Last week I traveled 14 hours to Staunton, Virginia to testify in an obscenity trial. A guy was accused of selling DVDs in his shop that showed adults having sex with each other--which, of course, he had.
Staunton is the kind of small town in which locals enjoy being helpful to strangers. In fact, when I pulled into a gas station needing directions, the mechanic fixing a flat asked me where I was from, shook my hand, and introduced himself, welcoming me to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
But I couldn't have coffee with the guy. I was in Staunton to defend the Constitution from his neighbors. Maybe even from him.
I am desperate for you to understand this: an American city, in the year 2008, asked a jury of seven men and women to declare that a movie of adults having sex could be illegal. City prosecutor Ray Robertson said that some movies--these movies, for sure--could be so dangerous that they fall outside the protection of our glorious First Amendment.
What could these films contain that make them so treacherous? If the film called for organized revolution, it would be legal. If the film said that Blacks were lazy, Jews were cheap, or Catholics were disloyal Pope-lovers, it would be legal. If the film said our two-party system was corrupt, and that censorship laws were destroying democracy, it would be legal.
The indicted films didn't say any of these things. But the government said these films were so dangerous that adults must be prevented from buying them.
In the U.S.. In 2008. Films that simply showed adults having sex: no kids, no animals. Not even a pretend rape. Just a few hours of boobs, boners, and butts, waxed vulvas, and a few pints of ejaculate (much of it on women's faces or chests). And hours of smiles.
To a casual observer, the bust looked simple enough: a small-town cop buys a DVD, gives it to the DA, who convenes a grand jury, which issues an indictment, and a small-time businessman gets hauled into court. Soon after, he's dragged into prison.
That would be bad enough. Remember, this is America.
But something more sinister was afoot: the federal Department Of Justice was involved in this. Attorney Matthew Buzzelli, part of the DOJ's medieval Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, was serving as co-prosecutor, even though there were no federal indictments. Prosecuting a tiny shop in tiny Staunton is part of a bigger plan to attack smut across the country. "They're interested in how we do here," said local prosecutor Robertson.