Bernard von NotHaus was sentenced two days ago, December 3, 2014 in Federal court, North Carolina on charges of terrorism for the crime of making token coinage. This crime is called uttering money in English common law, but it is not generally considered terrorism, or generally prosecuted at all in modern times. The sentencing was covered by only one newspaper, The New York Sun. The New York Times and others, I guess, found it wasn’t news fit to print. But I find it newsworthy enough to blog about.
The current price of silver (as I write) is $16.60 per ounce. Had Bernard von NotHaus limited himself to selling ordinary, one ounce, silver medallions for $20 each, he could have made money on each, and perhaps been awarded a medal for his artistry. Instead, von NotHaus stands convicted as a terrorist against the US economy. The problem: his $20 medallions include the symbol “$20″ and the word “dollar” on the coins. The government’s claim is that people might come to use his silver medallions to buy $20 worth of products, and this, it was argued, could bring down the government. Also incendiary was the phrase “Trust in God.” The federal prosecutor argued this was too close to our government’s, “In God we Trust.”
Von NotHaus was arrested on June 6, 2009, and had his coins and metal confiscated. He was convicted of terrorism March, 2011. Among the evidence are gold coins with the image of Ron Paul and certificates with von NotHaus’s image marked as 1 Dollar negotiable currency. Making these items isn’t quite counterfeiting, as the coins and certificates don’t look like US currency, but the US government decided it’s worse: economic terrorism. Anne Tompkins, the federal prosecutor successfully argued that von NotHaus is suggesting that the currency of the US is somehow deficient, and perhaps that the president and his crowd are doing something wrong in their efforts to drive inflation by printing excess currency. Ms. Tompkins successfully argued that such “attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism” and that they “represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country.” I’d say that’s over-reacting.
The mechanism whereby these items are supposed to undermine the economic stability is the reverse of Gresham’s law. Gresham’s law is that the worse currency will stay in circulation and the better will be driven out. Applied here, Gresham would predict that people will hoard these liberty dollars and will spend only the paper. That’s what happens with ordinary art, or gold bars. But our government’s terrorism argument assumes Gresham’s theories are wrong, and that people will hoard Obama’s paper while spending von NotHaus’s coins. On that chance, Mr. von NotHaus stands convicted of terrorism. Mr. von NotHaus’s defense is that he never claimed his medallions should be used as currency. The judge rejected this defense. For all I know, Ms Tompkins could now pursue Von NotHaus for sedition: suggesting there is something wrong with the way we pursue minters.
At sentencing yesterday, Judge Voorhees ignored rules that should have condemned von NotHause to life in prison. Instead, he ruled for 6 month’s house arrest and 3 years probation saying he didn’t believe von NotHaus was motivated by evil intent, but rather by philosophical speech (something partially protected by the first amendment). I’m always glad for lenient sentencing, especially when the argument involves freedom of speech. I’m also glad for philosophy, but that does not mean I’m happy about the outcome. To me, von NotHaus deserves a medal; he is the Rosa Parks of hard currency. And I think that’s fit to print.
Part of the reason this conviction bugs me is that I got a free education courtesy of Peter Cooper, the citizen industrialist of the 19th century who founded the greenback party. He published (uttered) $3 bread notes to advertise his cause. Robert Buxbaum is a good US citizen, who uses only non-negotiable, fiat currency; none of this negotiable stuff for me. December 5, 2014.