Journalists Being Targeted by U.S. Attorney Seeking to ‘Gag’ Reporting on ‘Autokey Card’ Case

If you need any evidence to show that we’re marching closer to becoming a Banana Republic, these are the nesting dolls of proof. My colleague John Crump is a journalist who writes for AmmoLand News and he also distributes his content through online video platforms. Crump has covered some groundbreaking stories and events since he was added to the list of contributors at AmmoLand News, one of which involves the “Autokey Card Case.  Assistant United States Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor, the prosecutor leading this witch hunt turned kangaroo court, did not take kindly to Crump doing his job as a journalist and filed a “gag” order against Crump and a collaborator of his, Richard Hughes, aKa “Flying Rich,” on what they can and cannot report on.

The details of the cases Crump and Hughes are covering revolve around Justin Ervin & Matthew Hoover of CRS Firearms, and them being charged with “violating the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 for selling machineguns and conspiracy.”

The “Autokey Card” was a novelty metal card being sold that had the outline of a “lightning link” etched on it. The ATF maintained that the card itself was a machine gun – which it’s not – and then launched this assault on Ervin and Hoover. The implications here go beyond the Second Amendment and any unconstitutionality of the NFA, but further, this is a huge First Amendment case. If the hokey book “The Anarchists Cookbook” can survive judicial scrutiny of being constitutionally protected, clearly the Autokey could too. Does it matter on what medium plans and information is printed on?

Crump covered the details of these cases and drew the ire of Assistant U.S. Attorney Taylor. Crump was critical of the process and reported on the facts that were available, the most damaging perhaps to Taylor’s reputation being;

The U.S. Attorney’s Office requested that the jury be instructed that the Autokey Card is a machinegun whether it works or not and that they must rule if the men transferred the items and if the men’s intent was to transfer uncut lightning links. They also wanted the judge to prevent the defense from arguing that the Autokey Card was not a machinegun.

Ervin and Hoover were both found guilty and have been awaiting sentencing. Aside from the fact that the charges and convictions are gross acts of injustice and show that a government with contempt for the people will go to any lengths possible to usurp their rights, the story gets weirder when the government moves to gag the reporting on this topic.

Crump put out an informative video yesterday alerting the subscribers of John Crump News that Taylor has decided to go to the mattresses against him and hush his voice. In the video Crump explains that he’s not going to back down and in essence, Taylor best pack her lunch.

If it was Taylor’s intention to not draw attention to documents that Crump reported on, she sure did botch that too, as an explosion of reporting is on its way covering the topic.

From Taylor’s motion for an order prohibiting dissemination of presentence investigation report:

The United States of America, by and through the undersigned Assistant United States Attorney, hereby notifies this Court that there is cause to believe that defendant Hoover, via his wife, has transmitted a copy of his Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) to certain YouTube personalities with the intention that those individuals use the PSR to create YouTube videos.

Taylor’s request is that all copies of the presentence report be destroyed. Further she accused Hughes and Crump of using the information to obstruct justice and grift, stating the sharing of the content “appears to be aimed at generating vitriol against the undersigned and this Court with the intent to intimidate and obstruct these proceedings while generating views and profits for Hoover, Crump, and Hughes.” Emphasis added.

The motion concluded with:

WHEREFORE, the government requests that this Court issue an order reiterating that the PSRs are non-public documents and may not be disseminated beyond court personnel, the defense teams, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and order that any individuals who possess a copy of the PSR without authority (including Crump, Hughes, and Erica Hoover) destroy it and confirm its destruction in writing, and any other relief this Court deems necessary to protect the sentencing process in this case.

There’s a thread through this entire set of allegations by Taylor that’s worth noting. Crump’s status as a journalist and protections he should be provided as both a journalist and publisher, seems to be in question. Crump and Hughes both engage in sharing news of national importance, and as such should not have their First Amendment rights subverted due to them exposing procedural, judicial and executive malfeasance.

In talking with Crump about his status as a “journalist,” he confirmed with me his membership to the Professional Outdoors Media Association is current as well as he being a registered Media Member with the National Shooting Sports Foundation.  In the instances of joining POMA or the NSSF as a Media Member, there’s an aggressive vetting process where applicants must prove that they are professional members of the media. You don’t just send in a check and call it good. You have to prove that you are in fact a journalist of some sort on a professional level.

