DisruptJ20: The Justice Department Demands 1.3 Million IP Addresses and Other Information On Trump Critics

YC_kStF9US-DeptOfJustice-Seal_svgBelow is my column in USA Today on a troubling warrant issued by the Justice Department to force the disclosure of visitors to an anti-Trump site.  The DisruptJ20 case raises very serious questions regarding political speech and associational rights.

Here is the column:


It is the nature of power. Governments tend to focus on what they can do rather than what they should do in the use of authority. After all, officials view their own motivations and purposes in the most benign light.

Of course, those same actions can be viewed in a very different light by citizens targeted by the government. That is the conflict unfolding in a small courtroom in Washington D.C. where District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz is reviewing a motion from a company named DreamHost.

The DreamHost motion details an effort by the Trump Administration to gain information on 1.3 million IP addresses. The Justice Department is seeking identifying information for people who went to an anti-Trump website in an overbroad demand that seriously undermines free speech and free association protections.

At issue are people who visited a site called DisruptJ20 or #DisruptJ20. The site seeks to help people in “organizing,” “resistance,” “disruptions” and “civil disobedience.” It does not call for violence or property destruction. It did feature press releases including one that stated that “Our goals were: 1. Set a tone of resistance against the Trump administration; 2. Disrupt the normal flow of the inauguration; and 3. Empower local organizers in D.C. and give them skills and relationships to continue their work.”

donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedThe website helped coordinate demonstrations against President Trump in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day in January. Some of those protesters turned violent and have faced indictments. It is clear that the government has a right to investigate those individuals but the government also has a duty to tailor such demands in light of the deep free speech interests involved in such demonstrations. There is no evidence of such tailoring in this demand. Indeed, it is an example of how government officials tend to focus on the use of power rather than the misuse of their power.

DreamHost was hit by the demand for “names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including start date), means and source of payment for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration.”

225px-Anthony_Kennedy_OfficialThe government demand reflects a view that, so long as it is investigating a crime, it can throw caution to the winds in terms of how its actions will impact upon political speech. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Int’l Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 701 (1992) that “The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But … Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”

There is little evidence of either tolerance or restraint in this warrant. It shows a complete absence of concern for the implications to political speech in this country. The demand would identify thousands of citizens who oppose the Administration with their email and other information.

Such demands have a long and troubled history in our country. In 1958, the Supreme Court stopped an effort to reveal the names of people working with the NAACP and described the right to privacy in such groups “indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

Of course, even (as implausible as it may seem) Hillary Clinton has proclaimed herself a part of the “resistance” to the Trump Administration. If Clinton wanted to go on DisruptJ20 as the ultimate establishment figure turned resistance fighter, she has every right to do so. Of course, she would have every reason to use an alias — as much to protect her from the wrath of the proletariat as from prosecutors. People have a right to protest. They are also subject to arrest for any illegal acts. People should be able to be anonymous, while crimes should not be.

220px-thomasjeffersonstateroomportraitThe Supreme Court has repeatedly sought to limit the “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy.” This concern is at its apex when the government is seeking information on its own critics. Certainly, these concerns can make it more difficult for prosecutors, but, as Thomas Jefferson stated, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

In the end, this is all being done in the name of prosecuting some miscreants who committed relatively minor property damage during the inauguration. The damage that will be left in the wake of this warrant is likely to be far more significant.

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

120 thoughts on “DisruptJ20: The Justice Department Demands 1.3 Million IP Addresses and Other Information On Trump Critics”

  1. The nature of electronic communications is that they can be archived in databases and searched at will. Regulations needs to be on who has access to those databases. Certainly no political official should have access to them. Perhaps access should be limited to scholarly researchers, although they would be difficult to identify and separate from politicians.

    1. The case of Smith v Maryland (1979) ruled that any information that telecommunications employees have access to, in the purpose of “housecleaning” (eg. billing, customer service) does not meet the threshold for “expectation of privacy”.

  2. I don’t take this demand that seriously at this time. We often ask for more than we need or actually want, but that doesn’t mean such a wish should be granted. I believe the judiciary acts to stop such broad requests. Then again that requires an honest judiciary not the type of judiciary that put a restraining order on Trump’s travel ban.

    1. I thought the same, allan. I really don’t know JT’s bio – if he is a practicing attorney, surely he drafts his requests for the kitchen sink and then “grudgingly” settles for what he actually wanted in the first place.

  3. If crimes have been committed and the investigation identifies a website that was used to coordinate the crime, what protections should that website and its subscribers expect? For instance, if 200 people were arrested for child-sex trafficking and they coordinated their crime using a particular website, wouldn’t the website and all of its subscribers be subject to this investigation?

