A couple weeks ago, Steven Donziger was convicted of contempt of court. The maximum sentence for that crime is six months in jail, but people are only rarely ever given jail time for that misdemeanor offense. Despite that, Donziger has been on house arrest for over two years while awaiting and undergoing trial, and remains on house arrest pending appeal.
Today was difficult but not surprising. Let's remember this case will not be decided by Judge Preska — the appeals court is the final arbiter. The key question is whether I will be released pending appeal.
Thanks again for the support. Here is my latest take: pic.twitter.com/WjUSjvLsgi
— Steven Donziger (@SDonziger) October 2, 2021
Readers unfamiliar with Donziger’s story might wonder why someone would be on house arrest for that long for such a petty crime, and the answer is that he won a legal battle over a decade ago against Chevron, and now it’s payback time. I’ve written about this before, if you want to get a deeper look at the case, but long story short, Donziger represented indigenous people in the Amazon who were sickened and killed by Texaco’s drilling activities (Texaco was later bought by Chevron). His clients won in court, and Texaco/Chevron fled the country, refusing to pay any fines or damages.
Now, Chevron is using its sway in the US legal system to exact revenge. We saw hand-picked judges with ties to Chevron, heavily-paid witnesses, and even Chevron’s law firm acting as prosecutors to persecute him (all highly unusual, but somehow barely legal moves). The claim for years has been that Steven Donziger is a big, bad lawyer who bribed South American judges to pick on poor little Chevron, the upright American oil company.
One guy’s response in Donziger’s Twitter thread (the guy on the bottom), while dim-witted, gave us a really good peek at the “genius” mind many of these lawyers have:
From reading the Twitter bio, Richard is a lawyer himself. Lawyers are generally not downright idiots, but sometimes they’re so narrowly mentally focused on the law that they can’t see other things, like morality, the fight for hearts and minds, or that efforts outside of the legal system can be equally or more effective. He thinks that a lawyer, once disbarred, can’t fight in other ways.
While this guy doesn’t seem to have any connection to Donziger’s persecution, his mindset really shows us what is wrong with Chevron, and ultimately what will take them down.
Chevron’s lawyers (including the judges and prosecution they bought) all think they’re winning. They’ve managed to corrupt the legal system (notice I don’t use the term “justice system”, because that clearly doesn’t apply), and corrupt it so badly that they can do pretty much whatever they want. If they lose in one country, they’ll find a way to stick it in your butt somewhere else where they own the whole house. And, just like in a casino, the house never loses.
What they don’t realize is that the legal system doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Well, maybe they realize that, because they’ve corrupted the other branches of government in the US as much as possible, but even then, raw governmental power of any kind does not exist in a vacuum. Without public support, even governments aren’t enough to protect a corrupt entity from justice.
Eventually, if things get bad enough, people really do “throw the bums out.” Even if throwing them out becomes illegal, it sometimes happens anyway. History is full of the carcasses of corrupt and evil governments that thought they could stand on power alone, only to find out too late that public opinion and diplomacy were essential to their survival.
But the question still remains: how do we go from the point of a seemingly unbeatable corrupt government to the point where people are ready to clean house?
It’s often said that in a civil conflict, the side that racks up the most martyrs wins. You might think that having martyrs (whether they’re literal dead heroes or people who were very publicly screwed by the powers that be) is a form of losing, and that doing enough of that kind of losing leads to the enemy’s overall victory over you, but remember that raw power doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If a corrupt and evil (but powerful) entity loses too many hearts and minds in the process of winning each little victory, they’ll stop being powerful, and ultimately lose.
Why? Because every time they flex their power and beat the little guy, their lack of morality and ethics is also on full display before the very people they need votes and money from to survive. They end up cutting the floor out from under themselves.
The Giant Cockroach From Men In Black
I’ll close this article up by giving an example from a popular movie: Men in Black.
At the beginning of the fight, the giant roach quickly eats the good guys’ guns, leaving them powerless to stop him. But then, the more experienced good guy (Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones) yells at the roach, challenging it to eat him. Seeing the little guy as powerless, the roach ultimately obliges, and swallows Agent K whole.
Agent J (Played by Will Smith) then finds that taunting the giant alien roach is a good way to keep him from leaving the planet with K in his stomach. He even steps on earth-sized roaches to infuriate the big alien roach and get him to come and fight. But, when he’s about to kill Agent J, we hear Agent K cock his gun inside the roach’s guts, and then blast him apart from the inside.
Chevron’s lawyers (some pretending to be legitimate judges) are like the giant roach. Sure, they’ve become so powerful that they can just eat Steven Donziger. But, in the process of eating him, they’ve put the corruption and naked aggression on full display in front of the American people. Now, they’re in the process of losing hearts and minds as people see the “justice” system for what it really is: a kangaroo court that puts on show trials to intimidate political enemies.
Their very power to put on these show trials depends on public support, or at the very least, public apathy. What they don’t know is that we’re all working to get them removed from the positions of power from which they persecute good people. We’re calling our representatives and senators. We’re donating to the very causes they want to intimidate. We’re resisting in any other way we can.
When these “judges” commit enough injustices, they’ll fall from power. I just hope for their sake that they don’t take the corruption too far, that their removal happens in a way that’s peaceful and civilized, and that they get better treatment than they gave others.
Featured image: An image from the German federal archives showing the Nazi People’s Court in session to convict Claus von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators for a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This scene was portrayed in the 2008 film Valkyrie.