Crump said that his legal expenses for this debacle are going to be paid for by the Gun Owners of America, who stepped up and offered to help him out in this arena. The legal team that he’s assembled is an all-star cast including Robert OlsonStephen Stamboulieh, and James Phillips. The team quickly replied to the motion and filed their own emergency motion to intervene:

John Crump is a professional journalist and thus part of the “press,” as well as being engaged in press activities protected by the First Amendment. While the government seeks to diminish his status by pejoratively calling him a “YouTube personalit[y]” (Motion at 1), nothing in the government’s motion makes the claim that Mr. Crump is not a journalist, that he is not part of “the press,” or that he was not engaged in press activities. And for good reason. Not only does Mr. Crump operate a YouTube channel, “John Crump News,” but also (among other things) he writes extensively for AmmoLand Shooting Sports News2 and is a regular contributor to One America News Network. Several of Mr. Crump’s Ammo Land articles have reported on this case, and have been viewed by tens of thousands of readers

Mr. Crumps seeks to intervene in this action for the limited purpose of responding to the government’s Motion to censor him. Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) governs intervention as of right, and requires a court to “permit anyone to intervene who: (1) is given an unconditional right to intervene by a federal statute; or (2) claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant’s ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.”

Where the filing really bites at the government’s argument is where the emergency motion asserts, “Tellingly, the United States has failed to cite a single authority for the proposition that Mr. Hoover cannot comment on his own criminal case, or disclose information contained in his own PSR to others.” Emphasis added.

In an unrelated case that has relevance here, an attorney discussed his client’s status as a journalist. In that case the status of a reporter was called into question too.

““There’s a journalism part of this, and then there’s a technology part of this,” Rasch said, continuing:

Part of it is the question of who is a journalist, and what protections does a journalist have? It’s entirely possible that the government did not think of Tim as a journalist because he operates primarily in the digital environment. And therefore, all of the protections that are afforded to journalists may not have been afforded to Tim. There’s an entire approval process that is required before you can get a search warrant for a journalist, but there isn’t if it’s not a journalist.

What this boils down to is the government just doesn’t want the people to know what’s going on, especially should it come from a media source not controlled by the world’s power brokers. Should the judge grant Taylor’s request, we know that we are finishing our transformation into a dystopian society.

I asked Crump about the filing and he told me he does not intend on backing down. He elaborated:

“This is an attempt to stifle members of the press because the government doesn’t want anyone to shine a light on the misdeeds of an out-of-control agency. If Laura Coffer Taylor thought she could silence me, then she is sorely mistaken. I will fight with every breath in my body, not just for my Second Amendment rights, but also for my First Amendment rights.” – John Crump on the government’s attempt to silence reporting they find abhorrent 

Friend and colleague Dan Wos, a journalist also covering this received comment from Richard Hughes on the status of these filings:

“Today, I find myself in the midst of an astonishing legal ordeal that threatens the First Amendment Rights of John Crump and myself.” Hughes also said, “The Prosecutor has constructed a case twisting prior legal precedent to have new meaning and counting on the court not to know the truth. She is deliberately misleading the court and counting on legal action to scare John and myself from reporting on the Hoover case. We will vigorously defend our First Amendment rights.” – Richard Hughes on the censorship he’s being subject to

The sad irony of this motion to suppress the reporting on these types of stories is that this all comes in the wake of my coverage discussing the importance of whistleblowers and journalists getting important and relevant information to the masses. This story is not even about a whistleblower, but willing participants in the sharing of their information.

It’s hard to tell if Taylor is more upset about journalists she disagrees with got one over on her more than once, Hoover sharing the information, or if this is about the many negative comments about her online.

Taylor had to discuss in her motion the naughty things that got said about her on the internet. Gasp! Get over yourself, I was called a bootlicker the other week. She described Crump’s and Hughes’s work as incendiary:

These videos prompted a deluge of inflammatory and threatening comments directed primarily to the undersigned and also to this Court, including:

The document went on to list several comments that Taylor obviously did not like or agree with, again trying to see that free speech be limited. Taylor tried to further discredit Crump by adding, “Several of these comments that were left on Crump’s video were ‘liked’ by Crump.” It sounds like Taylor needs to just fill out a hurt feelings report. Crump “liking” a comment is inconsequential, not a crime, and it’s sophomoric that Taylor would even bring this up.

This is not just about guns, gun stuff, and the Second Amendment. Anyone that has any respect for any portion of the Bill of Rights or our liberties should be rallying behind this group of victims of governmental abuse. If it were not for the rogue ATF in the first place going after Ervin and Hoover, we’d not be having this conversation. But the government has to keep doubling down. With the events that are forthcoming we need to hope that the judge asserts herself as the adult in the room and steps in.

What’s going to happen, we can’t say. All we can say is that what has happened thus far is a travesty. The details of these cases and this story make me feel like I’m watching the original Macintosh Computer commercial. “1984” is now available in non-fiction.

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