We've had a lot of fun with Nazis on this site and I don't want any of my younger readers to get the impression that Nazism is fun or something to try at home. Nazism isn't cool guys, and you'll just wind up getting hurt.
That disclaimer aside, I shouldn’t let too much time pass before I comment on it, something I do all too often with this little blog, but I was kind of disturbed by the 40 year sentence imposed on white supremacist leader Matthew Hale, the Chicago area supervillain PreppieNazi. Matt Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison for conspiring to murder a Chicago judge, the same judge whose family was killed, many months later in an unrelated incident. Hale is an undeniably bad person, an enemy of freedom, as W would say. And conspiring to murder people is a bad thing, for which you should indeed go to prison.
But here’s the thing, I think he’s completely innocent. At least that’s the impression I got from scanning the press reports at the time of the trial and since. The evidence was basically recordings of him with his “security chief” who was a government mole saying things like this:
GOVERNMENT MOLE: So we should kill that judge right?
PREPPIENAZI: Hmm…What was that you were saying earlier about how Jews are bloodsuckers? I really agreed with that.
The prosecutor pretty much admitted what a flimsy case it was, and openly said that Hale was a shifty operator and the jury had to read between the lines to see the true nefarious intent. Now, I’m no fancy big city lawyer (like Fritz) but that really isn’t my understanding of how it’s supposed to work. It’s supposed to be beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt. What it’s really about is wanting someone to blame for the Benjamin Smith murder spree and the recent Lefkow killings, the killers in both cases are dead, but we’ve got this guy who’s alive and an asshole so let him rot and maybe people will think we’ve done something about the racial injustices in our society by taking a bold anti-Neo Nazi stand.
Absent any real evidence of his guilt in the alleged conspiracy, it seems an awful lot like we’re sending someone to prison for his beliefs. We’re not supposed to do that. These jackasses get off on fantasies of martyrdom and persecution and we’re feeding those fantasies by incarcerating him. Truthfully, I think it is indeed possible that he encouraged the psychotic Smith to kill, cynically knowing he’d be safe, and able to reap the rewards of the publicity in the aftermath. I may think that, but I can’t prove it, and neither could the Justice Department, which is why they trumped up the Lefkow thing.
My idealism about America comes from a number of corny sources, not the least of which, as always, is DC Comics. Superheroes know how important it is to Get the Bad Guys, but they also know that there’s a Right and a Wrong Way to do it. The good guys Play by the Rules. This is taken to rather absurd extremes in comics, like Batman or someone really should have killed the Joker by now, but in general, I believe playing by the rules is a sound principle. It is in fact synonymous with having principles. We defend the rights of those we hate and that’s what makes Us different from Them and all that clichéd but true stuff.
I have to admit I felt kind of sorry for him when he pleaded the injustice of the sentence, but I’m such a bleeding heart I remember feeling sorry for Jeffrey Dahmer.
I have the night off from Macbeth tonight, the first night off in a really long time. I think I might traipse through a bookstore. I haven’t done that in ages. For an extended period anyway…
It reminds me of the Simpsons bit where Sideshow Bob says "I'm in prison for a crime I didn't even commit! Attempted murder, what is that? Do they give the Nobel Prize for 'attempted chemistry'?"
I'm sure that the lawyer referenced in this post will be truly touched at being referenced in such a positive manner!
But to the issues. I agree that the Hale sentencing seems motivated by the man's despicable beliefs. 40 years is a sentence usually reserved for truly heinous criminals who go beyond conspiracy and actually bring the crime to fruition. (Leaving aside the fact that conspiracy is, in fact a crime - there are actual murderers who get out in less time than 40 years.)
This underscores my whole problem with the understandable but misguided effort to punish "hate crimes." There is no practical way to convict someone of such a crime without getting inside their head and figuring out what they think, and then proceeding to judgment from there. This opens the door to a slippery slope which could result in the punishment of any number of belief systems thought to be disagreeable by the majority. And what is popularly held to be "disagreeable" can change fairly quickly. The Hale sentence will likely be reduced on appeal, but unfortunately white supremacists will have themselves a martyr for the forseeable future.