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Byron Sonne’s G20 security focus cost him dearly (torontolife.com)
180 points by colinprince on May 22, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

I think that the most disturbing thing about this article is the comments. I'm amazed that there are people that seem to think this sort of treatment of people for non-crimes like owning acetone and hydrogen peroxide is justified.

The scariest one for me was the one that said, "This idiot should be jailed for life for he potentially could have done." Er, what? By that logic, all of us should be pre-emptively jailed, because we all have the "potential" to become terrorists.

Just about to say the same thing, the fact that the article highlights in a fashion just to scare you:

"In his house, sonne had acetone and hydrogen peroxide—common chemicals that can be used to make a bomb"

But fails to say that could have been nail polish and a first aid bottle of hydrogen peroxide for when you get a cut. Much less scary and like you mentioned is something that everyone owns.

Edit from the article: "The main ingredients of TATP are hydrogen peroxide (which he had for his rocket experiments) and acetone (a solvent he kept in his garage)"

Seriously, as I read that part I thought "um, doesn't everyone have those?"

I imagine that the hydrogen peroxide wasn't the off-the-shelf stuff seeing as he was intending to make rocket fuel from it. The off-the-shelf disinfectant is extremely weak. Concentrations of like 0.001%.

edit: in response to the downvotes, I don't agree with his treatment. I'm just stating my thought that it probably wasn't the same as the bottle of hydrogen peroxide that you have in your medicine cabinet.

Off-the shelf hydrogen peroxide is 3%. The tooth-whitening stuff is 10-30%.

It's water with some extra oxygen, folks. Let's not get too bent out of shape over this. Saying you can clip some wires while owning tooth bleach and nail polish remover does not exactly make you the criminal mastermind of the century.

I'm not getting 'bent out of shape' on this (And really, I'd like you to point out where you were able to ascertain that from my post). I just know that the stuff used in rocket fuels is more like 98% hydrogen peroxide. Whether or not that's what he had? Who knows? I certainly don't think we should arrest people for 'having the ingredients in their home to make a bomb' because a good percentage of the population would qualify for that.

It is guaranteed that he was not keeping 98% hydrogen peroxide in his garage, pyre. Many different concentrations are used in rocket fuels, but anything over 70% is extremely dangerous, not only because it can eat flesh but also because it can spontaneously combust.

I've been reading "Ignition!", a 1972 book about rocket fuels by rocket-fuel chemist John D. Clark. I got it from http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/. It is extremely entertaining, although often in train-wreck fashion. (Did you know that titanium immersed in red fuming nitric acid sometimes spontaneously detonates? The guy who discovered that never got a chance to tell anybody, because you know what happens when glassware full of fuming nitric acid blows up in your face?)

I was being unclear. I meant that it's unclear whether or not he had 'industrial grade' stuff. And with reference to 98% hydrogen peroxide, I'm not sure it's needed in that high of a concentration for the kind of rockets that he was attempting to make. I just recall John Carmack complaining that it was difficult to get 98% H2O2 in the large quantities needed for his X-Prize attempt.

Your remarks remind me of something I read eons ago about a guy getting arrested for owning a still and allegedly making moonshine. He claimed he was a collector and did not make moonshine. There was some remark in the trial about "but you had the equipment". His comeback was along the lines of "By that logic you should also arrest me for rape." He was then asked if he had raped someone/was confessing to rape. His reply: "No, but I've got the equipment for it."

I suspect you're right. The hydrogen peroxide used by amateur rocketry folks has a much higher concentration (~90%) and is highly reactive. It's not the easiest thing to obtain. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_test_peroxide

Don't some people use it to dye their hair with a much higher concentration?

The only person that I've known that bleached his hair w/ hydrogen peroxide used the disinfectant-grade stuff (though this was a while ago so I could be mis-remembering).

I used to bleach my hair using a L'Oreal 'professional' powdered bleach. Since it's a beauty product, finding fast facts has proven difficult. I think maybe it uses a different bleaching agent, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_hypochlorite

As far as I know, that's pretty typical of hair bleaching products. i.e. a powder which isn't hydrogen peroxide. It looks like people use peroxide, but just the over-the-counter stuff, and just for highlights.

Yeah... it reads like some sort of apology for fascism and "Let's All Think Mainstream".

The comments are absolutely terrifying.

I think the most disturbing thing about this article is that it's on HN.

Whatever happened to the no-politics rule? I really liked the no-politics rule.

Byron was finally released on bail just a few days ago, though with very restrictive conditions. He has to live with his sureties (his parents) and they have to accompany him everywhere. He also basically can't use the internet at all.

