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Wasserman: Rejecting Arnold's Medieval Murder

Rejecting Arnold's Medieval Murder

by Harvey Wasserman
December 28, 2005

The medieval town in which Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up has rightly rejected his medieval murder of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

The Terminator's nickname has taken on a twisted new dimension. His Austrian home town is horrified, along with sane human beings throughout the rest of the world. Above all, this was a fascist killing.

For the full horror of what Schwarzenegger has done in American terms, we must hearken back to the witch trials of the 1600s.

In Salem and elsewhere in New England, Puritan fanatics took the loud hysteria of scheming adolescents as "evidence" of deviltry. In 1692-3 a score of citizens---nearly all of them women---were "convicted" of witchcraft.

The charges were sick and absurd. Many of the accused were esteemed grandmothers. Most were independent gardeners, farmers, craftspeople or in business for themselves. In many cases, family feuds or the coveting of land and property were at the core of the accusations.

Though written as an attack on 1950s McCarthyism, Arthur Miller's "Crucible" and the brilliant movie most recently made of it (starring his son-in-law, Daniel Day-Lewis) stand as intensely powerful warnings against the kind of lethal hysteria that has gripped the America of George W. Bush and the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Williams was a founder of the notorious Crips gang who reformed and worked ceaselessly to end violence. He renounced his past, wrote a children's book and became a model citizen. Living a prison life in productive dignity, he came to embody precisely the kind of quiet integrity so distinctly lacking in those who put him to death.

In their Puritan eyes, Williams' ultimate crime was not the murders he may or may not have committed---it was his refusal to confess to them.

Throughout his years in prison, Williams steadfastly insisted on his innocence. It was this insistence that Schwarzenegger cited as the ultimate reason for having him killed. His lack of "repentance" said the governor, was what justified his execution.

It was a purely medieval decision. The Puritans are Schwarzenegger's spiritual predecessors in this. They gleefully slaughtered Quakers, Indians, Baptists and all others who refused to toe the God Squad line. Pioneers in frontier totalitarianism, the Puritans always demanded one thing: a confession. If you admitted to being a witch, they might not kill you. If you held fast to your convictions, they certainly would. Break you or kill you, take your pick.

In some cases their "trials" made Kafka seem sane. Accused witches were bound and thrown into lakes or rivers or tubs of water. If they sank, it meant they were embraced by the Lord, and thus innocent (but dead). If they floated, they were rejected by the Divine, and thus guilty---and executed.

That's about the level of Schwarzenegger's reasoning in his ritual murder of Tookie Williams. The Puritans ruled New England for nearly a century with an iron hand that punished non-conformity and political dissent with torture and death. Like the Bush-Rove GOP, they based it all on God and the Bible. Like McCarthy and Schwarzenegger, they demanded confession and a broken spirit as the price of physical survival.

A century after the Salem killings, the newly independent United States adopted a Bill of Rights whose very first demand was to separate church and state. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," reads the opening line of the First Amendment, an iron rule of new American life now being obliterated by the Bush-Rove GOP.

The irony becomes even deeper with the bitter rejection of Schwarzenegger's hypocrisy by his Austrian hometown of Graz. Arnold has danced around a personal past heavily tainted with overt or covert Nazism. But Graz was undeniably in the fascist grip during World War 2.

Now Graz has set its sights in direct opposition, with official revulsion against a death penalty it (and most of the rest of the world) considers barbaric.

Five years ago the Graz City Council unanimously voted to deem itself Europe's premier "city of human rights." For many, Williams had become precisely the kind of citizen with whom Graz wanted to associate.

In protest against Schwarzenegger's refusal to pardon Williams, a majority of the city council accepted a petition to rename the local 15,000-seat stadium which was named after Schwarzenegger in 1997. Before the petition could be formally approved, Schwarzenegger had his name removed.

"It was a clever step," said one council member.

There have since been proposals to rename the stadium after the Crips, or after Hakoah, a Jewish sports club banned by Hitler after he annexed Austria in 1938.

But Schwarzenegger proclaims no remorse for Williams's death. The ritual slaughter in California, Texas and Iraq continue as the rest of the world recoils in horror.

Public revulsion against the bloody excesses of the Salem witch trials ultimately sped the downfall of a Puritan reign of terror. Graz has added hope that Schwarzenegger's ghastly, medieval murder of Tookie Williams will now find a similar meaning.


HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available at, as is HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, written with Bob Fitrakis.

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