It is easy to believe in a benevolent God
when the actor who portrays Jesus Christ
in The Passion of The Christ
is struck by lightning during filming, or when a prominent local clergyman dies of congestive heart failure descending the staircase of a skeezy porno bookstore. The famous actor
survived the karmic thunderbolt and the dead clergyman was likely going to die on the next staircase regardless of location, but it is still faith affirming.
When he wasn’t using the pulpit to tell other people how to live their lives, the prominent local clergyman I am referring to patronized dank, jizz-encrusted basements and engaged in unmentionable acts of anonymous sodomy. No harm, no foul unless you die in the act and wind up on the front page of the Minneapolis paper.
The family and friends of the dead clergyman will be spared a retelling of his final humiliating spectacle because I can't find his name on the Internet. What I know for a fact is that the hypocrite had it coming, and that the incident occurred in an adult bookstore and pornographic movie house on Hennepin Avenue, belonging to the legendary Minneapolis Porn King, Ferris Alexander.
One of the hubs of Ferris Alexander's broad empire was down the street from where I lived at the time, in Northeast Minneapolis. I ran into him frequently in the neighborhood near University and Central, but can't offer much in the way of personal insight regarding his character. He looked like a grubby, dirty old man who would beat the crap out of you if you crossed him. If you didn't know who he was, you might easily mistake one of the wealthiest men in the state of Minnesota for the kind of crusty perv who might frequent his pornography dens.
I had a great deal of respect for Ferris, in spite of the constant drubbing he took in the press. His was a real life Horatio Alger story. He parlayed a childhood job selling newspapers for a nickel into vast wealth and property, but the same community that gave him his money, relentlessly shamed him for his success. His tenacious refusal to be bullied by sanctimonious malefactors from Minneapolis City Hall to the United States Supreme Court made him an historically significant 1st amendment activist, but in the end, he died bankrupt and defeated.
Ferris Alexander's life trajectory was a remarkable study in both the power of the individual in American free market capitalism and the chilling reality that, even when you are solidly in the right, you can't fight City Hall.
The Minneapolis Porn King began getting the wrong kind of friction when Ronald Reagan
took office and set his Attorney General
, Edwin Meese
, on an epic anti-obscenity crusade. Ferris Alexander was able to fight them off for years and in the best of all possible worlds the Justice Department would have declared him the winner and left him unmolested. This is probably not the best of all possible worlds though, because instead of leaving him alone, they changed the rules in the middle of the game and continued to hound him for the rest of his natural life.
In a predictably ignorant film review at the Fox News Web site, the reviewer believed that he had stumbled upon a gaping plot hole in the recently released movie version of Miami Vice. In his words, "And just where two Miami detectives get the money for such lavish lifestyles - Crocket drives a Ferrari - is anyone's guess." Well, you needn't guess, because the source of the lavish lifestyle and the Ferrari formed the foundation of the entire television series and the film. They were seized from their drug dealer prey.
According to the series creator, the program was inspired by an article he read in Time Magazine, which detailed the new forfeiture provisions for property recovered during the commission of a crime. These government seizure laws are the bastard stepchildren of something called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The federal law was rumored to have its own link with popular culture in being named and acronymed after an old gangster film, in which Edward G. Robinson's character is a wiseguy by the same name. I can only speculate that the Ferrari confiscating Crocket's partner is named Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs for the same reason.
The RICO provisions are breathtakingly broad, conceived and written specifically to cast a wide dragnet that would ensnare La Cosa Nostra bosses who could afford a slick mouthpiece. There's even a 'slick mouthpiece provision' whereby the lawyer himself can be prosecuted for conspiring with his client. RICO is like a "Get out of the Constitution Free" card that potentially nullifies each and every civil liberty guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The predicate acts that can land you in hot water are so comprehensive and slippery that the weakest junior attorney at the Department of Justice could make a reasonable case against you for reading this writeup.
And then confiscate your Ferrari.
When Ferris Alexander’s lawyer, a former head of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union
, seemed to be making headway in his Constitutional defense of Mr. Alexander, the lawyer himself was indicted by the federal prosecutor for conspiracy under the RICO statute. The attorney, Randall Tigue
, was eventually acquitted of all charges, but without his slick mouthpiece, Ferris was convicted of racketeering and obscenity
They used the "obscene matter" provisions of RICO to go after Ferris Alexander and to justify the seizure of his empire and all that it contained. From raids on 10 commercial locations and analysis of 31 current or former businesses with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sexually related items for sale, the jury in his criminal trial could only agree that four magazines and three videotapes were genuinely naughty.
Although it seems to defy mathematical possibilty, all 31 businesses were deemed to be directly involved in the racketeering activity surrounding the 7 illicit objects. The court sentenced Ferris to 6 years in federal prison and ordered him to forfeit his wholesale and retail businesses in total, including all the assets of those businesses, and almost $9 million in cash.
The Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict on appeal over violation of 1st amendment free speech guarantees, but remanded it to the lower court to determine if a cumulative 25 million dollar penalty might be over the top in light of the 8th amendment protection against excessive fines.
In a tabloid television interview by John Stossel with Alexander's daughter and her husband, the son-in-law notes that there were so many confiscated materials that they broke the police incinerator trying to destroy them.
While the case didn't set precedent in defense of free speech, it was the last time that the government tried to censor obscenity with the racketeering law. In the addendum notes to Alexander v. U.S., the government rationalized the mass destruction of even the non-obscene materials:
"Not wishing to go into the business of selling pornographic materials--regardless of whether they were legally obscene--the Government decided that it would be better to destroy the forfeited expressive materials than sell them to members of the public."
Ironic, since by the time the decision was handed down in 1993, the Internet was crammed with unspeakable pornography that would have made Ferris blush, and since the U.S. government was still in charge of the Internet, they were already the largest purveyors of pornography in the history of humankind.
Ferris Alexander's dogged prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, went on to even greater puritanical disproportionality a few years later when he impeached the President of the United States over a blowjob.