R.I.P. Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013

Originally published inThe Baffler on January 12, 2013.

The Baffler’s contributing editor Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11. Only 26 years old, Aaron’s accomplishments, both technical and political, were stunning, as detailed elsewhere. And his interests and talents were amazingly diverse, as displayed on his blog, Raw Thought.

To us, he was a friend, colleague, and inspiration. He loved The Baffler, instantly saw the point of reviving it, and played an indispensable role in making that happen. He began working with us in 2010, just weeks after our headquarters moved to Cambridge, and continued steadily through the rebuilding in 2011 and the publication of three new issues in 2012. His sudden death cuts short our discussions of a greater and more permanent role for him, a prospect he appeared to relish—“Yeah, definitely interested,” he wrote on December 29. “I’ve been swamped with holiday stuff, but should have more time starting the 7th.”

Aaron’s contributions, whether technical advice or editorial suggestions and admonitions, showed his incisive intelligence, political passion, and sweet humor. His nature was evident to everyone who worked with or near him. (His presence at the dinner table invariably made the editor’s little daughter blush with giddy adoration.) And so we seethed at news of his indictment by a bullying federal prosecutor bent on criminalizing his political activism. In July 2011, several days after the indictment, we wrote:

The real purpose of the indictment is to terrorize advocates for open access at a time when corporations and their allies in government feel themselves under siege by hackers. Aaron, then, offers an excellent opportunity for the government to reassert its role as a security service for powerful institutions and their clients, a role that it’s been bungling of late. Threatening him with a long detention signals a coming counter-offensive against the more democratic culture for which he and others like him stand, and once again illustrates the Obama administration’s awful zeal for prosecuting whistleblowers and anti-secrecy activists. The U.S. Attorney should withdraw the indictment, apologize to Aaron and his family, and busy her office with real criminals.

Aaron, alas, spent his last days hounded by a prosecutor determined to make an example of him. He was probably the sweetest and gentlest person we knew. We loved him, and we miss him already.