Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media, who has produced documentaries on prison life among other topics, was at some of the proceedings on day 2 of the trial as the government opened its case. He brings his filmmaker's eye to the drama.
Escambia County, home to Pensacola, and where Hovind got himself in such trouble, has more churches per capita than any other county in Florida. Traveling downtown to the Federal Court House from the Airport this afternoon (after flying around the southeast for two days trying to get to the Gulf) I saw old movie theatres being converted to churches and failed malls being taken over by ministries. Up North, we make movie theatres out of old churches and build malls on the grounds of former churches.
Christian leaders have been known to hold sway in this town. They are said to have judges in their pockets, and ostracize and otherwise punish their secular opposition. In a town with limited civic services, they find funds to build some impressive institutions and installations. If you want to live in Pensacola, you learn to watch your back. This was the playground of Kent Hovind.
There is a lot of faith to go around in this town, most of it very kind and sincere, and it’s a small enough town that almost everyone is connected to everyone else in some fashion. Trying to recover my lost luggage at Delta, the staffer, Bonnie Baggage recounted Hovind’s visits to the airport. He once tried flying members of his flock overseas with homemade passports.
Hovind, she said, 18 years ago, was charismatic and nice but utterly persistent. Why? Why do my people need a US passport to travel? Passing by the site of Dino land today, in the shadows of the massive Pensacola Christian College, clearly Hovind must have enjoyed being in his element and flourished as a preacher and teacher. His former students tell me that he wasn’t always on his anti-state regulation and anti-tax campaign. He used to be light hearted and funny and an excellent algebra instructor but as the years rolled by he would spend more time bitterly complaining to the parents who picked up their kids about the great conspiracies.
Today in court he did not look well. He had a barking cough, and was pensive, not noticeably cheered by the small entourage of supporters in the court room, ten people or so. Rudy Davis was there inside the courtroom as well, on his best “at the office” behavior with an occasional reckless eyeball aimed at one person or another. An ex-wrestler and a good old boy made up the core of Rudy’s entourage. An understated Marshal sat nearby with a studied bored expression but a martial artists build. The female guard closest to the Judge was less aloof and approached the visitor’s galley with a scolding look when Rudy got a little chatty during the break.
The jurors were one third Black, one third female, and one third balding guys in their forties. They were attentive and jovial, getting a bit of a kick out of the absurd theater that was taking place. They were kind of like a dozen folks you would meet on a cruise ship, still not quite sure as to why they were there. A couple of them got yelled at coming back from lunch by the demonstrators, and they were offered court funded lunch on the house. My take is that they will hit the bistros instead, they don’t look the type to be easily fazed.
When the prosecution and the defense spoke to the Judge privately, music came on over an excellent PA system to mask the conversation, good jazz and funk and it seemed that the whole courtroom was secretly tapping their feet. Tiffany Eggers, the prosecutor, is fast and tech saavy, moves like a volley ball player. She had staff, her documents were hyper organized and gleamed in their binders and on the many TV screen.
As the defense was happy to bring up, the prosecution spared no expense in flying in clerks and notaries from Nebraska to verify signatures and so forth. She was not going to lose on technicalities. Eggers is a skilled technocrat and attorney and wants to see Hansen, and to a some extent, Hovind, pay. She hammered the prosecution with examples of clear warnings made to Hansen in 2012 that he needed to cease and desist and if he insisted in filing his wild claims at least get a lawyer and follow some process.
An IRS agent and various mid-level clerks testified, and the agent took lots of questions from Hanson’s defense. Klotz was kind of a caricature of himself, a bit awkward in his skin, struggling with the projection technology that Eggers used so masterfully, garnering sympathy from the Jury.
Hovind’s court appointed attorney mostly hung back, but gained momentum towards the end of the day. Klotz insisted, by laying out the chronology, that the State had threatened civil action rather than specifically criminal prosecution that the IRS agent was happy to sell to the Hovind family. This afternoon was less about who really owned the property and hiding assets and more about Hovinds relentless filings and spurious liens. All day Hansen took a beating, but at the end of the day, his attorney Klotz demonstrated some clever maneuvers and used the art of the pedantic to his advantage with the Jury.
The Judge? Understated, brilliant, warm and gracious, she engulfed the jury in hospitality and nurturing. She had so much charm that even Rudy Davis was softened by her glow.
Jonathan Schwartz is the executive director of Interlock Media, which focuses on environmental and human rights issues. Interlock production Faith In the Big House, on prison ministries recently aired on PBS.