FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Human Sacrifice: A Grand Old American Political Tradition

On July 25, US Attorney General William Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to update its execution protocol and schedule five executions starting this December.

Whether you support the death penalty or not — I don’t because I prefer limited government and the power to kill disarmed prisoners in cold blood and with premeditation is by definition unlimited government — it’s worthwhile to ask:  Why? More to the point, why now?

Politics, that’s why.

There’s a presidential election next year. US president Donald Trump’s re-election strategy, for lack of ability to grow his electoral “base,” is to keep that base energized and enthused so that they’ll turn out to vote instead of sitting at home catching up on re-runs of their favorite TV shows. And that base overwhelmingly supports capital punishment.

With this move Trump is quite literally throwing his supporters some red meat.

There’s nothing new about the idea. Indeed, the history of public human sacrifice for political purposes runs all the way back to ancient history in the Americas.

The last large-scale pre-Columbian example of the practice, that of the Aztecs, involved removing the beating heart of the victim atop a pyramid temple before flinging his or her corpse down the steps to the approval of a roaring crowd.

In this way, Aztec kings not only maintained support from their own populace through religious appeals, but kept smaller tribes too busy raiding each other (for sacrificial captives to be given to the Aztecs in tribute) to ally with each other against the Aztecs themselves.

If these five executions occur, they will be the first federal executions since 2003. There have only been three since 1963.

So, again, why? And why now?

Deterrence isn’t an answer that fits. Overall, violent crime (including murder) in the US has trended downward, not upward in recent decades (from 758 per 100,000 population in 1992 to 383 per 100,000 in 2017).

Neither is reducing the costs of incarceration. Of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners, only 61 are on “death row.” It’s unlikely that killing every last one of them would make a big dent in the Bureau of Prisons’ $7.3 billion annual budget.

Speaking which, if money was the problem, all five of the prisoners to be killed could as easily have been left to the justice systems of the states in which their crimes were committed and would have likely been sentenced to either death or life imprisonment without involving federal tax dollars in the first place.

The same is true regarding any moral “eye for an eye” imperative.  Handling this kind of crime, and this kind of criminal, was never supposed to be the federal government’s job.

That leaves politics. Trump is playing Montezuma in hopes of holding on to his adoring crowd.

 

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail