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“THE BALLOT OR THE BULLET”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 26, 2013) — Institutionalized corruption within the Tenth Judicial District of Tennessee has been reported to The Post & Email by Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, George Raudenbush, Dennis Burnett, Todd Sweet, Rex Peak and others over the last three years.
The Tenth Judicial District includes the counties of McMinn, Monroe, Bradley and Polk. Crimes committed by government officials include jury-rigging, police brutality, perjury, violating state laws and corruption within the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
False arrests, election fraud and sheriff’s department corruption have long been a part of eastern Tennessee politics. State archival records report that prisoners were taken to obtain payment from the state to enrich the local sheriff, a practice that is still ongoing today.
Any attempts by the Tennessee General Assembly to rein in out-of-control judges have been squelched despite the knowledge that citizens have been jailed and abused at the hands of the corrupt courts.
Paul Cantrell was elected McMinn County sheriff by aligning his campaign with that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936, displaced longstanding Republican leadership.. In 1942, Cantrell was elected to the state senate, where he served two terms, after which he ran for sheriff again in 1946.
While Cantrell served in the Tennessee senate, his deputy sheriff, Pat Mansfield, was elected McMinn County Sheriff. The two reversed political races in 1946. Armed guards were used by the sheriff’s office to intimidate voters and discriminate against blacks attempting to vote.
During that year, a group of World War II veterans decided that corruption within the McMinn County Sheriff’s Department resulting in rigged elections would not be tolerated after a ballot box was confiscated by sheriff’s deputies and taken to the jail. Having attempted to run their own candidates and petitioned local authorities and the U.S. Department of Justice for redress to no avail, the veterans took up arms against the sheriff’s office.
The firearms used by the veterans were difficult to find, as the area had been scourged by the Depression and the war. The deputies fired the first shots at the veterans positioned across the street from the jail. While then-Governor Jim McCord mobilized the State Guard to Athens, they never arrived.
Of the political climate at the time of the battle, one historical source reports:
The laws of Tennessee provided an opportunity for the unscrupulous to prosper. The sheriff and his deputies received a fee for every person they booked, incarcerated, and released; the more human transactions, the more money they got. A voucher signed by the sheriff was all that was needed to collect the money from the courthouse. Deputies routinely boarded buses passing through and dragged sleepy-eyed passengers to the jail to pay their $16.50 fine for drunkenness, whether they were guilty or not. Arrests ran as high as 115 per weekend. The fee system was profitable, but record-keeping was required, and the money could be traced. It was less troublesome to collect kickbacks for allowing roadhouses to operate openly. Cooperative owners would point out influential patrons. They were not bothered, but the rest were subject to shakedowns. Prostitution, liquor, and gambling grew so prevalent that it became common knowledge in Tennessee that Athens was “wide open.”
The Post & Email has reported the same illegal arrests, police brutality, shakedowns, illegal confiscation of inmates’ account money and personal property, crooked judges, and a prisoners-for-profit scheme operating out of the Monroe County jail and state of Tennessee. When a citizen brought evidence of election fraud to the McMinn County grand jury in November, the jury members concluded that they did not have the authority to investigate it.
Tennessee grand juries have been overtaken by prosecutors and judges, rendering them a rubber-stamp entity which is often hand-picked by the court in violation of TCA 22-2-314. After attempting a citizen’s arrest of a grand jury foreman who had served for 28 consecutive years, Fitzpatrick was arrested, beginning a lengthy retaliation on the part of those expected to be upholding the law.
Following more than three years of reporting corruption to local, state and federal authorities, Walter Fitzpatrick has been incarcerated five times in the Monroe County jail, had most of his personal belongings stolen while the local police failed to prosecute, and been denied the opportunity to present a defense by a senior judge with 30 years on the bench.
Fitzpatrick’s three-year saga has been called “The Second Battle of Athens” by a close observer.
In 1946, the veterans were not themselves armed, but rather, “broke in” to an armory and seized weapons, then went to the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office to demand that confiscated ballot boxes be returned from the county jail. At the time, Athens had a population of approximately 7,000 people.
Despite Cantrell’s identification with President Roosevelt, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote of the veterans’ actions:
We may deplore the use of force but we must also recognize the lesson which this incident points for us all. When the majority of the people know what they want, they will obtain it.
Any local, state or national government, or any political machine, in order to live, must give the people assurance that they can express their will freely and that their votes will be counted. The most powerful machine cannot exist without the support of the people. Political bosses and political machinery can be good, but the minute they cease to express the will of the people, their days are numbered.
Two years later, Polk County experienced two deaths and five injuries as a result of a local election with another compromised ballot box in the Ducktown area, which Rex Peak mentioned in his interview with The Post & Email last week.
Prior to the shootout between the veterans and McMinn County Sheriff’s deputies, a veteran had said at a rally for election fairness:
The principals [sic] that we fought for in this past war do not exist in McMinn County. We fought for democracy because we believe in democracy but not the form we live under in this county.
The week prior to the Battle of Athens, the veterans had raided area gambling establishments, confiscating the slot machines.
It is reported that the Battle of Athens was later viewed as a “source of embarrassment” to the people of East Tennessee, but some view the veterans “with reverence” for the actions they took, which went “from ballots to bullets.”
Black civil rights leader Malcolm X had given a speech which became famous entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Malcolm X is rumored to be the biological father of “Barack Obama.”
During the confrontation, veterans fired until their ammunition ran out, then threw sticks of dynamite at the porch of the sheriff’s office. Vanquished, Cantrell, Mansfield, and deputies who had been inside the building disappeared in the overnight hours of August 2.
The following day, a new governing council was established, and salaries of public officials were capped at $5,000. Tennessee historical accounts report that “In five precincts free of vote fraud, the GI candidate for Sheriff, Knox Henry, won 1,168 votes to Cantrell’s 789. Other GI candidates won by similar margins.”
A New York Times editorial published after the confrontation contended that the veterans “violated a fundamental principle of democracy when they arrogated to themselves the right of law enforcement for which they had no election mandate. Corruption, when and where it exists, demands reform, and even in the most corrupt and boss-ridden communities there are peaceful means by which reform can be achieved.”
But can it?
Do firearms promote violence or keep Americans free?