Tonya Craft. Photo by Dennis Norwood, chattanoogan.com
In 2010, one of the few nationally publicized, child-sex abuse fiascoes of the new millennium, Georgia v. Tonya Craft1 resulted in an acquittal for a gradeschool teacher charged with more than twenty counts of child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, and aggravated child molestation. But the acquittal came only after Craft, family, friends, and supporters raised enough money for an adequate defense — in this case, $500,000, which included an inheritance, a refinanced home, and Craft’s own wedding ring.2 Statistically rare enough to make it one for the record books, the Craft trial is also a rare bright spot in the history of prosecutions of its type.3
Among hundreds of child-sex-abuse witch hunts in the 1980s and 90s, two examples alone — the alleged “child-sex rings” in Kern County, CA and in Wenatchee, WA — account for the arrest of over one hundred innocent people.4 Few among the accused were able to afford a private lawyer. None could have mounted a half-million-dollar defense. Most were dumped on underfunded public defenders facing cases of a number and magnitude they had never before experienced.5
False child sexual abuse cases, like any miscarriage of justice, are most successful when the accused are economically disadvantaged. I would like to say “poor” rather than “economically disadvantaged,” but “poor” is not wholly accurate. One does not need to be poor to suffer a witch trial (see Bibliography). One needs only to be unable to mount the requisite defense.6 Working-class wage-earners can hold three jobs and not be anywhere near prepared for the cost. Indeed, even among the darlings of politicians countrywide, America’s dreamy middle class, few would be prepared to face the full power of the State — which, given the purported popularity of being “tough on crime,” might see fit to allocate roughly 30 times as much financial resources to its state prosecutors than to its public defenders.7
When the accused cannot afford a defense commensurate with the magnitude of child sexual assault charges, they find themselves in particularly dire circumstances — though “dire” hardly describes it.8 Accused child molesters routinely face sentences of well over a century.9
Kern County, California
In the first Kern County cases alone, two couples tried simultaneously in Bakersfield, the Kniffens and McCuans, were convicted on more than 400 felony charges. The judge handed down individual sentences from 273 to 405 years, for a total of over 1,000 years. Although they were innocent, their convictions eventually overturned, the Kniffens and McCuans — four white, middle-aged working stiffs and loving parents — were incarcerated for fourteen years, eleven in maximum security prison, as unrepentant child rapists.11
The defendants’ economic status, however, affected more than their access to a defense commensurate with the charges against them. Rather than winning the defendants any sympathy, the defendants’ poor and working-class backgrounds prejudiced the prosecution, among others in Kern County.
“Though Kern County’s middle class values propriety and strives for respectability,” write Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker, “it must cope with an unruly multiracial underclass that keeps labor cheap and the criminal justice system busy. . . .”12 At the time of the sex-abuse panic, Kern County’s “unruly multiracial underclass” and the rest of the working-class and poor tended to cluster in sections of Bakersfield and in small towns outside the city limits. In towns like Weedpatch, or Oildale, “people derided as ‘rednecks’ by the city’s social climbers live in cramped, dilapidated, post-World War II housing13. . . . To the upper-middle-class professionals who prosecuted them, the defendants’ blue-collar lives suggested that they were immoral derelicts prone to committing the crimes they were charged with.”14
Not only prosecutors but investigating detectives, social workers, child protective services, and mental health professionals, aided by an uncritical media, were “united” in staging an “unprecedented crackdown” on the poor and working class — as well as fostering an unprecedented Panic that would soon spread not only from Kern County to the whole of California (cf. the McMartin Preschool trial), but throughout the U.S.,15 to Canada, to the U.K., and beyond.16
Given a groundless panic’s ability to spread across the globe, it is little surprise that Kern County prosecutors easily convinced juries and the public that their neighbors — in between jobs or picking up disability checks — had managed covertly to organize not one but several “child sex rings” — the largest of which involved seventy-seven children and at least sixty adults taking turns molesting and raping each other’s kids.17 Indeed, one after another, with alarming speed, innocent men and women were arrested — not for crimes they didn’t commit, we must also keep in mind, but for crimes that never occurred.