He is nonetheless thrilled to be out and, from what I've seen, only grown stronger and more focussed from the experience.

Here's an article documenting the release: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/defiant...

I'm starting to think more and more that people are hardwired to respect authority no matter what it says. The banality of evil sort of thing I guess. Things like the constitution, bill of rights, and the more or less democratic political system I (in the USA) respect is in a big way just a tribal concept people mindlessly evoke to reaffirm their belonging to the tribe that is the "USA". There does not seem to be a lot of digging into what these things actually mean or believing in the ideas contained within these things. Governments can go around forcibly installing democracy all around the world and staging coups when the democratic leaders that aren't strategically useful are elected around the world and erode all the rights "enshrined" within the constitution in order to protect us. Holding our rulers to same rule of law as the people they rule was a massive leap forward in social organization. However it seems that people don't really want to have to distrust their leaders enough to apply it to them, because that would be taken as an attack on the identity of the tribe as a whole.


Or, as some social science suggests, we're all hardwired to respect authority, and what we're noticing are the different authorities we tend to respect.

I absolutely agree with you. It's turtles all the way down.

You are hardwired to believe authority. Growing up that authority was your parents and it was in your interest to blindly believe them because then you could learn faster. There is an evolutionary benefit to believe authority.

I found this comment the most depressing:

You have an extremely hot wife, who also happens to be extremely wealthy. Instead of making love to her and rolling around in money all day, why on Earth would this freak waste his time building rockets and shite?

I never thought I'd have to explain why having a hot wife AND building rockets would be a better life than just having a hot wife. Extra points if you build rockets together.

I've always found that coders have more in common with artists than traditional white-collar technical people. The basis of our industry is driven by passionate creators, many of whom would continue to create even if they didn't have a financial worry in the world.

Most people in the general population don't get this. I've found that artists and musicians largely do.

I've found there are two types of programmers:

Staff programmers program because they are paid well to do it. At the end of the day, they generally clock out of software development and into whatever their real passion is (sports of some sort as often as not for guys). Some staff programmers are really, really good at developing software. The majority are average at best.

Coders are the artists. They code because their computer is their canvas and their editor is their paint. Regardless what their day job might be, they would be coding in the evening. Many are artists in other media as well, very often music and photography, which utilize a similar melding of technology and inner-eye as coding. They almost never stop coding, no matter how far away a computer actually is.

The former will generally get you a repeatable (perhaps highly inefficient) process.

The latter will get you http://www.anseladams.com/, http://www.mountainlight.com/gallery.html, or http://www.philborges.com/. But you'll likely leave a few slides on the darkroom floor in the process.

Most people have a passion for something, even if that something is doing nothing. I'll bet that most of the people that agree with that comment wouldn't agree with it if it were advocating that he should have given up watching sports/playing video games/playing sports/reading books/etc.

I disagree - many people don't have a passion - there is no driving thing in their life, even if it s watching TV or playing video games. From my own observation, many people go through life with a smattering of interests - but nothing that inspires them and truly grips them.

"Having interests" is not the same as "having passions".

But even disregarding that, many people do not understand creation. A passion for watching TV or playing video games maps poorly to someone obsessed with creating things - whether it's sculpture, software, music, or architecture. Personally I find it very difficult to identify with non-creators, while there is a very natural mesh when I talk with other creators - even if I know nothing of their craft. Their fundamental passion and mentality is mutually understood.

I found that comment sort of odd. Usually people are pissed off at rich folks because they use their money to insulate themselves from the world at large. Here is someone that was rich and trying to affect social change. And we complain that he was not spending more time using money to isolate himself from the 'mendicants?' Huh?

There's "what should somebody in that situation do" and there's "what would I do in that situation". I guess the post we're talking about was more of the second variety.

As a Canadian, the whole G20 business makes me terribly ashamed of my country. It makes me even more ashamed that people like the comments on the article exist.

At the risk of making this a political statement - what else can you expect from the population that elected Rob Ford?

As a Torontonian, this G20 fiasco is definitely the blackest of black eyes on our otherwise great city. I don't know one citizen of TO that thought it was a good idea to host that in downtown TO.

Why didn't they have the whole thing (G20 in addition to G8) up in Huntsville, away from the city? For those not familiar with Toronto or this event, it completely shut down the downtown core, which houses all of the financial institutions that keep TO humming.

And don't get me started on Officer Bubbles ...

A dark period in our city's history.

I'll bet they wanted it in Downtown TO just because there was better access to higher-quality hotels to house the leaders and their aides. They would rather spend billions in tax payer money to try and bring the downtown core of Toronto under martial law for a few days than to host the conference somewhere where the attendees might have to be in a hotel room that doesn't qualify as a presidential suite.

