I want to tell you about the time that Hollywood deliberately targeted a small private business with one of the worst “based on a true story” movies ever made. The business was named Paladin Press.
Founded in 1970 by Peder Lund, a former Special Forces A-Team leader in Vietnam, Paladin Press published instructional books and videos on military science, police science, martial arts, combat shooting, grappling, medieval armor reproduction, self-defense, knife fighting, survival skills, and like subjects. For its entire run, Paladin lived on the bleeding edge of First Amendment issues, owing to the controversial nature of the material it published. This included manuals on bomb disposal, firearm manufacture, and texts like Kill Without Joy, Homemade C-4, and Birth Certificate Fraud. Despite its sometimes objectionable publications, Paladin was always scrupulous in following the law. In the year 2000, when it became illegal to print, sell, and distribute books in America that described the creation of weapons of mass destruction, Paladin complied.
I know this because I worked for Paladin Press for twelve years.
In 1983 (before my time), Paladin published a book called Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. It was initially pitched as a novel, but as Paladin didn’t publish fiction, the author reworked it into a how-to manual. The author, a female real estate agent writing under the pseudonym Rex Feral, researched Hit Man by watching crime thrillers, police procedurals, and gangster movies. The book did okay for Paladin, just enough to keep it in print, but it wasn’t a best-seller until around ten years later, when Paladin got sued for publishing it in a case that irreparably harmed the First Amendment.
In 1993, a record producer named Lawrence Horn hired James Perry to kill Horn’s ex-wife and disabled son so he could inherit the money from a trust fund set up for the child. Perry did the job as ordered, and at no extra charge he also murdered Horn’s son’s nurse. When the police caught him, they found evidence that Perry had ordered a copy of Hit Man.
A slip-and-fall lawyer convinced the remaining family to sue Paladin Press for publishing Hit Man, claiming that Paladin aided and abetted the murderer, and that Paladin intended for people to use the information in the book to murder people. This resulted in a multi-year court battle known as the Hit Man Case, with judgments and appeals, and in 1999, Paladin’s insurance company settled with the family for several million dollars, over Paladin’s protestations. As much as he hated enriching lawyers, publisher Peder Lund would have fought this case for decades if he had to, but the insurance company did a cost/benefit analysis on First Amendment rights and decided that free speech wasn’t worth paying for. Per the settlement, Paladin agreed to stop publishing Hit Man and destroyed the remaining copies of the book. Case closed.
The self-proclaimed First Amendment scholar Rod Smolla, who represented the plaintiffs in the Hit Man Case, tried to enrich himself further by writing the book Deliberate Intent: A Lawyer Tells the True Story of Murder by the Book. It didn’t make anyone’s best-seller list, but Hollywood got hold of it, and Fox produced a TV movie based on the Hit Man Case titled, predictably, Deliberate Intent.
Deliberate Intent was an extremely silly production, starring Ron Rifkin and Timothy Hutton as the good guys fighting for justice, and Kenneth Welsh as the evil, wealthy Peder Lund, who profits off of murdering children. There were many risible and overwrought aspects to the entire film, but the stupidest part was a brief scene where a butler brings Peder a telephone on a silver platter while Peder shot clay pigeons on a palatial estate. Peder didn’t have a butler. Peder made his money honestly, and while well-off, was not a rich billionaire profiting off of dead children. Simplistic, dimwitted Hollywood had to deflect from Smolla pissing all over First Amendment rights, so they went to class warfare instead. It’s what they do.
What the movie didn’t describe was how James Perry committed these murders using tactics and information readily available elsewhere (including the movie Godfather 2); Hit Man was itself a laughable sort of text that included such sage advice as not eating out of your victim’s refrigerator and wearing gloves if you pee in your victim’s bathroom. The movie didn’t describe the recusal-worthy bias of the appeals judge who overturned the original verdict for the defendant: the judge’s own father had been murdered, and he showed himself throughout the case to be a less than fair arbiter. Most tellingly, the movie didn’t show any real agonizing over the First Amendment breach this case caused, because according to left-wing Hollywood there are villains, who are rich, and heroes, who are poor, and when there’s hay to be made, your so-called free speech rights belong in the trash. Peder Lund was the ultimate villain: a wealthy, gun-owning, white Vietnam veteran who didn’t immediately roll over when sued by a minority family and their slip-and-fall lawyer.
As a movie title, Deliberate Intent cuts two ways. The plaintiffs felt (but couldn’t prove) that Paladin Press deliberately intended for the material in its books to be used. The other way is how Hollywood deliberately intended to put me and my colleagues out of a job with their unbelievably stupid and slanted movie. They really did try to destroy a small private business by name. They picked us to be the villains. I became a real-life villain in a Hollywood story.
It didn’t work, but it showed what a complete joke Hollywood is, particularly when it comes to serious issues. Paladin continued to publish instructional books and videos for another seventeen years until Peder Lund’s passing in 2017.
The movie didn’t become a big thing at Paladin. We watched it, we pointed out how dumb it was, and we went on. Because it involved real people, some of whom were dead, we didn’t joke about it, either. We published books that people wanted to read, and at no point did we encourage anyone to use the information inside for any reason at any time. Peder hated that the insurance company settled the case, and as someone who didn’t watch movies, Deliberate Intent didn’t faze him. We knew what the case was really about and took it as a learning experience: sometimes the bad guys win.