"Walter and I had been working on that song at a house in Malibu. I played him that line, and he said, 'You mean it's like, they call these cracker assholes this grandiose name like the Crimson Tide, and I'm this loser, so they call me this other grandiose name, Deacon Blues?' And I said, 'Yeah!' He said, 'Cool! Let's finish it!'"
--Donald Fagen, liner notes to Aja
Cracker assholes are a peculiar lot. It's too easy to say that, raised in the shadow of a steeple on every street corner, they are prone to an unearned sanctimony. For all their Bible-thumping bluster, their ordered world is very much of the material plane. Stepping outside the tribe carries real consequence, on earth if not in heaven. Such is the motivation behind the arcane legal machinations that will soon lead to the releases of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Damien Echols, better known in the popular media and t-shirt logos as the West Memphis 3.
Convicted of murdering children in a Satanic ritual, the three were, at the time of their first trial, actually guilty of being weirdos in a small Southern town--a crime found nowhere on the books but as binding as any written statute. Echols mostly bears the burden of that mark. With his long hair, black trench coat, and gothic pretensions, he was painted by prosecutors as a cult leader, when, in fact, he was just a cocky metal fan foolish enough to think being innocent meant something to the rubes in the jury box.
For this miscalculation in human psychology, he and Baldwin and Misskelley have spent the better part of two decades behind bars and became a cause célèbre for generally interesting actors and mostly shitty musicians--you know, the success stories from the small Southern town weirdo pantheon. If this sounds like a less-than-triumphant note to sound on what is undoubtedly a great day for the WM3, that's only because setting the innocent free is nothing to celebrate. It is akin to writing your neighbors a thank-you note because they didn't burn your house down while you were on vacation.
Twenty years ago, before Spanish-speaking voters, lesbian school teachers, and black Presidents, cracker assholes had to find something to be afraid of and decided upon something truly terrifying: their own children. Evangelical Christians, the same ones currently being pandered to in the cornfields by the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, distributed tacky leaflets and overheated VHS tapes to churches around the South decrying the rise of witchcraft, devil worship, and occultism among America's youth--led by those harbingers of darkness, Metallica et al. Thus the "Satanic panic" came slouching toward Bethlehem or, in this case, West Memphis, Arkansas.
A recent survey of self-identified Tea Partiers uncovered some information surprising for anyone without a fucking brain. Intending to measure the influence of religion on people's political views, the researchers found the exact opposite. Namely, that religion doesn't influence people's politics; people's politics influences their religion. Folks who are skeeved out by queers on the TV, don't cotton to Mexicans in the grocery store, and surely don't care for a colored guy in the White House will find a church that coddles their prejudices. Of course, the problem for these folks is that they live in world with fewer and fewer opportunities to brag about how bigoted they are, which is why the Tea Party pitches a shitfit over "big government" and "individual liberty"--damn near meaningless terms that were translated as "whites-only lunch counters" fifty years ago.
Now listen, I am well aware that it's a stretch to tie the case of the West Memphis 3 to the long and bloody history of America's struggle toward an equal citizenry, but what does freedom in this country mean if not the freedom to be as weird as you fucking please despite the circumstances of your birth? And certainly that includes the right not to be tried for capital crimes based on having poor taste in music. This is basic cowboy-on-the-plains shit here, my friend!
And don't mistake today's hearing for justice, either. Whoever murdered those young boys and tossed their bodies away like so much yard clipping either died a long time ago or is still walking loose. Who knows? Certainly not the police in Arkansas charged with finding their killer. Surely not the district attorneys who reinforced their citizenry's worst fears while allowing a real threat to stay on the streets. And most definitely not the honorable David Burnett, retired circuit court judge and cracker asshole of the first order.
Depending on which news account is accurate (and we must depend on these accounts as the court itself is enforcing a gag order on all participants), the defendants must either change their plea to guilty or will plead a no contest to the charges in order to be released. In other words, the state of Arkansas doesn't want it on record that they did what they actually did: lock away three innocent men for no damn reason at all. You have to hand it to cracker assholes; even when they lose, they win.
But ultimately, even this slight will become meaningless. After today, the West Memphis 3 can go about what's left of their lives as they see fit and that's as good an outcome for them as they could have hoped.
To come clean, I grew up in a small Southern town not unlike West Memphis. I wasn't ever weird enough to warrant the kind of stink-eye Damien Echols likely got from his neighbors, and since you're reading a college football blog, likely neither were you. Or, since you're reading this college football blog, maybe you were. Regardless, I knew my town's version of these kids and know exactly why their plight became a rallying point for so many people.
The tale of the West Memphis 3 is the weirdo's worst case scenario. It's the collective rising with one voice and condemning the individual for being just that and nothing more. And if you can hold down your lunch while watching those self-same assholes drape their narrow-mindedness under the banner of "freedom" during the election cycle, then, compadre, you're made of sterner stuff than me.