Gun-lovers like to say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But guns are most often used as the weapon of choice when people kill people. Thus, the debate on gun control itself centers on individual rights versus the safety of the populace. The debate over the existence of the public sex offense registry is very similar to the gun control issue. Proponents for the registries use similar arguments touting the alleged impact on public safety, while opponents point to numerous instances of registry misuse.
Unlike gun laws, there are no regulations to even remotely address the misuse of the registry. You don’t need a background check to use the registry. Some states do not even have warning labels against the misuse of the registry, but rarely do those who misuse the registry face legal sanctions. (Ironically, one of the worse states for registered citizens – Louisiana – actually prosecutes those who abuse the registry for hate crimes.)
There are many ways the registry can be wielded as a weapon. Allow me to create a definition for weaponizing the registry here:
“Weaponizing the Registry” is an act in which a person misuses the public sex offense registry as a tool to cause harm to anyone, regardless of whether or not that person is on the sex offense registry. Weaponizing the registry can include, but not limited to, using existing registry information to commit crimes, falsely accusing someone of being a “sex offender/ pedophile”, making fake registry fliers, claiming someone is a “pedo enabler” or “normalizing pedophilia”, and stoking public fears about “sex offenders” to advance a cause.
Using the registry to murder or assault registrants are obvious examples of weaponizing the registry, and those events have been covered on many occasions. This article, however, shows a few examples of weaponizing the registry in other ways:
Stoking Public Fears: In 2009, Republican lawmakers attempted unsuccessfully to derail the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Bill as the “Pedophile Protection Act.” In a Fox News interview on May 6, 2009, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the “sexual orientation” wording would provide “special protection to pedophiles.” In 2018, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) used similar tactics in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the First Step Act, designed to reform the federal prison system.
Political Attacks Ads: In 2018, the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative PAC) funded a series of ad campaigns attacking Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, who was running for that state’s Supreme Court. The PAC ran ads declaring the appellate judge “soft on crime” for overturning a sex crime conviction due to faulty evidence.
Fake Registry Fliers: There have been numerous instances of doctored Megan’s Law fliers falsely claiming someone is a registered person; the oldest reported instance found online was in an AP News report dated 19 March 1998. Sixty-three year old Arthur Goldsworthy was falsely accused of being on the sex offense registry through doctored fliers sent in the mail just two months after NJ courts upheld the then-new concept of community notification fliers.
Extortion Websites: In a high-profile decision, a jury awarded $3.4 Million to only a few of the victims of Chuck Rodrick and Brent Olsterblad, who ran numerous websites under the “Offendex” name. Among the victims was a military veteran not convicted of any sex offense; Rodrick had made fake registry listings of the man and claimed he was funding pedophile groups because the vet was dating Rodrick’s ex-wife. However, those who were registered persons (or related to) targeted by the Offendex websites, which were extorting money from registered persons, received no settlement due to their registry status.
Scams: Numerous reports over the past couple of years and across the nation have contacted those listed on the public registry posing as law enforcement agents; they claim there is a an warrant for them that can be cleared up by wiring money with Green Dot or using Bitcoin. These are scammers using fear to defraud registrants from their money.
Use of Registry for criminal activity: Allen Wayne Densen Morgan was arrested in Anniston, AL in 2013 for attempting to hire a hit man to kill a registered person. The FBI agent, posing as a KKK member, was told by Morgan that all the info on his victim could be found on the public sex offense registry.
Identity Theft: In 2005, Matthew Buescher was arrested for identity theft; used the Indiana and Iowa sex offender registry to scam about $20,000 from credit cards and tax refunds in the name of registered persons.
In this age of Internet conspiracy theories, #MeToo, and the evolution of Predator Panic, weaponizing the registry has increased exponentially. Jilted lovers, politicians sliding in the political polls, people losing online debates, scam artists, and people who just really hate someone’s guts have weaponized the registry. Society frowns upon the use of racial or sexist epitaphs—we have the N word, the C word, and now the R word (saying “retarded” is now considered an insult on par with the other words known by a single letter). However, the P words – Pervert, Predator, and Pedophile—are all acceptable insults with disastrous consequences. People have been endured harassment, property damage, and assaults due to the weaponization of the registry. Some have even been murdered.
At least with guns, there can be a legitimate argument that guns are useful for hunting and self-defense. The registry has been proven to be useless as a tool for self-defense but useful for vigilantes on the hunt. The argument for abolishing the registry has merit for registered citizens and the public as a whole.
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com