Against this collective hallucination, this backdrop of debauchery worthy of de Lancre, public defenders worked overtime — when they weren’t busy defending themselves from the public. California’s sweaty underbelly had been exposed. The Kniffens and McCuans were merely the first. There were plenty more where they came from . . . .18
Need it be said, the public defenders assigned to the cases proved no match for the prosecution. One prosecutor alone, Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels, was responsible for over two dozen wrongful convictions.19 “A rich kid from San Marino” hired by Kern County in 1975, Jagels “didn’t exactly resonate” with local decedents of the “Dust Bowl Okies and Arkies” who settled Bakersfield.20 Nonetheless, “Jagels found another way to get inside California’s insular farm belt,” according to the Los Angles Times — not by drawing attention to his “prep school pedigree” and his being raised by a “prominent lawyer dad and society page mom,” but by “highlighting the summers he spent as a cowboy on the family cattle spread.”21 Moreover, as in so many counties across the U.S., the monied Republican’s “tough-on-crime agenda” appealed to a broad demographic.
No doubt, Jagels’ background added an air of distinction to his closing arguments — even if, in hindsight, such a “pedigree” is confounded not only by Jagels’ ludicrous and patently false claims, but the fact that every last one of his twenty-six convictions later would be overturned.22 Moreover (and more ironic still), the cost of the fiscal conservative’s failed crusade would not “trickle down” but would “fall like an ocean”23 upon California’s taxpayers — not only the several million spent on the original trials and on the subsequent trials that overturned the original verdicts, but an additional $9.56 million “to settle state and federal suits brought by former defendants and their children.”24
Like the wealthy, powerful white men who orchestrated America’s first witch hunts, Ed Jagels escaped prosecution for his abuse of power. His collaborators also avoided prosecution, but some were unable to avoid accusations, and — again, as in several historic witch trials — the prosecution fell apart as tables were turned on prosecutors. In Kern County, “the children began accusing the very officials who supposedly were rescuing them. One child said that Deputy District Attorney Sara Ryals, who had prosecuted the first defendants in the case, was herself a sex abuser, baby killer, and member of the Satanic Church. Deputy Sheriff Bill Rutledge was also named, along with social worker Cori Taylor.”25
Interestingly, although the evidence against them was precisely the same as the evidence against all other suspects in Kern County — the stories of badgered and terrified children, uncorroborated by any evidence whatsoever — these new suspects were never arrested, much less tried and convicted. Instead, the allegations against Rutledge, Ryals, and Taylor were “discarded with no significant investigation and little documentation.”26
By contrast, at least thirty-six Kern County residents were convicted. Many served years in prison. Others, like the Kniffens and McCuans, served well over over a decade. In time (a phrase with special resonance for the wrongfully incarcerated) all but two convictions would be overturned. The remainder stuck only by default: two of the convicted died in prison.
To be sure, child sex-abuse witch hunts require more than elite prejudice against the working class and the poor.27 “Pedigreed” men like Ed Jagels still require the help of elected officials, civil servants, social agencies, and sundry community professionals, and require the silence (indifference, shared prejudice) of middle-class community members. With any “luck,” this in turn is met with silence from the poor and working class themselves. Indeed, support for Jagels’ crusade came not only from members of his tax bracket but from that motley crew called We the People. A Kern County jury, for their part, sentenced the Kniffens and McCuans to a shared millennium “without rereading any of the 13,000 pages of trial transcript” while “convicting each defendant on every one of more than 400 felony charges.28
When the rural, eastern Washington town of Wenatchee caught the child-sex panic in 1994, resulting in the arrest of sixty of the small community’s working-class, poor, and disabled, already more than a decade had already passed since the Kern County witch hunts. Aptly titled “Lives ruined because lessons ignored,” in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s excellent investigative special report published some years after the tragedy began, one article suggests that Wenatchee might have avoided it altogether, coming as it did on the heels of a decade that included over three hundred such sex-ring prosecutions throughout all but four states in the U.S.29 Unfortunately for its most vulnerable residents, news can travel slowly in some towns, and news of the end of the Panic in the mid 1990s hadn’t yet reached police and nascent child protective services in Wenatchee.
