The federal government has been in the news recently with a drive to hire as many as 10,000 “cyberwarriors” for the next cold war, which will take place in cyberspace, and which some say is already being fought. Here in Montana, there is a more low level skirmish going on in cyberspace, and it’s over the issue of firearms, both pro and con. The war involves a few activists “cybersquatting” on the domain names of their adversaries. And those activists are also cybersquatting on the domains of congressmen who didn’t protect their Internet “assets”, so to speak.
I first learned of the battle when Gary Marbut made the news by registering the domain senatorbaucus.com in order to take on Senator Baucus in cyberspace. The battle is over what Marbut sees as problems with the senator’s record on firearms legislation and the 2nd Amendment. It can be seen as timely, too: Baucus is up for reelection next cycle, and last time, he won by a 5% margin, so he is a vulnerable Democrat in the Senate.
The battle began in January when Marbut told Lee Newspapers that he had heard about who someone registered senatordianefeinstein.com in order to take issue with with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s push for a new federal ban on assault-style weapons. A gun store owner named had Tom Younce registered senatordianefeinstein.com and put up a one page web site that begins with the text “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. WHAT PART OF THIS IS IT THAT YOU ARE HAVING SUCH DIFFICULTY WITH SENATOR?” The text continues to take her to task about her voting records on gun rights, complete with cartoons and Nazi imagery. Check it out at senatordianefeinstein.com.
Twenty minutes after reading about senatordianefeinstein.com, Marbut told the paper, he owned senatorbaucus.com. And started on a quick web site. As they say, all’s fair in love and war and the gun issue in Montana, right?
Marbut is a well-known political activist in firearms issues in Montana. He teaches firearm safety, and his classes qualifies one to apply for a concealed weapon permit from your county sheriff. He makes and sells shooting range equipment to law enforcement departments around the country. He’s shepherded 58 firearms-related bills through the Montana Legislature, and he’s probably best known for the Montana Firearms Freedom Act.
That law seeks to make legal the manufacture of firearms in the state of Montana for state residents, without background checks or the jurisdiction of the federal government, and it was signed into state law by Governor Brian Schweitzer in 2009. But it’s in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals right now, as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms doesn’t appreciate individual states deciding to manufacture firearms outside of the review of the federal government. The case is probably on its way to the US Supreme Court, according to Marbut. Read about it here: firearmsfreedomact.com.
So I called Marbut to talk about senatorbaucus.com. He told me that it’s “a cautionary website for Baucus,” to give him a head’s up that Marbut is watching. And he posted his open letter to Max Baucus. The site begins: “Because there is much discussion among gun owners of Montana about proposals by Senator Feinstein and others for Congress to enact various types of gun control, I thought you would appreciate knowing what I hear from Montanans about this….”
Marbut posted the email from Senator Baucus, which is a canned response that begins, “Thank you for expressing your views with me regarding gun control. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue….” he also posted the canned responses he got from Jon Tester and Steve Daines, Montana’s two other congressmen. Check out senatorbaucus.com.
This congressional cybersquatting exposed someone’s mistake in the Baucus camp. Usually, a politician – either in office or running for office – will register most common permutations of their name and office to protect the domains from being registered by others. It’s usually not easy to find available domains. But more on that below.
As for cybersquatting, or domain squatting, it is defined as, according to federal law, the “registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.” Now, I don’t think this rises to the level of a felony. Money could change hands to reunite the domains with their namesakes, but it looks like the skirmish is more for the principle of the thing.
And after I talked with Marbut, I Googled “gary marbut” to simply see what else was out there in terms of his take on the gun issue. Of course, I spotted marbut.com, Gary’s main website I had been browsing. But I also spotted garymarbut.com. What’s this? Gary didn’t say anything about that domain, his own namesake.
One click showed me that the site is anti-firearm. Very anti-firearm. The large background image is of a handgun with the barrel twisted into a pretzel. The main text on the site reads “Gary Marbut couldn’t be more wrong about gun violence or the Second Amendment.” There is a Twitter feed from https://twitter.com/GunDeaths that tallies gun deaths.
A paragraph titled “Repeal the Second” begins “There are lots of good reasons why our values today might not coincide with those of the Founders on the question of guns.” I knew garymarbut.com couldn’t belong to Gary Marbut.
And it doesn’t. The “whois” record for the domain showed a registration date of January 24th, 2013, the day the article came out about Marbut registering senatorbaucus.com, and gave a name in Helena, Montana.
