October 1, 2009

Brian David Mitchell — "evil, wicked, manipulative, stinky, slimy, selfish, not spiritual, not religious, not close to God" — raped Elizabeth Smart every day, repeatedly.

"She was 14 when she was abducted from her Salt Lake City home at knifepoint in the middle of the night. Shortly after her abduction, Smart said Mitchell took her to a mountain camp and performed a ceremony she said was intended to marry the two. 'After that, he proceeded to rape me,' Smart said. She said he held her captive with a cable attached to her leg that had a 10-foot reach. That line was attached to another cable strung between two trees. Smart said Mitchell plied her with alcohol and drugs to lower her resistance.... Smart was poised and composed while testifying for just under two hours."

Twice, in state court, Mitchell has been found incompetent to stand trial. Now, the question arises in federal court (where the charges are kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor).

Mitchell did not present art as his privilege to do what society criminalizes. He tapped into that other most grand and lofty source of transcendence: religion:
"Any time that I showed resistance or hesitation he turned to me and said, 'The Lord says you have to do this, you have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest,' " said Smart....

40 comments:

edutcher said...

There was a time people were executed for this sort of thing in this country. They were known as the good old days.

Smilin' Jack said...

Brian David Mitchell — not religious, not close to God...

Well, I don't know. Mary was about 14 when God impregnated her with Jesus, so in that respect you'd have to say Mitchell was close to God.

MayBee said...

What a remarkable young woman Elizabeth Smart is. Her family, too.

Quayle said...

She's giving testimony at this hearing because she is leaving the country to serve as a missionary in Paris for the next 18 months.

sloandaughter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

The use of the word Lord also means a god in the spiritual world, and the scriptures say that there are evil gods/lordships in the spiritual world (the heavens) that are at war with us. Todays popular culture calls them Angels and Demons and likes to use them for spells and enchantments all in fun of course The christian point of view is that Drug use will open the door of the human personality to outside control. So a religion is best judged by its fruit of love and production of peace or by its fruit of hate and production of confusion that destroys your peace.

MeJerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
knox said...

In the state court system, Mitchell was twice found incompetent to stand trial.


How can one successfully pull off this crime, avoid authorities and torture a captive for months ... and still be considered mentally incompetent?

Richard Dolan said...

This is the fourth post invoking the concept of a moral privilege to do something that, for others, would be immoral. But, from what I can tell, none of the instances involves a claim of moral privilege.

The post about a slightly altered quote (altered to make a point about Polanski) didn't involve a claim of moral privilege because Polanski's defenders offer only excuses why he should not be punished now, not a claim that he had a moral right then (that others wouldn't have had) to rape a 13-year old. The post about the photo by Prince (actually a photo of a photo of an underageed Brooke Shields), involved an artist's use of an image that had been published 25 years ago, and was long in the public domain. The artist wasn't claiming that he had some morally superior right to use that image that others could not claim. The post about Catholic bishops moving child-molesting priests from parish to parish involves conduct to hide immoral behaviour, which implies the opposite of a claim of privilege to commit it. The bishop's justification was that they wanted to avoid a scandal in the church (and, alas, only succeeded in making the scandal, bad as it was, much worse). That justification comes closest to involving a claim of moral privilege, but still doesn't get there.

This post involves a competency hearing in federal court, where the defendant is charged with abducting and raping a 14-year old. His invocation of religion now is not for the purpose of claiming a moral privilege to rape and kidnap, but instead is offered to show his lack of competence. His invocation of religion during the kidnapping was that the girl had a religious obligation to submit, not that there was some religious principle that privileged him (but not others) to rape and kidnap.

miller said...

Perhaps Althouse is asking us to think what makes something moral.

Bissage said...

Perhaps Althouse is asking us to think what makes something moral.

If so, I have a ready answer: experience.

Synova said...

Unless I'm confusing her with someone else in a similar situation, my impression was that she continued to resist in a number of ways until she was rescued and seemed remarkably composed directly after. I won't pretend to speak to her private nightmares, but I wonder if that "most grand and lofty source of transcendence" wasn't manifest in her as a most powerful source of being grounded in the concrete to be immovable in her own spirit when presented with her abductor's lies.

In any case, any criminal is more or less by definition, got something wrong with them psychologically... so on what grounds is this guy found not competent to stand trial?

Shanna said...

In any case, any criminal is more or less by definition, got something wrong with them psychologically...

This is what always gets me. I mean, does anybody think Manson is mentally right in the head? But we still sent him to prison.

I didn't realize this hadn't gone to trial yet. I figured it was all settled up.

Shanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

In the eyes of the law there are no six degrees of separation btwg Mitchell and Polanski?

Windbag said...

If only Mitchell had embarked on a career of mediocre film making, he could have legions of Hollywood losers lining up to argue his case.

PatHMV said...

Richard Dolan, you have not been actually reading what Polanski's Hollywood defenders have been saying, have you? Whoopi Goldberg explained that this was not "rape-rape." Others have most definitely asserted, defending Polanski, that there may not even have been a real crime here, that the girl was asking for it, that the mother's at fault for leaving the daughter with those adult men, that it was all about getting a civil settlement, and that the girl was already sexually experienced, so what's the big deal, anyway.

traditionalguy said...

