Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz took his own life, but he was really "killed by the government," his father Robert Swartz told mourners Tuesday during his son's funeral near Chicago, the Associated Press reported.
Swartz, 26, helped to develop RSS as a teenager and co-founded the news and entertainment website Reddit and fiercely opposed crackdowns on Internet freedom. He helped create the technology behind blogs, podcasts and other types web-based subscription services.
But his short yet momentous life was brought to a tragic end when he was found dead in his New York apartment Friday after he hanged himself.
The Internet genius had been facing federal charges, including 13 felonies, over allegedly obtaining illegal access to millions of academic journal articles from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer archive, JSTOR.
Assistant U.S. Attorney for Boston Stephen P. Heymann hounded the Internet innovator, said Swartz's girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, 31.
“Steve Heymann had shown no interest in justice,” she told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “His only interest was a notch on his belt, another young kid he could claim to put away. But I think as the case wore on, as it became clearer how weak his case was, he became more and more of a bully.”
She added, “I also hope that, frankly, Steve Heymann should lose his job. Aaron’s not the first person he’s tried to do this to. And MIT needs to implement serious policy changes, because MIT could have stopped this. They could have stopped this cold in its tracks by saying they were not the victims of a crime, and they didn’t do that.”
Swartz’s father said during his son’s rites at a Highland Park, Ill., synagogue that Aaron was "hounded by the government, and MIT refused him," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles," he said.
Swartz’s trial was set to begin in April where he was facing charges that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Two cyberluminaries, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Safra Center for Ethics, also spoke at Swartz’s funeral.
"We felt the indictment was nonsense and that he would be acquitted," Berners-Lee told reports after the service.
Reddit users are outraged by Swartz’s death, with many in the online community viewing him as a martyr to government prosecution:
“Today is the funeral of Aaron Swartz, who contributed so much to the launch of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and our technology during our first 20 months,” the group said in an email to reporters. “His suicide followed an overzealous prosecution for a crime with no victims -- by a Justice Department that has yet to prosecute the Wall Street bankers who destroyed our economy and harmed millions of lives. Our hearts go out to Aaron’s family and partner.”
His family took to his memorial website to speak about the injustice surrounding Swartz’s death:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office and at MIT contributed to his death. The U.S. Attorney’s Office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”
“Aaron wanted so badly to change the world,” Stinebrickner-Kauffman, said at the service while choking back tears. “He wanted it more than money. He wanted it more than fame.
“When things are hard -- and he said it is the important things that are hard, you have to lean into the pain. With his trial and what he is facing the last two years, he finally fell into the pain," she said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Internet pioneer’s death may not be in vain, as House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is investigating the Justice Department’s prosecution of Swartz.
“I’m not condoning his hacking, but he’s certainly someone who worked very hard,” Issa told the Huffington Post. “Had he been a journalist and taken that same material that he gained from MIT, he would have been praised for it. It would have been like the Pentagon Papers.”
Though Issa didn’t have enough information yet to say whether the government had excessively prosecuted Swartz, he did reveal that he had sent out an investigator to gather more facts.
Meanwhile, the hacktivist group Anonymous had vowed to block the notorious Westboro Baptist Church after they threatened to protest at the Reddit co-founder’s funeral.
"GOD H8S Cyber Criminal THUGS,” the church had said in a press release on Sunday.
A crowd reportedly showed up in front of the funeral home for Swartz’s service to block WBC, but no one was there.
“Before discussing the operation, there is something that needs to be said to Aaron's family and his friends: We're sorry," Anonymous said in a statement. "It is likely that our continuous condemnation and attacks against this cult is the very reason Aaron is being targeted by them. We would do anything to stop them from attending Aaron's services. Aaron deserves peace and we will not allow this cult to overpower what should be the media's focus, the monsters at DOJ who ruthlessly targeted your son."