I received a text message this morning from a friend, asking, “Is James Stewart dead?”

What?!! Well, not since last evening he wasn’t, I replied.

It turned out that radio personality Joyce Riley had reported the “news” Monday morning on her Joyce Riley Power Hour. Her information seems to have come from the introduction from Mike Adams of Natural Health News to a YouTube interview of Stewart, in which Adams reports Stewart “nearly died” while in police custody for eight days following his arrest on charges connected to the financing of Sharon Palmer’s Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County.

I don’t think “hysteria” is quite the right term here, but clearly, the upsetting account Stewart has provided of his captivity–described in my previous post and in a YouTube video–have unnerved a lot of people. I’d like to run through the most common of the reactions, and examine them more closely:

James Stewart, two days before being jailed, and immediately after his releaseWhat a bunch of whiners and victims.
A few people, including veterans of the food rights movement, have wondered aloud if Stewart, and those like me, who have written about him, are just playing the old victimization game (i.e. They’re after us again, it’s all a conspiracy, etc.). There is something to that. Our law enforcement apparatus at any one time targets various groups for special treatment, be it Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, or “sovereign citizens”. All in the name of homeland security, or whatever. What makes us food rights activists so special we think we can avoid such treatment? The victimization syndrome is difficult to avoid, especially if they really are after us, as they seem to be. All of which leads to the next reaction…

Better toughen up. If you think Stewart was treated badly, just wait. It can get a lot worse. This is also a valid point. While Stewart’s experience wasn’t what I would call a walk in the park (see the accompanying before-and-after photos), I expect it will get a lot worse. In fact, I suspect Stewart was treated the way he was partly in hopes the experience would get attention, and thus send a message–a message of intimidation: If you are thinking about investigating us or standing up for your rights or defying us, think again. You could be treated like this, or worse. And I’m sure the message will get through to some number of people. But hopefully it will also have the opposite effect, and alert more people that they need to prepare themselves mentally for torture and abuse if they are going to follow through on plans to resist.

They deserve what they’re getting. It seems to me we always hear this when certain high-profile people are accused of crimes. There are some people who simply forget our system’s supposed credo that individuals are innocent till proven guilty. So convinced are some of these people that James Stewart is guilty of some terrible crimes, that any punishment meted out on him is okay. They ignore the reality that not only has he only been accused, he hasn’t even had a pre-trial hearing or any other sort of court proceeding to present evidence of his side of the story. Targeted torture and abuse of the convicted is bad enough, but of the accused?

Torture or just equal-opportunity abuse? C’mon, Stewart wasn’t tortured, goes the refrain here. Seven hours without food, that’s not torture. Jail isn’t a room-service hotel, after all. I’ll grant the fine-pointers that. Does abuse becomes torture at eight hours without food, nine hours, 24 hours? Just like the confinement in a cold room. When does garden-variety abuse become torture? When your body temperature goes down to 95 degrees, 90 degrees, when you become unconscious? Does a little dousing become waterboarding when your head is submerged in water for 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 45 seconds? Anyone who goes in for these fine points is doing just what the government enforcers want–getting lost in the minutae while they keep turning up the heat.

We better get ready to defend ourselves. Talk about guns or elaborate sovereign-citizen agendas may sound neat, but I think the authorities are on to such ideas. The one they have a more difficult time with is civil disobedience. The recently unveiled “Declaration of Food Independence” by the Raw Milk Freedom Riders commits adherents to “respectfully declare that we will peacefully reject laws and regulations that infringe on this God-given right” to obtain food directly from the farmers and producers of our choosing.

Sure, there is lots of baggage that comes with the Rawesome situation. Better for us to leave the distractions and focus on the issues that matter most in educating people and preparing for the struggle ahead.