Mitchell sounds like a Slave Master that owned Smart and used religious authority to make and keep a slave rather than attempting to free slaves. In Polanski's case he presumed on having a Class authority that uses servants in his life as he used the hollywood girl that came into his hands. Could this be the Althousian point for the day? Class distinctions are a mild form of slavery when seen against the individual respect due to every free American as an Unalienable right bestowed upon us by the God in whom we trust.

MadisonMan said...

What an artiste!

rhhardin said...

Child abduction or sexual abuse is ratings gold, if it's a white girl.

I'd guess the common theme is ratings gold, and the implied question is why the media can draw so many audience eyes with kid salacious stories.

Except for the Lindberg baby they didn't happen before 1970.

I remember reading somewhere that Freud said women made molestation stories up because there are so many of them that they can't all be true. So apparently it went on all the time and became a public problem (as political term) simultaneously with the discovery of audience appetites.

It used to be just a strange uncle story.

Photog714 said...

If we had a time machine, we could send Brian David Mitchell back to a time and culture that would give him what he deserves:

The condemned man would usually be sentenced to the short drop method of hanging, so that the neck would not break. The man was usually dragged alive to the quartering table, although in some cases men were brought to the table dead or unconscious. A splash of water was usually employed to wake the man if unconscious, then he was laid down on the table. A large cut was made in the gut after removing the genitalia, and the intestines would be spooled out on a device that resembled a dough roller. Each piece of organ would be burned before the sufferer's eyes, and when he was completely disemboweled, his head would be cut off. The body would then be cut into four pieces, and the king would decide where they were to be displayed.

Yeah ... that sounds about right.

Republican said...

Too poor to know about the Qualudes-and-alcohol as art defense.

Richard Dolan said...

PatHMV: I have been reading what they are saying. You haven't been following the argument.

Everything you list is a form of excuse, not a claim of moral privilege. The difference is this: a claim of moral privilege is an argument that Polanski had the right to commit the child rape because of some unique attribute that he has and others don't. An excuse is, well, just an excuse -- what he did wasn't bad (was excusable) because of some fact about the victim or the event, but does not involve any claim that he was uniquely privileged to do what he did (i.e., a claim that nothing about his actions required an excuse). Same with Prince (the photog), the Catholic bishops who shuffled around the child abusers, and the rapist nutjob highlighted in this post.

Discussing whether the excuses proferred on behalf of any of those folks have any merit is hardly worth the bother - they obviously don't. All that interests me in this series of posts by Anne is whether any of situations she highlights actually involves a claim of moral privilege by the perpetrators. For the reasons I've explained (briefly) in this and the other posts, I don't think there is such a claim.

That discussion, parsing out the nature of the claims, may not interest anyone else. So be it. But that's the only part of this that interests me.

fivewheels said...

To link this issue to a different post from a couple days ago, this is also a lesson about the extreme end of the dangers of being a soft-hearted woman being "compassionate" to the homeless.

Give him work to do at your home, and you are exposing an unknown element to your young daughter. Inviting any contact with homeless strangers who may be mentally ill, even just offering a dollar, is a crapshoot. It may be a small risk, but it is definitely not risk-free.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Fivewheels, people give odd jobs to drifters all the time with nothing bad happening.

And girls are abducted when their parents haven't been "soft hearted". Polly Klaas, for instance. Jessica Lunsford. Carlie Brucia. Jaycee Duggard.

fivewheels said...

Well-f'ing-duh, Laura. Just where does anything in my comment contradict that? Did you even read it? What do you think "extreme end of the dangers" means? What do you think "small risk" means?

If I were to read comments as illogically as you just did, I would argue that you just said that nothing bad will ever happen if you invite a stranger into your home. But I'm not that silly.

Fred4Pres said...

Ask Whoopie if that is rape rape.

PatHMV said...

Moral privilege is often displayed through the selective use of excuses. When you make an excuse for the Hollywood guy, but condemn the priest, there's some underlying reason that distinction. Something underlies the hypocrisy. In this case, that something is the moral privilege which we've been discussing.

In this day and age, few people will actually directly assert a "droit de seigneur" directly. They know full well that they can't and shouldn't say that it's ok for Roman Polanski to rape a 13 year old. Instead, they make excuses, which have the same ultimate effect. When Harvey Weinstein talks about the "so-called crime," he is excusing and minimizing the rape in a way which he would not do for priests, Republican Congressmen, or anybody else outside of his Hollywood circle. He does so only because he believes that different rules apply to his kind of people... because he believes they are privileged.

Ms said...

fivewheels, i think the media downplayed that part of the story, maybe to spare the mother the guilt she had to feel but also because it would be un-p.c. to point out any negatives about the homeless. in the stories about elizabeth today, they say she was taken from her home without mentioning how the guy got there.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

fivewheels, there's danger at the "extreme end" of everything you can think of.