    1. Olly, we generally agree, but in this case I believe the onus of proof is on the one requesting the names and addresses and one has to prove that the matter of law in question requires such a broad search.

      In your example, let us say it is the Turley worldview blog that has 100 million members would you deem the request appropriate? 10 million? 100,000? 5,000? There is a point where the request becomes valid and that point is determined by a host of factors. It’s not clear exactly where but should exist for our freedom of speech to be upheld.

      1. Actually Allan I believe we completely agree. If we err, we have to err on the side of securing the rights everyone. If I understand RICO correctly, that seems to be the path for the Justice Department.

        On another note. I believe we’ve jumped the shark on all the labeling of people; alt-right, fascists, racists, Lefties, alt-left, Nazi, Socialists, etc. These labels do nothing to address the underlying and common feature among all of these groups. They are Anti-Rights groups. They just happen to approach infringing the rights of others from different directions. If we look at government as the vehicle to do the will of the people, we must all agree the first priority of government is to provide the security of rights for everyone equally. If we cannot unite on that principle, then we should expect no security of rights for anyone. And then it’s Game Over.

        1. We agree completely. I place the Nazi’s et al. and the Communists et al in the same box with slightly different characteristics. All or most of them when extreme or even mildly extreme seem to like violence and the culture of death. After all the NAZI is National Socialism. Many if not most of the Social Justice Warriors are among the most intollerant people advocating reverse racism. A lot of people have a history of discrimination against them. Many on this list are probably related to people that died in the past century due to racism. It is not just one group that finds itself alone having been discriminated against though on this list some act that way and are willing to call people racists or play the race card at every chance they get. …And there are groups that feel so strongly that they commit violence stating it is necessary to correct racism today.

          Imagine what we have come to. Violent people can act out their violence in a way morally acceptable to many people.

          1. Violent people can act out their violence in a way morally acceptable to many people.

            Yes. Their righteous motto is: Punch Violence In The Face!

          2. Exactly allan. I have personally seen this method of thinking from many people whom I would have thought would choose to be better. You and Olly have really cleared it up.

            1. Thanks slohrss!

              Your comment reminded me of the scene in the movie The Good Son where the mom is torn between saving her own evil son, the good son of her late sister, or neither. I’m hoping we are coming to the point where that right decision will be made for our country.


        2. INGSOC of Oceania said:

          “Freedom is slavery.”

          Olly of America says:

          “Security [of rights] is liberty [for government of the people, by the people, for the people].”

  4. Obama led the way. Baby Jesus is our Leader and we will Follow Him. If he would have done it, Trump should do it. You know in your heart of hearts it is the Chicago way

  5. ps Professor Turley, I love your work. But Id like to point out that your quote of Jefferson will fall on deaf ears as the Democrats are trying to destroy our history.

  6. This is a RICO

    This is about Seditious Conspiracy.

    The ‘Resist’ Leaders are criminals who are basically trying to cause a Civil War or Coup

    Besides, Democrats cant cry about it because they had no issue with Obama going after Tea Party who didnt even do anything on the scale of what the ‘Resist’ leaders are doing.

    This case is going to be massive and its not just about riot organizing. This will engulf the DNC, Hillary, Soros and ultimately, Obama.

    Normally I oppose broad warrants but in this case everyone involved is part of a criminal syndicate. Its like asking for a warrant on every ISIS supporter or Mafia member.

    1. INGSOC of Oceania said:

      “War is peace.”

      Anonemouse of America says:

      “The RICO statute is peace.”

  7. If some of the violent protesters have already been indicted, then may we presume that the prosecutor has thus far failed to get any of those defendants to cooperate with the investigation by naming their alleged accomplices, co-conspirators or paymasters? Wouldn’t that, ordinarily, be the preferred pattern of play for prosecutors investigating an alleged conspiracy?

  8. Dr. Turley, I have to disagree with you. These staged (and financed) protests are resulting in deaths of our citizens. Those who organizes and fund these operations need to be brought to justice. First, who have to find and identify them. IP addresses accomplishes that objective.
    Now the mass collection of metadata by the NSA…that’s a whole different story.

    1. INGSOC of Oceania said:

      “Ignorance is strength.”

      TMP of America says:

      “The government’s search for knowledge of its citizens is its citizens’ strength.” [Except for mass collection of metadata by the NSA]

  9. I don’t think the First Amendment is a shield to protect violent anachists. Otherwise how could we ever use confessions made to co-conspirators against them in court. Isn’t that chilling their free speech too! They certainly had an expectation of privacy. You can carry anything too far and denying the government the ability to stop violent anti-American hate groups because the investigation might inhibit these radical from talking about their nefarious plots seems to me to be like asking the chickens to guard the security of the fox den.

