COLUMNIST CHARGED IN SLAYING OF FORMER PRESIDENT
Big Springs, December 26, 2015 –
Federal agents today arrested Tony Russell, local political satirist and blogger, for his role in the state-style execution of former president George W. Bush. Russell is alleged to be the mastermind behind a column detailing the former president’s death by lethal injection.
Neighbors describe the accused as an eccentric recluse, given to wandering area hills at night, accompanied by a pack of dogs and armed with a rifle.
Responding early on to charges that his column was “over the edge,” Russell contended that he was the victim of “an innocent navigational error.”
“I didn’t think my instruments were working properly,” he said. “When the Bush administration gave us shackled prisoners set upon by dogs, nursing home residents abandoned to drown as flood waters rose, civilians burned to death by bombardments with white phosphorus, and suspects kidnapped off foreign streets to be tortured in Poland and Rumania, I thought my moral compass was out of whack. I had no idea I was sailing so close to the edge.”
Readers worldwide were horrified by the column, which appeared on December 15. One veteran crime reporter called it a “copycat killing,” noting parallels with news accounts of the 2005 California execution of convicted slayer Stanley “Tookie” Williams.
Editors and publishers around the country have moved swiftly to distance themselves from the growing scandal. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post have all announced that Russell’s column will no longer appear on their editorial pages.
The publisher of the Hur Herald released a statement late this afternoon deploring the incident, saying that the graphic images and brutal behavior depicted in the column were the work of “a single bad apple.”
“It is not our corporate policy to execute presidents or former presidents,” he said. “Our policy with presidents has always been ‘Live and let live.’” He promised an immediate investigation as to how the presidential fatality could have occurred on the Herald’s pages.
In a Newsweek/CBS poll taken shortly after the column appeared, respondents were divided on why they found it so objectionable:
· 41% felt it was the prerogative of presidents and governors to execute, not political columnists;
· 54% objected to graphic details in the account, saying executions are palatable in reality but distasteful in fiction;
· 58% recoiled from any comparison of the impoverished, poorly educated, disadvantaged black co-founder of the Crips with a wealthy, well-educated, privileged white ex-governor and -president;
· 73%--by far the largest group—felt that it was unpatriotic to imagine a president held accountable for deaths he has caused, in effect treating him like any other citizen.
Media critic Ben Warmwiener suggests that Russell would have done well to follow his victim’s example. During Gulf War II, then-President Bush had casualties flown in at night to remote corners of airfields, prohibited photographs of the flag-draped coffins, controlled media coverage of the war through a system of “embedded reporters,” and declined to attend funerals for the thousands of slain troops, all to avoid arousing the public.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” said Warmwiener. “If Russell had simply executed Mr. Bush in the privacy of his own mind, rather than on the editorial pages of millions of newspapers, nothing would have been said about it.”
Russell, however, has repeatedly insisted that he was not calling for Bush’s execution in the column, but was only using depictions of state-sponsored murder, as treated in the mainstream media, to make another point.
His column paralleled reports on Williams’s execution, he has claimed, to raise doubts about the fairness of a system that ruthlessly executes one man, who may or may not have been guilty of causing four deaths, and honors another man, responsible for twenty-five thousand times as many killings, not to mention the maiming and mutilation of thousands more.
“I’m firmly opposed to capital punishment,” Russell has argued. “The column was really intended to raise a question, not offer a solution—specifically, why was Tookie Williams killed by the state, while Bush went untouched?”
“What does it take to make Bush’s victims real?” Russell is said to have asked. “More than one hundred thousand people—men, women, children, and babies—died because of him. Bush is just as guilty of their deaths as a thief would be who gunned people down in a stickup—which is what the war in Iraq was, on a grand scale.”
As he was led away, Russell shouted, ““I spoke the unthinkable; he did the unspeakable. I spilled ink; he spilled blood!”
Members of the Bush family retinue have rejected Russell’s claim as overly dramatic and special pleading. “He could have saved George Bush’s life with the flick of an eraser, with one brushstroke of WhiteOut®, with the merest use of the ‘Delete’ key, and he didn’t move a finger,” said James Baker. “He just left him to die on the page.”
“He knowingly brought death and the former president together in sentence after sentence,” said Martha Maples, 74. “I have no pity for him.”
Russell, referencing not just Gulf War II but Bush’s years as Texas governor, has noted that his column was hardly the first time death and the former president were joined in a sentence. While he was governor of Texas, Bush presided over the execution of 147 inmates.
Then-Governor Bush averaged killing slightly more than one prisoner every two weeks over a span of five years, including four juveniles (Joseph Cannon, Gary Graham, Robert Carter, and Glen McGinnis), three men who were mentally handicapped (Oliver Cruz, Terry Washington, and Charles Boyd), and two women (Karla Faye Tucker and Betty Lou Beets).
Bush may claim the honor of being the only governor in the history of the United States to execute a great-grandmother (Beets). The 38 prisoners he dispatched in the year 2000 were the most ever recorded in an American state. He is reported to have spent an average of five minutes per case reviewing records before rejecting pleas for clemency.
“This from a self-advertised ‘compassionate conservative’!” said Russell. “And people think I have a sense of irony!”
Those killed were disproportionately poor, disproportionately black, and disproportionately Hispanic. “Bush’s execution,” said Russell, “is one small step in creating a more inclusive balance. Let’s put things in proportion here,” he urged.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denounced Russell’s attempt to shift the focus of the case to deaths for which Bush was responsible, saying, “This is a classic example of blaming the victim.”
A plea of “temporary insanity” by the satirist appears foredoomed. Prosecutors plan to present as evidence a long series of Russell’s columns attacking Bush, tracing what they describe as “a rising trajectory of hostility and violence.”
Early on, they will claim, the columns were good-natured gibes at Bush’s policies and the corruption within his administration. Over time the columns grew shriller and more aggressive, calling first for Bush’s defeat, then for his impeachment, and eventually—in the charges just levied—for his execution. Russell’s most recent work, it is said, has brought the escalation to its logical culmination, envisioning Bush and his cronies roasting in Hell.
“It’s vile enough that he executed the former President,” said Rawgene Akers, 42, “but his greater crime is imagining the unimaginable, and enticing others to do the same.”
According to reports issuing from an unidentified detention facility, Russell has already admitted attempting to destroy the veil of respectability behind which politicians lie, steal, and plot mass murder with impunity.
Federal authorities deny that torture was used to extract Russell’s confession. One spokesman, however, speaking on condition of anonymity, has been quoted as saying, “It all depends on what you mean by ‘torture.’”
Defense attorneys are likely to claim that poor taste, in and of itself, is not sufficient legal grounds to warrant the death penalty. If Russell should be found guilty, with no recommendation for mercy, his own execution is likely to become a major media event.
Media critic Warmwiener says the reason Russell is floundering so badly is that he “has failed to grasp the underlying dynamic here. People rejected his execution column for the very same reason they turned a blind eye to Bush’s monstrous crimes in the first place. It’s that form of middle class denial we call ‘being nice.’
“It’s not ‘nice’ to say someone is a mass murderer,” says Warmwiener, “even when—as in this case—it happens to be true.”
Today’s arrest demonstrates the hard line approach to satire taken by successive Republican administrations. “He’ll find that we take it seriously when people make fun of us,” warned former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Russell will also find little sympathy from the current president, who has described the execution of Bush as “nothing less than regicide.” By a bizarre twist of fate, it was President Schwarzenegger who ten years ago rejected Tookie Williams’s plea for clemency, and gave the go-ahead for his execution.
© Tony Russell, 2006