The New York Times reports on an interesting case involving William Lawrence Cassidy, who posted over 8,000 Twitter and blog posts attacking a Buddhist leader named Alyce Zeoli. Cassidy has been arrested and charged with with violating a federal online-stalking statute, which raises First Amendment issues. His speech would be protected if he were to stand on a soapbox and harangue passersby with the content of his Tweets, unless they constituted “true threats” of harm to Ms. Zeoli. The question is whether delivering these messages through Twitter changes their character. Zeoli’s lawyer said the Tweets are analogous to “handwritten notes” directed personally to Ms. Zeoli. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the court to recognize the protected nature of Cassidy’s tweets. It’s not relevant to the First Amendment issue, but Cassidy is not a sympathetic character. The Times reports “[h]e has a record of assault, arson and domestic violence. According to the federal complaint, he was also convicted of carrying an unspecified “dangerous weapon” onto a plane in 1993.” We will undoubtedly discuss this case in classes this fall.
But that’s not the primary reason for this post. Sometimes I just cannot let small absurdities pass without comment. The Times reports “Ms. Zeoli is considered to be a reincarnated master in the Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition, and is known to her followers as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.” Cassidy’s animus towards Ms. Zeoli apparently arose after he”also claimed to be a reincarnated Buddhist,” claimed he had cancer, and joined Zeoli’s organization. He left and began posting anti-Zeoli messages “after they came to doubt his reincarnation credentials and found that his claims of cancer were false.”
This clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment issues but what, I must ask, are reincarnation credentials?