now?
"While his methods were provocative," said EFF, his goal was "freeing
the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that
makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it."
EFF calls it a cause everyone should support. Aaron was politically
active. He fought for what's right. Followers supported him globally.
In the "physical world," at worst he'd have faced minor charges,
said EFF. They're "akin to trespassing as part of political protests."
Doing it online changed things. He faced possible long-term incarceration.
For years, EFF fought this type injustice.
Academic/political activist Lawrence Lessig called Aaron's death
just cause for reforming computer crime laws. Overzealous prosecutors
are bullies. They overreach and cause harm.
EFF mourned his passing, saying:
"Aaron, we will sorely miss your friendship, and your help in building
a better world." Many others feel the same way.
Did Aaron take his own life or was he killed? Moti Nissani is Wayne
State University Department of Biology Professor Emeritus. "Who Killed
Aaron Swartz," he asked?
He quoted Bob Marley saying: "How long shall they kill our prophets
while we stand aside and look?" He listed reasons why Obama administration
scoundrels wanted him dead.
His death "was preceded by a vicious, totally unjustified, campaign
of surveillance, harassment, vilification, and intimidation."
CIA/FBI/Mossad/MI5 assassins expertly "mak(e) murder look like suicide."
Numerous "enemies of the state" die under suspicious circumstances. Media
scoundrels don't explain.
US authorities "had excellent reasons to kill" Aaron. He was legendary
in his own right like John Lennon, MLK, Malcolm X and others. He threatened
status quo dominance. He denounced Obama's kill list and anti-Iranian
Powerful government and business figures deplored him. In 2009,
FBI elements investigated him. Charges didn't follow.
Despite extreme pressure, he pressed on. He defied prosecutorial
authority. In October 2009, he posted his FBI file online. Doing do "probably
signed his own lynch warrant," said Nissani.
Two days before his death, JSTOR, his alleged victim, declined to
press charges. It went further. It "announced that the archives of more
than 1,200 of its journals would be available to the public free."
Aaron had just cause to celebrate. "Are we to believe" he hanged
Government officials and corporate bosses "had plenty of reasons"
to want him dead. He challenged their totalitarian agenda. "He was creative,
idealistic and unbendable."
"He was young and admired by many." Did "invisible government" elements
"They did so either indirectly through constant harassmentÖ.or,
most likely, directly by hanging him and" blaming him for their crime.
"All this raises a dilemma for those of us possessing both conscience
and a functioning brain." How much longer will we stand by and do nothing?
How long will we tolerate what demands condemnation? When will we
defend our own interests?
Freedom is too precious to lose. Preserving it depends on us. No
one will do it for us. It's not possible any other way. It never was.
It never will be.
Aaron's Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto
His own words say it best.
"Information is power," he said. "But like all power, there are
those who want to keep it for themselves."
"The worldís entire scientific and cultural heritage, published
over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized
and locked up by a handful of private corporations."
"Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the
sciences? Youíll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed
"There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement
has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights
away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under
terms that allow anyone to access it."
"But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to
things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been
"That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money
to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only
allowing the folks at Google to read them?"
"Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in
the First World, but not to children in the Global South? Itís outrageous
" 'I agree,' many say, but what can we do?' The companies hold the
copyrights. They make enormous amounts of money by charging for access,
and itís perfectly legal - thereís nothing we can do to stop them. But
there is something we can, something thatís already being done: we can
"Those with access to these resources - students, librarians, scientists
- you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of
knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out."
"But you need not - indeed, morally, you cannot - keep this privilege
for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have:
trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends."
"Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly
by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating
the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your
"But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground.
Itís called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were
the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But
sharing isnít immoral - itís a moral imperative. Only those blinded by
greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy."
"Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under
which they operate require it - their shareholders would revolt at anything
less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws
giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies."
"There is no justice in following unjust laws. Itís time to come
into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare
our opposition to this private theft of public culture."
"We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies
and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright
and add it to the archive."
"We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need
to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.
We need to fight for Guerrilla Open Access."
"With enough of us, around the world, weíll not just send a strong
message opposing the privatization of knowledge - weíll make it a thing
of the past. Will you join us?"
Does Aaron's manifesto sound like someone planning suicide?
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour
on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and
Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.