The cowboy who tried to subpoena Jesus and six other killers with delusions of divinity.
Tim Murphy and Stephanie MencimerDec. 25, 2013 7:00 AM
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally ill convicts can be executed so long as they have a "rational understanding" of their sentence and the reason for it. But state authorities have interpreted that language very broadly: Take John Ferguson, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed eight people after being released from a Florida mental hospital in 1976. He believed he'd been condemned to "prevent him from ascending to his rightful throne as the Prince of God"—a perch from which he would save the United States from communism. This past May, a federal appeals court declined to commute his sentence, with one judge writing that Ferguson's belief in an afterlife didn't make him insane: "If it did mean that, most Americans would be mentally incompetent to be executed." The Supreme Court passed on reviewing the case, and Ferguson was executed in August. His last words: "I am the Prince of God and I will rise again."
Other death-row inmates with delusions of divinity:
Michael Owen Perry Perry, who murdered five family members, believed that he was a god and that Grease star Olivia Newton-John was a goddess. In 1985, he was sentenced to death in Louisiana before another court ruled that the state could not forcibly medicate him simply to make him rational enough for execution. Perry is still on death row.
Emanuel Kemp Jr.
Sentenced to be executed in Texas in 1999, Kemp believed he was God, and therefore above punishment for a 1987 murder. He was later found to be incompetent.
Thomas Harrison Provenzano Provenzano's lawyers argued that their client, who believed he was Jesus Christ, had schizophrenia, prompting a Florida legislator to quip, "Just crucify him." He was executed in 2000.
Larry Robison Robison was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic three years before he murdered his roommate and four neighbors in an attempt to "find God." He believed he had received biblical prophecies through a clock in his home. Texas executed him in 2000.
Scott Louis Panetti Panetti believes his sentence for murdering his wife's parents is part of a satanic plot to keep him from his divine mission to spread the word of God. He represented himself in court dressed as a cowboy and tried to subpoena Jesus. The Supreme Court ruled him incompetent in 2007—over the protests of then-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
Percy Levar Walton Walton, who murdered three people in Virginia in 1996, believed he was Jesus—as well as Superman, a queen bee, "the King of Hearts," and a caveman. His sentence was commuted to life without parole in 2008.
On Tuesday, Organizing for Action, a remnant of Barack Obama's re-election campaign that has been re-purposed to promote the president's agenda, asked its followers to sign up for health insurance over the holidays. The group's pitch featured a bespectacled twentysomething male in pajamas, drinking hot chocolate. On the right, "Pajama Boy" quickly became a meme. At last, conservatives had an opportunity to dismiss political opponents as jobless, lazy, unsexed hippies.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded that the stock image get dressed and do some community service. Texas Rep. Steve Stockman chimed in, too. Pajama Boy is a "vaguely androgynous, student-glasses-wearing, Williamsburg hipster" and "the Obama machine's id" (National Review's Charles Cooke); an "insufferable man-child" and a consequence of the "breakdown of marriage and its drift into the 30s" (Politico Magazine's Rich Lowry); and a representative of "effete, cosmopolitan America" (The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis.) Holy stock photo, Batman!
But a Mother Jones investigation discovered something unsettling. Far from being a divisive cultural wedge issue, pajamas are a normal item of clothing that normal adults wear. Even Republican presidents. The pajamas are coming from inside the White House!
It's officially a tradition: When something bad happens to the international community, email scammers attempt to exploit it. There was Hurricane Katrina. There was the 2005 tsunami. There was the Haiti earthquake. And now there's Nelson Mandela's death. Here's an email Mother Jones received from an emailer purporting to represent the late South African president's charitable organization, the Nelson Mandela Foundation:
I hope my mail finds you well. This is my second email to you without any
response. I am Maeline Engelbrecht Nelson Manuela's Donor relations manager. For
couple of years we have been in a global approach in fighting the pandemic, and
emphasizes the importance of strengthening relationships with UNICEF, Save the
Children Fund and other governments. Giving Aids to orphans. In 2002 the Fund
raised 34-million Dollar through donations, programmed funding and fundraising
initiatives locally and internationally. The continual growth of the Fund has
led to the establishment of offices in the United Kingdom, United States,
France, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and now Spain. For more details you
can read from the link below, although, there are a lot of reforms for security
Due to deteriorating situation of Mandalas' health, He has suggested that the
fund allocated to his organization from the UK Based Anglo American mining
Company should be directed to a responsible and a reliable hand not here in
South African but other country as well, as this is one of his struggles in
life. On this basis I have contacted you for assistance to have it operated and
monitored by you in your country. Please We have created a good reputation in
the past and would not want anything to dent our image so if you cannot handle
this foundation in your country I suggest you ignore the email. On the contrary
get back to us for a way forward.
