The FBI has dropped its investigation of Mike Z., the auteur whose pulled Web site (crowdedtheater.com) became a cause célèbre online after a Voice story (11/23/99) detailed the case of apparent censorship.
“Our initial objective in looking into the thing was to determine, not was this something that might generate fear or panic, but was it something that was a record of a plan to carry out a riot,” says James Margolin, an FBI spokesperson. Is the site dangerous? “I don’t know that that’s a law enforcement issue anymore.” says Margolin. “Not everything that is dangerous or offensive is illegal.”
The agency began its investigation after receiving calls from people who thought Z.’s Blair Witch-style video about a race riot in Times Square was real. Working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI agents visited Z.’s home, contacted his ISP, and had conversations with both parties that resulted in the site’s removal, even though no court order had been issued.
After the Voice report the Internet erupted with cries of foul play. A posting on slashdot.org drew hundreds of netizens to Z.’s defense, including offers to mirror his site, and prompted irate flames against Z.’s ISP, which initially caved in to the FBI’s pressure. Other stories followed throughout the week, and—after enduring what he says was “a couple thousand dollars” in losses from flames, and learning that the FBI had no legal basis to act—Mark Wieger, the owner of the ISP, put Z.’s site back online. Wieger is talking to the ACLU about potential legal action against the FBI for threatening him with punitive action.
The FBI denies extralegal maneuvers. Asked by the Voice to provide evidence that there was no coercion, Margolin said, “I can’t. You have to take it on faith.”