Morpheus with a Mohawk

Sander Hicks is a writer, punk rocker, and founder of New York indie publisher, Soft Skull Press, which he started guerrilla style while working at a Kinkos in the mid-1990s. He was an early member of the 9/11 Truth Movement, appearing as a speaker at the 2002 Citizen’s Inquiry in Toronto, and since then has done some of the most important investigative work on that subject, including his book, The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistleblowers, and the Cover-Up. He also wrote a compelling book about the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Senator Paul Wellstone called American Assassination.

Sander first achieved national exposure in 2001 when Soft Skull republished Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, Jim Hatfield’s cursed biography of George W. Bush. The book brought nothing but misery and ruin to anyone who got near it. It destroyed friendships, businesses, careers, and even lives, all because one dishonest man with a past he tried to hide attempted to tell the truth about another, far more powerful and dishonest man with even more to hide.

The story is complex and arcane, but necessary to recount because of its significance to my awakening process, and for what it revealed about the true nature of power, and the consequences of challenging those who wield it. After this, I was never able to view the world again in quite the same way.

Sander and I met in 2003, two years after the events chronicled here. I do not believe for one minute that our meeting was coincidental, I believe we were on an inalterable collision course.   He entered my life just as I was emerging from the old world of myth and illusion and was hungry for the truth, and Sander was returning from the wilderness, bearing the scars of a prophet who had stared into the face of evil and lived to tell about it.

Fortunate Son was initially published by St. Martin’s Press in October of 1999, shortly after George W. Bush emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. The book is a cautionary tale of what happens when the village idiot is given unfettered access to power and influence. One review called it “a catalogue of sins…a portrait of a man who routinely uses political connections to further his business interests, and likewise uses his business connections to further his political career.” [1]

“Abuse of power,” the review concludes, “comes as no surprise.”

As The Making of an American President suggests, Bush was a President who, as Sander put it, “was made, not elected…a creation of minds much more meticulous and strategic than his own.”  He was installed in the White House by a group of ideologues intent on seizing power, a junta devoid of any sense of morality or fair play. Through two campaigns and eight years in office the Bush coterie proved they would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Thus, the real story of Fortunate Son is not contained within its pages, but rather, in the chronicle of what happened when this junta was confronted by their first legitimate threat.

Fortunate Son put into print what previously existed only as rumor. Citing three anonymous sources, the book alleged that young “W” had been busted in 1972 for cocaine possession in Harris County, Texas, and that his father covered it up and had “W’s” record expunged by calling in a favor to a judge he had helped get elected. Subsequently, “W’s” whereabouts were unknown for a while. This became referred to as his “lost summer,” when he went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard.[2] He resurfaces in Alabama working on the senate campaign of another friend of his father’s. It doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to figure out that these events were directly related.

This revelation would prove fatal to author Jim Hatfield.

There is an unwritten rule in American journalism, according to journalist Robert Parry: Don’t take on the Bushes. Parry would know, he was the first to report on cocaine smuggling by the Nicaraguan Contras, and saw his career almost ruined. For those who don’t know the history, Poppy Bush oversaw the entire Contra operation out of the Vice President’s office.

“Reporters can make mistakes in covering other politicians and suffer little or no consequence,” Parry wrote, “but a false step when doing a critical piece on the Bushes is a career killer.” [3]

In response to the allegations made in Fortunate Son, the Bush family released the hounds. In the face of unrelenting pressure from Bush family lawyers, St. Martin’s Press initially stood by the book, confidently stating that it had been "carefully fact-checked and scrutinized by their lawyers." Curiously enough, the book originally contained a 54-page index of source citations that was cut by St, Martin’s at the last minute, reportedly to get the book out before another competing biography. But it wouldn't have made a difference even if St. Martins had included the index. It would soon be quite obvious that the accuracy of the book was irrelevant.[4]

The Bush team had a secret weapon. Operating through a friendly contact at the Dallas Morning News, reporter Pete Slover, a confidential file containing information on a 1988 solicitation of murder case involving Jim Hatfield mysteriously surfaced, and is printed in the paper.[5] Hatfield, they revealed, was convicted of paying someone $5,000 to kill his former employer with a car bomb, and served five years in prison.

When confronted, Hatfield initially denied the allegations, claiming Slover was reporting on another “James Howard Hatfield.” He then promptly disappeared. By doing so he sealed his fate. The mainstream media savaged Hatfield as a con-man, a “felonious author,” and St. Martin’s abandoned him to the wolves. Even though Fortunate Son had already become a bestseller, and “W’s” cocaine arrest was never officially disproven, St. Martins chose to recall all remaining copies (estimated between 70,000 and 90,000) and literally incinerate them in their furnace.

Not a single reporter, journalist, or media outlet bothered to investigate “W’s” arrest further.

Sander believed Hatfield was intentionally set up by the people eventually named as the sources for the cocaine story — "W’s" Svengali Karl Rove, his minister, Jim Mayfield, and a Bush family lackey, Clay Johnson, who would later serve in the Administration. By feeding a story they knew would eventually get out, to a biographer they knew had a serious felony conviction in his past,  the Bush team preemptively neutralized the threat before it became a campaign liability.

