AmericaGoneBad.com is a true-crime aggregation website that launched about a year ago. I contacted Rusty, the site’s author/publisher, and requested an interview, which we conducted by email. Rusty, as you will see, was reticent to reveal personal details, but I did get his last name out of him: Pheet (and he’s on Facebook).
Derek Bridges: Does AmericaGoneBad.com have a purpose? Or, phrased another way: Why do you do it?
Rusty Pheet: AmericaGoneBad.com is about what I see going wrong in this country every day—men, women, children, police officers, reverends, postal workers doing the wrong thing, the bad thing; murder, child abuse, domestic violence; people crossing lines they never should because they are too sociopathic to care, too enraged, too narcissistic, too immature, too damaged [inadvertently usually, but then it is someone else’s fault this broken being didn’t get put back together], too self-confident, too macho, too cowardly to stop, breathe and put down the fucking gun or gas can.
DB: One thing that I find unsettling while reading your site is I’m sometimes amused and I think I shouldn’t be. Like it’s wrong, and I know it’s wrong, but it’s still sort of funny. For example, these headlines: Man Throws Severed Arms at Witnesses, Man Disemboweled at Group Home, Woman Kills Little Sister Over Cheetos, Man Named Baron Vercruyssse Kills Father. These are horrible acts—all of them—so it seems wrong to feel anything other than horror. Or maybe what I’m describing is like a blown fuse; there’s no sense to be made and absurdity atop absurdity overloads the system and we laugh. What do you think?
RP: The kind of madness I feature on AGB is horrible but also has an absurdity that at times is funny, like Mr. Baron Vercruysse, or an absurdity that actually, in a truly perverse way, speaks to the truth of the violence. It’s horrifying, yes, that a child would be killed over snack food, but the truth is that it is horrifying and ridiculous that a sister would kill another AND that that sister was raising a young child basically alone, and we cannot hide any aspect if we ever expect to learn anything.
Not that I believe people in the US really give a fuck about learning in any real sense. Just look at the headlines of anything that presents true events.
And I kind of see it this way—all violence is madness, all madness violates an order or convention or rule or law, and in a developed country that is allegedly a representative democracy, this kind of violence and madness can’t be seen as anything but absurd, horrifyingly absurd.
Some things just aren’t funny. You have no idea how many stories/tales I reject because they are too brutal, too crazy, too tainted for even me to touch. Some things I don’t want on my blog. You can imagine what that stuff is like……
DB: Now, many headlines capture what can only be called downright nightmarish events: Toddler Decapitated, Mother Commits Suicide, Six-Year Old: “Mommy Tried to Kill Me,” Bronx Pastor Indicted for Child Rape, Again, Mother Shoots Son, Drowns Daughter. Is it the combination of the mundane with the violent and absurd, or violently absurd, that make them stories you want to post?
RP: “Violently absurd”—yeah. And “absurdly violent.” And in the context of some relationship that should not have been, we assume, so potentially violent. The mother tries to kill, or kills, the children. The repeat offender caught yet again committing violence—and I should explain that I consider “violence” not just the actual stabbing or shooting but also the violation of relationships and things, like family or school or church, that we have been led to believe most of our lives are “safe.” We believe we should feel and be “safe” at home, with our parents, our spouses and children, our co-workers and extended relations. Sadly, not always the case……
DB: I notice a lot of family events go bad: Thanksgiving, baby showers, a sweet 16 party. What does this say about the American family?
RP: Too many guns, too many arguments and fights, too many men not wanting to accept divorce or separation, or just “no,” too many volatile people in a room. Family is not chosen and can gather at some of the most stressful times, or become stressful themselves. As much as evangelicals and Mormons and the GOP talk about “family,” they don’t do anything to make the kinds of stories I write about less likely to happen. If men feel they have a right to control a woman’s decisions, actions, uterus, feelings, etc. [and there are many stories/myths/-isms that teach these things] and that their children are their property and that they have nothing to fear from being violent, that violence is what “makes” a “man,” plus have a gun or 12 or 97 in the house ready to be used at the worst times for the absolutely worst reasons—to be vengeful, to punish someone for not wanting you or leaving you with a responsibility you didn’t ask for, to silence or stop someone—who is safe? Home is not safe. “Family” is no guarantee. Love can be used to trap, terrorize, abuse. As you can see on my blog, men and women have a right to fear men and women, and sometimes you’re a fool if you don’t have some fear. And we pay all kind of homage to family but do little to really help maintain families. Wages are too low for too many in the US. Health care is treated as a privilege instead of a right. Cities are segregated or financially strapped. The cheapest food is the food that will kill you, sooner or later and not that much later. Job security—huh? Public institutions, from schools to real estate records to transportation, have been undermined which makes it harder and more expensive and more stressful to even be a family these days. I don’t know how people do it. I guess I also wonder how/why people don’t kill each other more often……
DB: What are the criteria for selecting stories for AGB? Timeliness? Severity of violence? Odd or striking details?
RP: It must occur in the US. I only post about stories that are 24-72 hours old. If I didn’t have an arbitrary limit, I’d have to quit both my day jobs. The violence must be gun or knife related or more than a fistfight—severe biting would qualify, for example, especially if the victim dies. It must be a known person or suspect “gone bad” in specific ways—murder, gun violence, child abuse that leads to murder, jealousy leading to a 4-alarm fire, some defective person “snapping,” as they say, parents under too much duress or who shouldn’t’ve been left alone with the children, fathers who determine that they will be god in their households and parcel out death and harm, interpersonal violence that makes sense mostly if you see it from the cracked perspective of the perpetrator. And the kind of perpetrator who is so insecure or self-absorbed that s/he will take life or property to remain in control, the top dog, the last face so-and-so will ever see.
