Aaron Swartz and the Fight for Free Information: His Blood is on the Hands of the US Government

Aaron Swartz and the Fight for Free Information: His Blood is on the Hands of the US Government

It’s been just over two years since computer prodigy Aaron Swartz took his own life. He was the target of a merciless witch-hunt by the Department of Justice, ultimately choosing death over 35 years behind bars for the crime of releasing information. As someone who transformed the way we all use and love the internet, Aaron should have gotten a medal of honor, not a death sentence.

Aaron’s genius mark on the web can be traced back to the development of RSS feeds, a formula that produces a feed of whatever information one chooses to access, changing the way we filter and aggregate data. His passion for making information open source was exemplified in his partnership with Lawrence Lessig at only 15 years old, when he coded creative commons, a database devoted to growing the amount of creative works available to share and build off of. This revolutionized what was capable online, allowing people to use imagery without worrying about copyright or legal ramifications.

Perhaps Aaron’s mark will most be felt by co-founding Reddit, one of the most visited sites in the world that embodies what raw and free access looks like. After Reddit exploded, Aaron sold it for over a million dollars. But he rejected the business world, and instead put his entire being into political activism. He began openlibrary.org, a site that allows users to buy, borrow or browse every published book in the world. The project cemented his obsession with freeing the mind of humanity from its elite clutches. Sadly, it was this beautiful idea that came to define Aaron as a criminal who, in the eyes of the federal government, deserved more timein prison than murderers.

The majority of the wealth of human knowledge is owned by a few publishing companies that hoard information and make billions off licensing fees, although most scholarly articles and journals are paid for by taxpayers through government grants. Aaron sought to change this.

He wrote about his plans to release academic journals and expressed outrage about prosecutorial overreach on the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008:

“It’s 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 isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy…

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture….With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.”

aaron1His first target was JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals and books. But as he attempted to download millions of articles from JSTOR at MIT, authorities were filming him through a surveillance camera. Aaron’s altruism came at a heavy price. The footage was used to charge him with computer and wire fraud, which would have locked him up for decades.

Aaron praised the internet’s ability to give everyone a license to speak, but noted how many of those voices won’t get heard, which is why he dedicated the last year of his life leading the charge against corporate monopolization of the web with legislation like SOPA and PIPA.

Aaron Swartz sacrificed himself to better the world. His blood is on the US government’s hands for institutionalizing a two tiered justice system that immunizes criminals and bone chillingly destroys revolutionaries.

Abby Martin is an artist, activist and journalist whose work can be viewed at http://www.mediaroots.org/. She currently works as a correspondent, writer and host of RT America’s Breaking the Set.

3 Responses to “Aaron Swartz and the Fight for Free Information: His Blood is on the Hands of the US Government”

Lyle Courtsal

Like many other people who were targeted mercilessly for doing the correct thing and being popular leaders as a result, Aaron Swartz will be remembered for what he accomplished and also for what he stood for. Remember Leonard Peltier; framed on trumped up murder charges by the FBI; he didn’t murder the Guy, someone else did and that’s what the forensics say.
Remember Mumia Abu-Jamal and how he was also framed for murder of a police officer; another cop probably off’ed that cop because he wasn’t paid off. Again ballistics don’t match up; cop was killed by a .44 slug, not a .38. Be careful, our judicial system is really corrupt and loaded with psycho republicans; judges, cops, FBI, etc.. That’s why Bush’s 2008 real estate/bank fraud remains uninvestigated.

Joshua Switky

Aaron Swartz was MURDERED as both a chill message to his info-warrior ilk and a keyword decoy, REDDIT, for the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s murder by USG spooks. Ya see, Abby, it was done for Martin Luther King Day.
A witness to the murder was named REDDIT.
Search up that man and please please stop spreading the disinfo about ‘suicide’ when whistleblowers are MURDERED. M’kay?
Oh, and thanks for finally breaking ties with a fascist state-controlled psyops outfit, RT.
Better late than never. I really do think you mean well but make big big mistakes on the way to getting it right…

Joshua Switky


In the March-April Probe, Mike Vinson described the similar removal of Ed Redditt, a black Memphis Police Department detective, from his Fire Station 2 surveillance post two hours before King’s murder.

To understand the Redditt incident, it is important to note that it was Redditt himself who initiated his watch on Dr. King from the firehouse across the street. Redditt testified that when King’s party and the police accompanying them (including Detective Redditt) arrived from the airport at the Lorraine Motel on April 3, he “noticed something that was unusual.” When Inspector Don Smith, who was in charge of security, told Redditt he could leave, Redditt “noticed there was nobody else there. In the past when we were assigned to Dr. King [when Redditt had been part of a black security team for King], we stayed with him. I saw nobody with him. So I went across the street and asked the Fire Department could we come in and observe from the rear, which we did.” Given Redditt’s concerns for King’s safety, his particular watch on the Lorraine may not have fit into others’ plans.

Redditt testified that late in the afternoon of April 4, MPD Intelligence Officer Eli Arkin came to Fire Station 2 to take him to Central Headquarters. There Police and Fire Director Frank Holloman (formerly an FBI agent for 25 years, seven of them as supervisor of J. Edgar Hoover’s office) ordered Redditt home, against his wishes and accompanied by Arkin. The reason Holloman gave Redditt for his removal from the King watch Redditt had initiated the day before was that his life had been threatened.

In an interview after the trial, Redditt told me the story of how his 1978 testimony on this question before the House Select Committee on Assassinations was part of a heavily pressured cover-up. “It was a farce,” he said, “a total farce.”

Redditt had been subpoenaed by the HSCA to testify, as he came to realize, not so much on his strange removal from Fire Station 2 as the fact that he had spoken about it openly to writers and researchers. The HSCA focused narrowly on the discrepancy between Redditt’s surveiling King (as he was doing) and acting as security (an impression Redditt had given writers interviewing him) in order to discredit the story of his removal. Redditt was first grilled by the committee for eight straight hours in a closed executive session. After a day of hostile questioning, Redditt finally said late in the afternoon, “I came here as a friend of the investigation, not as an enemy of the investigation. You don’t want to deal with the truth.” He told the committee angrily that if the secret purpose behind the King conspiracy was, like the JFK conspiracy, “to protect the country, just tell the American people! They’ll be happy! And quit fooling the folks and trying to pull the wool over their eyes.”

When the closed hearing was over, Redditt received a warning call from a friend in the White House who said, “Man, your life isn’t worth a wooden nickel.”

Redditt said his public testimony the next day “was a set-up”: “The bottom line on that one was that Senator Baker decided that I wouldn’t go into this open hearing without an attorney. When the lawyer and I arrived at the hearing, we were ushered right back out across town to the executive director in charge of the investigation. [We] looked through a book, to look at the questions and answers.”

“So in essence what they were saying was: ‘This is what you’re going to answer to, and this is how you’re going to answer.’ It was all made up – all designed, questions and answers, what to say and what not to say. A total farce.”

Former MPD Captain Jerry Williams followed Redditt to the witness stand. Williams had been responsible for forming a special security unit of black officers whenever King came to Memphis (the unit Redditt had served on earlier). Williams took pride in providing the best possible protection for Dr. King, which included, he said, advising him never to stay at the Lorraine “because we couldn’t furnish proper security there.” (“It was just an open view,” he explained to me later, “Anybody could . . . There was no protection at all. To me that was a set-up from the very beginning.”)

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