A Walk Through the Valley of Death

Posted on 2023-02-03
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Greenwood, South Carolina – When I was in my early 30s a faction of “liberal” Republicans and Democrats on the County Board embarked on a lawfare campaign against landowners in Lake County, Illinois, the third-largest county in the state. It was also my home county. Their mouthpiece was a “Republican” who did not believe in the concept of private ownership of property. Though he often denied it, he finally admitted it in an interview I did with him while I was in print journalism. The brains of the operation was a man I had once been allied with, a man who was determined to stop all development in the county by a three-pronged approach: dry up water and sewer permits and seize undeveloped land through eminent domain to use for “open space” for “all the people.”

The controversy began slowly with the denial of sewer service, even to areas that had already grown beyond the capacity for effective septic tank systems. The most effective opposition to that policy came from the staff of a defunct, but still legally active, local sanitation board. Brains, as president of the county board, appointed me, his ally, to that board in the expectation I would figure out a way to dissolve it. I probably would have, except that there was a very large residential area in the unincorporated part of the area we were responsible for that had no sanitary sewers. The extensive use of septic systems had caused multiple outbreaks of hepatitis and other ailments among children – and threatened a substantial lake with the runoff. But Brains was adamant that no county sewer would be extended lest it set a precedent that would weaken his determination to halt all development via denial of basic services. This was the beginning of the controversy.

I was determined that the area in question get county sewer service, both for public health and the protection of the waterways. Brains considered it an acceptable sacrifice for his main goal. We had long been allies and the political establishment noted the growing gulf between us. I had originally been attracted to Brains’ organization because of his consistent and inspiring idealism.

In addition to being a county board member, Brains was a township supervisor. In the Chicago suburbs, township government is a peculiar, but very useful, political office. With few responsibilities, a good salary, and the patronage of three other township offices and four board members, it makes for a very good base of operations to facilitate a full-time political career at the local level. Most township supervisors are also county board members. The two offices combined make for a very comfortable salary, indeed.

The growing public divide between Brains and me led to what is still the most shocking private political meeting I have ever had. Brains set an appointment for us to meet for an afternoon at his township office to finally hammer out our differences. I went in expecting to secure county sewer service for the affected area. I had compiled the statistics on the excess illnesses that occurred in the area, almost certainly due to exposure to eruptions from the vastly overstressed septic systems and the environmental degradation of the lake. He was adamant that it was not going to happen. “Please explain to me how this helps the public good,” I pleaded. “Brains, this looks like it is all about power rather than service.” He exploded. “Grow up, Charlie. It IS all about power. It has always been about power. You have to talk about the ‘public good’ to gain it, but it’s always about power.” I was so shocked I didn’t hear a bunch of what he next said. But then he said something that shocked me even more. First, he told me that everyone knew I was his ‘heir apparent.’ (He vastly underestimated the scope my peculiar ambitions reached for. I had no intention of being limited to a mere county post – even in a county bigger than some states). To facilitate fast-tracking my ambitions, he was offering me a post of honor, prestige and money in exchange for my support of his power grab. I was stunned. I knew some thought I was the typical fellow filled with lust for titles, power and comfort – but I thought those closest to me understood me better. I lusted for justice and honor, to serve God and His people. I don’t say it as a particular virtue: I have plenty of vices. But I could not use the language of honor to betray it and still live with myself and my God. Even worse, to make good on this offer, he would cut the throat of another ally to give his position to me. Though that ally was not particularly gifted politically and had no chops as a strategist, he had never done Brains any harm and had served him loyally. It was neither the first, nor the last time I was made such an offer, but it was, by far, the most shocking in its naked cynicism and cruelty. I quietly told him that, in that case, we would just have to be opponents and left, still reeling from the idea that he could possibly think this offer would appeal to me.

