Last week at the Hollywood Bowl, stand-up comedian Dave Chapelle was attacked onstage during a private performance. The attacker, a 23-year-old named Isaiah Lee, carried a “knife blade,” a replica handgun that had a knife blade protruding from the butt. Luckily, Lee didn’t use the weapon in his attack, which on video gave the appearance of a third-string football security man artfully tackling a much larger tight end.
Subsequent news reports described Lee as potentially mentally ill, and the LA District Attorney filed only misdemeanor charges in response to the armed attack. In an absurdity worthy of the current Left Coast approach to dealing with crime in general, Lee’s court-appointed attorney, Chelsea Padilla, went on the offensive at his indictment hearing. “The only injury was Mr. Lee … facial injuries from 12 people who stomped on Mr. Lee while he was on stage,” she said, according to a New York Post report.
Lee also reportedly suffered a broken arm. Some news sources are now suggesting that Chappelle, the victim of the attack, could face civil prosecution in response to the injuries Lee sustained during his attack. Meanwhile, Lee’s motivation remains unclear.
This bizarre event and its immediate aftermath reminded me of a famous quote that has been somewhat lost in history. The American poet Robert Penn Warren wrote in his 1929 biography of John Brown, The Making of a Martyr: “A madman is only a great menace in a mad company.”
Warren provided this line in connection with the Virginia state’s decision to hang John Brown in December 1859. Brown, an abolitionist, along with 21 accomplices, had used violence to incite a slave rebellion and seize control of a US arsenal in October 1859 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown, who also likely suffered from mental illness, believed his actions would spark a national revolt that would result in the final emancipation of the slaves. The US Army led by Robert E. Lee retook the arsenal, and by December Brown and 16 of his 21 accomplices, whose mission was freedom and equality for all, were dead as a result of their actions.
Historians regard Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry as a tragic prelude to the coming civil war. A strong case can be made that since that time the US has not been so divided along all three major axes of human engagement, political, economic and social. As you study history, the patterns tend to reveal themselves. Finally, when deep divisions exist along each major axis, society tends to borrow Penn’s politically incorrect early 20sth Century to go “crazy”. That was certainly the case in 1859, and Brown’s vision was indeed a threat to a mad society – a society long devoted to the enslavement of other people. As COVID-19 subsides, rather than dwindling with the viral scourge, similarly deep divisions appear to be continuing to emerge.
Aspen’s local societal bubble tends to overshadow such national divisions in the opacity of its almost universal political orientation. But venture outside the bubble for a few days, and the tensions and divisions are becoming more apparent, cooking under the pressure-cooker veneer of a maddened post-COVID nation grappling with economic uncertainty on the brink of a shooting war with Russia , and now also in light of the potential repeal of half a century of federal legal protections for post-viability abortions.
As we landed at Ontario Airport in the eastern part of the Los Angeles megalopolis last Friday, my wife and I both noticed an extreme police presence, half a dozen squad cars and another dozen officers walking in the airport exit area. Apparently, in at least this one Southern California city, the 2020 statewide movement to defund the police is over. In its place, it seemed at first glance, we found signs to the contrary, dare I say the first signs of an emerging police state.
After securing our rental vehicle, a Volkswagen ironically named “Atlas” (like a shrug) — a black-on-black SUV with racing tires I hadn’t reserved — we made our way to the secured exit. The exit guard, a friendly-looking, middle-aged woman, let out an annoyed “Oh crap.”
“I can’t let you pull this car out of the parking lot,” she told me. “It has a California license plate on the front and a Florida license plate on the back.” I wondered if the rental company even owned the vehicle.
At her direction, we dutifully returned and explained the situation to an excited manager. He walked to the front of the vehicle and, with the agility of a martial arts instructor, kicked the front panel off the vehicle with a downward kick of his right heel. It bounced off the roadway and hit another car on the hood. “Enjoy the vehicle,” he said while snorting after venting enough emotional pressure from his personal stove to continue with his assigned responsibilities.
The exit clerk rolled her eyes when she saw us come back minutes later without the front license plate. “He’s the boss,” she said as she waved us through. “Hey,” I asked, “what’s with all the police at the airport? Anything going on there?” She smiled and said simply, “Welcome to California.”
Unlike John Brown, Isaiah Lee isn’t much of a threat to today’s mad society. But there is one out there, and it can only be a matter of when, not if his, her, or her actions will blow the lid off America’s post-COVID pressure cooker.
Contact Paul at email@example.com.