Federal authorities abruptly released a California teen-ager on Feb. 14 who they had claimed only days earlier was the owner and operator of an anarchist Web site that contained bomb-making instructions.
The U.S. attorney’s office dropped charges against Sherman Austin for distributing bomb-making information and possessing an unregistered firearm, although spokesman Thomas Mrozek said the office would continue to investigate the matter.
“Their investigation had to do with content on a Web site,” said Susan Tipograph, Austin’s attorney, “which included, I assume, discussions about political issues [and] about the legitimacy of the U.S. government.”
Austin’s release was the culmination of a series of confrontations with law enforcement authorities dating back to Jan. 24. On that day, heavily armed federal agents had raided the Sherman Oaks home where the 18-year old lived with his mother. Their search warrant claimed Austin had hacked into several Web sites to post anarchist messages and that his own site, www.raisethefist.com, included pages with information about molotov cocktails, pipe bombs and other weapons.
In its raid, the FBI seized several computers and a collection of mischief-making tools, including a Molotov cocktail, court documents stated. Austin, however, was not arrested until almost two weeks later when he showed up at the World Economic Forum protests on Feb. 4 in New York City. Police there nabbed him for disorderly conduct; he was not charged, but was released directly into federal custody, where he was detained until the charges were dropped on Feb. 14.
In an interview with Newsbytes, a Washington Post-affiliated news service, Austin admitted to defacing several Web sites with his political messages. He said he had not written the weapons-related information, but merely copied it from other Web pages.
“If I go to jail, then I will go to jail not based on my actions, but based on what I think,” Austin said in that Jan. 31 story.