And so, indeed, we did become open, public adversaries. That faction promptly abandoned all restraint. They began using eminent domain to condemn farmers’ land to use for “open space.” This was, of course, for “all the people,” even though the public was barred from most lands seized in this manner. They also routinely offered each farmer about 1/3 of market value for the land they sought to seize. If the landowner took the county to court, the farmer invariably won because of the lowball offer. The county didn’t care: it was operating under the ‘deep pockets’ theory. It figured it could afford to keep appealing until the landowner submitted, as few had the financial wherewithal to sustain such a continued financial battering and perpetual fight. The brutality of the process, itself, led some farmers to negotiate a higher lowball price than a mere 1/3 of market value in order to avoid being financially ruined by the sustained legal battle – even though they would almost certainly prevail legally. It was hideously cynical and evil – but effective.

I had a very popular regional radio show, so I led the charge into a pitched battle. I didn’t do most of the work. That came from farmers, the Farm Bureau, a few contractors and people just outraged by the injustice of it – but I was the political leader and the organizing principal everyone rallied around. There were many very large protests and ‘tractorcades.’ Eventually, I left the radio station in order to attack both Brains and Mouthpiece in their township bases. I directly managed the campaign against Brains and his slate of seven others – three township officials and four board members, while offering regular counsel to those running the race against Mouthpiece. Oh, did Brains and his people mock and taunt me for giving up a secured future to pursue this pipe dream. After all, he was a 20-year incumbent who had always had re-elect numbers of over 60 percent. I figured he must be a little nervous, though, because he contacted me several times offering to forgive all if I would just come back into his fold and lead his political effort. As if I would ever consider joining the brutal battle against ordinary people for personal gain!

At that time in Lake County, Illinois, activists from all over the county would gather at the courthouse to await results in sort of a party atmosphere. The radio station broadcast live from the county building. Though I could not work for the radio station while playing an active partisan role, they figured the polls would all be closed by the time their broadcast began, so they asked me to act as their guest expert on the broadcast, to which I agreed. I was mildly annoyed at all the people who came up to congratulate me on running a great race, but commiserate that it was impossible to oust a 20-year incumbent. Finally, before the broadcast began, when the chief judge of the circuit offered me the same wisdom, I angrily retorted, “The surprise of the night will not be that we win, but the margin by which we do it.” Everyone in his group looked at me like I was crazy – but no one offered me that bromide again. When the final results were in, all eight of the people on our slate had won – and our lowest vote-getter won with 59.1% of the vote. Over in Mouthpiece’s township, he was defeated, though it was not the comprehensive victory that we had won against Brains and his people.

This slowed, but did not stop, the assault on farmers in the county. Half of the county board was up for election every two years. We immediately set to work developing the strategy to take out the land-grab Republicans who were up that year. I announced as a candidate for Brains’ seat. Seeing the writing on the wall, Brains decided he would not run – but he did back his son-in-law for the seat. That was not the end of it. I entered into one of the two most brutal periods of my life with that race. Brains and company began an ugly campaign of slanderous rumors against me. Even worse, one of the county’s major newspapers allied with Brains and printed libelous lies against me every week for almost a year. It culminated with them writing a tear-jerker about how I had abandoned my children, left them penniless with the utilities turned off and my former wife having to go on welfare to support them. At the time they wrote it, they knew that it was not even close to true and that, in fact, I had sole custody of my children. I held a press conference to denounce the story and the year-long battering, one which my former wife attended. God bless her. The writer of this story weasled up to her, hoping to get some dirt. She looked at me and asked if this was the guy who had written that stuff. When I told her he was, she asked if she could hit him. I nodded that she should not do that. So she turned and spit in his face and tearfully told him that, “Charlie is the best man I have ever known.” He slunk away, realizing that he had badly misjudged this situation. God love her. There are good reasons Carrie and I could not make it together, but we have remained friends who care about each other.

