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I Support Terry Nichols’ Hunger Strike

As a lifelong progressive committed to nonviolence, I have little sympathy for a man who conspired in the most heinous act of domestic rightwing terrorism in U.S. history.

For his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing that killed 168 people (including kids at childcare), Terry Nichols is serving life-without-parole sentences.  And that's a good thing,

But I don't want him to "rot in jail." That's why I support his hunger strike and lawsuit, and hope he doesn't rot to death inside the federal Supermax prison in Colorado.

Indeed, if Nichols wins and starts eating again, it may be one of his first useful contributions to society.

In a suit filed last year in federal court, Nichols demanded 100% whole-grain foods, more fresh vegetables and fruits, and digestive bacteria - contending that he needs a better diet for medical and religious reasons, and that his prison diet of "unhealthy dead and refined foods" causes him to "sin against God." (In Bowling for Columbine, you may recall Michael Moore interviewing Nichols' scary brother James at his certified organic tofu farm in Michigan.) 

In a handwritten note filed in court Thursday, Terry Nichols told the judge that he had began a hunger strike and is prepared to die rather than allow his body to be "defiled by those refined. . .[and] dead foods."

I don't want Nichols to die - and it's not that I give a damn about this pitiful man.

I want Nichols to win his lawsuit in hopes it leads to broad dietary changes inside prisons. Because he's right that our overly processed American diet, lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, is a sin to people - whether Christian or atheist, whether prisoner or not.

As shown in study after study - as well as the powerful Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. on the corporatization of our food supply - the deterioration of our diets contributes to premature death and chronic illness, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer.

So why should we care about Nichols' diet and that of other inmates? As much for our benefit as theirs, because a significant upgrading in the diet of any large group of Americans may have a multiplier effect throughout society - in terms of more healthy foods being produced and reducing costs.  

That's why the efforts of parents and educators to transform the standard student lunch (highlighted in Food, Inc.) could boost healthful food supplies way beyond schools.

Like students, prisoners are a huge group in our country. Indeed, no other country has as many inmates as we do, over 2 million. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we have nearly a quarter of the world's prisoners - and, unlike Nichols, most are not murderers or serious criminals. Many are nonviolent drug offenders - often poor people of color who never had a chance in life.

Terry Nichols is a self-centered killer. Yet I hope he survives, wins his lawsuit and accomplishes something positive for others  . . . in spite of himself.

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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen was associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media - and a cofounder of the online action group, His website is here:

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