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Perverting Justice

Jeff Newton

For those who play the game of catching online perverts, Raymond Dooley was the perfect villain. That is, exactly the type of guy the cyber-vigilantes at Perverted-Justice.com were looking for.

Perverted-Justice found Dooley in late January in an online chat room -- where the 23-year-old Michigan man entered into a conversation with a guy supposedly named Jason Delaney.

The banter got graphic. Dooley made plans to meet Delaney for sex.

Only he thought Delaney was a girl named Rachel. It was all a setup.

When Dooley showed up the next day at the appointed time and place, he was met with a television camera. Police later arrested him for "use of computer/Internet to communicate with another to attempt to commit criminal sexual conduct," and he was convicted last month. Dooley is awaiting sentencing and could face 20 years in prison.

Although there's nothing criminal about discussing sex with another adult, apparently there is if the adult on the other end of the computer is pretending to be a 14-year-old girl.

Here's a portion of the chat log -- posted on the Perverted-Justice Web site -- between Dooley and Delaney (as Rachel):

Dooley: I'm going to make you come all day long.

Delaney: Kewl.

Dooley: Better not let your mom get a hold of those panties. She'll probably be able to smell cum all over 'em and think something's up.

Rachel: lol

Dooley: In fact, just don't wear any. lol.

Rachel: OK, lol.

Dooley: So could I ask a favor of you tomorrow?

Rachel: Sure.

Dooley: Do you have any really short skirts and really small tops?

It was a trap that Perverted-Justice has set more than 690 times since the organization began going after what it calls "wannabe pedophiles" in July 2002.

The wannabes, PJ is careful to clarify, are "not pedophiles in the sense that they have necessarily committed the act of pedophilia -- however, if you look at the chat logs we post, you should be able to see that they have all clearly demonstrated interest in performing pedophilia."

What makes a situation like Dooley's ideal for PJ is that, not only did he say nasty things online, he showed up at a house hoping to do nasty things with a young girl.

That TV cameras were waiting and Perverted-Justice got great press were secondary to the fact that local police were able to make a prosecutable case out of the transcript of PJ's chat with him.

This rarely happens. Although the Web site claims to be responsible for 23 arrests, exactly three cases have resulted in guilty verdicts from PJ's sting operations.

Another glowing success is the case of Ryan Hogan, a 24-year-old New York fireman who allegedly tried to seduce who he thought was an adolescent girl while NBC's Dateline was filming a segment on Perverted-Justice that has yet to air.

PJ nabbed him on March 8, when a member posed as a 14-year-old with the computer-chat room moniker of "cuteashley."

According to PJ and court papers, Hogan said he was looking for a good-looking girl to have fun with. Here's an excerpt from their conversation, taken from PJ's Web site:

Hogan: what are you doing tonight?

cuteashley4u1990: nothin. bored. u?

Hogan: hoping to get some. lol.

cuteashley4u1990: lol thats kewl.

cuteashley4u1990: ur hot.

cuteashley4u1990: can u bring condoms?

cuteashley4u1990: >?

cuteashley4u1990: i dont wanna get preggers.

Hogan: i understand that.

cuteashley4u1990: kewl.

Court records say Hogan then talked about "doggie style" and oral sex, and he said he loves "going down on a woman . . . You need a guy to go down on you." Then he asked cuteashley: "Ever think about anal?" Ashley responded with: "Does it hurt?" Hogan said: "At first, but then I think you would like it."

The conversation continued over the course of a couple of days, with Hogan wavering between his desire to "pound " cuteashley and worrying about the immorality of the actions he was proposing. At one point, he sent Ashley a live feed of him masturbating in an Engine 237 sweatshirt.

And Hogan got his.

Later, a Dateline camera crew confronted him outside the Brooklyn firehouse. Hogan has been indicted and is awaiting trial.


People who take it upon themselves to put a stop to predators like these look like heroes.

After all, they're fighting sexual deviants across the country, using Internet chat rooms. They seem to be exposing the very perverts who parents worry will take advantage of their impressionable kids. And they're doing it in grand style.

