On Wednesday, August 24, federal agents conducted a Gestapo-style raid, complete with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests, on Gibson Guitars manufacturing facilities in Nashville and Memphis. The reason for all the firepower and spent taxpayer money to fly in agents from New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Washington, DC to take part in the raid?  The federal government executed search warrants to seize wood – yes, wood – from Gibson that they allege was imported illegally.

What were the feds expecting Gibson employees to do that required SWAT gear, make the federal agents cringe by playing out of tune guitars at them?

According to statements by Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz at a press conference following the raids, Gibson was never informed by the federal government as to the charges leveled against the company.

“What is more troubling is that the Justice Department’s position is that any guitar that we ship out of this facility is potentially an obstruction of justice, and to be followed with criminal charges,” Juszkiewicz said.

In other words, to add insult to the injury inflicted when the federal government took Gibson’s property without informing them of the charges –  a violation of the Sixth Amendment right of the accused “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation,” they have also attempted to shut down Gibson’s business by preventing them from moving any guitars outside of the searched facilities.

Gibson speculates in a press release that the raid is related to the federal government’s misinterpretation of the laws of India and Madagascar that according to the federal government requires that all the finishing work on the wood they purchase from these two countries to be completed there by local workers before being shipped to the U.S.

The United States’ Lacey Act requires that U.S. companies comply with the laws of the country from which wood is being exported.  Gibson, a company which started making premium handmade electric guitars decades ago before mass producing them, claims to have affidavits from government officials in both India and Madagascar that verify that they purchased meets all their legal requirements and that the federal government’s interpretation is erroneous.  The press release states:

•    Wood seized was Forest Stewardship Council Controlled

The wood the Government seized on August 24 is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier and is FSC Controlled, meaning that the wood complies with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an industry-recognized and independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC Controlled Wood standards require, among other things, that the wood not be illegally harvested and not be harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights. See www.fsc.org for more information. Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.

•    Nearly two years later, no charges have been filed

In 2009, more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons invaded the Gibson factory in Nashville. The Government seized guitars and a substantial amount of ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar. To date, 1 year and 9 months later, criminal charges have NOT been filed, yet the Government still holds Gibson’s property. Gibson has obtained sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government and these materials, which have been filed in federal court, show that the wood seized in 2009 was legally exported under Madagascar law and that no law has been violated. Gibson is attempting to have its property returned in a civil proceeding that is pending in federal court.

The Justice Department has asked the judge to stop the court case indefinitely.

Interestingly, the Justice Department’s request to halt Gibson’s court case would prevent them from ever reclaiming their property or having their day in court.  That makes one question why the Justice Department is trying to circumvent the justice system?

Theories as to the real motivation for the raid abound, including Gibson’s use of non-union labor and the Gibson CEO’s donations to the Republican Party.  According to a story on Fox Nation, a competitor guitar manufacturer uses the exact same wood as Gibson, yet they have not been raided.  The competitor’s CEO is a Democratic Party donor.

Whether Gibson Guitars is in the right or wrong is irrelevant at this point.  What the federal government did in conducting a Gestapo-style raid on unarmed guitar makers is evil.  James Madison had something to say about the role of the state government when the federal government begins perpetrating evil.

“That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.” – James Madison, Virginia Resolution of 1798

State legislators, Governor Haslam, local sheriffs – it’s time that you stepped up to the plate.  For too long you, as our elected representatives here in Tennessee, have talked tough about standing up against the overreaches of the federal government.  But talking tough doesn’t cut it.  You’ve pussy-footed around and done NOTHING to protect Tennesseans against this evil.

It is your job to interpose the state government between the federal government and arrest this evil for the sake of all Tennesseans to prevent what happened at Gibson from happening to others in this state.

We are OUTRAGED that not a single state legislator, nor our governor, has come forward to even express even an iota of concern over not just one, but two Gestapo-style raids being carried out on Tennessee soil, with no due process of law and no disclosure of the charges to the accused.

It is high time that you as our elected officials put your money where your mouth is and start standing up to this behemoth of a federal government.  This cannot be allowed to happen again on Tennessee soil.  Enough is enough!

Lesley Swann

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