RANDY BLYTHE AND THE NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL OF EXCEPTIONALISM
Emotions continue to run high surrounding the case of Randy Blythe, imprisoned for two weeks now in the Czech Republic for the alleged manslaughter of a concertgoer. After all, the Lamb of God frontman is a popular and much beloved performer in one of metal’s most recognized contemporary acts. If you don’t have an opinion on Randy Blythe and what’s going on with him right now, chances are you aren’t even reading these words.
While sites such as, though hardly limited to, The Gauntlet and, dare I say, MetalSucks continue to undermine the already muddled argument that “blogging is journalism” by posting every specious bit of gossip related to this case, I don’t want to dwell on Blythe’s innocence or guilt here. Frankly, despite emphatic gotchas and amateurish Zapruder-type over-analysis, we simply don’t know enough. The word “evidence” has been abused so badly since this story first broke that I’d be terrified to have many of you on a jury of my peers. It is a shame that outlets like the New York Times aren’t covering this case, as the gravity of Blythe’s case and the charges he faces deserve better than shoddy, tabloid coverage it has received from the blogosphere.
What I’ve had a hard time stomaching these last couple of weeks is some of the arguments and sentiments that have come from Blythe’s supporters, including Alex Skolnick, who recently posted about his friend on his website. After several heartfelt paragraphs expressing his personal relationship with Blythe, the former Testament guitarist closed with the following lines:
One would like to think that simply being an American citizen comes with certain inalienable protection against mistreatment by foreign justice systems, especially those of European Union countries such as the Czech Republic. And it would seem like being a four time Grammy nominated singer would help. Apparently not.
While I’m neither a lawyer nor a foreign policy expert, it doesn’t take much to recognize this myopic interpretation of American exceptionalism. While the notion is one that dates back to the 1800s, the term became part of the online partisan lexicon thanks to the divisive foreign policy of George W. Bush. (I imagine Canadian readers foaming at the mouth at the mere sight of the phrase.) We were told over-and-over again that America is “different” and apparently this concept has become so ingrained that several among us wrongheadedly somehow think that it applies to Blythe’s case.
Like it or not, alleged crimes committed abroad by Americans—even those who’ve been nominated for commercial music prizes—are generally subject to the laws of the country where it happened and, accordingly, those accused are tried there when possible. Though it may anger you because of your love for Lamb Of God, the prosecution that represents the people and the laws of the Czech Republic are reasonably well within their rights to hold Blythe in custody. Unless he has been denied counsel, tortured, or barred from interacting with the U.S. Embassy directly or indirectly, even by international law standards his detention does not qualify as mistreatment.
It is also reasonable of the prosecution to consider Blythe a flight risk, as he is not a Czech citizen, has no ties to the community, and potentially has the means to flee, either from his own funds or from those of his high-profile supporters. If he were to make bail and skip town, I have a hard time believing the U.S. would be particularly aggressive in extraditing Blythe back to the Czech Republic.
Randy Blythe is not a political prisoner. He is, by many accounts, a good man caught in an unfortunate situation. But neither his American citizenship nor his popularity should afford him any additional privileges or rights than anyone else charged with what he’s been charged with. After all, a man is dead, and that inconvenient fact seems to have escaped Blythe’s supporters’ rhetoric except to subsequently dismiss it. Governments have a duty to seek justice. As much as it pains much of the metal community, we have to let this one play out.