Gibson Guitars is in an awkward spot. The manufacturer of some of the world's most famous musical instruments finds itself accused of illegally importing rare hardwoods, first from Madagascar and most recently from India. But after federal agents raided two of the company's factories last week, its CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, has gone on a PR offensive that would make Ted Nugent proud. "It seems to me they are gunning for us. They are just looking for us to make a mistake or do something wrong," he told The New York Times' Arts Beat blog, referring to agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which carried out the raids. As The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson pointed out last week, guitar enthusiasts on message boards have adopted some pretty libertarian politics in response to the investigation, and in his comments since then, Juszkiewicz echoes that sentiment.
Speaking with California radio talk show host Chris Daniel on Wednesday, Juszkiewicz characterized the government's case--that the rosewood and ebony seized in a 2009 raid was harvested in contradiction to Madagascar labor law--as a perversion of the Lacey Act, the 1900 law that outlaws the import of plants and animals produced illegally in other countries. "Mr. Juszkiewicz, did an agent of the US government suggest to you that your problems would go away if you used Madagascar labor instead of American labor?" Daniel asked. "They actually wrote that in a pleading," Juszkiewicz replied, in an exchange that's been picked up by right-leaning sites across the Internet.
Juszkiewicz told The Wall Street Journal that workers in his factories were being "treated like drug criminals," and said the raid was "way over the top." As The Hill pointed out on Tuesday, the company is using its Twitter and Facebook accounts to tap into right-wing anger with the federal government:
Gibson's official Twitter account uses the hashtag "ThisWillNotStand" for posts about the raids, and on its Facebook page, the company promised, "We are fighting this tooth and nail."
“We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally and the employees here in Tennessee, and it’s just plain wrong,” said Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz at a press conference last week.
The anti-big government sentiment that rings so clearly with conservatives echoes another battle cry for right-wingers: "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." Atlanta Journal Constitution blogger Bob Barr used that exact language in the headline of a post that warned guitar owners, "you may be in Uncle Sam’s cross hairs – as a criminal."
Juszkiewicz told The Journal "that a broker probably made a mistake in labeling the goods but that the sale was legal and approved by Indian authorities." But he maintains he's being prosecuted unfairly, and that he hasn't gotten the chance to defend himself in court. He told NPR's Craig Havighurst: "We have been implicated in wrongdoing and we haven't been charged with anything. And our business has been injured to millions of dollars. We don't even have a court we can go to and say, well, look, here's our position." With federal prosecutors staying quiet on the case, Juszkiewicz's libertarian rallying cry is the loudest voice out there right now.