 

But critics argue that many of the men PJ meets and subsequently lures in for humiliation are certainly sleazy, but hardly guilty of a crime. That is, authorities don't often agree with the organization's tactics, and the overwhelming majority of the nearly 700 "busts" on the PJ Web site are never prosecuted.

PJ uses profiles of mostly adolescent girls, complete with sassy screen names and photos.

Its operatives plop themselves into regional chat rooms and enter into conversations, offering their fictitious personae as bait for the sea of pedophiles they claim are hunting victims in cyberspace.

PJ calls its operatives "contributors." These baiters pose as young girls and are typically flirtatious, and it's not long before the conversations turn to sex. She will say she's not a virgin, that she likes older guys. She'll ask for a picture, and tell him he's "hot." She'll extract as much information about her mark as she can: what part of town he lives in, what he does for a living and, above all, his telephone number.

An additional operative, called a "phone verifier," sets the hook by giving him a quick call, pretending to be a young, horny teenager. Sometime thereafter -- when the PJ contributor feels he or she has gotten enough perversion on a chat log -- the conversation will be terminated. The confused, usually young, man on the other end of the keyboard will be directed to a Web page with an ominous warning of what is to come:

So, you're looking at this page. Most likely, your day just changed for the worse. From here, you can either help your days get better, or you will cause them to become even worse yet. The website your perverted chat-log has been posted on gets anywhere from two to thirty thousand hits a day. Our forums have over ten thousand members who are, at this second, finding out exactly who you are. Don't believe us? You will.

Next, the man is tried, convicted and effectively sentenced by a mob of devoted, self-righteous, cyber-vigilantes.

In the past year, 21 Arizona men have found themselves looking at this message on their computer screens after what they thought had been a conversation with a teenage girl.

Typically within a few minutes, the phone rings, and it doesn't stop ringing for weeks. Hang-up calls, threats and anonymous messages abound. The circle expands, the mens' bosses are called, colleagues are e-mailed. Parents, family and friends are similarly contacted. Repeatedly. Anonymously.

The PJ victim's home address, phone number, photo and other personal information, sometimes even the license plate number of his car, are posted on the Internet.

Suddenly, a Web site full of people who delight in the public humiliation of such men get in on the game. Harassment is coming from everywhere.

And the media -- such as Phoenix television station KPHO, which did a gushing story on PJ in March -- is often right behind.

Critics say the title "Perverted-Justice" is perfect for what the organization manages to level against its victims.


PJ is the brainchild of a shadowy figure who zealously guards his anonymity (what he calls his "government name") and who goes by the handle "Xavier Von Erck." At 24, Von Erck's been on the 'net for nearly a decade, describing himself as a libertarian, an atheist and a resident of Portland, Oregon.

He also is an avid gamer; his favorites include "Madden 2004" and "Battlefield 1942." He really likes "Civilization III," where the ultimate goal, according to Computer Games Magazine is "staking your place in the grand pantheon of world leaders" by waging war against civilizations and building empires.

And Von Erck has built quite an empire in Perverted-Justice.

Only this is a game he has managed to play both in and out of cyberspace -- one replete with a Perverted-Justice product line that includes women's thong underwear with the inscription "CONTENTS AGED AT LEAST 18 YEARS" and baseball caps, coffee mugs, sweatshirts and boxer shorts with the organization's insignia on them.

The concept is nothing new. Baiting.org was doing a similar thing, sans the merchandising, in 2000. Pranks, really, in which a baiter would slip into a chat room, pretend to be a young girl and, once he had a man thoroughly hooked, mention that the operative had a penis he would like to use on him in a particularly painful way. It was designed to amuse everyone other than the mark.

Dirk, another anonymous Internet figure and co-founder of Baiting.org, admits that the tactics of the two sites are similar, but that's about it: "[PJ] is taking it all way more seriously than we ever did. We did it for our own amusement, figured that others would get a [sick] laugh out of it as well, and that was about it. Sure, the justification that Ôthose a-holes deserve whatever they get' is something we truly believe, but unless we were subpoenaed to testify against them, after some third party got them arrested, we couldn't care less about any legal finale to the pedo's exploits."

 

Dirk adds, "[PJ] has just sorta taken the next step and gone for the gold, so to speak."