The ugliness got so bad early on that the county Republican chairman (who was also a legislative leader in the statehouse) asked me to come to his office for a sit-down. He suggested I should consider withdrawing from the race and letting them find a replacement candidate because of the brutal assault against me. I told him I would gladly do so if he could find a solid replacement – and would thank him for doing it if he could. But I reminded him that this was the chairman’s old seat – and his faction was bound on revenge for the defeat they had suffered in the township races. Whoever was on our side running for this seat was going to get pounded. I told him I had come to think this seat was probably unwinnable for our side – but that we did not have to win this seat. We had to win the bulk of the county. I asked him who he knew that could take half the pounding I was receiving for more than a week or two. If we were to keep them pinned down in the rest of the county, we had to keep them focusing their fury on this seat. Both the chairman and I knew that I would keep fighting right until election day, whatever they threw at me. If he could find someone we both felt confident would do the same, I would gratefully quit the field. Thinking about it in that manner, he concluded that our best bet was for me to keep fighting on. In the end, I lost as I expected I would. But I was astonished that, after a year of being pounded with sustained ugly lies, they were only able to defeat me by less than 600 votes out of over 20,000 cast. We swept away the land-grabbers everywhere else in the county and the legalized theft of people’s land ended.

I filed suit against the newspaper that had slimed me, but refused to add those who we could prove had slimed me with rumors to the suit. I figured they were caught up in the frenzy rather than instigators of it. After a couple of years, we prevailed. Within a decade, that 50-year old newspaper folded shop. I heard it could not get libel insurance except at exorbitant rates after its campaign against me. It is very rare for anyone to prevail in a libel suit, particularly if they are legally defined as a ‘public figure.’ A newspaper can tell any lie they want about a public figure provided that the lies do not accuse him of a crime. They can even accuse him of a crime if they do not know with certainty that the accusation is not true. They thought they had skirted that line very carefully. Their error came in the tear-jerking piece. Had it been true, I would have been guilty of non-support of my children, which is a crime. It was common knowledge that I had custody of my children, so they could not make the case they did not know.

Not a single one of my tormenters ever apologized. Almost all did, however, seek me out over the next couple of years seeking my counsel and going out of their way to be kind and respectful to me. Some came to be committed supporters as they realized I could have taken them down, too, but declined mindless vengeance. It was a brutal experience – and though I held strong, the three or four years as it began and in the aftermath was the only time in my life when I drank to excess. I suspect that is part of the reason why I have no taste at all for alcohol: in some way it recalls that brutal period. You may be tough enough to take a pounding and keep going, but you are going to be bruised.

Many pro-lifers are, rightly, very pleased that Mark Houck, the pro-life sidewalk counselor who was raided by some 20+ armed FBI agents, was quickly found not guilty in his federal trial. What is really bad is that the video that the Injustice Dept. used to gin up charges against Houck clearly shows that it was he who was accosted by a pro-abortion escort rather than the other way around. That is probably why it took the jury little more than an hour of deliberation to exonerate Houck. I am pleased that our friends at the Thomas More Society were instrumental in Houck’s legal defense.

We should not lose sight of the fact, though, that Houck should have never gone to trial in the first place. I get flashbacks to the land-grabbers of 35 years ago as I see the Injustice Dep’t raiding pro-lifers while virtually ignoring fire bombings of pro-life centers and going after parents who object to woke indoctrination in schools as ‘domestic terrorists’ while studiously ignoring actual violent criminals. A veteran law enforcement official I know recently changed careers. He told me the final straw was when a judge released two men he had dead to rights on first degree murder on $50,000 bond. “The only crime they take seriously anymore is political dissent,” he told me. Would the Injustice Dep’t have liked to win? Sure, but they accomplished their main goal when they charged him, beginning a nightmarish ordeal he should have never had to have dealt with. They are sending the message that if you dare dissent from the party line they will put you through hell. The chilling effect on dissent IS the primary point. Maybe half the judges in this country are actual judges who seek to apply the law. The other half are political hacks with gavels who seek to give the left the results it wants by making sophistical explanations on why the law does not mean what it actually says. You still might prevail, but your odds are about the same as they are at the Blackjack table.

When there is no effort to honestly and evenly apply the law, there is no law. We have effectively become an anarchic state in which there is no justice, only power games. The worst lowlifes in our society now command the reins in almost all institutions. That gives them a leg up. But there are a ton more of us than there are of them. That gives us a leg up if we exercise that advantage effectively. The left cannot destroy us, only cull the herd. But if we allow the culling to intimidate us into inaction, then they can destroy us.

