The Ecphorizer

Guilt by Association?
Michael Forbush

Issue 12 (November 2008)

One of the fundamental differences between eighteenth century European Law and American Law is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Bush administration has fought continuously over the last seven years to erode this fundamental right.

The Bush crew has used fear to gradually work the American public into accepting the idea that the government knows better who is guilty and who is innocent. You would think that people on the right who fear that the government might take their weapons away would also fear this new threat. However, the conservatives’ self-righteousness has been able mask this fear. Conservatives tell themselves that they are above the law because they are good patriotic Americans. Obviously they should not fear that a government might choose to arrest them and hold them indefinitely.

Progressives know this fear a bit more personally. This is because progressives and conservatives don’t always show their opposition to the government in the same way. Progressives most notably tend to gather great numbers of people to stand outside events where the opposition is gathering. Progressives like Amy Goodman who is a reporter for a “real” left wing media program “Democracy Now - The War and Peace Report” have experienced guilt by association directly. She was reporting at the Republican convention during August when she had heard that her producers were beaten and arrested. She promptly dropped everything and ran to the site of the protests where her producers were arrested and she was manhandled and thrown into jail with some of the protesters. She was with the protesters, therefore she must be one was the attitude of the police. This was a sad day in American history, and it got very little coverage in the mainstream media. How liberal is this media?

Any American from the left or right should shudder at the telling of this story. Eventually she was freed and not considered a terrorist. That may have been because she was palling around with liberal protesters and not a former 1960’s radical. Obviously there is some standard for this guilt by association that I really don’t understand. Are you guilty if you aid and abet a person who bombs abortion clinics, the Atlanta Olympics and then hide in the woods for a number of years? Are you guilty if you meet with a man that had been found guilty of a felony, served his time, changed his life and has become a force for good in his community? In the first case many pro-life supporters helped a wanted fugitive hide from the authorities while in the second case people are urged to question a presidential candidate’s ulterior motives.

Guilt by association works both ways so it makes sense that this form of slander should not be assumed to only work against your enemy. If we also consider the six degrees of separation that suggests that we are separated by as few as six contacts from any person in the country or perhaps the world we have a further need to worry about this dangerous concept of guilt by association. Where does it end? If someone you know has “palled around with terrorists” does that make them a terrorist by association. If they are a terrorist then doesn’t that make you one too?

In Biblical times guilt by association was one of the rules. People believed that they were punished directly for their sins. For example when we read about the man who was blind from birth Jesus is asked what sin he or his parents had committed. Isn’t this another form of guilt by association? Today’s Christians should remember that not only did Jesus heal this man, but he also pointed out that this man was not born blind as a punishment for either his sin or his parent’s sin.

And, what types of groups do we consider a danger to our national security? For example, a group that seeks secession of portions of the country threatens the very makeup of our country. These groups exist around the country with various motivations and ideologies. Some of these groups lament the fall of the Confederacy and would like nothing better than for a new South to rise again. It would be hard to argue that a group that seeks to tear the fabric of the country apart would not be a terrorist group. After all, the main motivation behind this group is the destruction of the country, our country — The USA.

A similar group exists in Alaska where a group would like to make Alaska an independent country. And interesting point here is that Sarah Palin, governor of the state of Alaska and current Republican Vice Presidential candidate has a husband that not only pals around with this group of secessionists but he is an active member. Perhaps we should not condemn Sarah Palin as a member of this group for merely associating with her husband. However, we should also consider the fact that Mrs. Palin does not just pal around with these people, but she also supports their cause as evidenced by her address to the secessionist party’s convention. Shouldn’t question Sarah Palin’s terrorist connections to these people?

The point of this is to point out that it doesn’t matter if you talk to a liar, it does not make you a liar by association. If you share a meal with a thief as Jesus did, it does not make you a thief by association. If you have a business meeting with a former radical that has repented and served his punishment it does not make you a radical. The only way to prove that you are guilty of a crime is to prove it with the evidence — Like a speech in front of radicals supporting their cause. 

Contributor Profile

Michael Forbush

Michael Forbush was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Mentor, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in High Energy Physics from Texas A&M University and is currently a physicist working in the Biotech Industry in Silicon Valley designing novel ways to transfer very small quantities of liquids for chemistry applications.




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