Our Justice Systems Have Always Been Weaponized Against Agents of Change
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on September 4, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
On March 18, 2023, The Tuscaloosa News published an article titled, “Disgraced Lawyer Donald Watkins Blogs from Prison.” The article was published seven months AFTER the publication of a widely-read article about my release from a federal prison camp near El Paso, Texas on August 25, 2022.
In 2018, I had been indicted and prosecuted by Birmingham Alabama-based federal prosecutors for business-related conduct that unbiased federal prosecutors in Newark, New Jersey thoroughly reviewed two years earlier and concluded was not criminal. I was “railroaded” in a Birmingham federal court and imprisoned for three years.
I was in and out of the federal prison system before my appeals had been exhausted.
The entire ordeal was an Alabama-led effort to undermine, discredit, and destroy me. Over a four decade period, my landmark civil rights cases had profoundly changed the political, educational, economic, and social landscape of Alabama. I aggressively fought all forms of racial discrimination in a state that prided itself on "massive resistance" to equal rights for its black citizens.
I was deemed a "troublemaker" who disturbed the Birmingham business community's "good relations with the colored community." I had also been asked to leave Birmingham on more than one occasion.
After I left public office as a Montgomery city council member in 1983, Emory Folmar, the city's arch-conservative Republican mayor and then-Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, publicly proclaimed that my departure from the council “was one of the greatest blessings since the Yankee troops went home in 1870.”
The Tuscaloosa News Embodies the Spirit of Regressive Forces in Alabama
The Tuscaloosa News is the same Alabama newspaper that ran an attack ad against Megan Rondini, an innocent University of Alabama honors student who identified a local Tuscaloosa playboy as her rapist in 2015 police report. With its publication of this ad, The Tuscaloosa News openly platformed an act of “victim shaming” that maliciously targeted Megan Rondini in July 2017 (after her death).
Rondini committed suicide after Tuscaloosa County law enforcement officials refused to pursue criminal justice in her rape case solely because the designated offender/suspect came from a wealthy Tuscaloosa family that contributed mega bucks to the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.
From the moment she filed her rape report, the criminal justice system in Tuscaloosa County became weaponized against Megan Rondini. After all, she had the audacity to timely report her rape and she demanded that her alleged well-known rapist be prosecuted.
In 2017, I was the only journalist in the state who wrote and published in-depth articles about Megan Rondini’s rape case. Out of fear that they would lose advertising dollars from corporate entities and the political bodies run by the Alabama’s rich, white, male oligarchs, the state’s mainstream press turned a blind eye to Megan Rondini’s rape case.
Tuscaloosa County is a Hostile Venue for Truth Seekers and the Fair Administration of Justice
Tuscaloosa is the same county where Allen May, a newly appointed white Circuit Court judge, ruled against me (without a trial) in a so-called “defamation case” that was based upon five investigative articles I wrote and published about Megan Rondini’s rape case.
Judge May, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Robert Bentley, applied a simple “negligence” standard to justify his adverse ruling, and not the more rigorous “reckless disregard of the truth” standard mandated in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) for defamation cases involving journalists.
Robert Bentley, a Tuscaloosa native, was forced to resign as Alabama’s governor in 2017 after I exposed his long-running illicit sex affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a married senior advisor, in my “Forbidden Love” and “Executive Betrayal” series of investigative reports. Bentley also pled guilty to ethics charges arising from his “sex-for-power” scandal.
Judge May completely disregarded my asserted legal position that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation. A subsequent lawsuit between two business partners in an Alabama-based public relations firm confirmed that the plaintiffs in the defamation case had, in fact, thrust themselves into the Megan Rondini rape controversy, as I had reported in the articles in question.
The all-white Alabama Supreme Court (in a state that is 26% black), led by Confederate flag-waving Chief Justice Tom Parker, unanimously and summarily affirmed the ruling of the Tuscaloosa County judge.
Today, Chief Justice Tom Parker is the drum major for former Alabama governor George Wallace’s old doctrine of “interposition and nullification.” Parker has repeatedly proclaimed in writing that U.S. Supreme Court cases DO NOT bind the Alabama Supreme Court.
Tom Parker’s stated judicial views on this subject faithfully and fully embrace Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor’s 1958 infamous declaration: “Damn the law. Down here, we make our own law.”
Alabama is Home to Generations of Co-Opted and Compromised Journalists
Alabama has been the home of co-opted and compromised journalists since the Mobile Press Register, Montgomery Advertiser, Tuscaloosa News, Birmingham News, and Huntsville Times volunteered to participate in the FBI’s COINTELPRO program to undermine, discredit, and destroy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and thousands of black civil rights activists around the country, beginning in August 1958.
Journalists affiliated with these Alabama media groups actively facilitated the FBI in its attempt to: (a) deny Dr. King and Rosa Parks “respectability” within the black community, (b) prevent the long-term growth of the civil rights movement, especially among youth, (c) block free speech and access to the media for civil rights leaders, and (d) prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify and electrify the civil rights movement.
These journalists faithfully adhered to COINTELPRO’s original goals. As a result, their media organizations have been unrelenting in their efforts to undermine, discredit and destroy strong and effective black leadership in the state.
Whenever these journalists praise a black civic or political leader today, it is usually someone who has been thoroughly deconstructed and properly “niggerized.” For those who do not know what “niggerization” means, it is the systematic act of dehumanizing a person or an entire race of people to render him/her/them fearful.
The institutions and people who administer the “niggerization” program in Alabama today have never lifted a finger to help black people or other Americans of color share in this nation’s upward mobility, economic prosperity, political advancement, or social justice.
Surviving Alabama’s Weaponized COINTELPRO Agenda
My international business partners occasionally remind me that every negative article about me on the Internet emanates from sources in Alabama. Outside of the state, I have a totally different and very positive public profile.
Because of my long and effective record of protecting and advancing civil rights in Alabama, leading members of the state’s ultra-conservative political establishment, law enforcement community, and captive members of the mainstream media have gone to great lengths to portray me in the most negative light possible on various Internet platforms.
This concerted effort, which is digitally platformed by the state’s mainstream news media, is a continuation of Alabama's dutiful role in the FBI’s original COINTELPRO program.
The courageous work of a growing number of independent online journalists in Alabama, coupled with articles published on my constellation of Internet platforms, has effectively neutralized the adverse effects of Alabama-generated COINTELPRO negativity in my case.
Unfortunately, other similarly situated black leaders in the Alabama and around the nation have not been so lucky.
The Weaponization of Law Enforcement and Media Resources Have Deep Roots in Alabama and America
Donald Trump’s MAGA supporters are right about one thing – the FBI has a long and ugly track record of weaponizing Department of Justice resources against emerging leaders who challenged and changed the established social, economic, and political order.
However, from January 2017 to January 2021, Donald Trump headed the government that used the Department of Justice as a weapon against those who were disliked by his administration.
Listed below are the names of some well-known black leaders who were targeted by the federal law enforcement establishment for neutralization and destruction, commencing in 1916. These accomplished individuals led highly successful movements that challenged the status quo in American life:
1. Callie House (1916)
2. Marcus Garvey (1922)
3. Billie Holiday (1947)
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1958)
5. Richard Arrington, Jr. (1988)
6. U.W. Clemon (1996)
7. Nathan Chapman (2003)
My main issue with Donald Trump and his MAGA supporters on the question of the weaponization of the Department of Justice is simple: Where were you when the Department of Justice’s massive arsenal of law enforcement weapons was turned on black civil rights activists and those whites of interracial goodwill who supported us?
Nobody within the MAGA movement has answered this question. I think we know why.