Peter Reilly has given me another assignment! Kent Hovind wants President Donald J. Trump to issue him a Presidential pardon. Peter Reilly has asked me to look into this matter and, good historian that I am, I’m researching the History of Presidential pardons and seeing how they might or might not apply to whom I sincerely hope is Lenox, Alabama’s most controversial resident. Would it have been bad form for B’rer Rabbit to laugh out loud or exclaim “whee” as he was airborne headed for the briar patch? I can certainly sympathize with him, if he did.
Kent Hovind has been asking his followers to petition President Trump for a pardon for many months now. He’s even gone so far as to provide a form email on his website to ease the burden on his minions’ writing abilities. He’s stated numerous times that what he’s after is “to be pardoned and for ‘them’ to return everything they’ve taken from me.” I’m not sure if he’s overtly asked to be compensated for his time in prison but I feel very confident that he wouldn’t turn an arrangement like that down if it were on offer.
Pointing out instances of Kent Hovind’s hypocrisy is a childishly easy pastime. One of Kent’s objections to the IRS seizing anything from his Pensacola operation was his repeated assertion that “none of it belongs to me, it all belongs to God!” I’m sure Kent could provide some scripture that he could interpret to mean that God’s property needs to be returned to Kent Hovind, possibly with interest but I’m not sure it would hold up in a court of law no matter how many assertions Kent made that it most certainly would. I doubt very much Kent will ever make up his mind as to whether property seized was his or God’s with finality, but it’s rather clear who he thinks should have possession of it.
Hovind’s pardon request may seem like a simple enough matter, no matter how unlikely it is, but, as with most things Hovind, it very quickly gets murky. For instance, Hovind still owes a significant amount against a civil liability for failing to pay personal taxes or failing to withhold taxes from his employees,
If Kent Hovind were to receive a Presidential pardon he would join a very interesting club. Only William Henry Harrison, who died shortly after his inauguration of pneumonia and James Garfield who was assassinated shortly after taking office, gave no pardons. Washington only gave 16 pardons in his two terms, John Adams just 21 and Zachary Taylor a meager 38.
Andrew Johnson tops the list with approximately 7000 pardons. I’m sure I don’t need to remind a readership as knowledgeable as this, though, that Johnson’s presidency immediately followed Lincoln and the Civil War, so quite a few former Confederates needed expiation. The charge that Andrew Johnson sold pardons for $20,000 apiece might also have been a factor. Bush 41 pardoned Armand Hammer for an illegal $54,000 donation to the Nixon campaign a surprisingly short amount of time after Hammer donated $110,000 to the RNC. I’m not sure what the going rate for pardons is in the Trump White House. The Chinese government got Trump to back off ZTE by supporting some of Trump’s building projects and granting Ivanka copyrights and licenses for cosmetics and, of all things, coffins.
Members of the Presidential Pardon club include the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre, pardoned by James Madison based on Lafitte’s assistance to General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Not all pardon recipients skulked off into obscurity after receiving them, either. James K. Polk pardoned John C. Frémont when a court martial found him guilty of mutiny. Frémont went on to become the Republican nominee for President in 1856 and was one of the first two Senators when California achieved statehood.
Kent couldn’t even claim to be the first religious figure pardoned by a President. That honor seems to have gone to Brigham Young when James Buchanan pardoned him for his role in the Utah War. Benjamin Harrison both pardoned and granted amnesty to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for polygamy. William McKinley pardoned Charles Chilton Moore, dubbed the most hated man in Kentucky for his atheist views, after he was found guilty of blasphemy. So, Kent would join the ranks of polygamous Mormons and atheists if he gets what he wants.
Kent might want to take a page out of Charles W. Morse’s playbook to sway President Trump. While Morse was imprisoned for unethical bank practices that led to the Panic of 1907, he was able to secure a pardon from William Howard Taft by drinking a cocktail of soapsuds and other chemicals that convinced the Army Board of Doctors that he had Bright’s disease and didn’t have long to live. Taft was informed of the deception after Morse’s release but it isn’t possible or political for a President to rescind a pardon once granted.
Richard Nixon pardoned Jimmy Hoffa. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, as well as Iva Toguri “Tokyo Rose” D’Aquino, the only US citizen convicted of treason during World War II to be pardoned. Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who was the biggest scoundrel amongst this group.
It is no secret that Kent Hovind did not appreciate Barrack Obama’s presidency in the slightest but Ian Schrager, co-founder and co-owner of Studio 54 received an Obama pardon for tax evasion. This particular pardon may be worth a closer look.
In January 1977, Schrager and Steve Rubell signed the lease for Studio 54—which was originally the Gallo Opera House and had last been used as a CBS studio. They used the space's original theatrical infrastructure to constantly change the look and feel of the club.
In December 1978, Studio 54 was raided after Rubell was quoted as saying that only the Mafia made more money than the club brought in. In June 1979, Rubell and Schrager were charged with tax evasion, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy for reportedly skimming nearly $2.5 million in unreported income from the club's receipts, in a system Rubell called "cash-in, cash-out and skim." Police reports state that cash and receipts were in the building and were hidden in the ceiling sections of Rubell's office, where both he and Schrager worked. A second raid occurred in December 1979. The pair hired Roy Cohn to defend them, but on January 18, 1980, they were sentenced to three and a half years in prison and a $20,000 fine each for the tax evasion charge. On February 4, 1980, Rubell and Schrager went to prison and Studio 54 was sold in November of that year for $4.75 million. On January 30, 1981, Rubell and Schrager were released from prison after which they lived at a halfway house for two and half months.