“He breaks the story,” Sander explained, “and then they break him.” [6]

Hatfield more than likely was set up. This becomes much more plausible when you consider that he was not the first to make allegations that W had a coke problem. That distinction appears to belongs to his father’s former Chief of Staff, Michael C. Dannenhauer. A journalist named Toby Rogers (Village Voice, High Times) claims that Dannenhauer, believing Rogers was a “Republican-friendly” journalist and the two were speaking off the record, told him that in the early 1970s Bush had been “out of control” with drinking, womanizing, and cocaine, and that his cocaine use started "sometime before 1977." [7]

More than  a year later, in the summer of 1999, an anonymous email containing specific information about the cocaine bust, including names, dates, locations and phone numbers, made the rounds of a number of media outlets. It caught the attention of Amy Reiter, an editor at Salon.com, who wrote about it in her column on August 25, 1999. [8]

Reiter felt there was something to the story because of all the “meaty facts” it contained, including information on the Houston-based not-for-profit where "W" had allegedly performed community service as part of the deal for expunging his record. The director of the program was a woman named Madge Bush (no relation), who, the anonymous tipster claimed, “knows exactly why the young Bush was sent her way."

When Reiter contacted Madge Bush, she refused to answer her questions, repeatedly claiming, “I’m not getting into all that.” Her histrionics were sufficient to convince Reiter there was something she was hiding. When Reiter contacted the Bush campaign, they played the old "We do not dignify false rumors and innuendos with a response" card.

The Salon story gave the allegations a measure of credibility sufficient to embolden the press and become a liability for the Bush campaign. "W" himself only made the situation worse after he was confronted during a press conference and blurted out that he “hadn’t done drugs since 1974.” As the USA Today put it, "Bush has admitted something, but he refuses to say what."

Meanwhile, Jim Hatfield was close to finishing Fortunate Son when he read Reiter’s column and showed it to his editors at St. Martin’s. They wanted to include the cocaine bust in the book, so they sent Hatfield scrambling to find sources. He probably couldn’t believe his “good fortune” when three members of the Bush inner circle, particularly Karl Rove, were willing to talk to him about it on the condition of anonymity.

Had he known then what is now common knowledge about Rove’s unconscionably dirty tactics, and had he not been blinded by his own ambition, Hatfield might have given pause to consider that Rove’s suspicious capitulation bore all the markings of the kind of sophisticated preemptive political strike that he was known for.[9] Rove’s job was to neutralize these kinds of threats by any means necessary, which I learned first hand with the Ashcroft story on Reality Checks. There is simply no way Rove would have talked to Hatfield about something this volatile (for inclusion in a high-profile biography, no less!) unless he had a clear ulterior motive, and not before thoroughly checking out Hatfield’s background.

“If Rove was Hatfield's source,” wrote Democracy NOW! producer Mike Burke, “he certainly wasn't trying to expose Bush's drug use. Instead he was trying to discredit and ultimately kill the story. That might seem ridiculous, considering Rove's lifelong loyalty to the Bushes and the fact that he now has an office adjacent to Bush's in the White House. But leaking the story to Hatfield essentially discredited the story and sent it into the annals of conspiracy theory.” [10]

Three weeks later St. Martin's released Fortunate Son with an Afterword containing the additional allegations of the cocaine bust, attributed to anonymous sources. The Dallas Morning News, lay in wait, and immediately fired back by reporting Hatfield’s criminal record. With this, blood was in the water, and Hatfield was soon shredded by the media in the feeding frenzy that followed.

Even Salon, who bore direct responsibility for first publicizing the allegations, focused their efforts on discrediting Hatfield rather than investigating the cocaine issue further.[11] Hatfield’s past and his padded resume proved all too easy a target, and it was all over in a matter of weeks. By the time St. Martin’s burned the remaining copies of the book, the official line was that the cocaine story was made up by a con man looking to make a quick buck. "W" slithered through the crisis unscathed, never to face the question again.

“Whether it was really planned by the Bush camp or not,” journalist David Cogswell wrote in the introduction to the French language edition of Fortunate Son, “Hatfield’s case did have the effect of giving Bush an inoculation against the drug allegations, and the looming specter of his dark past being revealed. After Hatfield was publicly skewered, no one ever went near the cocaine charges again. It was killed. Hatfield was a sacrificial lamb.”

"The finality of [St. Martin’s] furnace" wrote Robert Parry, “kept the U.S. news media from reexamining Hatfield's allegations even as new evidence emerged revealing that something had occurred in the early 1970s that had deeply alarmed George H.W. Bush." [12]

Parry is referring to "W's" “lost summer” of 1972 and the gap in his service with the Texas Air National Guard, which reared its head again during the 2004 campaign. Forced to address the issue, “W” claimed he had fulfilled his obligations by transferring to the Alabama National Guard so that he could work on the senate campaign of Bush family friend Winton "Red" Blount.”