    1. I agree that the government should investigate violent organizations. But I doubt there are 1.3 million violent anarchists in America. And The First Amendment ought to shield people who visit either Dreamhost or DisruptJ20 without engaging in conspiracy to incite rioting. Perhaps the government will use the IP addresses wisely. Perhaps the government will misuse the IP addresses. Should we trust any government to investigate any group? Or should we pick and choose which governments we trust depending upon which groups we mistrust?

        1. What’s a conservative estimate of the amount of violence [property damage] that 1.3 million anarchists could cause in America? What’s a conservative estimate of the violence [property damage] said anarchists have caused in America since January 20th, 2016?

          1. No telling. I bet the insurance company’s could give us a guess. The AntiFa goons are fringe characters brought out from under rocks by Soros and bussed around to cause mischief. Until the Dems quit making the cops stand down under the ruse of cop safety but in reality sharing their sentiments, we’ll have more of it.

            1. mespo – I have never decided does Soros have money in insurance companies or hopes to bring them to their knees?

  10. Hitler had a website. But the spiders bit him so often that he gave it up.

    1. Excellent. Combination of the Hitler/Godwin meme with sophomoric humor that’s innovative and entertaining. That’s the real utility of this website.

      This it to “just checking in on the crackpots” randy

  11. I would not read a vast governmental conspiracy or crack-down into this warrant. The law enforcement official taking out the warrant was a local cop from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Second District. The warrant sought evidence of violation of a local rioting statute. Warrants for D.C. Code offenses are applied for and granted every day in D.C. Superior Court. It is no different than a warrant for any local offense, burglary, drugs, etc. I doubt that anyone of any authority in the Justice Dept. even knew that the warrant was being applied for. It may have been reviewed by a local line prosecutor assigned to such tasks, but that is as far as the DOJ would become involved, and that is only because the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecutes all but very minor D.C. Code offenses. If the DOJ thought the matter serious, the warrant would have been applied for by a federal law enforcement official, not a local cop, and the application would have been to federal court, not the local D.C. courts.

    1. You are probably correct, but that doesn’t make the warrant any less problematical. And the information sought, once let out of the bag, will be available to those in the government who might use it improperly.

      1. Oliver Clozoff – letting the information out the bag is always a problem, but if you have been on the site then I suggest you now start using a VPN.

      1. Well patriot music man get on your high horse and bring them to nurmberg….it is never going to happen…so just live your life by two excuses….not all people follow the ‘law’ and the fbi is the is the strong man. If you evade the fbi you will find happinesss….you can evade them if you just do what everyonr else is doing…..living….they have to prove it….if what you do is normal….then you can say targeted.. are they war criminals…yes but not donald yet….do you have a case? No….and none of us ever will. Yolo. Don’t waste it being oppressed. God will have his say….these people will probably get excruciating brain tumors. Or the like….

      1. And there you have it why do you even care if they go to prison if you know they go to hell for eternity? Case closed.

  12. He was elected to drain the swamp if the swamp thing is hiring disrupters like the “resistence” that is not free speech and association….that is rico.

  13. Why can’t we all get along? This is exactly what our adversary wants…us questioning each other. Now since we only think but do not know russia collussion….hillary did found a “resistance” ….who knows if she is with the russians….certainly lookks like it on other fronts. This is not free speech or association that is being fished for….tom dick or harry believing xyx are not being fished for…..it is criminals being fished for…..no when you ppl get on your box and say….but they were just speaking or associating…..good luck I got a rap sheet for just asking the cops why they were next door….obstruction…..wake the hek up!

    1. Speech and critcism is not a given
      .some ppl most ppl don’t folow their local paper minutes…..go to meeting minutes open forum…no one speaks….correllate those who do to retaliation…any? Most towns are pretty successful at shutting down their critics despite the first amendment. As much as I hate the statue situation….it was refreshing to see a mob mob the police station begging for arrest….that is a clever tactic….very clever….

      1. The counter argument is the rule of law is dead when ppl show up and beg to be arrested….then we know if it was by force-control it lost its sting….but that is what you get when everyone is a “criminal” per the law anyway….so what? The law has swallowed freedom. No one longer cares….a second cousin of anarchy….they still have to prove it. Its like we shift a plane…and what good does that do anyone? And now all these ceos bailing
        ….lets track their earnings….disband them d As M right…wishy washy wishy washy….zcars.