Von Erck says his project began as a natural reaction to behavior he witnessed in a Yahoo chat room. "I personally observed actual underage teens coming into the chats, and watched the reaction of the male 'regulars' of that room. Quite frankly, it was sickening."

Every woman Von Erck knows has been a victim of sexual abuse, he says, and through PJ he saw a chance to make a difference.

PJ is a hierarchy. Von Erck claims there are 10,000 members, but only a few dozen contributors. No one but those approved by Von Erck can post a bust. "Obviously, we're very selective," he says. "Thousands have e-mailed or asked to work at the top level of the site. However, only a handful are actually selected each year."

Von Erck co-founded PJ with a friend, Frank Fencepost (still another anonymous figure). Fencepost was an active and popular contributor to the site until three months ago, when Von Erck decided to remove every trace of him, including Fencepost's participation in Phoenix busts that he orchestrated with TV media in tow.

The reason Von Erck gave in a communiqu to his followers was that Fencepost had crossed the line. He had threatened to ruin the life of the woman he was dating, also a PJ member, and Von Erck had the instant message log to prove it.

Von Erck posted several excerpts from online conversations between Fencepost and the unnamed girlfriend on the Perverted-Justice Web site.

Von Erck explains that Fencepost blew up at his girlfriend when she threatened to contact another married PJ member Fencepost had been sleeping with. He offers this private conversation he monitored as evidence that Fencepost was unfit for service:

"I will walk into your work and shit on your desk. Then I'll start getting really serious. I won't hesitate for a second."

Later in the conversation, Fencepost allegedly rages, "Any variation on this theme and you'll be looking for work, trying to make your house and car payments, picking up pieces and goin' 'what the FUCK just happened?' And you KNOW how fast I'm capable of making that happen."

Fencepost, it seems, was attempting to use the same tactics on a girlfriend that PJers use. Von Erck objected and erased him from PJ cyberspace.

"Our mission at Perverted-Justice.com is very clear," says PJ's ultimate authority figure. "We go after online predators. One of the largest things we demand is civility and carrying yourself in a professional manner when it comes to 'the law.' If a contributor is doing something I believe breaks the law, I remove the contributor."


The concept of innocent until proven guilty doesn't have much relevance on the Internet. Neither does the notion that the state should be the judge of culpability, rather than what amounts to an angry mob.

Although Perverted-Justice has managed to snare several of what appear to be genuine, honest-to-God pedophiles, what most of its victims are guilty of is sleazy conversation, of entertaining a fantasy about having sex with a young girl (a.k.a. the "Lolita complex").

In a legal sense, no one knows what's really going through a mark's head as he asks for her bra size, if her parents are home, if she sucks cock.

If PJ contributors can pretend to be young girls, couldn't their victims pretend to like young girls?

This is what a Tempe man claims was his situation.

Brian (New Times has chosen not to publish the real names of PJ's victims) spent his childhood on the East Coast before moving to Tempe with his family. He's in his early 20s and has a broken arm that makes it hard to type, so he's reluctantly agreed to meet at a Denny's.

After sinking deep into a booth, his eyes sweep the room once, then again, before he speaks. Although it has been several months since Perverted-Justice invaded his life, and most of the harassment resulting from that invasion has subsided, he's still concerned about popping back up on PJ's radar screen.

Of the 21 Arizona men snared by Perverted-Justice New Times attempted to contact over several months, only Brian was reached. Most have gone deeply underground, fleeing the accusatory and often threatening calls and e-mails from PJ and its followers.

 

The experience clearly weighs on Brian and, although he's articulate and polite, his gloomy voice sounds like Eeyore's, if the cartoon donkey were on downers in the rain.

Shame dominates Brian's expression at first, but, as he speaks, there's clearly a sense of injustice and outrage percolating underneath.

Wincing, he admits that what he did was wrong, but he questions whether a fantasy not acted upon -- which was busted by a vigilante group, not a police organization -- warrants the punishment he's faced.

He was a happy person, he insists, before all this began. He had a bright future and good friends. Then, one afternoon at the library, he started messing around in a chat room, and his life as he knew it was over.