Please Reply us here:email@example.com OR
This isn't the first time a scammer has attempted to use the name Engelbrecht—who left the foundation in 2008—to make money off of Mandela. In January, the Nelson Mandela Foundation published a warning about a nearly identical email: "Any such messages received should be viewed as fraudulent and reported to the Centre of Memory."
You've heard about the "War on Christmas," a cynical but largely successful attempt by grown men and women to drive up cable news ratings and sell terrible books. But what about an actual war on Christmas? If President Barack Obama wanted to take down Santa Claus*, how would he do it? And would it work? A classified report obtained by Mother Jones sheds new light on the Department of Defense's plans. Take a look:
Overwhelming force: On paper, it looks possible. The United States has 22,000 military personnel in Alaska, mostly at major Air Force bases outside Anchorage and Fairbanks (home to the 354th fighter wing).* A military airstrip at Barrow, the country's northernmost point, could also be used as a forward operating base, as could Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Navy and Air Force regularly conduct carrier group exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, so they're not exactly coming in cold.
But Santa's best defense is that the North Pole is—spoiler—really cold. The US Navy doesn't have any icebreakers, and the Coast Guard only has two, both of which are research vessels. (An amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would have commissioned four new icebreakers, but that's still pending congressional approval.) And unlike the Russians and the Finns, the United States doesn't have any ground units specifically trained to handle polar climates.
Nor is Santa himself a pushover. Some images of the old man depict him with a Kalashnikov. Elsewhere, he's armed with a sword. Futurama's Robot Santa has some sort of laser blaster. In Scrooged, Santa is able to repel a terrorist attack with an M16A2; his elves carry M60 machine guns. Oh, and about those elves: According to NorthPole.com, "There are an unlimited number of elves because it takes a lot of help to keep the northpole maintained and the presents made every year." Even if an expeditionary force succeeds in taking the workshop, the elves' sheer numbers make the possibility of a post-invasion insurgency likely. And then there's Santa's sidekick Krampus, a massive goat-demon who according to Germanic legend, captures his enemies in a bathtub, eats them, and transports them to hell. How do you stab the devil in the back? No, really—it's our only hope.
Missile intercept: Targeting Santa while he's on his rounds sounds good in theory. NORAD already purports to track Santa's progress on its website, owing to a typo in a 1955 Sears advertisement that accidentally broadcasted a secret government phone line to the general public. And the National Security Agency is well equipped to spy on Santa's kingdom. Arctic Fiber, a Canadian company, is laying a new fiber optic cable underneath the North Pole that will link Tokyo and London, to get a leg up on high-frequency stock market trading, but it could also give the US government's super-secret (until recently) data collection programs the lowdown on what's going on at the workshop.
But the United States has never successfully shot down a ballistic missile, which doesn't inspire confidence in its chances at taking down Santa, whose packed schedule requires him to travel at a pace somewhere between ridiculous and ludicrous speed. Norwegian physicist Knut Jørgen Røed Oedegaar argues that Claus is equipped with an ion shield, which prevents him from being torn apart by gravitational forces and protects him from being incinerated (by fireplaces, atmospheric reentry, or missiles). Also, he travels between dimensions.
Special ops: Why not? Let us count the ways: "I cannot think of too many worse environments to infiltrate and then exfiltrate from than the North Pole," says Andrew Exum, a former special adviser for Middle East policy at the Department of Defense who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have no idea how many elves would remain loyal to Santa Claus, but given the open terrain, you would probably want to surround Santa's workshop with at least a company of Army Rangers before sending in a team from one of our special missions units to capture or kill Santa himself. That's 150 to 200 men right there that would have to make their way to one of the most remote locations on Earth, carry out a very difficult mission in low visibility and freezing temperatures, and then march back out. As much as I love and admire our special operations forces, that's a huge ask."