Local media asked no questions then, and elected officials “applauded,” as police, social workers, and child protection services, “dumbly miming roles of ancient authorship”30 while believing they were confronting some new menace, staged something like an updated version of The Crucible, but for the mentally and emotionally challenged — which I mean neither as a joke nor as a figure of speech. After terrifying and coercing several dozen teens, children, and toddlers into making statements they would later recant, Wenatchee authorities arrested over 60 people — “most” of whom, according to The New York Times, were “poor and mentally retarded and were living on welfare.”31
If not handicapped, the majority of the accused were otherwise-marginalized members of the community, a la Kern County: “Hispanics, the poor. . . . Many of the families lived in impoverished neighborhoods in what the Wenatchee Valley authorities perceived as squalor.”32 Need it be said, among those arrested “few could afford an attorney” and “all would see their children taken from them.”33 On average, each of the accused were charged with roughly 500 counts of child-sex abuse, though some were charged with as many as 5,000.34 In all, Wenatchee authorities filed 29,726 charges, and Child Protective Services removed some fifty children from accused parents and relocated them in foster homes.35
In the aftermath of the cases, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer documented “overzealous — and even abusive — actions by (lead detective) Perez and social service caseworkers, civil rights violations by judges and prosecutors as well as sloppy work by public defenders.”36 While the arrests were taking place, however, few people spoke out. Notable (and crucial) exceptions include attorney and journalist Kathryn Lyon, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz. Rabinowitz’s first Wall Street Journal article on Wenatchee drew immediate national attention to the abuses at the same time that Lyon’s 200-page Wenatchee Report, detailing “apparent civil rights violations by State and Wenatchee-area officials,” landed on the desks of the U.S. Department of Justice.37
Civil rights were not the only thing violated. According to those he interviewed, Detective Robert Perez was obsessed with “details” of adult-child sex acts that had never occurred, pressing interviewees for more, suggesting new details. While some children and handicapped adults were easier to manipulate, stubborn children necessitated repeated “interviews” — by Perez as well as Child Protection Services and various psychologists and social workers — interviews that lasted not for hours, or days, or weeks, but months and years.38
Writing two years after the mass arrests, five years after the first child tenuously related to the nonexistent “sex-ring” was taken from her handicapped parents, Lyon noted that more than thirty children remained “in the hellish limbo of Wenatchee therapy and foster care[,] or in mental facilities.”39 Particularly stubborn children found themselves in an impossible bind between sending their parents to prison for crimes that never occurred, or remaining in “homes” indefinitely. Twelve-year-old Lisa, for example, refused to accuse her working-class parents of rape and thus was separated not only from her incarcerated parents but also her siblings (as her siblings were, from each other). Alternately “vomiting and lethargic,” Lisa was “depressed to the point of ‘self-mutilation.’”40 Mary and Steven, children of handicapped parents, were also separated from each other after their parents were taken. Steven “ran away from foster care” and “tried to stick a metal object through his chest.”41 Mary “regularly threatened suicide” and “cut herself with scissors.” She ran away from her foster home only to sit in the middle of the street — “amidst traffic.”42
Few adults fared better, and handicapped adults were, in a word, lost. According to a prison guard, Mary and Steven’s mother, Idella, “spent most of her time huddled in a fetal position.” Idella’s IQ, tested by prison officials, was “in the high 50s.”43 Lyon visited Idella at the Chelan County jail:
Having read abstract police reports, I wasn’t prepared for the stark reality of the woman’s mental disabilities. . . . Idella’s smile was tremulous, her eyes frightened, her speech halting, and her comprehension of why she was in prison almost nil. . . . “[Perez] said if I said something he wouldn’t put me in jail.” Everett [who had been advised to take an Alford plea] had only the barest understanding of what had happened in the courtroom. She had entered a plea she called a “yeah and no.” . . . Had she been charged with a crime? “I guess,” she said. . . .44
Reading the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “Special Report” on Wenatchee, or Kathryn Lyon’s paperback, Witch Hunt, a reader can’t help but see the prosecution’s lead investigator, Detective Perez, as a deeply conflicted man, prone to violence, unhindered by ethics45 and guided, if not by self-hatred, by unabashed prejudice.46 What is more difficult to explain is the political climate that would allow Perez to operate unchecked. He made no attempt to excuse his loathing for the “type” of people he arrested, making clear his contempt “for the welfare system and the people who fueled it,”47 even when speaking directly to the Seattle Times. “Most of them had nothing to do but collect monthly welfare checks and try to figure out ways to entertain themselves,” declared Perez. “Unfortunately they decided to entertain themselves by having sex with their children and other people’s children.”48