I learned many things in my extended ordeal over 30 years ago. Perhaps the most important is that the anticipation of an ordeal is more fearful than the ordeal, itself – even if it becomes much worse than you imagined. Impotent rants and rages will destroy your effectiveness. You need to see things as they are, for once you succumb to the paranoia of seeing everything as a threat and everyone as a potential enemy, you lose the capacity for discernment and end up either paralyzed with fear or striking out at random phantasms. You need to be deliberate. Before the serial beating began I had sat down with the columnist who wrote almost all of them. To my astonishment he told me how much he hated me and what he was going to do to destroy me. I did not engage in emotionally satisfying but impotent rage against him. Rather, I went home and typed up a statement of what he had just told me, then went and had it notarized so that, if he did follow through on his threats, I could give evidence of his malice. That document became an important piece of evidence.

Some years later, in the first statewide race I managed, my candidate was fearful early on that he would have to undergo the sort of ordeal I had, since this was a much bigger race. I told him that it would be significantly harder than he thought it would be, but that I was attacked in a very rare case of a demonically-fueled feeding frenzy – and that it was very unlikely he would have to deal with that. Sadly, thirty years later, demonically-fueled feeding frenzies are the left’s go-to tactics.

My favorite Psalm is the 27th – and my favorite translation of it is the King James Version. It is very intimate to me, for I have lived it several times in extremis. I WOULD have fainted unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. The final lines snap my head every time: “Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage and he will strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”

I have been sick for over a week and I think it a blessing. I have wondered how to prepare you for the shape this great battle is likely to take, neither minimizing the difficulty we must face nor minimizing how trust and love will sustain us through it all. This great battle I fought asserted itself in my memory. Though it was commonly known to many of my contemporaries at the time, I don’t think I have ever recited it at this length. Yes, it ended in sweet victory, but I cannot recite it without making the batterings and bruises fully present again. If I had fainted or quit the field at any time, the outcome would almost certainly have been much different. I did not give in to rage or to petty retribution, but, oh, I was so weary. After the township sweep when the land grabbers’ power was seriously compromised, a farmer’s widow, in her 70s (remember, I was in my early 30s) tearfully thanked me for my steadfast work. The process had begun with her and she feared she was going to lose her farm at a third of its value, but the tide had turned. That was one of the moments when I saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

There are great issues to be dealt with. But the dealing of them will come through many of us deciding steadfastly to deal effectively with the many mundane issues that will make victory possible. In what I have come to think of gratefully as my small dress rehearsal for the current great crisis, all the statements of principle in the world would not have mattered if we had not done the many mundane things that made the victory of those principles possible. The members of my township slate complained constantly that I was a slavedriver, working them harder than they had ever been worked. But that is what it took to have a chance and I knew it. I will never forget the reception I got at their victory party after the election night broadcast was finished. You will have much to endure, but occasionally you will get the sweet taste of being a conquering hero – but only if you are irrevocably committed, with iron personal discipline, to giving the blood, sweat and tears to obtain it.

This is what CORAC was formed for: to give us the tools we need and forge the alliances that will allow us the chance at victory – all the while trusting that God will cover the gaps in our ability if we work resolutely to do what we can every step of the way. I would not beguile you into believing that this will not be hard or that you will not be left with bruises. It will and you will. “We do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” – Eph 6:12.

The devil has gathered his forces and filled them with demonic rage in an assault against our faith, threats to our families, and an effort to topple our freedoms. It is ours to rise up against this demonic assault and collectively say, “You shall not pass!” If we do so steadfastly, in full knowledge of what we confront, we will, indeed, see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. How sweet the seeing of it will be!

 

A new chapter of CORAC squirrels in Charleston, South Carolina. Thanks to Ms. Deen Stratford for gathering us together.

I will speak in the Charlotte area this Saturday, February 4th. The organizer is holding it at a restaurant with a buffet luncheon, so is charging $25 a person to cover his costs. Doors open at 1 p.m. Eastern time and it will be held at:

701 Main Restaurant

701 South Main St.

Waxhaw, North Carolina 28173

If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @Charliej737

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