Salon attempted to fill in the blank spots when they reported that a source close to the Bush family, a woman named Linda Allison, claimed that the real reason “W” went to Alabama was because his “hell-raising…had become a political liability for his father, who was then the United States ambassador to the United Nations, and the family wanted him out of Texas.” The position on Blount’s campaign staff was arranged by Allison's husband, Jimmy, a longtime Bush family adviser. She claimed Poppy Bush “needed someone trusted to keep an eye on [W].” The implication was clear that something serious had gone down.[13]

Six days later the Boston Globe and 60 Minutes broke the story of Bush’s missing National Guard service. After reviewing the available records, they concluded “Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation” twice during his Guard service.[14] But controversy erupted when a few of the documents were accused of being forgeries. The Bush people immediately pointed the finger at the Kerry campaign, and although the authenticity of the memos was never proven conclusively, and there was more than ample evidence confirming “W” had indeed skipped out, the accusations of forgery, and the ensuing media circus, thoroughly discredited the issue, and ended Dan Rather’s career.

The forged memos bore “The Mark of Rove,” and the Bush team likely "leaked" them to muddy the waters and ultimately discredit another major liability from “W’s” sordid past. To their credit, Salon stuck with it and two weeks later, citing irrefutable documents obtained through an FOIA request, published a full account of “W’s” time in the National Guard. Salon confirmed that, “in the spring of 1972, with 770 days left of required duty, Bush unilaterally decided that he was done fulfilling his military obligation…refused to take a physical and quickly cleared out of his Guard base in Houston” and bugged out to Alabama.[15] The significance of refusing to take the physical was that it would have required a drug test.

After conferring with Hatfield and reviewing all his documentation, Sander certainly believed the cocaine bust was real. Rather than let Fortunate Son disappear down the memory hole, he pulled out an enormous pair of testicles, mortgaged Soft Skull to the hilt, and republished the book on January 1, 2000. The second edition restored the extensive source notes St Martin’s had cut, and added a new introduction by Toby Rogers and Soft Skull editor Nick Mamatas that explained what happened when Rogers tried to publish Michael Dannenhauer’s statements about “W’s” cocaine use.

According to Rogers, after the Salon column gave the cocaine story legs, he published a story containing Dannenhauer’s admissions, without attribution, in The Greenwich Village Gazette, a New York-based web magazine. The story was allegedly posted on September 13, 1999 and taken down only few hours later when the publisher feared legal action for running an anonymous and uncorroborated allegation.

According to Rogers, the Gazette reconsidered the story after Fortunate Son was published, and contacted Dannenhauer for confirmation of his statements. He claimed the interview never took place. He was unaware that Rogers had provided the Gazette with a photo showing the two together outside a Houston restaurant. When confronted with this, Dannenhauer copped to the interview, but claimed it took place "years ago."  When pressed, he changed his story a third time, mumbling a string of incomprehensible statements, and then read a prepared statement by the Bush campaign denouncing Fortunate Son. When asked again, he flatly denied Bush had ever touched cocaine.[16]

The second edition also contained a foreword by the author. It was an exceptionally well-written and moving mea culpa explaining his 1988 conviction. But it was too late for Hatfield to catch a break. In response, his former employers (the plaintiffs in the case) promptly sued Soft Skull for revealing the information, and as a result the book lost distribution. From there things just continued to circle the drain. The threat of legal action became an albatross, and Sander quickly found the book suppressed or ignored at every turn.

Ravaged by the experience, having lost everything again, Jim Hatfield escaped into alcohol and drugs. The final indignation came when the Bentonville, Arkansas police showed up at Hatfield’s home on July 17, 2001, to charge him with "financial identity fraud" for allegedly trying to get a credit card in someone else's name. The police specifically wanted Hatfield’s computer, and confiscated it even though he was not at home.

After viewing the police reports, David Cogswell, who eventually befriended Hatfield, claimed they “establish only the bare minimum of a circumstantial case against him.” He speculates that the fraud charges were bogus, simply a pretext to seize his computer, and that the real reason the Bushes wanted the book suppressed was because it also revealed the extent of their bin Laden connection.[17]

“When any of us, including Hatfield, read that part [of the book] before Sept. 11, 2001,” wrote Cogswell, “it had a very different meaning from what it has now.”

The police gave Hatfield 24 hours to tidy up his affairs and turn himself in. Instead of turning himself in, he rented a hotel room, and committed suicide by swallowing two bottles of pills and a fifth of gin.

Hatfield was a ruined man, half by his own hand, half by his enemies. Although he never should have denied his past, because it always comes back to haunt you, its doubtful he would have persevered considering what he was up against.

“Jim was certainly not without guilt himself in his earlier life,” David Cogswell would later say in an interview, “and he made many mistakes along the way that contributed to what happened to him. But nothing he did, and nothing else, justifies what happened to him.”[18]

Sander offered a more austere conclusion: “The truth doesn't set you free. The truth gets you in trouble in this country.”

Jim Hatfield was a damn fine writer, but an incompetent criminal who got caught every time he stepped out of line. Comparatively, a Bush has either been involved in, or one-degree of separation away from, some of the worst lies, cons, deceptions, and crimes against humanity of the last century. Too bad the cowed media and an ignorant public found it much easier to draw and quarter the pathetic Hatfield than scrutinize a man who, as President, would soon come to symbolize that very same ignorance and incompetence on an unimaginable scale. In this case, all they managed to do was kill the messenger.

