Author Arrested for Writing About Murder in the 30th Century [Updated]

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In Maryland it is apparently not only illegal to write dark science fiction, people who write it may simply disappear.

Sadly, that's not the first line of my review of a new dark-science-fiction novel about people who disappear after writing dark science fiction. It is a news report.

Last week, Patrick McLaw was arrested after it came to light that he had written a book that begins just after a school shooting in which hundreds of people were killed. The community's concern about this matter is not completely insane, because McLaw is a teacher at a local middle school. On the other hand, yes it is, because the shooting appears to be only a background event in a story that is set 900 years in the future. Also, it is a story.

I'll be honest—it doesn't look like a very good one. The Insurrectionist is the first of two novels that McLaw wrote, under a pseudonym, about a far-future America in which the United States has been replaced by an "Imperial Union." Based on the description and preview at Amazon, it appears to be written from the point of view of investigators and students trying to find and stop the murderer (or another one, anyway), not from the murderer's point of view. The preface describes the school shooting as "a deplorable act of violence" and shows one of the investigators weeping. I would not describe what little I've seen as well-written, but I also saw nothing to suggest it glorifies murder. Seems like the opposite.

But someone told the school board about it, and here's what happened next. Police and dogs swept the school where McLaw works for bombs and guns, and found nothing. Police searched McLaw's home, and found nothing. Police found no criminal record and no weapons registered to McLaw. McLaw was suspended, which is not too surprising; but he was also arrested and taken in for "an emergency medical evaluation," and according to the sheriff he is being held at an undisclosed location until further notice.

Citing a county prosecutor's office, one report said that "McLaw has not been arrested or charged with any crime at this time." But another report quoted the sheriff as saying that McLaw "is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere," which sure sounds like an arrest to me. The sheriff would not say where McLaw is being held.

So far as I can tell, the "probable cause" for all this is the writing of a book. [But see below.]

If any warrants were issued, these reports don't mention it. McLaw has clearly been seized and he and his home have been searched, so what we have appears to be a Fourth Amendment violation based on a disregard for the First.

One of the reports says that the school board was told that one of its teachers "had several aliases," and that under those "aliases" he had written two books involving a school shooting. McLaw was apparently once known as Patrick Beale, but changed his name legally to "McLaw." That is not an "alias." Writing a book under another name is also not an "alias." It is in fact sometimes a wise idea, such as when you are concerned that thugs and/or dumbasses will persecute you for what you've written. Or maybe just because you want to. Hey, you know who else used "aliases"? Benjamin Franklin. James Madison. Alexander Hamilton. John Jay. George Orwell. The Brontë SistersJ.K. Rowling. Every single PopeDr. F*cking Seuss

Also lots of Soviet dissidents, who were hoping among other things to avoid being arrested and locked up in a mental hospital. Which now can apparently also happen in Maryland. Maryland isn't claiming McLaw is an "enemy of the State," but there still better be a lot more than a scary Kindle story to justify making someone disappear.

Update: There might be. Still no details in this L.A. Times report (thanks, Chris), but it quotes a prosecutor as saying that the books are not a factor in what they're doing. It says that "concerns were raised" after McLaw sent a four-page letter to county officials, although there is nothing specific about the concerns or the letter so far.

Update II: In this report the prosecutor says the books are a factor, though not a "primary" one, whatever that means. Also, the suspect is said to have built models of school-district buildings, something that is also not illegal. The case still seems to turn on this mysterious letter, which they have not yet released.