This post was inspired by an email question from Wayne and a comment from Martin, both of whom asked what crimes The Mandarin could be charged with. Beware: the answer requires massive spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it.
We don’t normally do posts of the “list all the crimes the villain could be charged with” type, since the serious ones such as murder are usually obvious, and for any major villain such a post would quickly become tedious to write and read. But Iron Man 3’s Mandarin is different for reasons that should be clear to anyone that has seen the movie. And here again I’ll warn that what follows is a huge spoiler.
Okay, in case you haven’t seen the movie but still want to read this post for some reason, here’s why The Mandarin from the movie is different: he’s an actor hired to play a role, not a villain. There is no terrorist plot. The explosions were accidental deaths caused by Extremis users that either “couldn’t regulate” or who suffered the deadly side-effects of the injection. The Mandarin was just a smokescreen designed to distract from what A.I.M. was really doing, which was setting up the kidnapping and assassination of the President so that the Vice President (now the new President) could give A.I.M. carte blanche to pursue…whatever it wanted to do, ultimately.
So given that The Mandarin was claiming credit for a bunch of “bombings” that he wasn’t actually responsible for, and that he never personally killed anyone (including, apparently, the accountant), what could he be charged with?
I. Sex, Drugs, and Video Calls
To start with, there are the drug charges, since simple possession is a crime. In Florida it also appears that The Mandarin may also be guilty of various vice crimes despite the women having been provided for him by others. That’s assuming they were indeed prostitutes and not, I dunno, A.I.M. groupies or something.
Then there’s the accountant I mentioned earlier. I’m talking about the Roxxon Energy accountant that The Mandarin threatened—and then apparently shot—during his video call with the President. What The Mandarin could be charged with depends on whether the accountant was also an actor or not. If he wasn’t an actor, then The Mandarin could be charged with some kind of assault, since the accountant was in fear of his life. He couldn’t be charged with attempted murder, however, since The Mandarin knew that the gun he was holding was fake, or at least that the bullets were.
But even if the “accountant” was in on it, there’s 18 USC 875(b), making it a pretty serious crime (up to 20 years imprisonment) to demand (across state lines) something of value (e.g. a phone call from the President) by threatening to injure another person. There’s no requirement that the threat actually be legitimate. There may also be an applicable Florida statute related to making a criminal threat.
II. Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes
Something Wayne specifically wanted to know about was terrorism. Most of the federal terrorism laws as such are about attacks against US nationals abroad. However, there are some domestic ones. For example, 18 USC 2332f covers bombings of places of public use, government facilities, etc. The explosion at the theater might have qualified except that 2332f requires a level of intent (e.g. intent to cause destruction of such a place where such destruction is likely to result in major economic loss) that wasn’t present; I think the guy who blew up did so accidentally. Similarly, the attack on Stark’s home wasn’t really a public place. It was an isolated private residence.
Of course, then A.I.M. went and a) kidnapped the Iron Patriot in Pakistan and b) killed a bunch of people on Air Force One and kidnapped the President and c) attempted to kill the President.
(a) is definitely international terrorism. It’s a violent act that would be a violation of the laws of the US or of any state if committed domestically, appear to be intended “to affect the conduct of a government by … kidnapping”, and occurred outside the territorial boundaries of the United States. That’s just a definition, though, not a specific crime. Since Iron Patriot wasn’t seriously injured when he was kidnapped, the actual kidnapping might be a little hard to qualify as a crime in the US.
(b) is all kinds of murder, kidnapping, etc.
(c) is attempted murder and more.
Tying (a), (b), and (c) back to The Mandarin, however, is slightly tricky but I think doable. One common route is conspiracy, which requires an agreement to commit a crime. But The Mandarin didn’t agree to help A.I.M. test Extremis, and all the videos were made after the fact. It’s hard to agree to commit a crime when the crime has already happened.
But The Mandarin could be an
accomplice accessory after the fact. He helped A.I.M. get away with its crimes by providing an elusive scapegoat. He certainly knew that there was criminal activity going on. His claim was only that he wasn’t directly involved. But that’s not enough. Actively helping conceal a crime or actively helping a criminal avoid detection by the police is definitely the kind of thing that can result in accessory liability. That’s a crime on its own.
More importantly, after his first coverup job, The Mandarin had an ongoing relationship with A.I.M.. He knew what his job was and he agreed to keep doing it. At that point his liability becomes that of an accomplice, putting him on the hook for the same crimes as the principals, including murder, kidnapping, and attempted murder. [This paragraph was added and the previous paragraph edited in response to a comment, pointing out an error in the original post.]
The comments also mentioned racketeering. A.I.M. is certainly an organization, and it certainly committed multiple acts of kidnapping and murder (and probably also bribery, theft, and who knows what else), so as a member of A.I.M. (in the criminal organization sense, not the think tank) The Mandarin could be charged with racketeering as well.
It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for The Mandarin. He made something of a Faustian bargain: all the sex and drugs he could handle, and he got to play a bigger acting role than he ever had before, but he had to make a deal with the metaphorical devil to get it. Since most of the people involved with A.I.M. and its plot are dead or were already convictable based on other evidence, I’m not sure he’ll even be able to get very far by cooperating with the authorities. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in jail. Maybe he’ll end up in one with a prison Shakespeare program.