One of the few things Amish farmer Amos Miller has had going for him in the legal sphere over the last seven years of his regulatory skirmishes is that he’s been politically nondenominational – not associated with either political party. In fact, it could be argued that he’s been equally targeted by both Republican and Democratic administrations. He’s been in trouble with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under both former presidents Obama and Trump in a case that has seemed to drag on endlessly.
But it was a U.S. Attorney under Trump who raised the stakes and the profile of the government’s long-running regulatory assault on Miller, and said he was determined to stamp out private food clubs. In 2019, U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a press release that the U.S. Department of Justice was filing “the first-ever suit of its kind where FSIS is seeking an injunction against a so-called ‘private membership association’ farm business to enforce food safety laws….my Office will not ignore efforts to evade federal food safety laws and to hinder agencies like FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Services) from carrying out their public safety missions. We will not allow commercial sellers to ignore the rule of law, make up their own sets of rules, and attempt to hide behind a private-membership-association structure in an effort to thwart federal laws.”
In the wake of that announcement, the USDA would convince a judge to shut down Miller’s meat-production and fine Miller $250.,000 for violating food safety laws (now up to $300,000). Miller has alternately hired local lawyers and served as his own lawyer to try to work out a compromise with the USDA that would allow his farm to gain an exemption permitted in the regulations.
But Miller hasn’t been able to finalize anything with the USDA agents, and in August, the Fox News commenter, Tucker Carlson, took up his cause, but with a surprise angle: he blamed the Biden Administration for Miller’s legal problems, interviewing a guest who edits a far-right site, who accused the government of denying people healthy food to weaken them. He also said that Miller is being set as an example because his farm doesn’t use gasoline, and is upsetting the government because America is under inflationary pressure caused by the Ukraine war (which the right wing hates because it loves Putin and excuses everything he does, including war crimes….but I digress). Carlson nodded appreciatively and added in his conspiracy theories about the evil nature of the Biden administration (Just as an aside, Carlson and his guest should have done themselves the favor of visiting Miller’s farm, and inhaling the diesel fumes from Miller’s large generator, which powers his huge refrigeration and freezer facilities, since the farm isn’t on the grid.)
In any event, the Tucker Carlson rants about Miller’s persecution by Biden led to an avalanche of donations to a legal fund to support Miller, nearly $165,000, well in excess of a stated goal of $150,000. It should be noted that that fund was in addition to previous funds set up to support Miller’s legal bills; at GiveSendGo there is a previous fund that raised $57,000 out of a goal of $305,000. Presumably that one went live before Tucker Carlson did his thing on Fox. One campaign that I promoted heavily on this blog last year raised about $144,000, intended to help Miller pay his then $250,000 fine.
The scent of all that cash sloshing around, more than $350,000, was apparently picked up in right-wing legal circles, and today Miller announced to his members: “God has answered our prayers for a fearless lawyer to represent Amos, to stand up for him and speak truth to power. Robert Barnes, a high profile attorney known for his work representing clients like Wesley Snipes and Children’s Health Defense, and his success in defending clients in civil, criminal, and constitutional law cases, has agreed to represent Amos! He has gotten Amos a continuance, meaning that Amos will not have to go to court on Monday, and we now have a month to work and plan before the next hearing. Robert Barnes will be there to defend him at that time.”
We’ll see how all that works out. Miller neglected to mention that Barnes’ high-profile clients have included, more recently, Alex Jones in his notorious defamation case by parents of Sandy Hook children murdered in a mass shooting. Apparently Barnes was a frequent guest on Jones’ InfoWars program; any number of Jones’ lawyers were fighting among themselves and with the judge, maybe because they lost the case so badly. Looking at Barnes’ web site, there’s nothing to indicate he’s had experience in regulatory cases involving food safety.
For another assessment of Amos Miller’s long and winding legal and regulatory journey, I suggest you take a look at this account and an accompanying editorial from a local publication, LancasterOnline.
If I were advising Miller, I’d tell him not to expect his relationship with Barnes to turn into a long-term one. Miller has never been a big fan of engaging and working with lawyers. Barnes similarly doesn’t seem to be the kind of contemplative low-key guy who might make a favorable impression on the judge in the case. I’d also advise Miller to guard against efforts to turn him into a political martyr. The Amish tend not to do well playing that role–if they participate at all in food rights vigils and demonstrations, it’s always at the edge of the crowd, nearly in the background. I’d also advise Miller to caution his lawyer against using the Tucker Carlson anti-Biden rants, because judges at a minimum want lawyers to be accurate in their presentation of evidence.