Hate case raises Internet free speech issues
November 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:26 p.m. EST (0426 GMT)
From Correspondent Jim Hill
IRVINE, California (CNN) -- It was a hate crime that rocked
the usually placid campus of the University of California at
Authorities say their surveillance video captured Richard
Machado e-mailing 60 Asian-American students:
"As you can see," the alleged message began, "I hate Asians,
including you. I will hunt all of you down and kill you. I
personally will make it my life career to find and kill every
one of you personally."
As a result, Machado, a newly naturalized U.S. citizen from
El Salvador, is being prosecuted -- a case that raises
questions about how far free speech can be taken in
"If you threaten somebody's life in a way that a typical
listener will think that you're serious, that's
constitutionally unprotected," said Professor Eugene Volokh
of the UCLA School of Law.
But in court papers, Machado's attorney, who declined an
interview for this story, argued that the federal law being
used to prosecute his client is, in effect, criminalizing
And it's not as if the Internet wasn't already a
rough-and-tumble marketplace for hate groups.
The Aryan Nation rants online about white supremacy, while
opponents vow death to racists. Nazi art is advertised on
some sites, while on others, Nazism is exposed. There's even
the hate page of the week.
According to constitutional experts, all of this passes legal
muster -- as long as it doesn't include a direct threat of
"The constitution protects all sorts of opinions, really bad
ones as well as really good ones -- communist advocacy, Nazi
advocacy, bigoted, racist, sexist material -- all of that is
constitutionally protected," Volokh said.
The case of Machado is one of the first tests of such issues
in cyberspace, where millions of people with millions of
opinions let their fingers do the talking.