"All during the chat, I didn't believe it was a minor I was talking to," he insists. "I thought it was someone fooling around and playing with me."

And it turns out he was right.

Brian's excuses for his behavior are typical of PJ's victims, and are categorically dismissed as ridiculous by Von Erck. Perverts don't role play about this sort of thing, Von Erck says.

Giving out a phone number and agreeing to meet, which most PJ targets do (although very few actually get around to attempting physical contact before they are notified by PJ that the jig is up) is "not role-playing," Von Erck contends.

"If you meet someone who tries to say it is, promptly laugh at them," Von Erck instructs his contributors on the PJ site. "One infamous example in site history was an older teacher who went online into a regional room and hit on an underage female. He represented himself as a math teacher, in his thirties, with a first name, and gave his actual phone number. Then he tried to say he was 'role-playing.'

"Sure he was. He was role-playing as a male with his actual name, profession, age, location and number, who talked about meeting an underage female for sex and tutoring."

As for Brian, he says he was finally won over because the baiter was so incredibly persistent.

"I wasn't planning on doing anything, but she kept bugging me for my phone number," he continues. "She kept pursuing me and trying to coerce me into it."

Von Erck scoffs at victims' claims of entrapment. To begin with, PJ baiters are not police officers, and the rules of entrapment don't apply to them, he explains smugly.

To further drive home his point, Von Erck offers this analogy: "Pretend that there is a 12-year-old sitting in a park dancing around and asking older males for sex. What should the male say? Yes or no?"

Brian said yes, and it's a decision he regrets deeply.

It took about an hour after the PJ bust for the harassment to begin. He says he was besieged with phone calls and e-mails, like "Fuck you, perv!"

Calls would come at all hours of the night, he says, often waking his family at three and four in the morning. He says he was upfront with his family about what had transpired, and most of them continue to support him. He says one phone call particularly sticks in his memory: "I remember one person said that I should commit suicide."

Brian tried to make it right, he says, doing everything the callers and e-mailers demanded of him. He put himself in counseling, but the calls kept coming. He sent "proof" to Perverted-Justice that he was getting treatment, but the harassment persisted.

Part of the proof, he says, was in the form of a "Right of Reply" -- basically an apology letter including evidence of psychological help.

"They told me if I would write a Right of Reply, my information would be removed, and I did that. That wasn't the case. Very soon after my bust, I was in counseling, and I provided them with proof. Still nothing happened."

PJ says the only way to be removed from the Web site is by entering counseling and establishing that you have done so by providing the therapist's name, phone number and a release from the therapist allowing PJ to discuss the case. PJ also says it must truly believe that any man who's demonstrated very bad thoughts is sorry and is attempting to change his life.

Perverted-Justice must almost never believe that such change is possible, since it has removed the information about only two men in the site's history.

Critics of the site say Von Erck and his cronies are playing God and hiding like cowards behind the anonymity of the Internet.

 

If they believe so much in holding their victims' names, ranks and serial numbers to the fire, why don't they disclose theirs?

What that caller had jarringly suggested that Brian do began to intrude into his thoughts. He became suicidal and says he was hospitalized for five days.

"I still am [suicidal]," he says. "Every day I think about suicide. When I got out of the hospital, things didn't change."

Brian's major at ASU was posted in the PJ forums, as well as the address of the professor in charge of his program. Brian had to drop out of school.

His home address was posted, and he says he was afraid to go outside for weeks.

He lost friends and alienated certain members of his family, but still Brian considers himself lucky. "I didn't have a job, wife or kids. Those are the people I really feel sorry for when they fall into this trap."

Brian continues to receive treatment. His problem, he says, had been sex addiction, not pedophilia. He's never touched an underage girl, he swears, and never will. The therapy has been good for him, he admits.

But, he asks, does PJ have to destroy its victims?

"PJ says they want to help, but they're not about helping children. They really want to ruin lives. That's what they get their jollies from. It has nothing to do with protecting children."


Canadian Scott Morrow is the spokesman for a growing online community opposed to Perverted-Justice and its techniques. Morrow calls his site, which he started at the end of April, Corrupted Justice. PJers refer to him and his crew as "baby fuckers" and "pedophile enablers."

