Imagine you’re a middle-aged federal law enforcement agent on a Special Reaction Team. Back when the S.W.A.T. TV show had punctuation, yours was a lonely profession. Uncle Sam only deployed you for bank robbers and kidnappers. Suddenly, in the 1980s, every American town with a population over 50k added a SWAT team. On the downside, the locals no longer needed you to haul away the really bad trash. On the upside, “no knock raids” became the new “let’s talk about this downtown.” Local, state or federal, the gloves were off. Attorney General Janet Reno even added child custody disputes to the “no-knock raid” category [see: above]. Life was good. It still is. Unless you’re a guitar maker suspected of violating federal environmental regulations . . .

On August 24th, for the second time in two years, armed federal agents raided the factories and offices of the Gibson Guitar Company on a hunch that mahogany rosewood guitar components had been imported by Gibson in violation of the Lacey act. The feds came suited and booted, ready for the kind of armed resistance you’d expect at a guitar factory—if it was smuggling cocaine inside guitar bodies.

Never mind that the Gibson guitar factory is in Nashville, a city more known for country crooners than cocaine transshipment. Or that the governments of India and Madagascar had already provided the feds with copies of the export licenses necessary to export hardwoods into the U.S. without risking the sudden arrival of a CIA hit team rappelling from the roof.

For their part, Gibson claims that they’ve fully complied with the law. They’ve already provided the feds with all the documentation needed to prove that their guitars are not directly responsible for deforesting orangutan habitat, forcing our simian cousins to take low-paid jobs making shoes for Nike. Perhaps a sternly worded letter to Gibson’s execs would have sufficed? If not that, a quietly and respectfully served subpoena?

When you’re an armed Fed, why issue a subpoena when you can execute a search warrant? I mean, how much fun is it to use mundane court processes when you can kick in doors and seize inventory and threaten luthiers and secretaries with years in prison? The Wall Street Journal:

“Can you imagine a federal agent saying, ‘You’re going to jail for five years’ and what you do is sort wood in the factory?” said [Gibson CEO Henry] Mr. Juszkiewicz, recounting the incident. “I think that’s way over the top.” Gibson employees, he said, are being “treated like drug criminals.”

Given the increasing militarization of our police force and its kudzu-like expansion, given the tarnished reputation of a certain federal agency with a truly kick-ass SRT team, there’s only one possible answer to this new hardwood crime wave: add the responsibility to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Problem: acronym overload. I know! Let’s rechristen the BATFE the GAGME: the bureau of Guitars, Alcohol, Guns, Marlboros and Explosives. Either that or let’s starve these jackbooted thugs of taxpayer cash and watch them dry up and blow away. Just sayin’. While I can . . .

12 Responses to Ode to the Gibson Guitar Raid

  1. suspected of violating federal environmental regulations Indian export laws regarding the degree of finishing work to be done on the wood prior it leaving the country, that India says were not violated . . .

  2. I still find it odd how cops are considered by some to be heros, when they’ve proven time and time again that they are willing to sell out their fellow countrymen for a negligibly higher standard of living. After all they were only following orders… now why does that defense sound eerily familiar.

    • Absolutely, they should sue. Problem is they are still dealing with the injustice system for the raid two years ago. Trying to get the wood back that was confiscated illegally that time. All the while I’m sure spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least, on “legal services”. While they may ultimately prevail, there is no timeline, no guarantee that the injustice system will not side with the with the feds.

  3. It seems that Federal law enforcement agencies are doing everything in their power to alienate the people they are sworn to protect and serve. Personally, I think that’s just great. I hope they keep on doing what they do until the stench of fascism is so powerful that it can no longer be ignored.

  4. It gets worse. In a pleading in Federal Court, the DoJ “suggested” that Gibson can make this whole, ugly mess go away by moving the manufacturing of their fretboards to Madagascar. This from the Administration where “Jobs are #1.” Apparently, we should have read the fine print. It’s FOREIGN jobs that are high up on their To-Do list.

    Oh, and all that wood, unfinished and finished guitars? The Feds are holding on to that for “evidence” – from both the 2009 and 2011 raids. Gibson has asked for it back. The DoJ has told them, “No…it’s evidence.” Gibson replied “what are the charges?” “We haven’t charged you with anything – yet,” counters the D0J.

    Oh, and did I mention the CEO of Gibson is a Republican who’s contributed to the GOP, and Gibson is a non-union shop, while his biggest competitor – C.F. Martin is run by a guy who’s given large sums to Democrats, and the shop is all-union?

    Curiouser and curiouser…

  5. Lets see. we fire 40 Americans and have the necks make in India, then shipped to the U.S.A. to make Gibson Guitars, NOW IT LEGAL. And all be cause Obama Doesn’t like that the owner of Gibson is a Republican. No pay-off to the Democrats…..

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