The Sentencing of Joe Robertson
The Sentencing of Joe Robertson
Jason Van Tatenhove
This has been a hard piece for me to write. I have rewritten it several times since last week in an attempt to do the justice to this story that the federal court system would not. I have decided to not just try and put forward objective unemotional facts in my writing anymore. Emotions and experience have always been the foundation of every expression I have created whether that be writing for the Oath Keepers, video work, or even doing talk radio. If you look up the definition of Gonzo journalism (while cutting out the drug soaked, prankish preconceptions we have from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,) it is as follows:
Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word “gonzo” is believed to have been first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. It is an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of social critique and self-satire. It has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.
I feel that when dealing with the experiences and emotions that surround the Liberty Movement, it takes an emotional point of reference to adequately portray these experiences. These are the stories of people just like you and me that have, more often than not, lost everything due to their interactions with the powers that be. We need to keep this frame of reference in order to know just what they are going through.
So here is my experience as it relates to the Sentencing of Joe Robertson.
My daughter Lux and I began our journey to the Federal Court House in Missoula, Montana last Tuesday. Lux is always begging me to come with to the events that I cover. But I will not allow her to come to anything that has the potential to turn dangerous. As I had spoken to most of the organizers for the protest that was scheduled to go on before Joe’s sentencing, I knew that it was planned to be a very peaceful and solemn event. I thought it would be good for her to see what political activism was and how it relates to the exercise of our constitutional rights. I think that people were generally surprised by the fact that all of the protestors were unarmed.
We all met up the evening before Joe’s court date, at a cheap motel, a few blocks from the court house. It was warm and pleasant as we shared a meal cold cut sandwiches and huckleberry ice cream. We met new friends and were reunited with old ones. It had the feel of a family reunion on a road trip.
I am so glad that we were able to spend some time with Joe and his wife Carrie. I am grateful we were able to make some good memories before their nightmare truly begins. The fact that the next day, some very bad things could (and did,) happen to this jovial old man who shares the same love of dogs that my daughter does; that he and his wife would have their rights stripped away one by one, (the right to freedom of expression, to self defense, to privacy, and so many more,) and could quite possibly lose everything including their home of over 40 years and Joe’s freedom is hard to explain to a 10-year-old. The difficulty was only compounded by explaining that the government can take this all away, did take this all away, and why would they take this all away? Not because Joe murdered anyone, not because he kept human slaves, or some other atrocity that one would expect for this type of sentencing, but because Joe put ponds onto his own property.
The Government is saying that Joe mislead the people, but the facts are, Joe owned the property until, through some shenanigans, it was sold from under him at a sheriff’s sale. This is something that Joe is fighting legally and is expected to win. The Forest Service property that Joe supposedly damaged, was the only road going up to his property. He widened out the road to allow his wife to get her wild land firefighting truck up to the property (they made their living and helped to fight community wildfires with this truck.) The other property they had mining claims to. It is also very hard to explain to my daughter why the judge, and even Joe’s defense attorney, would not allow the introduction of two environmental reports and the testimony of an expert witness that would have blown away the prosecution’s narrative. The reports that were completed by Geolex Environmental and Kagel Environmental LLC of Idaho. Both found that Joe did not, in any way, pollute the waterways of the the United States. I have scanned the Kagel Report please click here and read it along with a letter of introduction by Ray Kagel that was submitted to the Court but went unread and unheard. Everything about explaining this case is hard. It illustrates so well how backwards things have become. Though we didn’t need to look hard for evidence supporting just how far gone we now are. As we were in line entering the courthouse, a number of us noticed that on the second floor of the Federal building across the street, there was an open window and a darkened room where 3 individuals appeared to be taking all of our pictures and recording us on video and audio. It was hard to answer my daughter when she asked why they would feel the need for surveillance of a peaceful group of ranchers, families, and concerned citizens.
While we were in the courtroom for close to three and a half hours it became clear that the judge could call upon no finding of the Supreme Court or even the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to justify sentencing Joe as he did. Every single decision they have made in regard to the Clean Water Act and how it relates to Joe’s case has been left with a split decision. It is VERY hard to explain to my daughter how the judge can freely admit to having no legal precedence in this case and still destroy Joe’s life all in the same breath. And still admitting that his court was not the proper venue for this decision. But instead of declaring a mistrial or dismissing the case, he sentenced Joe to 18 months behind bars with 3 years of probation to follow. He stripped him of his rights and fined him hundreds of thousands of dollars. This case will probably go on to the Supreme Court. I hope and pray that we can bring enough attention to the plight of Joe Robertson and others like him to make a difference next time.
For now, Joe is under arrest and has not been given the option of bail. It seems that the prosecution felt strongly that the people that were there standing with Joe posed a clear and present danger and that if he were left to his freedom, a stand off might occur. Never mind the fact that Joe has always maintained he would never turn to violence in his plight, that he publically stated to anyone who would listen, that he didn’t want anyone to get arrested or hurt because of him. Never mind that he even spoke those very words to the judge and all in the court room, yet he was remanded immediately into custody. I’ll leave you with the last words spoken in the Court room that day. With tears streaming down her face Joe’s wife cried out to the powers that be “I hope it was worth it for you…You ruined my life as well!”