I agree with you, it was dumb to put it in Toronto after what happened in Quebec city. And that he's the only one left in jail is even more telling. They have to convict someone it seems for all the billions on a couple day event.

Cop Tells G20 Protester "This Is Ain't Canada Right Now" [0].

[0] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UlTUVcxFNk

From where I sit, I think that he has done no wrong (at least according to the article).

I don't know that it is wise to purposely antagonize the government, but it doesn't read like he was attempting to induce sedition.

My guess is Byron Sonne's jailing was meant to send a message to dissident geeks. I would also guess that the fact he wasn't released until after the federal election isn't a co-incidence.

It's disappointing that there isn't more outrage at this, the G20 mass arrests (which are the largest in Canada's history), and the fabrication of the "secret fence law".

My guess is that Sonne's imprisonment has nothing to do with "dissidents" or, particularly, geeks. Instead, it's that western governments have no sense of humor or intellectual flexibility about terrorism anymore.

That is a bad thing, but it is a different kind of bad thing than the one that creates a soap opera about oppressed geeks.

Personally, I see it as the same 'bad thing' that happens all of the time. Law enforcement doesn't like to be challenged, so they set out to 'teach a lesson' to the person that challenged their authority.

That is credible. "Part of an initiative to suppress dissident geeks", though, is not.

Actually I think the people in charge are just that ignorant. They looked at the data in front of them and it looked like terrorism. They aren't clever enough to see the truth.

• Wierd chemicals they don't understand that could be used for explosives? - check • Seemingly anti-social activities? - check • Filming weak points in security? - check • Was voted most likely to be a terrorist in high school? - check

Hey this is a text book terrorist!

I would have understood if he was detained. Maybe even for a week or two before given an apology and maybe a "what were you thinking?" But this is ridiculous. It's obvious that they totally boned this up. They should drop the charges pronto and issue an apology, and hope it ends there.

Do governments apologize? That would imply weakness and, more concerning, fallibility. Can't have the plebes thinking something might be wrong within the government.

Governments apologize... sometimes... usually decades later when most of the affected people are already dead... and no one that was culpable is in a position to get in trouble.

As stupid as the comments are, I wonder how many of them are law enforcement (or government) officials... (i.e. psyops)

My guess is zero. My guess is that they are the normal sunday-morning newspaper-readers that think they have a 1 in 10 chance of being blown up by a terrorist every time they step into an airport. As such, someone talking about chemicals scares them, because bombs and illegal drugs are also made from chemicals.

I agree. Remember, these are the same types of people who would vote to ban dihydrogen monoxide because it sounds scary.

It's also a toxic industrial solvent that has been found in high concentrations in rain. Dihydrogen monoxide was heavily implicated in the Fukushima meltdown, and unintentional inhalation can lead to death.

I did that same joke in fourth grade with a piece of rock salt I'd picked up on the parking lot. The kids at lunch asked what it was, I said, "Sodium chloride, yadda yadda yadda and it's in your food!" "Ewww!" (That was Melissa Abbott. She pushed her tray away and then hit me when I told her it was just salt.)

Good times. Good times.

Actually, I think pyre is right. If you go to videos surrounding summit protests on youtube, by an large the comments that are against the protesters are from police, you can tell by the fact that they have police videos in their own account. Why wouldn't a similar spread of opinion apply here?

Why on earth did his wife ditch him? This seems like the worst punishment. I wouldn't care so much about the jail time if I had my girl on the outside waiting for me. Without that it would be a lonely hell.

Because it's one thing for your husband to be obsessive about security theater - and it's another thing for your husband's obsessive activities to get you arrested.

My wife would have divorced me, then killed me, then chopped me up and fed me to the dog, then killed the dog.

Jesus, that's fucked up. My girl and I go protesting in London with the full expectation of being arrested (and we have been). It does add a layer of stress, not knowing where your other half is (police usually split you up), but we decide a meeting place and it's cool.

She would say that, but one would expect love to prevail if it actually happens.

No, really. She's Hungarian and her entire life she's been in terror of what the police might do if one draws their attention. It's a little different from marrying a North American.

It's also different if you're just minding your own business and the cops come and arrest you - but I will bet they'd had words about this beforehand, then the cops came and arrested her.

And yeah, their marriage may not have been on such a solid basis anyway, who knows? Or, she's just a jerk. But it wouldn't take much of a jerk to really resent getting arrested for somebody else's windmill tilting.