The way you find out who owns an Internet domain is by using one of many services that provide an interface to the Internet’s “whois” service. All of the companies that provide domain registrations must also provide registration information to the public, and so Whois information – such as name, address, email – is easily available. One of the most popular sites around that provides an easy “human” interface to the Whois service happens to be – wait for it – www.whois.com/whois/.
The one caveat to whois information is the private registration option; a person registering a domain can pay an extra annual fee for a private registration. That will show a proxy name and address to the public in the form of the name of the privacy company. Many times, you need a subpoena or court order to uncover the real name of the domain registrant.
But garymarbut.com wasn’t a private registration. The domain belonged to Don Pogreba, in Helena, Montana. And there was an email address, so I emailed him about garymarbut.com. Pogreba describes himself as a life-long Montanan, teacher, and supporter of Democrat and Left politics. He’s taught at Helena High for 12 years and has his own business developing and marketing debate instructional and other high school materials at www.quixoticpedagogue.org.
He said the idea behind garymarbut.com was a small response to Marbut but also to “poke a little fun at the Montana media for covering (Marbut’s site) like it was news.” I asked him why he didn’t make the garymarbut.com domain a private registration to conceal his identity. He told me it was because he thought “there are too many unaccountable, anonymous political sites in Montana already.”
Pogreba told me has written about Marbut on his own site intelligentdiscontent.com – a blog on progressive politics in Montana – and he each of his pieces on Marbut has gotten “surprisingly unhinged” responses.
So I asked Gary Marbut about his namesake domain, garymarbut.com. He didn’t sound surprised and said that he assumes Pogreba “isn’t a friend of mine.” He didn’t say if he already knew about the site, but he also said he doesn’t care. “All I need is marbut.com,” he told me.
This story gets more interesting. I checked the Whois service for other possible Baucus domains and found another that didn’t below to the senator himself: senatormaxbaucus.com. Whois told me that Henry Kriegel registered senatormaxbaucus.com on February 5th. But there is no web site there just yet; the domain is simply “parked,” as they say. Parked means the domain is just sitting there, waiting a website or for the domain to be transferred to someone else. So I emailed Kriegel. He told me that he doesn’t have any plans right now for senatormaxbaucus.com. And that’s all he wanted to say.
Out of curiosity, I tried henrykriegel.com. That worked, but there’s no site there; the domain redirected to americassecondrevolution.wordpress.com, a site that is titled “America’s Second Revolution’s (sic) Blog.”
Kriegel writes on the site that he is a Bozeman Tea Party organizer, but “I do not portend to speak on behalf of the movement.” He does say “Welcome to America’s Second Revolution. The battle has just begun.” Well, that could be true; at least the cyber battle here in Montana is warming up.
My next step was to ask Max Baucus’s staff about those domains he should own, but didn’t. What was his or his staff’s reaction? The only emails I got in return were a form email thanking me for my “views on gun rights” and an unsolicited subscription to the Baucus e-newsletter.
As for Montana’s other congressmen, most common domains for Jon Tester were registered back in 2010. Steve Daines is Montana’s new Representative and who replaced Denny Rehberg last fall. Someone registered congressmanstevedaines.com on January 16th, five days after Marbut grabbed senatorbaucus.com. But it’s one of those private registrations, so we don’t know who got it, and so we can only speculate what may happen with it. I sent an email to the proxy address but got no reply; most of the time, emails to private registrations just go to the bit bucket.
But cybersquatting on congressmen and women about gun rights is nothing new. Tom Younce might have grabbed senatordianefeinstein.com a few months ago and sparked the recent Montana cyber skirmish. But someone else was way ahead of him. The domain dianefeinstein.com was registered way back in 1999 by Lincoln Pickard, in San Diego, California. He writes that “In my opinion Senator Dianne Feinstein does not believe you have a right to defend yourself against rapists, muggers and criminals. (Of course, she herself has been known to have a concealed carry permit for her own personal hand gun. A person with this kind of double standard could arguably be called an elitist.)”
Does any of this matter? I’m not sure many people are even reading these sites. senatordianefeinstein.com has gotten only 80-odd hits, and a half dozen of those are mine. Anyone will get a bunch of different opinions on the gun issue and these sites. And those opinions – and sometimes the “facts” – may never meet anywhere in common. But as I said, all’s fair in love and war and the gun issues, right? I’m wondering if someone will register somewhere-in-between-the-gun-issue-in-montana.com?