Best Gadflies

Concerned Citizens for Crystal City

The Concerned Citizens for Crystal City formed to oppose an iron smelter being proposed for their town in 2007 — and they ended up winning a victory not just for the environment, but for the First Amendment. That's because, after the group sued the city to block the plan, the smelter's developer intervened and somehow managed to persuade a Jefferson County judge that the group needed to reveal the identities behind as many 10,000 anonymous comments on their anti-smelter website. The tactic was clearly designed to intimidate critics of the smelter — and silence their free speech. But when the group resisted the ludicrously overbroad demands, the judge slapped them with sanctions and threw out their lawsuit against the city. Fortunately the Concerned Citizens refused to go away, and last fall the appellate court handed them a victory, concluding that the judge had overreached. Best of all: After the case went back to the circuit court, the attorneys for the developer withdrew from the case, saying they weren't getting paid. While the developer claims his smelter plans are still a go, he recently told the Post-Dispatch that he's "assembling funding" — four years after he first pitched the project. It's been a hard-fought battle, but it's increasingly looking as if the Concerned Citizens for Crystal City may end up winning not just the Battle for Internet Anonymity, but the whole damn war. These gadflies demonstrate that it's not always tilting at windmills. Sometimes, the good guys actually win.

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