Anti-PJ sites such as Morrow's, the anonymous Von Erck says, are typically "organized by individuals who do not believe in our Age of Consent laws, who don't believe there is anything wrong with soliciting minors for sex."

Morrow (his real name, by the way) vigorously denies Von Erck's assertion.

"I believe PJ's intentions were good, initially," Morrow says. "[PJ members wanted] to protect the Internet, to protect children from perverts. But their mission went astray right from the onset because of personality traits. They say they want to poison the well of chat rooms, but they are not accomplishing this. Instead, they drive real perverts underground."

Morrow says that, like many people, he was initially a supporter of Perverted-Justice. Indeed, he was "very impressed" by what they were undertaking. "When you first go to PJ, you look at the site and go, 'Wow, these guys are heroes.'" he says. "I found it, and I thought, 'This is awesome!' I have three kids, [and I felt] these guys are doing such a great thing. It [still] looks like a great thing on the surface."

But what the general public -- and especially the broadcast media -- tend to overlook, Morrow says, is what happens in PJ's follow-up forums. This is where the core group of diehard PJers use Internet sleuthing skills to uncover whatever information they can about the mark of the moment and those around him. This is information they use to humiliate the victim, and it ultimately ends up destroying many people's lives, when what the mark has done is possibly verbalize a fantasy.

"It's a big, dirty, stinky, smelly cesspool," Morrow says, "and the more time you spend wading in it, the stinkier it gets."

Morrow says he and the other 150 members of Corrupted Justice regard PJ as the most active and dangerous group of vigilantes on the Internet.

Morrow is quick to explain that he and his group in no way support pedophilia, and would have little problem with PJ if its members simply posted information on cyber-altercations and left it at that.

"This has grown into something quite dangerous. They are using vigilante tactics and anonymity to destroy people's lives. The victim loses his job, family, neighborhood and any respect anyone ever had for him. It drives people to the brink of suicide. I've spoken personally to a few people who, if not for very quick help, suicide would have been a very real possibility."

Referring to the fact that PJ hides its own members' identities with a vengeance and broadcasts the identities of its victims with that same zeal, he says, "Regardless of what these [marks] are, they are tried, convicted and hanged without due process, without someone saying, 'I'm the one accusing you.'

"Hundreds of people have their personal information posted, who have never done a damn thing," Morrow says, including neighbors, a family's grown children, employers, friends.

 

Morrow describes his nemesis, Von Erck, as a highly intelligent "master debater." The pun is intended.

"A lot of people in Perverted-Justice look upon him as a god," Morrow says. "In his mind, every bust that happens, he's responsible for."

Von Erck's control of his site and his followers is absolute, Morrow maintains. "He's a dictator."

Von Erck, Morrow says, responds to critics posting on PJ's site by banning them. End of conversation.

"He makes it very clear that it's his site -- and not a democracy. No one has a right to do anything he doesn't want them to do."

Von Erck is the sole spokesman for PJ, and he won't allow his members to post anything related to PJ on other sites, Morrow says.

"They call us 'pedophile enablers,'" Morrow says. "They don't want to give us the time of day."

Corrupted Justice, on the other hand, allows anyone to post on its site as long as he or she doesn't list personal information.

Von Erck calls Morrow's claims "silly," but he's still not about to divulge his identity or tell anyone whether he or his members have any credentials that qualify them to pass such harsh judgment on their marks.

Morrow is one of the few critics of Perverted-Justice willing to go on the record. Naturally, when reputations are ruined at the drop of a hat, naysayers are reluctant to identify themselves; why should they list their names, they argue, when Von Erck and other PJ members lack the courage to list theirs?

A married Tempe businessman and current CJ member in his mid-20s says he, like Morrow, was at first impressed with the Perverted-Justice site. "My initial feelings were pretty good. I was like, 'a site that actually preys on online predators!'" He says he soon came to the conclusion, however, that the harm PJ does greatly outweighs the good.

"Good concept, lousy execution, and the results they obtain are slim to none," he says. "They harass people to no end, call them 'baby rapers,' ruin their lives by contacting their families and places of work . . . the extent they take it to is ridiculous."


