In a previous article, I covered the unjust court case against environmental justice lawyer Steven Donziger. After beating Texaco (later bought by Chevron) in a foreign court, Chevron took the fight to American courts to seek revenge, employing many questionable tactics that I covered in the article. When accused of withholding evidence from courts, the case didn’t seem strong enough for prosecutors to pursue.
This wasn’t enough for the court, so they took some unusual steps. First, they handpicked a judge (against court rules) with connections to Chevron. Then, they hired Chevron’s lawyers to act as prosecutors. Then, they played every dirty trick they could during the case to find Donziger guilty, and this was after holding him under house arrest for over four times the maximum sentence for contempt of court.
It may seem like a small thing for one man to get railroaded by Big Oil, but there’s a lot more at stake here than people may realize.
Why This Case Is So Important
At its core, civilization is based on other people following the rules. Most of us want to be good, moral people who treat others the way we want to be treated, but we also expect other people to do the same. Those who commit small wrongs, like not putting the shopping cart away, deserve ridicule and shame. People who commit major wrongs against others deserve punishment, sometimes harshly. We don’t want to be ridiculed or punished harshly, but the Golden Rule has its limits, and those limits line up with our expectations.
For civilization to function, we don’t need perfect rule following, but it does need to be a norm. No civilization is capable of making sure every rule is always followed and every wrong deed punished, and a hypothetical one that can do that would probably be terrifying to live in. What we do need, though, is a general (even if imperfect) expectation that everyone else is subject to the same rules we are, and that the occasional injustice or error on the part of authorities is the rare exception and not the norm.
That’s why it’s especially bad when powerful people break the rules. When some petty criminal smashes a car window and steals a car stereo, nobody else thinks this means that it’s now OK to smash windows and steal stereos. The police are after them, and they’ll be punished if caught. When the rich and powerful (especially government officials) commit crimes and get away with it, it signals that we don’t really live in a democratic society.
Good people follow the rules because we want peace. When leaders and officials cynically break the rules, it shows us that the rules are seen as a tool of subjugation by the elite, and not a tool for achieving a peaceful and just society. Thus, the rules no longer are worth following.
Don’t believe me? Look what happened in 2020 after one police officer murdered one man on camera. Yes, the unjustified killings of minorities is a long and ongoing problem in the United States, but when the public saw that a low-level public official could brutally suffocate and kill a man who was begging for his life, it really struck a nerve. The result was protests that often turned violent. People figured out that the law had become a tool of merciless subjugation by racists, so breaking the law to stop that subjugation became not only morally acceptable, but a moral duty.
The Real Danger Of The Donziger Conviction
Sure, the injustice of a Chevron-funded judge using Chevron’s lawyers as prosecutors to punish a man who had won against Chevron in the past is just one injustice among many that occur regularly, and you’d have to really do something big to get Chevron mad enough to spend that kind of money to screw you over. In other words, the average person is unlikely to be affected by this kind of behavior, at least right now.
The problem is that we know they won’t stop there. When government officials and the people running big corporations get away with something evil, it emboldens them. Once they get away with it, they’ll look for ways to do it again when it suits them. If allowed to do this for long enough, they’d happily replace the Golden Rule we all like (treat others as you want to be treated) with one they like: “Whoever has the most gold makes the rules.”
Need an example of more widespread corruption and subjugation? Look at my colleague Johnna Crider’s coverage of the Line 3 protests. Despite laws and even treaties, oil companies basically do whatever they want.
Think it can’t happen to you? You’re wrong there, too. Government officials work with shady paid “informants” to convince activists and political extremists to commit crimes. Instead of getting punished for creating dangerous crimes and terror plots for themselves to solve, the public officials behind terror plots are instead lauded as heroes who keep us safe from the bogeyman. You don’t have to be a right-wing extremist to attract this attention, as Martin Luther King, Jr. learned. If you’re involved in any kind of political activism, expect that at least one or two of your associates are there to encourage you to commit crimes so the oil-funded government can put you in prison.
Even if you’re not any sort of activist, you can become a target should they want you for any reason. The laws in the United States are so vague and numerous that good people commit at least three felonies daily. These stupid crimes mean that anyone can be put in prison, so if you have a friend or family member who is an activist they want you to “flip” on, you can be charged with a crime to get you to turn against them. Even worse, crooked cops who want to increase their performance numbers might target you with planted evidence, or use planted evidence to justify illegally killing you, even if you’ve done nothing wrong and don’t have any activist friends
The real danger to allowing Chevron to get away with this injustice isn’t that one man’s freedom and reputation is at stake. It’s that our whole system of government is in danger. If we allow a big corporation to abuse the legal system like this, with no repercussions, then they have many other tools at their disposal to take everyone’s freedom to oppose them away. Anyone, no matter how small, is then in danger of being treated the same.
If we allow this cancer to grow in our legal system, we risk losing the whole thing to this corruption. There are really only two outcomes to unchecked public corruption: a tyrannical government or violent chaos like we see far too often in Mexico.
What’s most disturbing about all this is how flippantly Chevron is willing to risk our whole system of government just to make a quick buck.
The good news is that we can stop it now before a tyrannical corporate government or mass violence in the streets happens. We all need to speak up and demand justice in this case so Chevron and other crooked enterprises know that they can’t get away with it.
Featured image: A screenshot from Jackson County, Florida body cam footage showing a sheriff’s deputy handling planted drugs (fair use).