Unfortunately for all of Washington State, however, Perez’s “investigation” of imagined sex crimes among the underclasses and disabled — a witch hunt overseen and stamped with the metaphorical if not literal seals of city, county, and state agencies — resulted in suspect and witness recantations by the dozens, and as many overturned convictions. This, in turn, saw Wenatchee, Douglas County, and Washington State made liable for the destruction it had wrought — by way of money, ironically enough, and lots of it.49 In 2000, Wenatchee’s victims were further aided by a Washington State Supreme Court ruling upholding a Court of Appeals decision that law-enforcement agencies can be held “financially liable for faulty child-abuse investigations.”50
A local pastor and other victims filed a civil lawsuit for roughly $100 million against Detective Robert Perez, former Wenatchee police chief Ken Badgley, Douglas County Sheriff Dan LaRoche, detectives Robbin Wagg and Dave Helvey,51 as well as “various city, state and county officials, agencies, and contracting therapists.”52 Pastor Robert “Roby” Roberson was awarded $700,000 in damages. A Sunday School teacher was awarded $350,000, a parishioner $300,000. One man filed a $10 million lawsuit against the City of Wenatchee and the State of Washington because his public defender didn’t bother to investigate his case. Another man, incarcerated for five years, sued the City of Wenatchee and the State of Washington for $2 million. A jury found the City of Wenatchee and Douglas County negligent in their treatment of six other people and recommended an award of $3 million.53
Nor was it only the accused who filed suit. Juana Vasquex, a social worker who was fired for speaking out against the witch hunt, was awarded $1.57 million. One of the children involved — only one, as far as my research indicates — was awarded $52,500. Her suit accused “Perez and former state Child Protective Service social worker Pat Boggess of removing her from a home in California in 1995 and flying her, without proper court order, back to Wenatchee.” The girl said she was “forcibly taken to a mental hospital” where she was “given drugs and pressured to accuse her parents of molesting her.” For its part, “the city and state admitted no wrongdoing.”54
Indeed, far from seeing the error of their ways, and further still from so much as a trace of compassion, Wenatchee’s vested interests — the very same who claimed to have only the children’s best interests in mind — dug in their heels. Unlike authorities in Salem, some three hundred years before, who not only publicly apologized for their actions but organized a day of fasting and mourning and “remembrance” for all the town — the orchestrators of the Wenatchee witch hunts were not merely misguided, but deeply corrupt. For all their efforts to twice-victimize the plaintiffs against them, Wenatchee’s own attorneys succeeded only in seeing the city pay out another $718,000 in fines, on top the lawsuits, when a Spokane County Superior Court Judge found that Wenatchee officials had “intentionally misled” plaintiffs as well as the judge himself.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the information Wenatchee attorneys failed to turn over, were “medical files that may have indicated [Detective] Perez suffered from mental disabilities.”55
“We walked in clouds and could not see our way,” said Salem’s Reverend John Hale, in 1697, whose own testimony had helped to see a woman executed five years prior.56
“The investigation by Perez was reasonable,” said an attorney for Perez and his cohort, in 2001 — adding, in a moment of profound understatement: “It was carried out conscientiously.”57
1 Actually Georgia vs. Tonya Renee Craft, as cited in Craft’s attorneys’ subsequent $25 million Federal Court lawsuit against Catoosa County investigator Tim Deal, Sheriff Phil Summers, and the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department; Suzie Thorne, Stacy Long, Laurie Evans, and the Greenhouse Counseling Center; Lookout Mountain Judicial District Children’s Advocacy Center; and Craft’s accusers, Sandra Lamb, Sheri Wilson, Dewayne Wilson, Joal Henke, Sara Henke, and Kelli McDonald. [Norwood, Dennis. “Tonya Craft Attorneys File Second Amended Complaint In Federal Court.” The Chattanoogan. October 1, 2010 http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_185355.asp ]
2 Norwood, Dennis, “Tonya Craft Defense Costing Over Half Million Dollars: Defense Rests In Child Molestation Trial At Ringgold.” The Chattanoogan. May 7, 2010 http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_175191.asp and Norwood, Dennis. “Tonya Craft Found Not Guilty Of All Charges: Supporters Of Former Kindergarten Teacher Shout For Joy.” The Chattanoogan. May 11, 2010. http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_175323.asp
3 Four lawyers, smart handling of media, and half a million aside, ol’ jaded me didn’t think Tonya would prevail — and I was so happy to be wrong. When the verdicts came in, I sobbed. What was it, twenty-three counts in all? Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty . . . . I’d been following the trials via Dennis Norwood’s excellent coverage in The Chattanoogan — as well as via local television’s video feeds and the incomparable William Anderson’s impassioned (and blisteringly, joyfully biased) blog at http://williamlanderson.blogspot.com/search/label/Tonya%20Craft .
