A Few Words About Barrett Brown’s Arrest by the FBI

By now you have perhaps heard about Barrett Brown’s arrest Wednesday evening. Bethany mentioned it in Leading Off. Wired has a good account of what went down. The video you see here is from the TinyChat session that was underway when the FBI came through the door of Barrett’s tiny Uptown apartment. It’s a surreal scene. As Barrett is apparently wrestled to the floor, one of the other chat participants begins a striptease. Lulz.

I profiled Barrett last year. In the process, I feel like I got to know the guy pretty well. Or at least as well as one can. He’s a tricky fellow to get to know. Sincerity isn’t his default operating mode. He’s full of a nicotine-fueled bluster. And, yeah, sometimes he’s full of heroin, too. Or Suboxone, if that’s all he can get his hands on.

When I was working on my story about Barrett, we spent a lot of time talking about the prospect of his getting arrested. In typical Barrett fashion, he said he was looking forward to getting arrested because it would give him a megaphone to talk about Project PM, the investigation he is (was?) organizing into “the intelligence contracting industry, the PR industry’s interface with totalitarian regimes, the mushrooming infosec/’cybersecurity’ industry, and other issues constituting threats to human rights, civic transparency, individual privacy, and the health of democratic institutions.” Quite simply, though, I think he figured that getting busted by the feds would be cool or romantic or something like that. It would add to the Barrett mystique.

After Barrett was raided by the FBI earlier this year, we met for a drink and talked about what had happened. I got the impression that the raid had given him a bit of a scare. He didn’t seem quite as sanguine about the prospect of going to jail. His life had become more complicated, and legal bills were mounting.

So why did Barrett go and shoot off his mouth, posting a video in which he threatened to kill federal agents? From the video:

“Any armed official of the U.S. government, particularly the FBI, will be regarded as potential Zeta assassin squads. As FBI knows … they know that I’m armed and I come from a military family and I was taught to shoot by a Vietnam veteran … and I will shoot all of them and kill them if they come and do anything…. I have reason to fear for my life.”

He also named an agent, Robert Smith, and said that he was going to go after his kids. Why would Barrett do that? He surely knows that his First Amendment rights don’t protect threats like that. Was he trying to get arrested? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it’s possible that Barrett was just high and did something without thinking it through. In either case, he’s now sitting in a federal detention facility, being held without bail — and, presumably, without access to opiates. I can’t help but worry about the kid.


  • Amy S

    Better in federal detention than in the county jail, or morgue. Include a little hope with the worry. Maybe keeping him away from his juice will break the cycle.

  • Bill Marvel

    I wonder if we in the press are doing a favor to people like Barrett — or to anyone else for that matter — by giving him the publicity he so plainly craves. His importance outside his own imagination is proportionate to the attention we give him. What useful purpose does it serve?
    On the other hand, I can see shining all the light possible on the activities and identities of Anonymous, which is clearly a menace not just, as they imagine, to the establishment but to all of us. I suspect Barrett’s claims to be a spokesman of sorts for Anonymous were highly exaggerated, but I can easily see members of Anonymous cashing in on this arrest and the attendant publicity.

  • PRM

    BB is not and has not been on Heroin for a long time….using suboxone is a method doctors employ when one is kicking heroin- in the past it was methadone. lets get the FACTS straight here….please.

  • amanda

    Wish him the best. For some ppl with addiction to opiates, it’s a self-medicating issue for another underlying issue. Bill brought up the some components that could be a part of manic behavior. One comment on the DMN crime blog referenced a host of behaviors that jump out as classic symptoms of a larger problem than just wanting to be/get high. I have no doubt BB is heavily involved with Anonymous on whatever level one can be organized to do, so I wouldn’t necessarily de-bunk all of his claims.

    BB reminds me of a brilliant and troubled kid I worked with at Flips’s in the early 90’s. He succumbed to his self-medication.

  • Kk

    Flips! Whatever happened to that guy?

  • amanda

    Last I heard he was sober…and a therapist.

  • J

    Don’t forget to mention that Barrett was once an intern at D Mag.

    • @J: Barrett was never an intern at D.

  • John Penley

    To the “journalist” ? who wrote about the attention to my friend Barrett Brown…. Are you serious ? Brown made news all over the place and journalists sometimes cover news. The subjects and information Barrett investigated were newsworthy. You can’t seriously make a dumb statement like you did and call yourself a “journalist. Free Barrett from the Police State he so bravely fought against.

  • joan

    I really dont see how you can be raided for saying you would protect your home if you were raided. thats just crazy.
    He didnt issue a death threat to Smith either, to quote Brown; “when i say his life is over, im not sayin im gonna go out and kill him, but i will ruin his life”.
    This is way overkill and he needs to be released now. If you can be raided and shipped off to the FBI for ranting into a webcam about how you would protect your home if you were threatened, what in all holy fuck has this country come to?

  • K

    He’ll be getting his medication soon.

  • Bill Marvel

    John Penley,
    A good deal of Barrett’s “news” was self-generated, self-reported. Just as his present predicament is self-inflicted.
    But it’s your last sentence that gives you away.
    Barrett is your friend and you want to speak out on his behalf. Fine. But your reference to a “Police State” is such a gross injustice to all those human beings who have suffered under real police states that it immediately disqualifies anything else you might have to say.
    Amanda, above, said the kindest thing one can say about Barrett. We wish him well. We hope he gets the treatment that he clearly needs. That treatment does not include further doses of publicity.

  • amanda

    Where IS Brown being held? I looked on the inmate lookup for federal facilities…couldn’t find him. Does he have access to legal counsel? Is he being given Suboxone or metadone? Can he contact his mother or other family?

    @ Bill Marvel…yes, I feel for this kid. I feel even more for someone arrested and held under questionable circumstances. Bill I completely understand your rebuttal to John Penley, AND I have some concerns about what the technical application of the Patriot Act mean in a situation like this.

    I don’t agree with Brown’s politics, or his methods…but I think this is a very interesting situation. For all we know, this kid could be…anywhere. Oh, he needs treatment and structure. I don’t think he’s going to get that, or anything close, being held without bond at an unnamed facility. He’s not technically an inmate, yet, and won’t be for probably 2 years…until then, NO resources afforded to other incarcerated people can be allocated to him. Brown is intelligent an infinitely talented.