Sunday, January 03, 2010

A modern day witch hunt.

This blog has covered how American sex laws have expanded to such a degree that hundreds of teens per year are incarcerated for what was once considered fairly normal behavior. The great irony of all this is that the laws in question found their genesis in a hysteria from a couple of decades ago, which used the mantra “its for the children” as its slogan.

The mid-to-late 1980s saw a hysteria literally sweep America. The claims were that thousands of children were being attacked sexually by secret satanic cells scattered across the United States. The news media actually bought into this B.S. and reported it with suitably horrified looks on their faces and a tinge of panic in their voice. Certain politicians flocked to the hysteria, as politicians are prone to do, demanding immediate action.

The most famous case was that of the McMartin Preschool. A woman with mental, as well as alcohol, problems claimed that her young son had been sodomized by her ex husband and by Ray Buckey, an employee of the school, run by his grandmother and mother. The woman also made claims that her dog was being sodomized, was diagnosed and hospitalized for acute paranoid schizophrenia and died from her drinking problems, all before the actual trial. None of this stopped the police who sent out a panicky letter to all McMartin parents telling them that molestation took place at the school. Horrified parents began questioning children, spreading the claims of the woman far and wide.

Hundreds of children were sent to an organization run by Kee McFarlane. Using techniques that have been criticized by professions, McFarlane was able to diagnose hundreds of children as victims. Therapeutic techniques were used that didn’t treat children for abuse, as much as convince them of it. Children, who had shown no symptoms of abuse prior to therapy, showed symptoms only after McFarlane and her team got their hands on them and subjected them to her form of therapy. The stories of the children were as bizarre as they were coerced. Kids told of sex orgies at a public car wash, Satanists running the local Episcopal Church, and secret tunnels beneath the school. Prosecutors even dug up the property to substantiate the stories but no such tunnels were ever found. In one incident, children claimed that actor Chuck Norris was a Satanist involved in abusing them.

ABC news local reporter Wayne Satz started the media hysteria on the case and continued reporting the “facts” even after he was sleeping with McFarlane. For seven years the trial dragged out costing taxpayers $15 million. In this case there were no convictions. Meanwhile agencies created to discover abuse saw their budgets increase ten-fold almost instantly.

But in other parts of the country the accused were not a lucky as the defendants in the McMartin case—if you can call what happened to them lucky. Not far from the McMartin case another hysteria was created in Bakersfield, California. A power-hungry, moralistic politician named Ed Jagels was the local prosecutor who got it in his thick skull that dozens of parents were involved in covens molesting children.

And that brings me to a new documentary that was recently released on DVD, entitled Witch Hunt. Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr produced this documentary that looked at the Bakersfield cases. Under interrogation by the police and social workers various children began pointing their fingers at adults in court, often against their own parents. Many of those adults were then convicted and given sentences for hundreds of years.

But almost immediately the children were trying to convince authority figures that they didn’t tell the truth. This documentary doesn’t just tell the story of the convicted, but of their accusers as well. These children, now adults, say they spent their entire life tormented by the guilt of having sent innocent people to prison; even though they were just children, coerced into lying in court by a zealous team of prosecutors and police. Those convictions ruined their lives as well. Yes, there was abuse. But, it wasn’t sexual; it wasn’t committed by the defendants. It was an abuse of children conducted by the U.S. justice system at the behest of one politician wanting to make a name for himself as “tough on crime” in order to win over conservative voters.

Nachman and Hardy got a call from the Innocence Project, an important private effort to exonerate individuals falsely convicted of crimes by our legal systems. The Project was working on the case of John Stoll. Stoll remembers the night of his arrest. He awoke to find police officers standing in his room. From that moment, for the next couple of decades, Stoll was a prisoner of the justice system. When Stoll was eventually exonerated he told Hardy and Nachman of dozens of other people who had been convicted in the same witch hunt.

The story told in this documentary is a frightening one. Innocent people are caught up in a politically induced hysteria, fed by an immoral new media. They are convicted and have their lives ripped apart. Over the next few decades the facts, swept under the rug because of the panic, come to light. More and more of the children demand to be heard and the way the authorities coerced false testimony from them comes to light. But the justice system is reluctant to admit error and some of the falsely convicted languished in prison long after it was known they were innocent.

Witch Hunt is a chilling look at the dangers of big government. Individuals like Ed Jagels are given immense power and power corrupts in every sense of the word. When it does it is the innocent who suffer the most. Witch Hunt exposes the suffering of the innocent. In this case the innocent are not just the men and women sentences to inhumane prison terms for crimes that didn’t even happen, it is also the children who were subjected to legal manipulation and coercion to falsely testify, and then left to live with the guilt of their actions.

I highly recommend Witch Hunt. It is 91 minutes and the best price for it, that I have found, is here. Below are excerpts. I suggest you get the full film yourself. It is one of the best new films for libertarians that I have found.

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