4 Nathan, Debbie, and Michael Snedeker. Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1996. 98
5 Nor has anything changed but for the worse. According to the ACLU:
The numbers are staggering: 90 percent of all criminal defendants fall below the poverty line; incarceration rates have increased 800 percent in the last 30 years; and the statistics continue to pile up as the disparity between resources for public defense and prosecution widen. The ability for indigent defenders to find a state-provided defense, with the time and money to offer a thorough representation, has become increasingly rare. For example: Miami has exactly 200 public defenders working 850,000 cases a year, constituting a case-to-attorney ratio of 4,250:1. The problem of inadequate public defense only amplifies as the annual budget for public defenders levels off at $150,000, while the prosecution receives $4.3 million. In light of these findings, it is no wonder why the poor stand a dismal chance for putting up even the most basic defense. LaSalle, Daniel. Washington Legislative Office “Innocent Until Proven Indigent” [ACLU blog. http://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/innocent-until-proven-indigent]
6 While I am aware that the following may be applied to the larger scheme of the criminal justice system, for the moment, I need to table that discussion and focus on the particular mechanics of the witch trial. In lieu anything approaching the umbrella issue of “Poverty and the Criminal Justice System,” I’ll offer just a few representative statistics from defendingjustice.org Fact Sheet of the same name:
In 1991, more than half of all state prisoners reported an annual income of less than $10,000 prior to their arrest.* People that can afford bail are able to leave jail and conduct investigations, leaving them better prepared for trial. Higher-income people can afford better attorneys, expert witnesses, private detectives. . . .** Those who cannot afford bail and come to the court from jail for their trial are more likely to be imprisoned. Between 1990 and 1998, in the 75 largest counties in the U.S., felony defendants with a private attorney were 50% more likely to be released from jail pending trail than were felony defendants with a public attorney or court-assigned counsel.*** The poor face harsher sentences simply because they cannot afford adequate legal assistance. The United States allots just $2.25 per person for civil legal assistance.11 England allocates $32, New Zealand $12, and Ontario $11.40.****
Public defenders are overworked. Felony caseloads of 500, 600, 800 or more annually are common for many public defenders, although it is recommended that the annual caseload for a public defender should not exceed 150 felonies, 400 misdemeanors or 200 juvenile cases. For example, public defenders in Philadelphia were handling between 600 and 1,100 cases per year.****
* USDOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995. Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/sospi91.txt (May 24, 2005).
** Herzing, Rachel. 2005. œWhat is the Prison Industrial Complex? See
*** U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2000. œDefense Counsel in Criminal Cases See (June 16, 2004).
*** Houseman, Alan W. , June 2001. œRecent Developments: Civil Legal Assistance in the United States, See (June 23, 2004).
****American Civil Liberties Union. Rights of the Poor See < http://www.aclu.org/poorrights/poorrightsmain.cfm> (June 16, 2004).
7 In Florida, for example, “The problem of inadequate public defense only amplifies as the annual budget for public defenders levels off at $150,000, while the prosecution receives $4.3 million.” [Daniel LaSalle, Daniel. Washington Legislative Office “Innocent Until Proven Indigent” ACLU blog. http://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/innocent-until-proven-indigent]
8 i.e., they’re screwed.
9 If the innocent serve a sentence “short enough” to have a “life” again, they can look forward to a lifetime of being suspected and loathed and targeted on the “outside” as well.
11 Along with John Stoll, who was awarded $5 million by the State of California after serving 20 years, the Kniffens and McCuans and other wrongfully convicted residents of Kern County figure prominently in the documentary, Witch Hunt (Dir. Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman. DVD. KTF Films, 2008) and are also discussed in Lyon, Nathan & Snedeker, and Rabinowitz, et al.
