Obscenity investigations, indictments and prosecutions have, in fact, been increasing.
In order to assess how bad things have been for adult companies so far under the Bush administration and how bad things may get, XBIZ contacted several well-known 1st Amendment attorneys, including Lawrence Walters, Gregory Piccionelli, Jeffrey Douglas and Clyde DeWitt, as well as Susan Wright, president and founder of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). Their comments indicated that, so far, Bush's presidency has been neither as bad for adult businesses as the Ronald Reagan or George Bush Sr. era of 1981-1993, nor as good as the Clinton era of 1993-2001. However, many of them warned that adult companies cannot afford to be the least bit complacent during the two remaining years of Bush's presidency.
"Bush and the attorney generals of his administration vowed that they were going to re-ignite obscenity prosecutions," Walters said. "Has it been better or worse for the adult industry than expected? I would reluctantly say that it has thus far been better than expected. When Bush came into office, the worst was expected; we thought we were headed for the type of all-out assault on the industry that you had during the Bush Sr. era, which was the worst time for obscenity prosecutions. A lot of people in the adult industry went to jail, lost their businesses and their livelihoods. The Reagan and Bush eras were an ugly time for the adult industry too, but the industry was large enough to survive."
Walters added that not only did the adult industry survive the Reagan and Bush Sr. waves of obscenity prosecutions, it grew and prospered considerably during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose attorney general, Janet Reno, devoted much of the government's resources to prosecuting child pornography.
Clinton: Good For Adult
The Florida-based attorney described the Clinton era as "the golden age for the adult industry in terms of avoiding federal prosecutions," adding that when Bush become president and appointed Christian fundamentalist Ashcroft as his attorney general, the Christian Right hoped to see the adult industry slaughtered. But that has not happened for various reasons — most notably, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, which forced Ashcroft to spend considerable time dealing with homeland security matters and the fact that overall, community standards (one of the things that must be addressed in an obscenity prosecution) are much more tolerant of erotica than they were in the 1980s.
Piccionelli noted that during the Bush era, many of the targets of federal investigations, indictments or prosecutions for obscenity have been providers of extreme material such as Paul F. Little, aka Max Hardcore, whose office was raided by the FBI in 2005, and Extreme Associates, whose co-owners Robert Zicari, aka Rob Black, and wife Janet Romano, have been fighting federal obscenity charges since 2003 but have not gone to trial yet.
In 2003, adult webmaster Michael J. Corbett was sentenced to 18 months in prison for selling, via online mail order, DVDs involving scat and urination, and two years later, Gonzales stated that the federal government would specifically target "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior."
Gonzales' anti-BDSM stand seems to be having a chilling effect on some webmasters. Fetish diva Midori, a well-known dominatrix and model, discontinued her BDSM-oriented Beauty Bound.com website rather than risk a possible obscenity prosecution, and the popular Suicide Girls site removed some BDSM-themed content for the same reason.
Novelist/BDSM activist Wright, whose NCSF filed an amicus brief on Extreme Associates' behalf, has been a consistently vocal critic of the Bush administration's anti-porn efforts and contends that Gonzales' attempts to suppress BDSM/fetish erotica violate the 1st Amendment.
"Alberto Gonzales has been singling out alternative sexuality, which NCSF thinks is wrong," Wright said. "It's just a matter of time before this country has a less socially conservative presidential administration. But in the meantime, NCSF has to stand up for Americans who enjoy various forms of alternative sexuality and for mom-and-pop porn companies that are an easier target for obscenity prosecutions than Vivid, Wicked or Larry Flynt and Time Warner. NCSF was glad to file an amicus brief on behalf of Extreme Associates and the people who enjoy their videos; I really admire Rob Black's willingness to stand up."
Wright continued: "If the Bush administration put all this time, effort and money into going after child pornography instead of pursuing consensual adult alternative sexuality, it could have a huge impact. They could be saving a lot more kids from being abused and shut down a lot more child pornographers."
In 2005, Polk County, Fla., saw the arrest of adult webmaster Chris Wilson, whose website NowThatsFuckedUp.com not only contained amateur erotica but also graphic photos of casualties of the ongoing war in Iraq. Supporters of Wilson (whom Walters represented) expressed concerns that the 301 obscenity charges he faced — one of them a felony — may have had political motivations because his site portrayed the Iraq War unfavorably.
Wilson avoided prison time by pleading no contest to some misdemeanor charges and agreeing to five years probation and a $500 fine.
In part two, we'll examine the Red Rose case and what the future may hold.