His wife's fortune comes from the same security establishment that her (soon to be ex-) husband was needling. Maybe her parents threatened to cut her off unless she ditched him. Who knows? In any case: it's really lame for her to ditch her partner of 15 years.

I expect she ditched him for epic lack of consideration. He could easily have done the G20 work anonymously, but instead set himself up to be taken down as hard and fast as possible. And his excuse to her? It was security work. Seriously, who gets their woman terrorized by armed thugs and calls it improved security? She probably saw the writing on the wall and begged him to stop, and felt utterly abandoned and betrayed when he threw her to the wolves for what amounts to an idiotic PR stunt.

I think the lesson to take away from this is "Keep Your Head Down". I have some respect for a number of libertarian ideas and I would never defend the treatment of Sonne by the police and State. Nor would I agree with the authoritarian comments made on the article that he somehow deserves the treatment that he is getting. But if someone attacks a beehive and then is stung, it seems like they should have known what might happen.

Sonne's actions of filming the security measures and his belief that this was an effective method of action were very naive. There are a number of reasons why.

To begin with, the G8 (rebranded as the G20) has long been protested and the police response can be brutal. A protestor, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by police at the 27th G8 summit (the police were surprisingly found not responsible). A bystander, Ian Tomlinson, was beaten to death by riot police at the meeting of the group in London. The Miami Model is being expanded and police are becoming militarised, with Long Range Acoustic Devices used on protesters in the United States http://youtu.be/QSMyY3_dmrM and similar pain rays http://youtu.be/dmuyLIrSjxI tested on protestors in Iraq -- when these devices and Miami Model tactics are the routine at summits and simple protests, it is foolish to talk about "civil liberties" and "civil rights" and "the Constitution".

Consider the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, occurring nine months before the Toronto summit where Sonne had trouble. At Pittsburgh, military police make snatch-and-grab arrests - http://youtu.be/G8CNa_viKg0 . Peaceful people are denied the right to assemble - http://youtu.be/etv8YEqaWgA and marches are deemed "unlawful" - http://youtu.be/5k0Y7_5a5d0

To see this atmosphere and then 9 months later to attempt to challenge these same authoritarians by filming them, purposely provoking them, and having them ruin your life and then being surprised by this is as naive as the college kids who chant "Let him go!" (in that last video above) as police drag away their fellow marcher. Police do as they please, and they are supported by their district attorneys and courts. Get in their way or challenge their authority in any way and enjoy the inevitable.

Filming a fence does nothing to the agenda of the G20 and even if you are only protesting the spending of the city of Toronto, it likewise does nothing. Peaceful assemblies are mocked, derided, and ignored by the politicians and bureaucrats who make up the Department of Homeland Security and the City of Toronto. And those protestors who employ property destruction? Breaking the window of a Starbucks does nothing to the G20 and it does nothing to Starbucks who makes up the cost of the window in less than one second of worldwide sales. Burning a Toronto police car? The city could care less as they will simply send the bill to the taxpayer (you and your neighbors).

Opposing these people and their secuirty apparatus -whether by peacefully chanting feel good slogans from the Sixties or by "exercising" and flexing your "civil liberties" and natural rights by filming a fence- is futile. Additionally, they will not hesitate to ruin your life, nor feel any remorse for someone who opposed them.

Do not get in their way.

I don't think HN readers, particularly those reading this story, need to be advised, yet again, to just give up and live with their dysfunctional and corrupt legal system.

People will "get in the way", regardless of the danger. Some will protest because it's the only way they can sleep at night. Others will be dragged into the fight by circumstance or just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here's another big story from the Toronto G20. This guy didn't do anything remarkable besides have an odd name: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/how-a-m...

Let your civil liberties slip away and eventually parts of your life, inoccuous as you may live it, will go with them.

The only discussion worth having is over what rights we have and how to protect them.

Whoa, whoa - I actually agree with stuff you say, but you do yourself serious discredit by saying Ian Tomlinson was 'beaten to death by riot police' as if he was a protester somehow set upon by multiple officers with truncheons until he passed away. The guy was a drunken bystander, not a protester, and was hit on the knee (by an arsehole, yes, though one that had been on duty since 5am in a 14 hour shift) before being pushed out of the way and falling to the ground. Swearing, he got back up, walked off for 60m and collapsed of internal bleeding from where his elbow (which he fell on) had bumped his cirrhotic liver! His death has more to do with biological misfortune (not all of it cosmic, since the liver cirrhosis came from his serious alcoholism) than the sort of brutality associated with 'beatings to death' - to my mind, at least.

Aye, but the idea that our authorities can assault someone who is doing nothing wrong is a pretty fucked up thing. It'll be interesting to see what repercussions the inquest has.

