Gibson Guitar and the Politics of Persecution

Why there is now little doubt the raid on the iconic guitar-maker was politically motivated.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2013/05/MK-BW282_GIBSON_G_20120806181542.jpg)The highly publicized 2011 raid by FBI agents of a plant owned by Gibson Guitar is beginning to look more and more like another outgrowth of the Obama administration’s crackdown on citizens considered to be political “enemies.” By now it is well known that the Obama IRS has been persecuting individuals affiliated with the Tea Party and even religious organizations through audits, federal agency investigations and the denial of the right to form non-profit groups. The Obama Justice Department, too, has engaged in unprecedented seizing of communication records of journalists, including Fox News’s James Rosen, whom the administration has threatened with charges of “espionage.” With these details now made public, Gibson Guitar has good reason to believe the shocking raid of its facilities, which cost the company altogether millions of dollars, was also a warning to its Republican-supporting CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.

On August 24, 2011, armed FBI agents in SWAT gear executed a warrant for the seizure of wood at Gibson Guitar facilities. At the time, the raid appeared peculiar because of the excessive forced used over charges of regulatory violations. The premise of the raid was an obscure 100-year-old law known as the Lacey Act. On the basis of this act, the Feds were able to storm the facilities, claiming that Gibson’s had broken foreign (not American) law in its procurement of the wood, even though the government produced no evidence of the crime at the time and no evidence has since emerged that the material was illegally obtained. Juszkiewicz was only told at the time that the Gibson supply chain had a “risk” of including illicit wood. This was in fact the only infraction the company was penalized for after it was forced to settle its case to avoid costly litigation.

Suspicions of political motivations behind the attack were quickly aroused. Gibson Guitars CEO Henry E. Juszkiewicz is a known supporter of conservative causes and political candidates. The Examiner, citing Open Secrets, reports that Juszkiewicz had contributed $2000 to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN07) last year, as well as $1500 to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Juszkiewicz also has donated $10,000 to the Consumer Electronics Association, a PAC that contributed $92.5k to Republican candidates last year, as opposed to $72k to Democrats.

Notably, one of Gibson’s biggest competitors, C.F. Martin & Co., reportedly uses the same type of wood seized from Gibson’s, but did not face any kind of interference from the federal government. The Examiner reports that Chris Martin IV, CEO of C.F. Martin & Co., is a well-known Democratic fundraiser. The Examiner describes Martin as “a long-time Democratic supporter, with $35,400 in contributions to Democratic candidates and the DNC over the past couple of election cycles.” Furthermore, no other companies known to use the wood in question, such as furniture manufacturers, have reported similar prosecution from the federal government, though the wood is distributed widely throughout the world. As Juszkiewicz told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Virtually every other guitar company uses this wood and this wood is used prominently by furniture and architectural industries, and to my knowledge none of them have been shut down or treated in this fashion.”

Gibson Guitar lost enormous assets as a result of the government’s manhandling. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News Channel legal analyst, described the harrowing nature of the raid and its incredible cost.

These guys came dressed in SWAT gear with machine guns pointed at people. They took dozens and dozens of people out into the parking lot. They then seized what they said was the illegal wood. They effectively shut down the business for a month. Gibson’s legal bills are about $2.5 million and they haven’t even gotten back the wood that was seized from them.

As with the IRS scandal today, the so-called mainstream media attempted to downplay the significance of the Gibson raid, casting it as a political football for Republicans. Politico reported at the time:

[The] federal raidson the company that makes Gibson electric guitars were a gift to Republicans who have spent years railing about more obscure issues like boiler MACT regulations and particulate emissions standards.

Here, at last, was a controversy the average person could grasp: Overreaching regulators were out to kill rock ‘n’ roll.

Still, House Republicans are having some trouble getting the issue to gain traction on the Hill.

However, with both the Attorney General’s office and the IRS now tied directly to scandals in which there is strong evidence that each of the agencies misused and abused their powers in order to target political enemies of the President, the Gibson Guitar case can hardly be dismissed as regulatory overreach. In hindsight, it was an ominous foreshadowing of the explosion of misdeeds we are witnessing today.

Thanks to the dedication of Congressman Darrell Issa, the investigation into the IRS has been moving forward.  The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, has scheduled more hearings into the IRS scandal for later in the week. Head of the IRS’s non-profit division, Lois Lerner, whose Fifth Amendment rights have come into question after she chose to emphatically profess her innocence shortly before refusing to testify on the matter, is listed as one of the scheduled speakers. Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder, who has already been cited in contempt of Congress, is being investigated for perjury.

Investor’s Business Daily, which renewed interest in the injustice done to Gibson’s with a recent editorial, keenly observes that all of the Obama administration scandals are connected by a common denominator: abuse of power to persecute political adversaries – even if those on Obama’s “enemies list” are ordinary citizens exercising their constitutional rights.

Juszkiewicz’ claim that his company was “inappropriately targeted” is eerily similar to the claims by Tea Party, conservative, pro-life and religious groups that they were targeted by the IRS for special scrutiny because they sought to exercise their First Amendment rights to band together in vocal opposition to the administration’s policies and the out-of-control growth of government and its power.

The Gibson Guitar raid, the IRS intimidation of Tea Party groups and the fraudulently obtained warrant naming Fox News reporter James Rosen as an “aider, abettor, co-conspirator” in stealing government secrets are but a few examples of the abuse of power by the Obama administration to intimidate those on its enemies list.

So far, the administration has dismissed this growing plethora of scandals, claiming ignorance in each case. That claim, as ludicrous as it is, would be equally troubling, even if it were true. The bottom line is that there is a common thread in each of the scandals that have come out over the last few weeks. In nearly all of these cases, there were examples of parts of the Obama administration using the power afforded to them to punish enemies of the administration and subsequently reward its friends. Gibson Guitar was just the canary in the coal mine.

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