12 Nathan and Snedeker, 54 (with a hint of sarcasm, if I’m not mistaken).
13 Nathan and Snedeker, 94
14 Nathan and Snedeker, 97
15 According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “National attention to these kinds of cases mounted during the early 1980s and into the 1990s. Experts were reporting that 50,000 children were kidnapped and killed each year. When the Justice Department reported the actual number of children kidnapped and murdered by non-family members was between 52 and 158 a year, some critics said the Justice Department had been infiltrated by cultist pedophiles. During a prosecutorial fury that swept the country from 1980 to 1992, there were at least 311 alleged child sex rings investigated in 46 states.” [“Lives ruined because lessons ignored” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. February 27, 1998 http://www.seattlepi.com/powertoharm/context.html ]
16 cf. Fells Acres Day Care (MA); Bernard F. Baran, Jr.(MA); the “Bronx Five” (NY); Wee Care Nursery School (NJ); Cleveland (England); Glendale Montessori (FL); Little Rascals Day Care (NC); Martensville (Canada), et al. Keep in mind these are only childcare cases, which were concurrent (1980s through the mid-1990s) with a larger outbreak of “ritual abuse” claims often referred to as the Satanic Panic.
17 And then sent them off to school in the morning.
18 So it goes, what passes for theory.
19 Burke, Grance. “Crusading Calif. D.A. retires, leaves painful wake.” Associated Press. November 15, 2009 http://truthinjustice.org/jagels.htm
20 Arax, Mark. “Growing Faction in Kern County Claims Zealous D.A. Crosses Line.” Los Angeles Times. March 29, 1999. http://articles.latimes.com/1999/mar/29/news/mn-22197
21 Arax. Written in 1999, oddly prefiguring G.W. Bush’s recasting of his character from old money, oil money, and the Ivy League, to something like a simple ranch hand who was surprised to find himself suddenly the President of the United States.
22 What is more difficult to explain is Ed Jagels’ present contentment. In 2009 Jagels was featured in an Associated Press article entitled “Crusading Calif. D.A. Retires, Leaves Painful Wake.” Seemingly unconcerned that all his convictions had been overturned, but for one against a deceased; unconcerned that he had cost taxpayers tens of millions; indeed Ed Jagels is nonchalant, glib, even smug, regarding the destruction and suffering that he caused in the lives of hundreds of people in Kern County.
“Innocent people may have been accused at one point or another, but what I really fear is that perfectly legitimate convictions have been overturned,” Jagels said, sitting in his wood-panelled office among portraits of himself with Ronald Reagan and other Republican leaders. “How the people of Kern County feel about what I’ve done is much more important than what anyone else might think.” [Burke]
Clearly, “the people” to whom Jagles refers, are not to the same people I had in mind, above.
23 John Proctor, in Arthur Miller’sThe Crucible.
25 Nathan and Snedeker, 100.
26 Nathan and Snedeker, 100.
27 As with a discussion of class-rooted inequities inherent in the criminal justice system in the U.S. (and elsewhere), the question of why persons from the poor or working classes routinely act (whether rendering verdicts or voting, etc.) against their own interests (the right to fair trial, financial assistance, etc.), is a topic beyond the scope of the present text. In lieu of providing anything approaching a comprehensive discussion of the subject, I defer instead to a few paragraphs from Gilbert Herdt’s introduction to the excellent Moral Panics, Sex Panics:
[M]oral and sexual panics are related to the cultural anger associated with perceptions of social safety, risk and security in American society and throughout the world. Panics, as they emerge in a complex society such as the United Sates, are means of generating incipient ideologies of cohesion that can override other forms of difference, [such as] class. . . .
The work of journalist Thomas Frank (2004) on cultural anger provides a suggestive clue as to the direction that social and cultural analysis might take. Franks’ book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? is a political study of how the state of Kansas historically changed from being extremely progressive to a bastion “red state” (neoconservative), destroying the opportunities for decent wages and education and housing. (26-27)
Herdt also believes that Frank “implicitly recognized how sexual panics were increasing in number and frequency in elections, legislatures, and courtrooms.” (30)
In particular, Frank has written of what he calls “cultural anger” in the Republican and neoconservative movement . . . in the effort to win hearts and votes in the heartland. The targets of this political usurpation are working-class and aspiring lower-middle-class wage earners, whose rights and well being are dependent on health care and educational programs that typically require government support or direction. The effect draws on the illusion of moral panics to gain popular control of the electoral process. . . . Frank’s ideas . . . [are] a promising means of analysis in studying the role of the systematic use of moral panics today [eg., The Muslims are attacking! The Mexicans are invading! The gays are marrying — and recruiting! Babyrapers are everwhere! ] to gain working-class support for free market capitalism solutions, such as tax cuts for the rich. (26-27)
To summarize: Panic may be deployed to convince poor and working classes not only to shoot their own best interests in their collective, metaphorical foot, but also to refuse any assistance with subsequent medical costs, unemployment, or disability.
28 Nathan and Snedeker, 98.
29 Barber, Mike, and Andrew Schneider. “Lives ruined because lessons ignored” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. February 27, 1998 http://www.seattlepi.com/powertoharm/context.html
30 Miller, in Timebends, quoted in Connery, Donald S. Guilty Until Proven Innocent.
31 Egan, Timothy. “Pastor and Wife Are Acquitted on All Charges in Sex-Abuse Case.” The New York Times. December 12, 1995 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9801E3DA1639F931A25751C1A963958260
32 Lyon, Kathryn. Witch Hunt. New York, NY: Avon, 1998. 132.
33 Rabinowitz, Dorothy. No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times. New York, NY: Free Press, 2004. 96.
34 Lyon, 16.
35 Rabinowitz, 100-10; also Barber and Schneider, “Special Reports: A record of abuses in Wenatchee” http://www.seattlepi.com/powertoharm/
36 Barber and Schneider, “Special Reports: A record of abuses in Wenatchee” http://www.seattlepi.com/powertoharm/
37 It was in September, 1995, that Lyon issued her Wenatchee Report, “which presented chapter and verse . . . alleged improprieties, to the Justice Department, the state attorney general, the bar and criminal defense and public defenders associations and the ACLU” — a “3-pound” report that was met with prompt and deafening silence from the “watchdogs” of the criminal justice system. [Barber, Mike, and Andrew Schneider. “Justice’s watchdogs looked the other way.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Friday, February 27, 1998]
Washington attorney Robert Van Siclen, who represented several of the accused, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
“We have multiple cases of severely retarded people being tricked or terrified into confessing to avoid losing their children, of green public defenders not being allowed to hire the investigators or expert witnesses, of misconduct by prosecutors and blatant violations of the appearance of fairness doctrine among some judges. And neither the ACLU nor the Justice Department is anywhere to be found.” . . .
On Oct. 3, 1995, then-Gov. Mike Lowry asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to examine the allegations of judicial wrongdoing in Wenatchee. With much fanfare, Reno said the Justice Department would investigate. . . . On Feb. 2, 1996, Reno wrote to the governor and said, “Based on a thorough review of the available material . . . these complaints do not present evidence of prosecutable violations of federal civil rights law.” . . . [Barber & Schneider]
If it wasn’t a bald lie, whatever Reno meant by a “thorough review” is anyone’s guess. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporters discovered that
[F]ederal agents did not question the children, the accused, the prosecutors, defense lawyers, nor even Perez. In fact, FBI agents, two of whom say they would have eagerly examined the allegations, questioned no one. “We were told not to,” says Jon Eyer, former FBI senior supervisory agent, who headed the agency’s review. “Our orders were to gather copies of court documents and ship them back to Washington. That’s what we did.” [Barber & Schneider]
“More than once in her career,” note Barber and Schneider, “Reno has taken action based on unproven allegations of child sex abuse.”[Barber & Schneider].