'Keep Your Head Down' and 'Do not get in their way', are I realise, perhaps not the optimistic slogans people like to hear. I consider myself a geek and based on my own experience and also discussions with other geeky people, I think geeks and hackers and generally creators have a difficulty accepting what the state is doing based on two key traits of (many) geeks: idealism and belief in rationality (perhaps these attributes contributed to Sonne's behavior). The world, of course, as far as its political organization and practices go, does not operate based on science, rationality, or fair play. If anything, you might best understand the government's actions by considering individuals' psychology, and how those individuals will behave when given power over others.

What you see in Toronto, and in Sonne's case, is part of a never-ending conflict between individuals with respect for liberty and individuals with a need for authority. Authoritarians and libertarians have been clashing as long as humans have existed. A spoiler: the authoritarians win.

Consider this passage from Bertrand Russell:

"I am naturally pugnacious, and am only restrained (when I am restrained) by a realization of the tragedy of human existence, and the absurdity of spending our little moment in strife and heat. That I, a funny little gesticulating animal on two legs, should stand beneath the stars and declaim in a passion about my rights—it seems so laughable, so out of all proportion. Much better, like Archimedes, to be killed because of absorption in eternal things... There is a possibility in human minds of something mysterious as the night-wind, deep as the sea, calm as the stars, and strong as Death, a mystic contemplation, the ‘intellectual love of God.’ Those who have known it cannot believe in wars any longer, or in any kind of hot struggle."

A soldier was insulted when Archimedes insisted he finish working on his math problem before obeying the soldier and meeting with a general, so the soldier killed him. Today, while immediate techne are different, those two psychologies still exist. And while the soldiers might not kill you, their apparatus will not hesitate to imprison you and ruin your life in other ways (or in the case of Giuliani and Tomlinson, will indeed kill you). And so, as Russell points out, better to spend your limited days on eternal things, like Archimedes, then to fall into their game and be distracted by petty struggle.

Hunter S. Thompson summarises the protesters of the 1960s:

"The hippies, who had never really believed they were the wave of the future anyway, saw the election results as brutal confirmation of the futility of fighting the establishment on its own terms. There had to be a whole new scene, they said, and the only way to do it was to make the big move — either figuratively or literally — from Berkeley to the Haight-Ashbury, from pragmatism to mysticism, from politics to dope... The thrust is no longer for "change" or "progress" or "revolution," but merely to escape, to live on the far perimeter of a world that might have been."

As Gavin McInnes says "Boomers, who are masters at glorifying their past, insist they stopped a war, but we all know it was Kissinger’s relentless bombing that ended it." Protest does nothing. The success of the hippies was not their conflict with authoritarians (our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates how they won and always will win) -- that was a complete failure. The success and value of the hippies was their ability to create autonomous zones and safe enclaves from which they could explore personal growth and become, as Russell advises, absorbed in eternal things.

Bollocks to the idea that the authoritarians always win. Look at the French revolution, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, the recent Arab uprisings...there are so many, many examples in history where the authoritarians have been crushed by those seeking freedom. We just have to step up our game.

Furthermore, I see that as a fairly selfish attitude. Whilst I might have the ability to "escape", others might not, so I see it as my duty to fight for the freedoms of others to make that choice.

"The revolutionaries of any decade will become the reactionaries of the next decade, if they do not change their nervous system, because the world around them is changing. He or she who stands still in a moving, racing, accelerating age, moves backward." -/Prometheus Rising/, Robert Anton Wilson.

They do always win. Consider France, India, South Africa, and Egypt. All of the examples you gave are of authoritarian states being replaced by authoritarian states. France, Egypt, India and likely South Africa would all be just as likely to trod on an individual who was opposing their security apparatus, especially when said security apparatus is taking orders from the visiting G8.

As far as you feeling guilty about being "selfish", that is your issue. You need to get over the idea that the world owes you something, and likewise that you owe the world something (apart from perhaps fair play and non-aggression - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle )

Well, then we have to keep revolting. I see myself as owing the world something, because my skills and abilities could help others. I am so lucky to have them, and I can pay it back by paying it forward. If everyone had that attitude, the world would be a better place.

What exactly do we do then? We can't just back down.

Whether what he did was legal or not, and whether it should be legal or not, what he did was clearly pretty foolish. A bit like kicking a hornet's nest and then being shocked, SHOCKED that some hornets come out and sting you. Keep in mind that police are not psychic. They don't know that this man in question had no violent intent. They can only know what they see and hear. And what they could see and hear did not look too good. Thus, the treatment.

Fair? Dunno. Wise? Hell no.

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