PJ hopes to take things even further. In the future, it wants to expand what has been its very limited role in law enforcement by somehow managing to get a higher percentage of its victims prosecuted.

Here's Von Erck bragging about his organization's activities:

"Since November 2003, 19 individuals have been arrested and/or charged with crimes based upon our files. We currently have 15 ongoing court cases pending verdicts. Our two resolved cases both resulted in convictions." Since Von Erck posted those comments, he says, arrests have risen to 23, and now there are three convictions.

But Von Erck doesn't seem to value the fundamental difference between getting arrested and actually being charged with a crime, since police officers are frequently overruled by prosecutors with law degrees. So who knows how many of the 23 cases cited by the conveniently reclusive Von Erck resulted in charges? And what does it mean when he says 15 cases are "pending verdicts?" In Von Erck's estimation, whenever PJ makes even the most bogus of busts, it is pending a court's ruling.

The only sure thing about his statement is that PJ's methods have resulted in just three successful prosecutions in two years. And even if it had been able to hand authorities another 15 prosecutions on a silver platter -- out of more than 690 so-called "busts" -- that's a pretty lousy success record.

Von Erck goes on to say that his organization has agreements in two states (which ones, he's not saying) to share information gathered on an individual before posting it online. This, he thinks, would give cops a chance to react before the matter becomes public.

"With the agreement of proactive law enforcement," he muses, "we could potentially cover the entire United States, making public postings a thing of the past."

He says PJ is working on a "Data Center" project, which would allow police full access to all of the organization's files. Again, details -- at least those he's willing to share with the public -- are as sketchy as his identity.

And what does law enforcement think about Von Erck and his band of do-gooders?

Phoenix Police Sergeant Frank Kardasz, who teaches a course on Internet crime at Rio Salado College and is a member of the U.S. Attorney General's Arizona Child Exploitation Law Enforcement Subcommittee, says police cooperation with cyber-vigilantes is a scary proposition.

Kardasz argues that police are careful to positively identify a suspect before an arrest, something cyber-vigilantes do not often accomplish. He says physical confrontations with Internet vigilantes could occur if they get in the way of authorities during an arrest.

 

His point is that law enforcement is best left to sworn police officers.

Having TV media present during a real bust is dicey, he says. "If [a mark's] picture is splashed across the television during his trial by media, his reputation will likely be ruined, and he may be in physical jeopardy from viewers who may want to take the law into their own hands."

If police were to get involved based on sketchy information from a group such as Peverted-Justice, officers could "be named in the plaintiffs' later slander and false-arrest lawsuits."

Rachel Wilson, spokesperson for Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's office, says PJ members might be the first ones sued. Although they are acting within the law by posing as teenage girls, she says, PJ members are "opening themselves up for civil litigation" when they post a victim's personal information on the Web.

The antics of cyber-vigilantes may make it much more difficult to prosecute a case in court. Computer hard drives could be seized for use as evidence by defense attorneys, Kardasz says.

If a vigilante has been the victim of a sex crime -- as many of PJ's contributors claim they have -- this may make their actions less-than-credible to a court of law. If an arrest were to occur during a TV station's sweeps week, that also could be used to tarnish a case.

He says entrapment claims can make cases especially difficult to criminally prosecute: "Juries will not look favorably upon cyber-vigilantes who suggest or encourage sex acts."

Recently, PJ found two of its contributors in a Minnesota courtroom for just that reason. A lawyer for Thomas Cison, whom PJ had targeted, asked the court for a restraining order against Red Baroness and Beef the Troll (their real names are Jim and Toby Schweitzer). The Schweitzers had lured Cison into sexually provocative repartee with a minor.

The suit also called for information that PJ posted about Cison to be removed from its Web site. Cison is awaiting a judge's decision.

Added to the Perverted-Justice site in April, here's a sample of what was said during Cison's PJ bust:

Cison: so do you like guys ur age, or older men??

PJ: i like men not boys lol.

Cison: well im a man definitely.

PJ: im sure u are lol.

Cison: i am, im all man.

Cison: you should meet me lol.

PJ: ooh babie lol.

Cison: you wanna meet me lol???

Cison: :)

PJ: is that a yes??

Cison: i dont see whay nott.