You aren't warning people against letting their little girls be peacefully in their own bedrooms, as Polly Klaas was, are you? No, you're making it Elizabeth Smart's mother's fault that she was abducted.

It's human nature to cast blame, because it lets us have the illusion that we have some kind of control. If I don't bring home drifters to do odd jobs, my kid won't be abducted. Because the truth, that shit happens sometimes, is just a little too hard to stand.

Shanna said...

Moral privilege is often displayed through the selective use of excuses. When you make an excuse for the Hollywood guy, but condemn the priest, there's some underlying reason that distinction.

Indeed. Also, excuses that mention all the awesome movies that someone made are a pretty clear giveaway.

Laura, I had never heard that they hired a homeless guy, but ITA that it was just one of those things that could have been anything.

fivewheels said...

I shouldn't continue this because it's obviously going to be fruitless, but ... Laura, you seriously can't see the difference between "letting their little girls be peacefully in their own bedrooms", to which there's really no practical alternative, and inviting a strange person off the streets to your home to work on the roof?

Some risk is pre-existing and permanent and all but unavoidable. Shit does happen, and this is obvious, although you thought it was necessary to spell out. But the additional risk that comes from proactively bringing a crazy person to your home from miles away is, in fact, avoidable. Do you really think it's not worth avoiding because the risk may be tiny? You'll take those odds?

This calculation is up to people to make on their own, and it has nothing to do with blame. But it makes no sense to pretend that no such calculation is possible or worth considering.

fivewheels said...

Shanna, just FYI, the story of how Mitchell came to the Smart house is in this story from the time of Elizabeth's return.

Methadras said...

Hmmm. I wonder where the French Philosopher is to explain away this sub-human animals primal urges? What? What's that I hear? Oh, it's just the crickets. Stunner.

wv = bioch. No kidding.

Gary Rosen said...

I can't wait for C-fudd to defend Mitchell as a tragic victim of persecution just like Polanski.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

From Fivewheel's article.

"Lois Smart said she gave Emmanuel $5 and hired him to help her husband work on the roof of their home in the affluent Federal Heights neighborhood. After about five hours, she said, he left."

To help her husband. For five hours. Who has lived in an urban area and not done something like this?

Richard Dolan said...

"Moral privilege is often displayed through the selective use of excuses."

No. The "selective use" of any moral category shows hypocrisy or partisanship or bias, or sometimes just a failure to understand the meaning of the words used to talk about a particular moral category. But to employ excuses to explain or justify conduct is to start from the premise that the underlying conduct requires an excuse. To claim a privilege starts from the opposite premise. In that way, privileges and excuses function differently in the logic of moral discourse. As you say, conduct that falls within a privilege, and conduct that falls within a properly invoked excuse, both may end up being treated similarly: neither may be subject to moral opprobrium. But the reason is different.

An example: cops and soldiers are privileged by their status to use deadly force in many circumstances where others are not. When they use deadly force in those circumstances, their privileged status means that their actions do not require any, more specific justification. By invoking that privileged status, they are not offering an excuse for conduct requiring one. If someone challenges their use of deadly force (e.g., the cop or soldier was acting outside the limits of the status giving rise to the privilege), the burden will be on the challenger to show why the privilege does not apply. That reality shows up whenever a cop is tried for using deadly force in circumstances where (it is alleged) his status does not give rise to the privilege: jurors almost always cut the cops a lot of slack. The indictment is hard even to get, and the conviction harder still.

If someone not enjoying that status were to use deadly force on another, however, the starting premise is that the conduct is a homicide, unless it is excused by something about the situation -- most typically some fact about what the dead person was doing (e.g., invading your home with criminal intent). But that "something" will not be related to the status of the killer.

The law recognizes many privileges rooted in status of that sort, and they give rise to immunities (absolute or qualified); and recognizes even more forms of defenses which often function as excuses. The not-always-sharp line between privileges and excuses is alive and well both in how we talk about conduct and how it is treated in the law. It's not at all the out-of-date distinction that your example of droit de seigneur suggests.

kentuckyliz said...

I'd like to see the Polanski defenders make their claim here, that the bitch deserved it.

Or that Mitchell didn't rape her repeatedly, because once she was sexually active with him, it wasn't rape.

Mitchell is not competent for continued participation in this lifetime.

That guy needs killing.

kentuckyliz said...

There was a period of a year between Mitchell working on the Smart home and him coming back to abduct her.

kentuckyliz said...

This case calls to mind an unhealed wound--the abduction of Johnny Gosch in 1982. I was a HS senior, a classmate of his brother Joe and I worked at a restaurant with his sister Christy.

Johnny still hasn't been found, alive or dead. However, a few years ago someone dropped off pictures on his mother's doorstep, pictures of Johnny hogtied, branded, and gagged.

Two more boys were kidnapped within the next couple of years from the same town, my home town.

They were all newspaper delivery boys. Another good reason for newspapers to die.

Can you imagine? Getting photos 24 years later. And the photos were done right after the kidnapping--in one, he has the same sweat pants on that he was wearing on the day he was abducted.

I know, it isn't rape-rape.