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Anti-DEA rants on Facebook spark criminal prosecution

Federal judge OKs prosecution of man accused of posting anti-police rants on Facebook, saying that dismissing criminal charges on free speech grounds would be "inappropriate."

Anti-government rants on Facebook can land you in a heap of trouble.

A federal judge has given the green light to the U.S. Justice Department's prosecution of an Indiana man who allegedly posted incendiary remarks about police.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Lawrence in Indiana rejected requests by the defendant, Matthew Michael, to throw out the charges on the grounds that no specific Drug Enforcement Administration agent or other individual had actually been named in the posts.

Lawrence ruled that -- assuming the Facebook postings were illegal threats, which has yet to be proved -- they "were directed at natural persons, namely DEA agents, law enforcement officers, and government personnel."

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader on First Amendment grounds, ruling his vague promises of violence -- "there might have to be some revengeance taken" -- were not illegal.

Michael is accused of writing a series of posts in August 2011 (and creating a "statewide" Facebook event scheduled for November 2011) containing vague but angry and violent statements regarding DEA agents. One alleged post: "War is near..anarchy and justice will be sought...I'll kill whoever I deem to be in the way of harmony to the human race...BE WARNED IF U PULL ME OVER!!"

That's enough to allow the trial to proceed, Lawrence ruled in a written opinion saying:

The First Amendment does not insulate all speech from criminal consequence. Certain categories of speech having little or no social value are not protected, and threats are one such category.... It would be inappropriate for the court to enter a verdict of not guilty based solely on the face of the indictment unless the court could imagine no facts that would render Michael's posts unprotected. That is not the situation here.

Michael is facing three counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce.