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Comment Neon beer sign enthusiasts beware: you're next. Two men have been arrested and arraigned for hanging the signs that started Wednesday's bomb scare in Boston.

Picture of Mooninite lightboard

Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, have been charged with creating a hoax leading to public disorder and disorderly conduct by Boston's District Attorney. The hoax charge is a felony, the disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. While charges formally came Thursday, the threatening signs had been hanging over the heads of Bostonians like little swords of Damocles for two or three weeks before anyone mistook them for al-Qaeda handiwork.

City and state officials seem to want to continue unwittingly hitting this piñata of comedy. Boston mayor Thomas Menino at one point cited "corporate greed" as the culprit, while Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick took the ironic route of saying that Wednesday's events were "not funny".

The only part of this debacle that lacks for humor is the manner in which blame is being assigned. While authorities are seeking remunerative compensation from Turner, so far no legal action has been taken against Turner or its advertising company for their enterprising guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the adult cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

In recent weeks, identical devices were placed in ten American cities. But only Boston went ballistic. Instead of owning up to the fact that this was a monumental mistake by Boston authorities, every public figure involved seems to want to take the most punitive measures possible, against the two easiest scapegoats. In no case is this more prescient than Berdovsky's: he is a Belarusian citizen on visa who is applying for asylum in the United States.

Heavy price

Under federal law, a non-citizen convicted of any crime of moral turpitude or aggravated felony in the United States is subject to deportation, and asylum is generally not granted in crimes with terrorist implications. Even if Berdovsky were given some kind of court-authorized plea bargain which would allow him not to be convicted, acknowledgment of complicity in a crime is tantamount to a conviction under federal immigration statutes, and would still lead to deportation. The only recourse Berdovsky would have is to either go to trial and be found not guilty or to have the state drop its case against him entirely.

Without even addressing the merits of Berdovsky's asylum case, this much is clear: asylum application is serious business. Often, those applying for asylum are only doing so because to return to their home countries would mean imprisonment, torture, or death. Here, because the state feels embarrassed, it is taking legal action against someone who, in all likelihood, had no intention of creating a hoax bomb scare. He was merely doing an advertising job that he was paid to do. This outcome probably never occurred to him. And in a knee-jerk reaction, state and local authorities are exacting what could be a heavy price over a misunderstanding.

There is a deeper implication with regard to how a post-9/11 America reckons with its own identity. Boston has decided, even knowing the circumstances of this advertising trick, that the people who did this should be punished despite their more obvious intentions to promote a television program. It rises to a level above censorship, because now state and local authorities have decided that a human being's health and welfare should potentially suffer because he has unintentionally expressed himself in a way that might possibly be construed as dangerous.

The trend that this shows in American thinking resembles McCarthyism, only stupider. The government has ceased with even the formality of asking questions, instead deciding to take the most punitive route possible before undertaking a half-hearted search for truth. What happened in Boston Wednesday is utterly amusing. Surely the road to Gitmo is paved with equally amusing anecdotes. ®

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