(Note: those wanting to learn more are encouraged to see Horns & Halos (2004), the award-winning documentary by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky)

Sander and I entered each other’s sphere after Newtopia published a short story of his in December of 2002. Being loose acquaintances, and knowing virtually none of the details which I have just recounted—only that he owned Soft Skull and had published a controversial book on the Bush family—I approached Sander sometime in mid-2003, just as I was wrapping up work on the “Empires” issue. I wanted to pick his brain about Soft Skull since I was considering starting my own small press and I wanted his advice.

Around that time he had returned to New York after a sojourn in New Mexico to write and recuperate from the events of Fortunate Son. I was surprised to learn that he and Soft Skull had parted ways. Sander wasn’t particularly interested in going into detail about it. He was much more interested in talking to me about his new venture, a combination co-op cafe-bookstore and small press he was calling the Drench Kiss Media Corporation (DKMC).

In the course of our conversation I offhandedly mentioned to him that I had written a feature on the history of the Bush family as a companion piece for “The Crude Truth.” I asked him if he would take a look at it for me, since I heard he was something of an expert on the Bushes.

I was hoping that he would know something about an outrageous claim the writer calling him or herself, “Vox” had made about the Bush family. If you remember, Vox’s site was the first I came upon that claimed 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by the junta of Neoconservatives inside the Bush Administration.[19] Shortly after I discovered Vox's website, it disappeared.

In that same post, “Vox” told a little known and even less understood story about the day Ronald Reagan was shot in an apparent assassination attempt, March 30, 1981. The would-be assassin was 26-year old John Hinckley, Jr., who shot Reagan, his press secretary, a D.C. police officer, and a Secret Service agent with a .22 caliber pistol. The public was told he did it to impress actress Jodie Foster, and he became yet another of the lone-nut assassins when he was found not-guilty by reason of insanity. He has spent the last 29 years in St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington D.C.

What the public was not told, and what was subsequently buried, “Vox” explained, was that on the night of the assassination attempt, John Hinckley’s older brother, Scott, was scheduled to have dinner with Neil Bush, the Vice President’s son.

“Vox” claimed there was a long-standing connection between the Bush family and the Hinckley family that went back a decade or more. John Hinckley, Sr., and Vice President George H.W. Bush were fellow Houston oilmen who apparently had extensive dealings with one another, including a reported bailout of Hinckley's company, Vanderbilt Energy, by Bush's Zapata Oil. On the day of the assassination attempt the press reported that Vanderbilt Energy was under investigation by the Reagan Administration for overpricing oil, and was facing a $2 million fine. Vox implied that Bush was either behind the assassination attempt, or covering up what he did know about it, because this simply could not be a coincidence.[20]

I opened my profile on the Bush family by juxtaposing a hagiographic mainstream media description of the family with Vox’s Bush-Hinckley story. I described it as an “unbelievable story guaranteed to blow your hair back,” and I claimed it was “impossible to confirm anywhere in the mainstream media.”[21]

“Do you know anything about this?” I asked him.

Sander laughed and asked if I was kidding.

“Of course not,” I replied. I explained how freaked out Vox’s story had left me, and how it only got worse once I discovered that his website had been taken down. Did he know about that?

“You’re serious?” he said. “You’re not fucking with me?”

“Yes! Don’t you believe me?”

He paused a few seconds.

“Hmpf,” he uttered. “Ok then. Check your inbox.”

When I opened his email, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Before me was a January 2003 feature Sander wrote for the Long Island Journal called, “The Truth About Vox.”[22] 

In the story, Sander revealed “Vox” was the pseudonym of Harry Stuckey, a 39-year-old advertising consultant, musician, and filmmaker who lived in New York City. Stuckey hailed from a “staunchly Republican New York family” and “was once considered for grooming as a potential Republican congressional candidate.”

Stuckey started the VoxNyc.com website in 2001 after the Bush junta came to power, hoping to expose them with what he claimed was inside information. He began posting what, conservatively, can be called wild and incredulous allegations of their criminality and moral depravity.  He got into trouble after the Associated Press reported that the CIA had been given permission to kill anyone assisting Al Qaeda, and Bush did not exempt Americans.[23]

In response, “Vox” published the following statement: 

"By Bush's Own Policy, He Must Be Immediately Terminated: No Trial, No Explanation, No Warning—Just Immediate Obliteration:

“By the administration’s own policy, both Bushes must be immediately destroyed. No trial, no explanation, no warning – Just immediate obliteration. According to White House officials the President’s policy is that “association” alone, with ANY suspected Al Queda [sic] or terrorist, is sufficient enough justification for immediate extermination by the CIA or US military. Yet there is NO other family in America today who has had closer ties with the Bin Ladens [sic] than the Bush family. And that bears repeating.

Although the statement about the Bush family’s relationship with the bin Laden family was certainly true (among many other shady dealings, Osama’s brother, Salem, was an investor in “W’s” oil company) the Secret Service didn’t take too kindly to his language. On December 13, 2002, 30 heavily armed agents raided Stuckey’s Islip, Long Island apartment under the pretext of “investigating a threat against the President.” Stuckey was renting the apartment at the time, so the Secret Service was unable to find him. They seized some video tapes and other personal effects, and a week later his website was mysteriously taken down.

