Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lights, Camera, Activism! (America: From Freedom to Fascism)

It is just possible that I did not post portions of (and links to the remainder of) these two excellent articles available in their entirety in the latest issue of The New American.

Lights, Camera - Activism!
by William Norman Grigg
June 12, 2006

Set to debut in theaters in July, the documentary America: From Freedom to Fascism recounts how our government is abandoning the constitutional framework of liberty.

Twelve-year-old Ricky Miller wasn't expecting anything dramatic when he answered the door one Saturday morning. His father Scotty Miller had just gotten into the shower. His sister Jennifer was just waking up from a slumber party with some teenage friends. By all appearances, it seemed like a typical early April morning in Virginia Beach.

This changed dramatically when Ricky opened the door and was confronted with 15 heavily armed agents from the Internal Revenue Service and state enforcement agencies. One of them threw Ricky to the floor, stuck a gun in his face, and ordered him to be quiet. The armed raiding party made its way upstairs, where it barged into the bathroom and forced Scotty out of the shower. Another small group burst in on Jennifer and her friends, who had yet to get dressed.

"There were four girls getting dressed, and these guys with guns were watching us," Jennifer recalls on-camera in the new documentary America: From Freedom to Fascism. "We tried to close the door but this guy blocked it with his foot." As the terrified screams of his daughter and her friends could be heard in the background, Scotty Miller, dressed only in a towel that was inadequate to provide him modesty, provoked a near-lethal response from the raiders when he reached toward his drawers to get a pair of underwear.

Scotty had known that there was some trouble down at "The Jewish Mother" in Virginia Beach, one of two locations of a family-owned restaurant chain. His wife Edy, who helped manage the restaurant, had called and frantically told him to come quickly.

Armed IRS-led raiding parties had descended on both locations, seizing cash registers, receipts, price lists, computers, calendars, telephones, Rolodexes - anything that could be pried from the store and carried away. Terrified staff were held at gunpoint while equally unnerved customers were forcibly evicted - some of them literally having the utensils taken from their hands as they tried to enjoy a meal.

For five months, John Colaprete, owner of the restaurant chain; the Miller family; and the chain's other employees were forced "to do business out of a shoebox," Colaprete relates on-camera in the film, while the feds held on to their property and their reputations were ravaged in the press. The store had lost as much as $20,000 on the day of the raid alone. The chain lost its liquor license, along with much of its customer base. Neither Colaprete nor Miller could figure out what, if anything, they had done to provoke a paramilitary raid on a popular and growing small business.

Five months later, they had their answers. Deborah Shofner, a bookkeeper who had been fired by the chain for embezzlement, had made false and malicious accusations against its management to the feds. When the raids failed to produce substantive evidence to corroborate Shofner's charges, the IRS returned the restaurant's property the following August, without so much as a syllable of apology.

By that time, however, "The Jewish Mother" had nearly been driven out of business. Scotty Miller, who was shunned by his friends and traumatized by the federal assault, had been hospitalized with clinical depression.

"A day doesn't go by that I don't wonder what harassment will occur next," Colaprete stated during his 1998 testimony before a Senate investigation of IRS abuses. "I would like to know why this dark entity known as the IRS has come into my life and refused to leave."

(Read the rest here.)

Freedom Filmmaker
by William Norman Grigg
June 12, 2006

After decades in the music and motion picture industry, Aaron Russo found his calling as a full-time activist for freedom.

One of Aaron Russo's "few regrets" in life, he confided during a lengthy interview with The New American, was his impetuous decision not to pursue a career in Major League Baseball.

"I was drafted by the Yankees right out of high school," he recalls. "I was a catcher in our Babe Ruth league on Long Island, and my last year I had a batting average of .489. Baseball was something I loved as a kid. Back in the 1950s, New York was the center of the baseball universe. You had Willie Mays playing with the Giants, Duke Snider with the Dodgers, and Mickey Mantle with the Yankees. It was a time of great rivalries."

"Back then," he continued, "baseball was played on real grass in ballparks that weren't named after corporations. And most of the big stars stayed with their teams for their entire careers, rather than becoming free agent mercenaries and playing for the highest bidder. Like every other boy my age, I dreamed of being a Big League ballplayer - but I actually had a shot."

If he had the shot so many coveted, why didn't he take it?

"Well, as a testosterone-fueled teenager, I had the athletic skills, but no discipline," he replied, wry amusement coloring his husky voice. "For me at the time, springtime wasn't for Spring Training - it was for fast convertibles. I was more interested in hot cars and hot girls than I was in the daily grind of a baseball career. So I passed on the opportunity of a lifetime. I've had a good life with very few regrets - but passing up a chance to play with the Yankees...." As his voice trailed off, it was easy to imagine Russo, as a wise and experienced 63-year-old, offering a smile and a shrug as he thinks of the foolish priorities that governed him at age 18.

Born in Brooklyn in 1943 and raised, largely by grandparents, in Long Island, Russo has fond memories of an America most people living today know only through the movies. In fact, Russo has crafted depictions of his memories in film, leaving a mark as a producer and director.

"We were taught the value of a dollar and the importance of hard work," he recalls. "I remember being told over and over again by my grandparents, 'neither a borrower nor a lender be.' My friends and I loved our old neighborhood, but we wanted to make something of ourselves on the larger stage."

(Read the rest here.)

Google video interview available here.

Go see the film when it opens on July 28.

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