The two went back into the nightclub business but never recaptured the success of Studio 54. Their pardons came in January 2017, so the wait for a pardon can be considerable. I was unable to find any mention of any money being returned to them. They didn’t get the nightclub property back and, so far as I could find, were not compensated in any way for their prison terms. I am not a Constitutional scholar or a tax expert or a lawyer but my research seems to indicate that Presidential pardons don’t amount to much more than a clearing of a person’s name and this is what concerns me about Kent’s desire for a pardon.
He continues to make his DAL free of charge and has stated that it is his goal to maintain this as long as possible. I have interpreted this in my earlier posts to indicate that Kent is not running his DAL, his organization, his speaking engagements and his online bookstore in a manner consistent with someone attempting to generate and then squirrel money away against the time when his liability comes due. He certainly doesn’t acknowledge this liability at all in his videos and it’s not clear if he acknowledges this debt in reality, although the forgiveness of this liability may be a primary reason he’s seeking a pardon from Trump in the first place.
The murkiness lies in the fact that Kent was imprisoned for structuring. It isn’t at all clear that if he were pardoned for structuring it would or even could reduce the civil liability he currently faces. I feel comfortable stating that in Kent’s mind, that’s exactly what it would mean. Slightly less murky is the notion that ‘they’ will return what they ‘took,’ or in some videos ‘stole,’ from Kent. He never offers too many details about what, exactly, he’s referring to here. He has said in the past that cash money was taken out of the safe in Kent’s office and I know the IRS had attempted to seize some or all of his property in Pensacola. The way he discusses this issue seems to imply that he is expecting some sort of financial windfall along with tearing up the bill Uncle Sam currently holds.
Much ink and many electrons have been spent noticing that Trump’s preference for pardon recipients either carry some measure of fame themselves or are brought to his attention by someone famous such as posthumously pardoning boxer Jack Johnson for, essentially, having a white girlfriend. Sylvester Stallone brought Johnson’s case to Trump. Kim Kardashian managed to get Alice Marie Johnson pardoned when she met with Trump. Kent is pals with Ray Comfort who is pals with actor Kirk Cameron, late of ‘Growing Pains,’ but I don’t think Kirk’s Q-rating is quite high enough to make much of an impact.
Hovind certainly knows Ken Ham who once debated Bill Nye the Science Guy at his Ark Encounter Theme Park but I’m not aware that Ham could or even would spearhead an effort to get Kent pardoned. Ham’s got his plate full with his park living in the red.
Gloria Copeland meets frequently with Trump and she’s an evangelical but Kent has so often railed against preachers who so overtly profit from their ministries that it doesn’t seem like a very natural fit. Speaking more broadly of the whole evangelical community, I haven’t seen any evidence of a huge groundswell of support for Kent from other fundamentalist Christians from when Kent was originally charged and tried and convicted and imprisoned. I think his credibility and popularity amongst them suffers because he does stake out such a fringe position. He isn’t as toxic as, say, the Phelps clan, famous for picketing fallen soldiers’ funerals whilst holding their ridiculously offensive homemade placards proclaiming, “God hates fags!” I don’t think Kent is hated in the evangelical community, I’m just not sure how loved he is by those with their hands on or close to the levers of power. I get the impression that he’s regarded as a sort of wacky young-earth uncle that lives out in the woods and pops up at small- and medium-sized churches a few times per month.
In terms of star power and celebrity it seems that Kent’s shot locker is empty of a game-changer. If Kent had some heavy hitters, it seems he would have already used them. Even his current approach is populist. He just wants to inundate Trump’s inbox, wooing him with numbers rather than an individual approach in the hands of some glitterati. Alex Jones might be Hovind’s best bet but Kent doesn’t claim to know Jones at all, other than appearing on his show no more than a handful of times. If you haven’t been following the news, Jones has just recently been sued by the parents of children slain in Sandy Hook for the emotional distress of Jones claiming that the massacre that claimed 28 lives was a hoax. Jones’ dance card may be rather full for the foreseeable future and he might be more interested in his own Trump pardon.
So many of those who have received pardons in our nation’s History were, sadly and predictably enough, men of means or holders of political power who could actually do something for the President that signed his name. If you really boil down Kent’s strategy, he wants Trump to act altruistically, for no appreciable gain. We can debate whether Kent deserves a pardon, if you choose to spend your lifespan that way, but it just doesn’t matter to my way of thinking. Is our current President likely to do a favor for someone who can do nothing for him in return? Kent’s YouTube account claims a following in the upper 80k range but I doubt all of those are true supporters. Those that are, I would be surprised to find otherwise, are most likely already died in the wool Trump supporters, so Kent can’t promise a block of voters to Trump he wouldn’t already get when 2020 rolls around.
As I’ve seen so many times in the past, Kent Hovind gets a thought in his head and it takes a sizable chunk of explosive reality to dislodge it. He thinks this Presidential pardon scheme is feasible. He certainly feels deserving of it. In a more honest moment, I’d say he feels he needs it both rather desperately and rather soon. What struck me from my research was that the people who got them occupied some unique places in our nation’s History. J.Q. Adams pardoned Native Americans who participated in the Winnebago war, George Washington and John Adams pardoned people who had led the Whiskey Rebellion. Presidential pardons are most frequently made to illustrate a political point or to try to heal a wound such as Jimmy Carter pardoning Vietnam draft protestors.
I get it that Kent thinks his case is as important as those were. I understand he wants his…… or God’s…….. or his stuff back. It may happen. Our current President is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s a wonderful extension of all of our rights and exactly what the framers of our Constitution wanted that we have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. After doing the research required for this post, I’ll actually borrow a saying Kent adores: In my totally, totally humble opinion Kent Hovind and his case don’t belong in this unique club.
Lamar Smith taught high school history in Texas for twelve years. He is a regular contributor to Your Tax Matters Partner.