Chris's Rants

Friday, August 26, 2005

And Justice for All

Former Nixon WH Counsel of Watergate fame, John Dean asks: Was Pat Robertson's Call For Assassination Of A Foreign Leader A Crime?.

Gosh, I certainly hope so. It would be sweet irony given the blatant violation of Christian doctrine of his statement. There's also plenty of irony that Dean calls out related to Robertson's "strict constructionist" position with regards to the courts and the interpretation of the relevant statutes that he identifies.

The American Taliban: Robertson, Dobson, Perkins and Fallwell (not to mention the already fallen Baker and Swaggart) are nothing but sophisticated hucksters with TV shows on cable. They are no more "Christian" or "men of faith" than my sneaker. They use religion as a tool to control the weak-minded and easily influenced. Heck, Robertson ran for President for crying out loud. Anyone who thinks for a minute that he isn't just a politician is a fool. Half his show is dedicated to Republican (the extreemist Evangelical right-wing flavor) policy wonkery... the juxtaposition of the religious and the political on these shows makes it clear that they are merely tools of the Republican establishment.

But enough ranting. Here are some of the highlights of the Dean article (emphasis mine):
On Monday, August 22, the Chairman of the Christian Broadcast Network, Marion 'Pat' Robertson, proclaimed, on his 700 Club television show, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez should be murdered.

More specifically, Robertson said, 'You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination,' referring to the American policy since the Presidency of Gerald Ford against assassination of foreign leaders, 'but if he [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop.'


Robertson found himself in the middle of a media firestorm. He initially denied he'd called for Chavez to be killed, and claimed he'd been misinterpreted, but in an age of digital recording, Robertson could not flip-flop his way out of his own statement. He said what he said.

By Wednesday, Robertson was backing down:

"I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out,'" Robertson claimed on his Wednesday show. "'Take him out' could be a number of things including kidnapping."

No one bought that explanation, either. So Robertson quietly posted a half apology on his website. It is only a half apology because it is clear he really does not mean to apologize, but rather, still seeks to rationalize and justify his dastardly comment.

From the moment I heard Robertson's remark, on the radio, I thought of the federal criminal statutes prohibiting such threats. Do they apply?

For me, the answer is yes. Indeed, had these comments been made by a Dan Rather, a Bill Moyers, or Jesse Jackson, it is not difficult to imagine some conservative prosecutor taking a passing look at these laws - as, say, Pat Robertson might read them -- and saying, "Let's prosecute."


Still, since the applicability of this misdemeanor statute is debatable, I will focus on the felony statute instead.

The Federal Threat Statute: Fines and Prison For Threats to Kidnap or Injure

It is a federal felony to use instruments of interstate or foreign commerce to threaten other people. The statute is clear, and simple. Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 875(c), states: "Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." (Emphases added.)

The interstate or foreign commerce element is plainly satisfied by Robertson's statements. Robertson's 700 Club is listed as broadcasting in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia, not to mention ABC Family Channel satellites which cover not only the United States but several foreign countries as well. In addition, the program was sent around the world via the Internet.


If you have not seen the Robertson threat, view it yourself and decide. Robertson's manner, his choice to return to the subject repeatedly in his discourse, and the seriousness with which he stated the threat, all strike me as leading strongly to the conclusion that this was a true threat. Only media pressure partially backed him off. And his "apology" is anything but a retraction.

Will Robertson be investigated or prosecuted by federal authorities? Will he be called before Congress? Will the President, or the Secretary of State, publicly chastise Robertson? Are those three silly questions about a man who controls millions of Republican votes from Christian conservatives?
Frankly, I think he's been given a pass by the MSM because they fear that Evangelicals will cry "persecution" again and mount a boycot. In fact, I think that the reason that the Republican and Democratic establishment's reaction to his statement has been so tepid is because they too are afraid of the consequences.


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