DB: What are examples of the type of crime stories you may pass on?
RP: If the suspect is unknown, I usually pass. Sometimes the murder stories are too perverted or extended in time—several victims, an arrest finally made 3 years after the first death, much stranger-on-stranger crime. We expect that. We forget to fear those closest to us.
DB: Is any criminal act too bad for your aggregation?
RP: Cannibalism. Oh, wait, I did post once about cannibalism…..Bath salts and meth criminal acts and deaths. War crimes. Self-immolation maybe.
DB: Have you ever been the victim of a violent crime and does it matter?
RP: You don’t need to see the violence to be traumatized by it.
DB: “Gun Violence” is one of your most frequent tags. Do you have an opinion about the current national debate about guns?
RP: It’s stupid how many guns are in this country. I find it totally fucking unbelievable that gun ownership is a “right” but health care and clean water aren’t. Concealed gun permits are ok as ID to vote but your social security card or university ID isn’t? Why is some fool with a gun—and more men own guns than women, and owning a gun does not make a woman “safe”—more trustworthy in the ballot box than a woman who’s voted in every election for 30 years or the graduate student at the state university? Guns are dangerous, period. The only reason to have or manufacture a gun is to kill something or someone. There is no other use for a gun. If you threaten someone with a gun, aside from hoping your opponent doesn’t have one or more or a bigger one, you better be ready to shoot because once you piss somebody off like that, once you cross that line, the fight will be for the gun; once you appear to threaten a life, yours is ripe for the picking. Guns are too easy and impersonal and can feel like “fun” instead of death. I think guns should be outlawed except for the very few and the rest rounded up and destroyed. I don’t mind handing out gift cards for guns. Groceries would be good. A gift card for gas would be awesome.
Too many guns. Too much inequality. Too much sexism, still. Too many wingnut lunatics advancing ridiculous ideas that make the country worse and worse off. Too many conspiracies and persecution complexes.
DB: Four stories at AGB have been tagged “asshats,” and two of those stories relate to acts of violence against dolphins. Do you have a special disdain for acts of violence committed against dolphins?
RP: Who the fuck would hurt a fucking dolphin?!? I mean, really! It offends me as a living, sentient being, even more than a human murder—I expect people to treat each other that way. What the fuck could any dolphin have done to deserve mutilation and death? I feel the same way about adults/parents who hurt children. But I do reserve “asshats” for the animal killers. Scumbags!
DB: In the sense that America has gone bad, when wasn’t it bad?
RP: I guess “bad” is a relative term. It’s not that in the 1950s it was “less” bad but different “bad.” I see human connections and fibers being burned, ignored, violated. What I’m calling “bad” is deeply disturbing in a central, internal way, the machinery going rotten, the inner workings soured.
DB: Where do you live?
RP: “I live…all over.” [Bobby Peru]
DB: Are you real?
RP: I’m as real as America, baby!
DB: Let’s talk about a crime story that’s just recently caught your attention: Ex-Police Officer gone BAD! All caps and an exclamation point. And you’ve aggregated 7 links. Why is this case grabbing you?
RP: Usually the crimes I post about are one-time deals—murder-suicide, arson, fight, etc. This one is entirely different and bewilderingly like an action movie—the unfairly-terminated police officer, a “real police,” well-trained, intelligent, armed and declaring himself dangerous and on a rampage, and an 18-page manifesto to boot. And he’s not insane. I read all 18 pages. It’s not classical literature but he clearly gets all his points across and, without trying too hard to, shows why he is so pissed off. Usually the men we see with “nothing to lose” really have nothing to lose and no distinct enemy—they are alone or kicked out or unmedicated or something like that. Dorner was, is highly functional, and he’s not crazy/insane. He’s doing some radical, frightening things but he sees himself, I think, as taking the only revenge or meting out the only justice that will fall on the LAPD. Scrutiny is gone and, like too fucking many times in the US, the scrutiny left too many of the original problems and problem people in place. Half-assed reform, like Reconstruction. Dorner also knows he is doing the wrong thing and has decided not to care about that, that he will get back at those who fucked him in the only way available to him. He’s wrong but I can’t blame the man. How does HE get fired for reporting police brutality?
Another HuffPo Crime story has an ex-girlfriend calling him some kind of “crazy,” but Dorner tried to get a restraining order against her, claiming she’d harassed him. She has no credibility. And the site she posted this “information” on has no credibility either. Piss-poor “reporting” again. His fans have a point—the media are again taking the easiest route—“crazy” cop on the loose! It’s an easy-to-write trope that takes no investigative work, analysis or critical thinking. And the brief-wife story again tries to make Dorner Crazy! but it doesn’t work, unless you only read the first 3 paragraphs. And nothing much yet about Dorner’s allegations.
DB: What is it about this story’s media footprint? You don’t typically aggregate really big news stories. You do a crime beat with your particular angle but this story crosses over for you. Why?
RP: Because Dorner has the LAPD and much of the west coast and southwest by the balls. And unlike most scumbag murderers, rapists, child abusers, arsonists, hebephiles and sadistic motherfuckers, Dorner is not taking out or aiming at civilians or the innocent. He knows who fucked him and they are the ones who should be nervous. Most of the stories I post about involve the violation of the innocent. This time, the guilty get to squirm.