Stuckey was allegedly tipped off by a female friend in the State Department, and he went underground for a while, hiring prominent civil rights attorney Ron Kuby to represent him. Sander was the only journalist to interview Stuckey, and they were forced to meet in secret somewhere in New York City.

Admittedly, a review of “Vox’s” writings reveals a canon of conspiracy. At first glance his impudent often hysteria-laden allegations appear to be the histrionic rantings of a pissed-off paranoiac. That was certainly my first reaction. It’s only too easy for the uninitiated to write him off as a crank, especially if you don’t understand what you’re looking at, as was the case with me when I first stumbled across his site in 2002.

To the skilled eye, however, his writing has all the traits of well-crafted disinformation meant to discredit serious research: he mixes facts and credible sources with speculation, anonymous sources, known disinfo, and apocrypha. “Vox” plays into the “conspiracy theorist” stereotype, RIGHT DOWN TO EMPHASIZING REALLY IMPORTANT POINTS IN CAPS!!

“Vox’s” credibility is certainly a matter of debate, but he becomes much harder to dismiss when you learn his incredulous claim about the Bush-Hinckley connection turns out to be true, as Sander confirmed:

“Newsweek did write a story mentioning that Hinckley's brother was scheduled to dine with Neil Bush on the day of the Reagan assassination attempt.[24]  John Chancellor did mention the same fact on the air [NBC Nightly News] Vox's website was not the only one reporting the Bush/Hinckley family link. Nathaniel Blumberg, dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism and founder of the Montana Journalism Review, has also reported this on his home page, NathanielBlumberg.com.[25]

"I have never been a conspiracy theorist; I am an analyst of press performance with credentials extending over four decades," Blumberg explains. In his view, the Neil Bush/Hinckley story "was censored by NBC News and the other organs of the national news media [for] 10 years. And even in the several months of extensive coverage of Neil Bush's part in the massive Savings and Loan fraud, no mention was made of his role in the continuing cover-up of the most significant story in the 1980s."[26]

This certainly raises far more questions than it answers. Moreover even a precursory glance at the available source material makes the official story—that there was ‘no connection” between the families, that the dinner date was a “horrible coincidence,” and that Hinckley randomly shot Reagan to “impress actress Jodie Foster”—seem absurd.[27] Blumberg called it “the most remarkable assassination coincidence in the history of this country.''

Of course these alone don’t prove there was an assassination plot, much less that the Vice President was involved. But at the very least it does prove that Bush and his family systematically lied about and covered up their connection to the Hinckleys. The question is, why?

There are many possible explanations. Were the Hinckleys set up? Were the two families in collusion in a larger plot? Were the Bushes simply covering up past collusions with the Hinckleys (like the aforementioned oil pricing scandal), for fear of the political ramifications? Unfortunately, the deeper you look, the more questions are raised, and the worse it looks for the Vice President. There are many, many other factors which need to be considered, not the least of which is everything that is known about the modus operandi of Poppy Bush, or his notably adversarial relationship with Reagan. Too complex to argue here, suffice it to say there are simply too many “coincidences” for this story to be just another cut and dry case of a “lone nut” assassin.[28][29]

Yet, the key argument in this case is not whether what “Vox” said was true, but whether it warranted a kick-down raid by more than two-dozen Federal agents. Vox was certainly not the first person to mention the Bush family's relationship with the Hinckleys or the bin Ladens, just as Jim Hatfield was not the first to claim “W” had been busted for coke. Yet, the Feds reaction certainly indicates that something “Vox” said was of great concern to someone who wanted to shut him up, and who had the power to respond in this manner.

The raid and subsequent censorship of Vox’s site was one of the first post-9/11 incidents that raised the key issues of freedom of speech and information, repeated patterns of deception by government and media, and the constitutionality of policing dissent within the new security paradigm.

“Parody and political speech are protected by the First Amendment,” Sander wrote, “meant to protect the abrasive as well as the established.”

In this context, the raid on Stuckey’s apartment seems all the more suspect. You really have to wonder what he said that hit such a sensitive nerve. More unsettling is that the raid set a rather terrifying precedent.

The Patriot Act effectively did away with the 1974 laws limiting government surveillance and the policing of dissent. This is quite galling considering those provisions were quite deliberately put in place because the FBI and CIA had broken the law. They were monitoring, disrupting, and maintaining files on the political activity of tens of thousands of Americans.[30] The Vox precedent revealed that the Patriot Act (and subsequent legislation) could easily be used for more raids of this kind, more censorship of political speech, and even to charge US citizens as “domestic terrorists” under a laundry list of vague scenarios, including legitimate dissent.

“Vox might indeed fit the definition of a ‘domestic terrorist’ because of the government's fuzzy definition of that new category. Nancy Chang, senior litigation attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, says that vigorous protest activities could, under current law, be construed as terrorist actions: "A 'terrorist' these days is anyone who engages in activities that (according to the Patriot Act) 'appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion' that are 'dangerous to human life' or 'a violation of the criminal laws.' Conceivably, any patriotic dissent from the administration line could earn one the label of terrorist—and the consequent loss of liberties and constitutional protections.”

