Monday, March 25, 2019

A Libertarian Take on the Extortion Charge Against Michael Avenatti

Michael Avenatti,
As reported here, Michael Avenatti, along with other charges, has been charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike Inc.

Should extortion be considered a violation of the non-aggression principle?

Absolutely not.

I direct readers to Chapter 6, "The Blackmailer," of Walter Block's groundbreaking 1976 book (that even shook Hayek), Defending the Undefendable: The Pimp, Prostitute, Scab, Slumlord, Libeler, Moneylender, and Other Scapegoats in the Rogue's Gallery of American Society:

The chapter begins:
At first glance it is not hard to answer the question, “Is blackmail really illegitimate?” The only problem it would seem to pose is, “Why is it being asked at all?” Do not blackmailers, well . . . blackmail people? And what could be worse? Blackmailers prey on people’s dark hidden secrets. They threaten to expose and publicize them. They bleed their victims, and often drive them to suicide.
We will find, however, that the case against the blackmailer cannot stand serious analysis; that it is based upon a tissue of unexamined shibboleths and deep philosophical misunderstandings.
What, exactly, is blackmail? Blackmail is the offer of trade. It is the offer to trade something, usually silence, for some other good, usually money. If the offer of the trade is accepted, the blackmailer then maintains his silence and the blackmailee pays the agreed-upon price. If the blackmail offer is rejected, the blackmailer may exercise his rights of free speech and publicize the secret. There is nothing amiss here. All that is happening is that an offer to maintain silence is being made. If the offer is rejected, the blackmailer does no more than exercise his right of free speech.
The sole difference between a gossip and a blackmailer is that the blackmailer will refrain from speaking—for a price. In a sense, the gossip is much worse than the blackmailer, for the blackmailer has given the blackmailee a chance to silence him.
Of course, Avenatti is also charged with using client funds which is a different issue, more detail is required to understand the nature of this charge. But as far as the extortion allegation, from a libertarian NAP perspective, the charge should be dropped.



From the comments, I see there is some confusion over the charge of extortion and my quotes from Dr. Block on blackmail. While the government has technically charged Avenatti with "extortion," they are either using blackmail and extortion as synonyms or distorting the word extortion.

What Avenatti was doing is threatening to reveal a secret. This is what Block defends as a non-violation of the NAP. Avenatti was not threatening to burn down Nike stores if he wasn't paid money. This would have been a violation of the NAP. Avenatti was clearly doing the first, though there would be ramifications from such just like there could be ramifications because of a gossip revealing a secret.

I am not a lawyer so I don't know if prosecutors are trying to pull a fast one by using the term extortion or if blackmail and extortion are synonymous in a legal sense.

Regardless, Avenatti was charged with "extortion" when he did not violate the NAP.

My conclusion stands:
As far as the extortion allegation, from a libertarian NAP perspective, the charge should be dropped.


  1. Some forms of extortion are certainly violations of the non-aggression principle. Taxation, for example, is legalized extortion.

  2. You’re conflating extortion and blackmail. Extortion is definitely an NAP violation.

  3. Technically Avenatti's actions should fall under the definition of blackmail, not extortion.

    1. Correct, Eppes fails to understand the sense in which government is using the word extortion. They are using it as a synonym for blackmail. There was no coercion on Avenatti's part.