  14. I am picking up on some disconnect here. On one hand, people lament the neo-fascists trying to shut down free speech at Ryerson, or Berkely, etc.

    Then, when Trump tries to track down the organizations and groups who are behind the attempts to unlawfully deprive people of their free speech rights, and the people who promote organized violence – – -then people start rebelling.

    I have read that the FBI gathers a lot of info on subversive groups, like the Klan, various anarchist groups, Islamic terrorist etc. Yet, when the target is Antifa, who are growing more violent by the day, it’s time to turn tail and not try to run them down.

    Well, one day they will start killing people, and planting bombs, and then you can look back on this and ask, “But who cuddanode???”

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. I do like your viewpoints here, even when I disagree with them from time to time.
      From what I gather reading various articles on differing websites, Justice is looking for about 200 paid rioters that incited riots ion Inauguration day. In another article it appears members of this group have been tracked as far back as 2015, showing up at Ferguson and the Baltimore riots and many others in between.

      I had to think a minute as to why these 200 “potential” paid instigators were being chased for something they did on Inauguration day. Then re-reading the grounds for Sedition, if you organize activities that are designed to subvert the lawful transfer of power or implementation by duly elected officials, you are guilty of Sedition. A flash mob rioting on the spot, with no prior planning, does not qualify. It must be planned in advance.

      This may be why they plan to charge them for the Inauguration riot instigation.

      1. Thank you! I do not believe at all that I am perfect, and therefore, always right. Heck, I have changed my mind about lots of things as I have gotten older. So, it never bothers me when someone disagrees with me. I am certainly not Jesus, or anything.

        As far as what you said about sedition, I agree. I have read that Soros and Media Matters coordinated to stop Trump’s rally in Chicago last year. If so, that kind of stuff is pretty serious. It’s one thing to organize people to show up for a protest, but when you set out purposely to shut down someone else’s speech, then should be addressed by the DOJ and any applicable state agency. That wasn’t the only time.

        I haven’t shepped it out or anything, or done any in depth research, but it looks like this covers it:

        42 U.S. Code § 1985 – Conspiracy to interfere with civil rights,)

        Depriving persons of rights or privileges

        If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws; or if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States; or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy; in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.
        (R.S. § 1980.)

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

    2. The fbi only gathers on code pink and the like….they like the surprise of violence like against trump and the right because it is job security….in interim yrs.

    3. If this will stop “black bloc”, catch and prosecute those responsible for the damage and injury then I’m ok.

  15. Leave it to Trump and his henchmen to think up something that is unconstitutional. Neithwr hw nor one person in his milieuq aapparently understands the bill of rights, including the fourth amendment, whixh provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Is he planning to get a warrant on everyone who has ever joined an anti-Trump website?

    This is the kind of thing people used to say about communism–back in the days when Republicans were notoriously anti communist. What happened?

  16. This again makes the case for not keeping server logs. No information stored, no information to give.

    1. If I am not mistaken, the service provider to the website has to maintain the logs by law for a certain period of time. The website has no control over this.

  17. I believe what happened in Washington DC on Inauguration Day has been portrayed incorrectly in this article by Jonathan Turley ” Protestors arrested during President Trump’s inauguration will face additional felony charges for their alleged role in the turbulent demonstrations that ripped through Washington, D.C., in January. More than 200 people are now accused of inciting or urging to riot, conspiracy to riot, and destruction of property — all felonies — after a grand jury handed down a superseding indictment to prosecutors on Thursday. A majority of the protestors, many of them “Black Bloc” anarchists or anti-fascist activists, had been previously charged with felony rioting in the Inauguration Day melee that left streets in the nation’s capital littered with destruction and smoldering debris.”

    1. Gabby, A government that presumes an unspecified number of its citizens to be suspected of conspiracy to incite others of its citizens who were already arrested and indicted for rioting simply because those alleged felons were organized members of this or that organization acting in a concerted manner is a government that can and will find almost any number of its citizens guilty by association with almost any number of organizations.

      1. My point was that Jonathan’s saying that the infractions on that day were minor was an incorrect statement. Every account talks of the amount of damage caused with store windows being broken out, cars set on fire and cement being thrown at police – all concerned felony actions. Over 200 people were arrested that day.. I am not agreeing or disagreeing that the scope of the information they are seeking on this web site may be overly broad but the people arrested communicated on this site under a specific designation Disrupt 20? It seems logical that you may stop future events before they get started by looking for connections and contacts. It is much the same thing that it done to stop terror attacks in this country.

        1. Gabby – I just got back from the Mob Museum in Vegas. This is a RICO investigation.

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