‘Every Totalitarian Movement Needs a Bogeyman’: Sex Worker and Author Maggie McNeill Sounds Off About the Government’s Pillorying of Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin

Color head shot of Maggie McNeill
Maggie McNeill, author and advocate for sex workers' rights (photo by Megan Love)
Author and self-proclaimed unretired call girl Maggie McNeill decries the U.S. government's prosecution of veteran newspapermen Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin

Maggie McNeill possesses an intellect as acerbic as a vat of hydrochloric acid. Watching as it devours the objects of her scorn is one of the great pleasures of reading her blog, The Honest Courtesan, which she takes to daily to lay waste to the common idiocies of our age, including the numerous myths and misconceptions regarding sex work.

A self-professed unretired call girl herself, McNeill writes about her trade with authority, applying her skill as a wordsmith, an advanced education (including a master’s degree in library science), and a vast knowledge of the history of sex work and the annals of academic research into same.

McNeill’s writing has appeared in the online journals published by two of this country’s most prominent libertarian think tanks, the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute. She’s a go-to source for reporters in search of experts on sex work. Her March 2014 Washington Post essay, “Lies, damned lies and sex work statistics,” stands as perhaps the best rebuttal ever to the prevarications that so-called abolitionist groups peddle about prostitution. It should be required reading for any journalist who attempts to tackle the topic.

All of which is prologue to “Changing the Rules,” a November 2, 2018, blog entry wherein McNeill succinctly chronicles the U.S. government’s ongoing effort to censor the internet by creating “‘sex trafficking’ hysteria, a resurrection of the moribund Satanic Panic using parts recycled from the ‘white slavery’ hysteria of a century before.”

Central to the government’s strategy: dismantling Backpage.com and demonizing its founders, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, whom the federal government seeks to put in prison for the rest of their lives. The longtime owners of the alt-weekly chain Village Voice Media, Lacey and Larkin developed Backpage to counter Craigslist, which had monopolized the market for classified ads, once the lifeblood of the newspaper industry.

Though Lacey and Larkin sold Backpage in 2015, the FBI seized the website on April 6, 2018. On that same day, agents raided the men’s homes, arresting them and seizing their personal property and financial assets. Indicting Lacey, Larkin, and five fellow defendants on charges of money laundering, conspiracy, and the promotion of prostitution.

Writes McNeill:

“Every totalitarian movement needs a bogeyman, and since the few escort service owners and small-time pimps the inquisitors were able to lock in cages were insufficient to sustain the required level of mindless hysteria, Backpage was chosen for that role after Craigslist took a dive.  Unfortunately for legions of busybodies, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were veteran newsmen of the old-time free speech variety, who insisted on defeating every single attempt to destroy them.  So naturally, the government simply changed the rules (egregiously violating the Constitution in the process) to make it impossible for them to win again, and hedged its bets by literally stealing everything they owned, setting a trial so far in the future anything that was missed in the raid would be used up, and even trying to deprive their victims of legal counsel.”

However, as McNeill further observes, the fight isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

She notes that Lacey and Larkin founded Front Page Confidential in September 2017 to explore issues surrounding free speech and the First Amendment, and that on October 25, this publication’s editor, Tom Finkel, announced a new section called “The Free Speech Rattler,” which will address the government’s unjust prosecution.

In conclusion, McNeill teased an upcoming column by Lacey that describes the circumstances of his arrest. And she reminds her readers that there are causes worth fighting for, “even against implacable and obscenely-powerful enemies who will do anything to win.”

For Further Reading:
“Beware the Free Speech Rattler”
“Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin Speak Out in Reason.com Profile”
“Federal Judge Denies Government Bid to Disqualify First Amendment Attorneys from Backpage Defense Team”

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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