The Back Road: Justice for all in the arts?

The Back Road: Justice for all in the arts?

By Andrew Malekoff

Choral singing is believed to be among the most popular of the participatory performing arts. The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City pointed to the benefits of joining a choir, which include regulating heart rate, reducing stress and depression, improving feelings of social well-being and strengthening community. Some believe that being in a choir increases life expectancy.

Earlier this year a group of 20 convicted Capitol rioters, referred to as the J6 Prison Choir, recorded a song called “Justice For All” over a prison phone in the Washington, D.C., jail. At the receiving end of the phone call was Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach County, FL. The ex-president was eager to participate. His role was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as the inmates sang The Star-Spangled Banner. When the national anthem wound down, the inmates proceeded to chant: “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

A music video of the performance depicts footage of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, as well as so-called “patriotic acts” carried out by the ex-president. University of Michigan Law professor Barbara McQuade characterized the song as “a disinformation tactic right out of the authoritarian playbook.”

Are there prison rules or limits for recording and disseminating songs performed behind bars? According to Ennui Magazine, a platform for people searching for support in the world of music, “in general, prisons do not allow inmates to record audio or video within the facility. However, some prisons have a music room or recording studio where [selectively] incarcerated musicians can record music during recreational hours.”

The Department of Justice has reported that more than 985 people were arrested for their alleged participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection. More than half of those under arrest pleaded guilty for their role in the riot.

Profits from “Justice For All,” which has been made available on streaming services, have been promised for the legal aid of those incarcerated for the Jan. 6 coup attempt. How the money will be used, though, is questionable given the fairy tale the ex-president repeatedly tells his base: “They’re coming for me because I’m fighting for you.”

It is astonishing that $100 million was raised in the three days following the 2020 election, supposedly for the Trump campaign to address non-existent voter fraud in an election that Trump verifiably did not win. It was just another big-time grift to optimize the small-donor money grab to then use as he pleases – carte blanche. This is all well-documented in the Jan. 6 Committee report in Appendix 3 (pages 770-789), entitled: “The Big Rip-off: Follow the Money.”

“Justice for All” reached the top spot on the iTunes chart. A YouTube upload of the single had been viewed more than 865,000 times as of March 31, 2023. The music video was shown at the Trump rally at Waco (Texas) Regional Airport on March 25, 2023.

“You know what that is?” Trump asked rhetorically about the song and choir. “That’s a tribute to the fact that people feel that J6 people have been very unfairly treated.” In September 2022, during an appearance on Wendy Bell Radio, the criminally indicted ex-president said that if he wins re-election he will “very, very seriously” consider pardons for the rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol.

Although the recording of “Justice for All” reinforced Trump’s charge that his domestic terrorist troops have been treated unfairly, one need only travel 400 miles northwest of Palm Beach to learn about Tallahassee Classical School, where flagrant unfairness involving the visual arts is in full bloom, no doubt inspired by the upsurge in censorship and book banning. Following is a recap.

During a lesson on art history at the Tallahassee charter school, a teacher displayed a photo of Michelangelo’s colossal 16th century marble sculpture that depicts the biblical figure of David. The breathtaking 17 X 6.5-foot nude statue that resides in Galleria dell ‘Accademia in Florence, Italy, is an example of Renaissance Art, which symbolizes independence, strength, and a return to the classical style.

When three parents discovered this, they bitterly complained that they weren’t consulted for permission for their children to view the magnificent work of youthful beauty. Consequently, Tallahassee Classical School Principal Hope Carrasquilla was forced to resign by the campus’s governing board.

Hillsdale College, a Michigan-based Christian college that supplies the charter school’s curriculum, issued the following statement: “This drama around teaching Michelangelo’s ‘David’ sculpture, one of the most important works of art in existence, has become a distraction from, and a parody of, the actual aims of classical education. Hillsdale’s K-12 art curriculum includes Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and other works of art that depict the human form.” Subsequently, Hillsdale revoked the charter school’s license, which expires at the end of the year.

As, for the prison choir that performed “Justice for All,” in a March 28 report issued by The Hill online newspaper, Trump said he feels “like Elvis” after the song hit the top of music charts.

Go figure.

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