The Secret Service eventually stopped pursuing Stuckey after it became clear to them that the person they were dealing with might be obnoxious, even crazy, but not dangerous. “Vox” would eventually emerge from hiding after his lawyer Kuby convinced the Feds that, “politically, it was not a good move,” most likely because of his family’s status and what Stuckey described as “substantial resources at my command.” At the same time, he claimed (on his restored website) that he remained under surveillance. If true, it begs the question: why bother, if there’s nothing to what he’s saying? [31]

That certainly became my question when I discovered a few months later that the Feds were monitoring Newtopia as well. The surveillance began shortly after I published the “Empires” issue containing the investigative report on the influence of the oil industry, and the profile of the Bush family. I was able to determine this through our host server’s traffic monitoring program (Secret Service is a branch of the Department of the Treasury).

1. 10 September 12:14 Dept. of State, United States
2. 13 September 09:46 Dept. of State, United States
3. 17 September 3:34 Dept. of State, United States
4. 11 September 15:21 U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, United States
5. 11 September 14:27 U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, United States
6. 2 October 06:39 U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, United States
7. 15 October 07:18 U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, United States

I was not going to be the next Harry Stuckey. I decided that the safest and smartest thing to do would be to publicize it. I don’t know whether I was being smart, overreacting, or antagonizing the Feds more, but my intuition told me I would be safer in the light of day.

Under my pseudonym, Henry Quentin Jones, I revealed we were under surveillance. I reported what happened to “Vox” and cited the article in the Long Island Journal. I pointed out that the tone and content of our material was nothing like what “Vox” was publishing. We were just a magazine. We did not endorse “Vox’s” claims, but we were certainly curious about their authenticity, which in the case of the Bush-Hinckley and Bush-bin Laden stories turned out to be true. Whether that qualified as “seditious” seemed to be more of a matter of opinion, or convenience. If nothing else, hadn’t they something better to do?

“I'd hate to think that my sincere efforts to write credible material and educate my fellows is going to result in my door getting kicked down in the middle of the night like what happened to Harry Stuckey… But every night that I go home I find myself peeking in my own window before I enter, because I know the "sneak and peak" clause of the Patriot Act allows the government to enter my home and look around without a warrant and without telling me they were ever there. I have to ask myself, if the Patriot Act is meant to protect us, why must the government sneak around and spy on its own loyal citizens? Perhaps it's because it's not loyalty to America the government is concerned with, but rather, like the Mafia, plugging any leak that might serve to bring down what many like Harry Stuckey view as a criminal empire, led by Godfather Bush and his cadre of corporate and defense thugs.” [32]

Admittedly I was a tad paranoid. I suspect most would get that way learning they were under government surveillance, and were one degree of separation away from someone who got raided. Who knew what secret processes were already in motion. Was it only a matter of time before they kicked down my door?

A number of years later, while I was writing this book, I tracked down another source who reported having been monitored by the Secret Service in the same way because he had posted material about “Vox.” At the time they were monitoring his site, “Vox” was still on the lam, and the blogger speculates they were looking for him by searching for any mention of his name. Newtopia’s monitoring does seem to end right around the time “Vox” resurfaces.[33]

Did I overreact? I don’t think so. Anyway you look at it, I find it hard to be blasé or dismissive about government surveillance, particularly when it is unwarranted, and intrudes upon freedom of speech and press. The bigger question is, what were the consequences of my surveillance? To this day I don’t know the full extent to which I have been monitored over the years, or whether I am deemed some sort of threat for my beliefs. Given what I did next in life, which was to become a somewhat visible political organizer, the question becomes that much more relevant. The worst thing about the whole experience is that it showed me quite clearly what the government’s real priorities are.

Things have only gotten worse in the years since Harry Stuckey ran face first into the reality of the new security paradigm. There are a half-dozen more authoritarian laws in place today than the Patriot Act, which, if you’ll excuse the pun, was a hard act to follow. And more is on the way.[34]

Two highly disturbing pieces of legislation await passage: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007, and the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010. If enacted into law they would permit the government to classify virtually any form of protest, dissent, or free expression as hostile, and detain and interrogate citizens indefinitely. What does it say about a so-called free country when one can be detained indefinitely for being belligerent?

This so-called free country is also operating secretive political prisons on American soil called Communications Management Units (CMUs). These hold among them animal rights and environmental activists who have been labeled “domestic terrorists” for protecting trees from loggers or liberating animals held in test labs and factory farms.[35] Even advocating for peaceful conflict resolution with, say, the Palestinians, can now be classified as supporting terrorism following the June 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law.[36]

When taken as a whole a clear picture emerges of who the government considers the real enemy: We, the People.

Shortly after that first conversation Sander sent me a prospectus for the Drench Kiss Media Company (DKMC), and an outline for the first book he wanted to publish, The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistleblowers, and the Cover-Up. He said he was looking for investors. I mentioned that I used to work in independent film and had raised some money for a project (Unfinished Portraits) in the late 1990s. He asked if I thought I could raise money for DKMC, and I told him yes. He invited me to come aboard the project and show him.

For about six months we worked together filling out the details of DKMC while we moved ahead with plans for a Halloween 2003 launch in New York City at the Small Press Center. It was rough going. No one I knew with money had any interest in investing in DKMC, and I think I definitely overestimated my ability to sell the project. I was completely unprepared for the vicious reaction the money people, who are generally conservative, had to radical ideas, particularly when you’re asking them to give you money to publish a “9/11 conspiracy book.”