Drones: There's nothing to stop the United States from sending a few Predator drones over the North Pole and targeting Claus' infrastructure—the workshop, the reindeer runway, the gingerbread valley. But that would trigger an international incident with Russia, which in 2007 claimed the pole falls on its continental shelf and is therefore sovereign territory. Canada recently made the same claim (invoking Santa in the process), although the evidence was dubious. The United States could claim the North Pole for itself, too, but only if the Senate gets around to ratifying the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. (Also, holy collateral damage, Batman!)
The long game: Probably our best shot. Santa's workshop is a political powder keg just waiting for a spark. With only reindeer milk, fish, and the odd seal readily available in the harsh Arctic landscape, the North Pole has to import eggs, dairy, and sprinkles to sustain its inhabitants' principal diet of Christmas cookies. Elves also consume enormous quantities of maple syrup, which must be imported from the United States or Canada by way of a cartel. All that makes the North Pole uniquely vulnerable to tough international sanctions and a coordinated push for regime change—by aiding militant factions if necessary.
The North Pole is also vulnerable to climate change, putting an already fragile environment in flux. Literally. The North Pole is now shifting because melting glaciers are affecting Earth's mass. And Santa's workshop sits above potentially lucrative deposits of oil and gas that energy companies want to get their hands on ASAP. It's only a matter of time before the locals face displacement in the face of humanity's unceasing thirst for material wealth.
Under the brutal Claus regime, which exiles its radicals to the Island of Misfit Toys, the elite few have grown fat on the labor of the many. How long can Santa's elves endure such pressures before they begin to question the leader they've followed blindly for so long? How long before the workers seize the means of production?
The problem with waiting for an elvish uprising, Exum says, is that it might take a while—even if they get assistance from the Green Berets. "I have no idea how combat-ready these elves are. They could be like the elves in the Lord of the Rings, in which case they shouldn't need much training, or they could be like those Keebler elves, in which case I can't imagine they have any military training or experience. So I'm afraid Christmas is likely to go on this year as planned in all its gaudy commercial excess."
Just kidding, kids. Santa is your parents.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of US military personnel in Alaska.
Last week, prosecutors in Tallahassee announced they would not press charges against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, over allegations he had raped a former FSU student in December of 2012. Investigators had sat on the case for almost a year, and an attorney for the accuser (who withdrew from school after coming forward) alleged that Tallahassee police had told her to tread carefully, because she was in a "big football town." The press conference announcing that no charges would be filed was interrupted frequently by laughter from the (mostly male) attendees.
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Timesbroke down just how lax the Tallahassee Police Department's investigation really was. After interviewing the accuser in January of 2013, police were presented with a number of obvious sources to follow up with: they knew the bar where she'd been drinking; they knew she'd taken a taxi; and they knew that a football player named "Chris" had walked in on the alleged rape. Among the details:
"More than 200 pages of documents showed no signs that police ever questioned anyone at the bar or requested surveillance footage. The bar had more than 30 cameras that could have shown how much the woman drank, if she interacted with Winston and whom she left with."
"Police also seemed to quickly give up on finding the cab or its driver, though a specific company (Yellow Cab) was known to offer student discounts."
"Back then, police also didn't look for the freshman football player named Chris. A simple review of the Seminoles' 2012 roster shows Chris Casher was the only true freshman on the team with that first name. Investigators later learned that Casher was Winston's roommate and had walked in on the sexual activity—in part to record it on his cellphone. By the time investigators interviewed Casher in November, the recording had been deleted and the phone discarded."
That last item may be the most damning—there was literally a video of the alleged crime and police never tried to find it.
That's not to say Winston would have been found guilty. Maybe the leads investigators never followed might have led them to the same conclusion they ultimately drew. But the nature of the investigation made it clear that the odds were stacked against the accuser from the start. It would hardly be the first time.