Rocinante’s Saddle is Empty: The Passing of Congressman George Hansen

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Rep. Hansen (l) in 1979. You may recognize the fellow to the right of the sign.

Rep. Hansen (l) in 1979. You may recognize the fellow to the right of the sign.

It has been said that there is no sweeter fate than to die as a fogotten foe of a long-dead heresy. Former Congressman George Hansen, whose soul was released from its ailing and enfeebled mortal coil on August 14, suffered the inverse of that benediction: He lived long enough to witness the complete validation of his grimly prophetic warnings about the advent of American totalitarianism – albeit of variety yet to be uniformly imposed on our society.

Anybody who read Hansen’s 1979 book To Harass Our People would not be surprised by either the IRS targeting scandal, or the emergence of the fully realized Panopticon surveillance system. Anybody familiar with the abuse Hansen suffered in the US prison system would understand that was has been done in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib is neither novel nor uncommon.

A few days prior to Hansen’s passing, former Reagan administration press spokesman James Brady died at the age of 73. Horribly wounded and left in a wheelchair during the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Brady was designated a homicide victim despite his advanced age because of the life-altering injuries he had experienced through an act of violence. On that reasoning, Hansen should likewise be regarded as a homicide victim: His body was shattered as a result of the torture he experienced as a political prisoner.

Hansen was a politician, which is a properly tainted title. Unlike most members of the tax-feeding class, Hansen spent much of his time in Congress inveighing against the crimes committed by and through the tax-extraction mechanism, which is headed by the world’s oldest and most loathsome secret police organization – the IRS. He also used his influence to intervene on behalf of the agency’s victims within his district.

One chief purpose of surveillance in a totalitarian state is the acquisition of what the Soviet security organs called kompromat – damaging information about the personal or professional lives of potential dissidents and apostates within the political class. Hansen was a Mormon from a tiny Idaho town whose file was devoid of lurid personal scandals or authentic professional misconduct. Despite that fact, Hansen’s ardent work to expose the IRS’s crimes, and his unflinching candor in describing them to the public, provoked an entirely spurious ethics investigation that contributed to his defeat in November 1984 during an election in which the margin of victory was as thin as a single sheet of onionskin paper.

In early 1984, during his seventh term in Congress, Hansen was indicted for two felony violations of the Ethics in Government Act. He was reprimanded by the House and convicted of those offenses, becoming the first congressman to spend time in prison under that Act as punishment for trivial violations of arcane financial reporting requirements.

After surrendering to federal custody in Pocatello, Hansen endured a month-long ordeal of torture at the hands of the U.S. Marshals Service in the form of “Diesel Therapy.” This consisted of being shackled hand and foot for up to twenty hours at a time inside a diesel-fueled bus, unable to eat or use the bathroom. The mistreatment caused severe edema in his extremities, as well as open sores, infections, organ failure, and other complications. It took only fifteen months in federal prison to turn what had been a tall, vigorous, charismatic man into a shattered human ruin.

During the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Hansen traveled to Tehran on a fact-finding trip. Iranian officials “showed me [what] the Shah had been doing to his people,” Hansen recalled in congressional testimony in 1995. “If they didn’t like what you were doing, they would smash your shins with boards and pull your nails out and break your teeth.” Hansen suffered nearly identical disabilities as a result of his imprisonment: His lower legs were all but ruined after he was shackled interminably in “stress positions.” Poor circulation to his extremities, coupled with medical neglect, left his toes disfigured; in order to wear shoes, Hansen had to rip out his own toenails. During his prison term Hansen was forced to work, without protective gear, in the presence of toxic chemicals that caused his teeth to rot down to the roots, and led to severe bone damage.

More than a decade after Hansen’s release the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. By that time, Hansen — who was always a man of unexceptional means and little extravagance — had been reduced to utter destitution. His restored pension and repayment of the unjustly imposed $40,000 fine were barely enough to pay for the medical expenses. This led to a second set of charges concerning alleged financial improprieties. Those charges were dismissed after most of the “victims” — including people for whom he had interceded in their struggles with the IRS — filed affidavits in support of Hansen.

“I’ve never seen that kind of blind allegiance,” complained federal Judge Edward J. Lodge as he grudgingly dismissed the charges. Lodge, significantly, had played a role in needlessly prolonging Hansen’s imprisonment. Presumably this is because Lodge regards paperwork errors by elected representatives as matters of supreme importance … unless they’re committed by his wife, Idaho State Senator Patty Anne Lodge, who has illegally held on to her office while living outside her district.

3:29 pm on August 17, 2014