It was on the screen of some people who remember, with pain and fright, similar events. There it was, a heavily-armed, Gestapo-like team, without an arrest or search warrant, come to rip Elian Gonzalez away. What some call the monopoly press have no time or inclination to find and interview those who had similar experiences. If it happened years ago to a political dissident, the press hounds are not interested. After all, so the common wisdom goes, if you have a big mouth and are anti-Establishment, you get what you deserve. I ought to know the feeling. It happened to me, on a Thursday, in March, 1980, twenty years ago as I write this. The nation was facing a financial meltdown because of what became known as the “Silver Collapse”. Several large stock and commodity brokers were facing bankruptcy because the price of silver, pushed by rampant speculation to over 50 dollars per ounce, had fallen off the cliff.
As later admitted in print, the head of the Federal Reserve had a secret emergency meeting with bankers. The meeting was so sudden, the Fed Chief met the bankers in his bathrobe. Several large banks, tied to the silver gambling, were facing going under. There was a danger of a run on banks. The secret police were ordered to take extra-legal, emergency measures, and to hell with the Constitution.
At the time, I was a well-known college lecturer. Despite my disability from childhood, as a paraplegic from polio, I travelled around the nation including to nearby states like Indiana, in a specially-set up vehicle, giving public speeches and conducting seminars. Advertisements had already announced that for the coming Saturday, I was scheduled to give a controversial seminar on, as I expected, the then upcoming bank collapse.
Right near my front door, I was standing on my braces and crutches. I was waiting for a woman friend who was enroute to take me to the barber and then to lunch. As she backed up to my home driveway, another car pulled up near my sidewalk and two men, dressed in very dark clothes, jumped out and ran up to me. “Are you Sherman Skolnick?” they barked at me. “Yes” I answered. “Are you armed?” they demanded to know.
I responded in the most foolish, almost fatal response of my life. “I am an Orthodox Jew. I carry no gun.” [I should have added, The Almighty Is My Rock and My Weapon.] As they rushed up to me, I could see they were heavily armed. [A thought, much later, occurred to me. If I had a gun, would I lose my balance on my crutches and fall if I tried to hold the gun and shoot?]
As they grabbed me, I cried “I must have my folding wheelchair!” which was a few feet away. They were not interested to know. They shoved me like a sack of potatoes into the front seat of their car.
I screamed, “Harriet, call the police!” [I did not know at the time that this was the secret police.] As she rushed up to their car, she put her hand into the open window. They put up the electric window, almost driving off with her arm inside.
They drove me from my residence in Chicago, Illinois, across the State line to Indiana. They knew I could not run away, so they stopped at McDonald’s, not for me but for themselves. It was right near a pay phone. I called a friend collect and blurted out, “I may be cut off any moment. I’m being kidnapped. Pray for me.”
After a long ride, they drove up through the electric truck entrance door of a distant jail. They dumped me into a jail wheelchair and rolled me over to the Warden. “You keep him here, no questions” they commanded the Warden. I was put in a solitary cell, reserved for desperate criminals.
The Warden opened the cell door and entered. “Please understand, I do not know why you are here. I have to follow orders”, he said with a sad look. “I understand your condition. I have a brother, a paraplegic, wounded from Viet Nam. Maybe I can figure out a way to send you over to the State Penitentiary that has a hospital section”, he said, visibly upset. “Look, Warden, I am not sick. I don’t need a hospital,” I answered.
A day later he again entered my jail cell. “I found out who you are, Mr. Skolnick. I am running a terrible risk to try to help you. I found out you are a friend of the former head of the Crime Commission in this part of the State. I called him. Sunday morning is a quiet time. I told him to pull up his car into the truck entrance electric door, like he is delivering something here. I am going to roll you into a blanket and put you on the floor of the back seat of his car. He promised to take only the back roads and get you back to your home. I don’t know what they will do to me for releasing you. But you better stop doing whatever it is you are doing. Next time may be worse for you.” He said this, his face plainly filled with compassion.
“Warden, where is the arrest warrant? What am I charged with? What crime have I committed? At what trial have I been found guilty?” I pleaded with him. “Please, Mr. Skolnick, I already told you I do not know why you are here. I was ordered by the highest authority to keep you here. Promise me, you will never, never cross the State line back to Indiana,” he answered.
Smuggled out the side door into the truck entrance, I got back to my home, my Crime Commission friend driving at high speed on little used back roads, just like we had just robbed a bank.
Some of my relatives showed no understanding, condemning me with statements, like “You got what you deserve. Why don’t you shut your rotten big mouth?”
When some of my more understanding friends take me places, I always tell them, with a sarcastic sneer, “My passports to Indiana and Cuba have been revoked. Do not cross the State boundary line with me in the car.”
After I got home, I found out that the local police in my neighborhood refused to take a report from my woman friend. They showed her a copy of a bulletin on the FBI National Crime Computer Wire, “Sherman Skolnick, of Chicago, a heavily-armed, desperate, escaped criminal and fugitive from justice. Shoot on sight if necessary.”
As a result of the incident, it was the only public speech and seminar I missed in forty years in the public eye. Assuming I knew or found out exactly who the secret police are and were, I decided nevertheless not to sue for false arrest. My reasoning would take too long to detail.
So the American Gestapo, without arrest or search warrants, breaking into the home where Elian Gonzalez was, brings back memories. Am I the only one with memories of the secret police in the United States, dealing with dissident and controversial persons?
Like any banana republic, America has secret political police, nameless, faceless, heavily-armed, subject to no law. Unless we can correct this situation, our Constitution is justifiably dead. This Gestapo follows the orders of the Commissar who runs the conspiratorial, private central bank known as the Federal Reserve, or orders of a Dictator posing as the President, or the head of the Injustice Department, or secret orders not identified from whom.
Nowadays, if the secret police come again to my door, they might notice there a decal from the National Rifle Association.