As state attorney in Miami, she pursued several cases that shared features of the Wenatchee investigations. In 1990, Reno prosecuted 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje . . . on charges of sexually assaulting several girls at his church. The boy’s 4- and 5-year-old accusers insisted the boy, the son of a Presbyterian church elder, danced nude on graves, ate babies, played with witches and could change the color of his skin. [Barber & Schneider]
Lyon writes, “Fijnje, a diabetic, was placed in custody, deprived of food, and suffered insulin shock before he agreed with prosecutors that he had touched a child. Once he was released from custody, he immediately retracted his confession.” Reno also successfully argued that Fijnje should be tried as an adult, ensuring that the 14-year-old boy would face a mandatory life sentence.[Lyon, 361]
In spite of Reno’s best efforts, the jury acquitted Fijnje — which must have come as a shock to Reno, having enjoyed success with similar tactics in the past. Nine years prior to going after Fijnje, Reno attempted to secure a conviction against Frank Fuster, accused of molesting a child who was babysat by Frank’s 16-year-old wife, Ileana. In an effort to get her to testify against Frank, Ileana was placed in “protective custody,” [Lyon, 359-360]
where she was isolated and often forced to remain naked under suicide watch. According to Ileana’s sworn statement, which was made a part of the court record, she was drugged most of the time . . . in solitary confinement. The investigator hired by the Fusters described her looking like a fifty-year-old, with “sores and infections” on her skin. He said that Ileana told him she was often forced to remain nude in her cell and was occasionally hosed down by [prison] officials. . . . [Lyon, 360]
After nearly a year in jail, “Ileana testified against her husband while Reno sat beside her, holding her hand. . . . [Ileana’s husband] was convicted and sentenced to six life terms plus 165 years.[Lyon, 360]
38 Barber & Schneider, Lyon, Rabinowitz, et al
39 Lyon, 446
40 Lyon, 206-207.
41 Lyon, xxxv
42 Lyon, xli
43 Lyon, 157
44 Lyon, 157
45 With investigations already underway, Perez decided to become a foster father to two children born to none other than the woman curled fetal in prison. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his new charges were among the State’s star witnesses, the alleged sources of a preponderance of the false allegations made against Wenatchee residents. On more than one occasion, Perez arrested one foster daughter and State witness when she misbehaved — such as arrest for malicious mischief when she dented Perez’s car. Perez admitted to “bruising” another foster daughter and State witness before she testified in court, having “earlier twisted her arm behind her, threw her to the ground, and sat on her.” This foster daughter was Mary, the same who cut herself with scissors and attempted suicide by traffic. [Lyon]
46 Detective Robert Perez liked to think of himself as an ordinary, all-American guy with middle-class values and goals, just looking to take care of his wife and kids — and to clean up the streets while he was at it. Born Ricardo Robert Perez, Jr., he kept his first name an initial only, policing a town with that puts the official Hispanic and Latino population at twenty-two percent (though that percentage grows dramatically, as in all of Washington, during the farming season). Indeed he made a point of convincing people that he was “‘true Spaniard,’” notes Lyon, his “blue eyes and blond hair . . . a visible reminder of what, to him, is his cultural superiority.”(Lyon, 135) Even prior to his sex-ring debacle, Perez’s “superiority” may have be difficult to discern, however, using any measure — be it his own criminal history of petty theft, or the half dozen lawsuits against him not including those surrounding his sex crimes investigation. [Lyon]
47 Lyon, 79.
48 Lyon, 132.
49 Barber, Mike, and Larry Lange, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 1, 2001. http://www.seattlepi.com/powertoharm/ ]
50 Dundas, Chad. “Focus still on family of pastor charged in child sex-ring case.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 11, 2001. http://www.seattlepi.com/local/30818_rings11.shtml
51 Dundas, Chad
52 Religious Tolerance: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wenatche3.htm
53 Religious Tolerance
Maher, Stephen. “Tipping the Wenatchee scales,” Wenatchee World, August 13, 2000.
Barber, Mike, and Andrew Schneider. “Children sacrificed for the case,” Seattle Post Intelligencer. February 23, 1998. http://www.seattle-pi.com/powertoharm/history.html
54 Associated Press. “Suit in Wenatchee sex case is settled: Woman said she was urged to accuse her parents of abuse.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. February 28, 2001 http://www.seattlepi.com/local/settle28.shtml
55 Barber, Mike. “Suit against Wenatchee in sex cases reinstated: Judge’s shock ruling says key files were withheld.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. November 1, 2002. Barber, Mike. “Wenatchee must pay $718,000 in sanctions over abuse case, court rules.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Wednesday, August 4, 2004. Barber, Mike, “Sex-ring ruling may cost Wenatchee $1 million: Appeal’s failure means lawsuit is also reinstated.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Saturday, September 10, 2005.
56 Quoted in Nathan and Snedeker.
57 Geranios, Nicholas K. Associated Press. “Wenatchee case lawsuit trial opens.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer. July 10, 2001