It’s long been explained that our constitutional rights and principles are tested by how we treat the most despised among us. But even so, the despised person isn’t quite so despised, so disgusting, so unspeakably horrible as Thomas Alan Arthur. It’s nearly impossible to believe that any human being could be as repugnant as Arthur.
Trial evidence showed that Arthur had run a website called Mr. Double since 1996 and began charging people to access the site two years later. The site contained numerous stories about and drawings of children, infants and toddlers being raped, tortured and murdered. Arthur allegedly approved each story before it was posted and used the website as his sole source of income for 20 years.
There is nothing about this that is easily processed. Who would write about such things? Who would read about such things? What disease could so infect a person as to give rise to such filth? On a personal level, I doubt I could be in the same room as this guy without feeling an irresistible impulse to leap for his throat out of visceral outrage. Yes, I can get a bit emotional sometimes, particularly when it comes to children.
He was convicted after trial. And Arthur, who is now 65, was sentenced to 40 years in prison. It’s not a sentence that’s likely to be fully served, if you catch my drift. But what, exactly, was the crime?
Thomas Alan Arthur, 65, of Terlingua, was convicted by a federal jury on Jan. 21, 2021, of three counts of trafficking in obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of a child, five counts of trafficking in obscene text stories about the sexual abuse of children, and one count of engaging in the business of selling obscene matters involving the sexual abuse of children.
According to court documents and evidence introduced at trial, Arthur began operating the Mr. Double website in 1996 and began charging members for access to the site in 1998. The website was dedicated to publishing writings that detail the sexual abuse of children, including the rape, torture and murder of infants and toddlers. The evidence at trial showed that all submissions for publication were reviewed and approved by Arthur before he posted them on the site. Some of the author pages contained drawings depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Evidence at trial showed that the website was Arthur’s sole source of income for more than 20 years. The site was taken offline in November 2019 when the FBI executed a search warrant at his residence near Terlingua, where Arthur administered the site. Pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the Netherlands, additional evidence was obtained from the server in the Netherlands, where the site was hosted.
As horrific as Arthur’s twisted content was, it was made of stories, text, and drawn images. This was the worst fetish ever, but still just words and drawings. And while the United States Attorney doesn’t bother to cite the statutes he was convicted of violating, it would appear that the core charges relate to 18 U.S.C. § 1466 and § 1466A.
Whoever is engaged in the business of producing with intent to distribute or sell, or selling or transferring obscene matter, who knowingly receives or possesses with intent to distribute any obscene book, magazine, picture, paper, film, videotape, or phonograph or other audio recording, which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or by a fine under this title, or both.
The sale of obscene books, magazines, stories in other words, are still criminal. The basic notion is further criminalized as to “visual depictions,” including a “drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting.” No doubt few will argue that Arthur’s content fails to meet the criteria for obscenity under Miller v. California of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to that which lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” And then there’s New York v. Ferber, more particularly addressing child pornography, which lowers the bar when it comes to sexual performances by a minor in recognition of the horrors of sexual exploitation of children.
But this didn’t involve any actual children, even if some will argue that this could feed into the sick fantasy of any person who would care to read Arthur’s content, who then might act upon it in real life. Indeed, it appears that Arthur did so, and it was used against him at trial even though he wasn’t charged with any offense relating to it. No doubt the related conduct was taken into account when the court imposed sentence.
But the case was about text and drawings. Horrible stories. Horrible drawings. I can’t say for sure as I never read and saw them, but then, I don’t know that I could stomach such content. Back when books were being banned, not because they were written by authors of a different race than the protagonist or contained words that are deemed racist, offensive and “violence” by the fragile, but because they were too sexual for Puritans to handle, like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, this would have hardly raised an eyebrow.
Most of us would think that we’ve moved beyond book banning for obscenity. If you don’t want to read an obscene book, don’t read it. But the crime of trafficking in obscene materials is very much still with us, as surprising as that may be. And if anyone committed that crime, it was Thomas Alan Arthur.
Perhaps a reasonable argument could be made that Arthur’s heinous content provided a release for those people (and I pray there were very, very few of them) for whom this content held some perverse interest, so that they could get their sick jollies from reading Mr. Double rather than acting upon their impulses. If so, then it was not “utterly” without value. Obscenity is an exception to the First Amendment, although that contributes little to the definition of obscenity, or whether a text story, a book, a magazine, and drawings, should fall within its banned parameters. I would hope it wouldn’t, as they’re just words, no matter how sick and twisted they may be.
It’s unlikely that anyone will shed a tear for poor Thomas Alan Arthur, who may be the most repugnant man to ever foul a courtroom. And yet, it’s deeply troubling that anyone goes to prison for writing words and drawing pictures, no matter how disgusting they are.