Although Cison was cleared by police, his attorney says his entire family has been the target of intense harassment.

"Hang-up calls and a threat to kill my client were left on voice mail," says Phil Villaume, Cison's attorney. "PJ is a vigilante group, according to law enforcement. They are working outside the law."

Villaume says that, despite the damage PJ has caused in so many people's lives, Cison seems to be the first person who has fought back in court. "People are afraid to stand up to these people," the attorney says. "These people are very, very dangerous. Anybody else who is being stalked and harassed should take legal action against them."

But most of PJ's victims don't have the luxury of having been cleared by authorities. As the statistics prove, cops rarely get involved in the organization's busts. PJ's victims are hounded by faceless, nameless assailants who phone and e-mail everyone the mark knows.

Despite Von Erck's claims that the organization is hugely law-abiding, PJ doesn't adhere to the legal requirement that, in all but the most unusual of cases, an alleged criminal must be faced by his accusers. It makes its own rules.


Twenty-one-year-old Steve, another Phoenix man, is testament to how much PJ’s marks are at the vigilante group’s mercy.

Steve quickly learned how messy it can be to fool around suggestively online, where even a fantasy can get you in trouble with PJ’s thought police who pose as underage girls.

Steve: we’ll start with making out and move from there

PJ: kewl. i like to kiss. then what are we gonna do. im gettin xcited. lol.

PJ: ur hella cute

Steve: you look good too.

(The PJ operative and the mark usually exchange scanned-in photographs of each other.)

Steve: next il probably start rubbin your tits and fingering you.

PJ: kewl . . . then what?

 

Steve: hmm . . . do you give head?

PJ: yeah but i dont know if i am very good at it yet.

Steve: well we can 69 and you can practice.

PJ: oh kewl i never done that b4

The online conversation continued for about an hour. PJ promised to call Steve later.

And it certainly did.

Shortly after his bust, Steve was confronted in a chat room by PJ member “jennyd_68,” who wanted to talk with him about his “problem.” Their Internet conversation was posted in a PJ follow-up forum:

Steve: My approach to the Internet is different than yours. I come online to do what I want and say what I want anonymously, never moving beyond the Internet.

He goes on to say that girls lead him on all the time, and he does the same to them.

Steve: Maybe that’s my problem, lack of respect, but not having sex with minors.

Jenny argues back: “But lack of respect, Steve, doesn’t cause a guy to talk like this, with a child. If it was an adult, we wouldn’t care . . . it’s kids we are talking about. No matter how anonymous you feel online, I’ll never understand how that = it’s ok to talk sex with children.

Steve tries to explain that just because someone says she is a certain age on the Internet doesn’t mean she is telling the truth.

Steve: I agree, Jenny, but understand, I have come across plenty of phonies online. In my mind they are all fake. I agree that speaking like this to children is wrong, but I had nothing to prove to me she was who she said she was . . . then I got creeped out. Then boom this happens.

Jenny: So wouldn’t you think it would be safer to assume that it IS a child, if they say they are?

Steve: Yes, i do, very much so . . . but i don’t have all these things goin’ thru my mind. I’m a 21-year-old student who parties more than he studies, and I don’t assume these things, mainly because I dont have a son or daughter to fear for.

Jenny: What if you did have a little girl, Steve? And a guy your age wanted to do those things with her? What would you do? Honestly?

Steve: I would be angry, but this is like a war on drugs, are you gonna rid the world of these people? And make the world safe again? I like where you are coming from, but the approach is wrong. I agree with all your base intentions. But doing it online based on profiles and info you believe to be true isn’t very solid, and although you may have crushing methods of getting your point across, its not the right way, because I am not that person you are fighting against. But because I talked to your person, I am caught up in this.

Von Erck says PJ’s tactics — the phone calls, the e-mails, the ruining of lives — are warranted: “It’s no different than watching a guy proposition a teen in a park and then putting up warnings in the community about the individual.”

Von Erck claims he officially condemns harassment. What is done in the follow-up forums is simply “the will of the people,” he maintains.

“There is no right to privacy,” he insists, acting as judge, jury and constitutional expert, “when you’re attempting to solicit a minor.”


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