Of course, we weren’t peddling conspiracies. What I appreciate most about Sander are his exceptional skills as a journalist. He is thorough and meticulous and incessantly curious, and he always knows the right questions to ask. It’s uncanny. He has that rare ability, so valuable in a time of revelation, to see the big picture, to comprehend larger patterns, identify common threads, and maintain an open mind for ideas and possibilities others would be quick to ridicule. We are both absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of things most people would just as soon forget, and we thrive turning over the creepy crawlies that hide in the political dirt and dark.

Lamentably, his genius for investigation is tempered by his notoriously impossible personality. At the time we worked together, neither he nor I had particularly good reputations. We were both known as hyper-defensive, difficult to work with, and somewhat functionally insane. I suppose it was because we were both pathologically curious and anti-authoritarian. Reflecting years later, I’m also certain it was because we were both deeply wounded men.

I felt that Sander’s recent turmoil with Hatfield’s death, the massive debt Soft Skull accrued with Fortunate Son, the cruel manner in which he was essentially forced out of the company he founded and the way he was pilloried by his former partners had left a deep, lasting impact. He, like me, was traumatized, and rendered incapable of trusting others, including me. We mirrored so much back at each other it was frightening

Edie and I met Sander in New York for the Drench Kiss Media launch. That afternoon we appeared on Harrison’s new radio show on the Sirius network. Bantering on the air with these two was the highlight of the trip for me. But despite our relentless grassroots marketing hardly anyone came to the press conference. It hit me hard, and I took it as a personal rejection. I can’t imagine what Sander was feeling. It wasn’t until later that I understood (or perhaps admitted) that the combination of the Hatfield scandal and the association with 9/11 Truth rendered us radioactive.

Later that night, in one of our few moments of lightness, we went to meet my brother at a party full of Wall St. types and were asked to leave, ostensibly because of how we looked. I was embarrassed and utterly disgusted. Sander, on the other hand, got a kick out of it, and thought it was hilarious.

“We can tell everyone we got kicked out of a Wall Street party the night of our launch! That’s a badge of honor where I come from.”

Unable to produce investment capital, and with literally zero interest in DKMC from anyone I knew, our partnership would quickly dissolve in conflict. Of course, anyone who knew either of us must have seen it coming from a thousand miles away.

In the end, this really was the best thing. DKMC was his vision, and I was just riding his coattails, hoping that I could contribute equally if given the opportunity. I still hadn’t learned my lesson about doing “other people’s work,” and I had a long way to go before I would learn. We were both much better when we were doing our own things, and running our own shows.

This was not the last we would see of each other. Our paths crossed a few more times, as you will see, and we remained (and I’d like to think, still remain) allies, if not friends. I’ll always admire his intellect and his incredible tenacity. He took on some of the most powerful people in the world, and he never quit. Within two years he would publish The Big Wedding and open a cooperative cafe-bookstore just like he planned. Perhaps in homage, he named the cafe “Vox Pop."

Jim Hatfield once described Sander as a maverick. To me, he was Morpheus, offering truth while at the same time forcing you to question what you think is reality, what it really means to be free, and whether simply believing you are free is enough. He didn't say it would be easy, he just said that it would be the truth, and being told is not enough, you have to see it for yourself.

Fate, is seems, is not without a sense of irony. My collision with Sander altered my life’s trajectory so that even as I consciously strove for more acceptance and validation, as my voice clamored to be heard and my soul begged for a normal life, I would find myself irresistibly pulled in the opposite direction, deeper and deeper into the radical subcultures of a nation that had lost its way, and was undergoing a similarly profound transformation. 

~~~~

Endnotes

  1. Review of Fortunate Son by Gavin MacDonald, Barbelith, May 12, 2002.
  2. Entry on George W. Bush's military service in Sourcewatch.
  3. “The Bush Rule of Journalism” by Robert Parry, Consortium News, January 17, 2005.
  4. “Behind the Bushes: Fortunate Son by J.H. Hatfield” a review by David Cogswell, The American Book Review.
  5. The original October 21, 1999 article by Peter Slover has been removed from the Dallas Morning News website. An excerpt was posted on the website of the Media Research Center, along with the original link. 
  6. Interview with Sander Hicks, BuzzFlash, May 28, 2001
  7. Interview with Toby Rogers, Democracy NOW!, August 13, 2003.
  8. “Nothing Personal: Bush up to his arse in allegations!” by Amy Reiter, Salon,com, August 25, 1999.
  9. For a detailed history of Rove's dirty tricks, see Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential by James Moore and Wayne Slater (2003, Wiley) and the subsequent documentary based on the book. “Karl Rove was the dark Da Vinci of American politics. He was a master at creating the wedge issue: whether it be gay marriage or national security or patriotism. If he could convince you that the other side was “un-American, he could always come out on top. Karl Rove was a virtuoso when it came to dividing America to elect his candidate. Whether it was John McCain being “rumored” to have fathered a daughter with an African American prostitute or accusing Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam and veteran and amputee, of being soft on terrorism, Karl Rove was a master at “smash-mouth” junkyard dog politics.”
  10. “National Guarding Bush: Did Karl Rove Plan Leak of Alleged Forged Documents to 60 Minutes by Mike Burke, Buzzflash, September 15, 2004.
  11. “Publisher halts George W. Bush bio” by Darrel Lindsay, Salon.com, October 21, 1999.
  12. “The Bush Rule of Journalism” by Robert Parry, Consortium News, January 17, 2005.
  13. "George W. Bush's Missing Year" by Mary Jacoby, Salon.com, Sept. 2, 2004.
  14. “Bush fell short on duty at Guard” Boston Globe, September 8, 2004.
  15. “Bush in the National Guard: A primer” by Eric Boehlert, Salon.com, September 20, 2004.
  16. “Who Is George W. Bush?” by Toby Rogers and Nick Mamatas, Albion Monitor, January 30, 2000.
  17. “The Death of Jim Hatfield.” Introduction to the French language edition of Fortunate Son, by David Cogswell, May 15, 2003.
  18. Review of Fortunate Son by Gavin MacDonald, Barbelith, May 12, 2002.
  19. “Make No Mistake About It 9/11 Was An Inside Job” by VoxFux, December 28, 2002.
  20. ibid
  21. “The Bush Empire: How four generations of arms, oil, fascism, and US Govt. defiance made America's First Family” by Charles Shaw, Newtopia, Issue 12, July 2003.
  22. “The Truth About Vox” was subsequently removed from the Long Island Journal website, and is no longer accessible on the now-defunct Guerrilla News Network, where it also ran. I have the original in my files, but a copy can be found online here
  23. "CIA Can Kill Citizens Who Aid Al-Qaida: Bush Doesn't Exempt Americans" by John J. Lumpkin, Associated Press, Dec. 4, 2002. (a second version of the story ran the next day with the less sensational headline, “U.S. Can Target American al-Qaida Agents.” This remains the only version available through the AP)
  24. Newsweek published the information on April 13, 1981 in a small sidebar story under the heading, “For Conspiracy Buffs Only.”  Nathaniel Blumberg posted a photo of the story on his website.
  25. The Afternoon of March 30, by Nathaniel Blumberg. (contains photo of Newsweek sidebar on Bush-Hinckley connection)
  26. “The Bush Family In The ‘90s: Neil Bush and his family—Part I” by Nathaniel Blumberg, The Treasure State Review, Issue 1, December 1991.
  27. David Cogswell did a good job of culling mainstream media reports of the Bush-Hinckley connection in a piece he wrote called, “Hinckley Can Go Home”, January 5, 2004.
  28. Vox archive on available mainstream sources confirming the Bush-Hinckley connection.
  29. “Two things about Al Haig that are not in his obituary” by Wayne Madsen, Voltairenet, February 22, 2010.
  30. “Analysis Of The Provisions Of The USA PATRIOT Act That Relate To Online Activities,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 31, 2001.
  31. "Vox Alive and Well Amidst Lots of Speculation” – November 3, 2003
  32. “Alien and Seditious: Is the US Government Spying on Newtopia? Haven’t they got better things to do?” by Henry Quentin Jones/Charles Shaw, Newtopia, Issue 14, November 2003.
  33. On February 20, 2003, Chris Sivori reported that the Secret Service had been monitoring his blog because he had written about Vox and linked to his site. Stuckey was still underground at the time.
  34. These include the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act (SAFETY Act) of 2002, Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, REAL ID Act of 2005, Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2007.  The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 and Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 are currently pending.
  35. “Government Acknowledges Secretive Prisons for “Domestic Terrorists, Proposes Making Them Permanent” by Will Potter, Green is The New Red, April 14th, 2010.
  36. “Supreme Court Ruling Criminalizes Speech in Material Support Law Case” – Center for Constitutional Rights, June 21, 2010.

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Exile Nation copyright©2010 CharlesShaw. All rights reserved.

Charles Shaw's work has appeared in Alternet,AlternativePress Review, Conscious Choice, Common Ground, Grist, Guerrilla News Network, Huffington Post, In These Times, Newtopia, The New York Times, openDemocracy, Planetizen, Punk Planet, Reality Sandwich, San Diego Uptown News, Scoop, Shift, Truthout, The Witness, YES!, and Znet. Hewas a Contributing Author to the 2008 Shift Report from the Institute for Noetic Sciences, and in Planetizen's Contemporary Debates in Urban Planning (2007,Island Press). In 2009 he was recognized by the San Diego Press Club for excellence in journalism.

Charlesis the Director of the Exile Nation Unheard Voices documentary project, the Editor of the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum, and the Editor of the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, collaborative projects of Resurgence, openDemocracy, and the Tedworth Charitible Trust. He was Editorial Director of Conscious Enlightenment Publishing (Conscious Choice, Common Ground, Whole Life Times, and Seattle's Conscious Choice), the founder and publisher of Newtopia,head writer for the nationally syndicated radio show Reality Checks, Senior Staff Writer for The Next American City, and a Contributing Editor for Worldchanging.

A long-time activist and former official for the Green Party of the US, heis a native of Chicago who lives on the West Coast…for now.