Why He Fights
Peoria Journal Star/1996-06-09
By Michael Smothers
PEORIA -- All Chase Ingersoll needs to know about authority figures, he says he learned by age 7.
As a 5-year-old, he says, he was handing out religious literature on a Dallas street corner and asking for donations to the Children of God, the radical Christian commune he and his parents then called home.
"All of us (commune) kids were out that day. Then the parents rounded us all up and took us to a 7-11 (store) parking lot. They had us pray that the clerk inside would give them free food when they went in.
"I thought, `Call me crazy, but why can't we buy the food with the money we just collected?' " Ingersoll's mother, he said, drove the lesson home.
"She said all the right (religious) things, but she basically beat the hell out of you for looking cross-eyed. She smacked us over the head because we weren't speaking in tongues."
Watergate sealed the point. "I was just learning to read when I saw this huge newspaper headline, `Nixon Resigns.' The next thing I know, I'm reading another one, `Nixon Pardoned. ' Now, what's that all about? " he asked with a laugh.
But Ingersoll's father salvaged his spirit a couple of years later and taught him, like Don Quixote, to fight the unbeatable foe.
"My father was one of the finger pointers" who reported rampant abuse of patients by the staff at a state mental institution where he worked as a guard, Ingersoll said. Some of those staff members were gun-toting neighbors in that East Texas back country where the Ingersolls considered electricity in their four-room shack a luxury.
Chase's 7-year-old heart filled with pride for his father, then fear as the neighbors fumed at the whistle-blower among them.
"We got the heck out of Texas," he said.
But Peter Chase Ingersoll took with him what's become "my passion" to fight society's evils, especially ones allowed or created by some of society's most evil people -- those who hold authority.
"People who seek authority already have a bent for corruption," he said. "Politicians are in it for power, not for purpose."
He admits he's still a novice at practicing law. But he's a hardened veteran, he said, at being an extremist, an outsider and a "pain in the - - -" for perceived opponents of the issues he's pursued over two years in front of what grew to a nationwide media audience.
He's obtained payments under threat of lawsuit from roughly a dozen "johns" arrested for soliciting prostitutes, a strategy that some think has all but erased prostitution from the near North Side. He sued the city to force the police department to cooperate in that strategy in a case that's still pending.
Most recently, he sued the city again on behalf of two landlords who say the city violated their rights with an unannounced inspection of a house in a neighborhood where -- largely at Ingersoll's prodding, some believe -- police have stepped up their attack on drug houses.
In his first case as a defense attorney, he cried openly in court, insisting his clients were more persecuted than prosecuted. His clients, once convicted, fired him, and one later killed herself. In his second criminal case, he issued an illegal subpoena. In his third, he indicated his client confessed to murder, while the client's mother said she never actually hired him.
Only two years from law school, he faces charges of violating Illinois' attorney ethics code and an investigation of possibly more alleged violations by a board that could seek his disbarment.
One of the first neighborhood groups that asked him to champion its battle against prostitution fired him in April, saying he had damaged the group's reputation with his so- called "legalized extortion" strategy against "johns" and by exaggerating its successes.
Ingersoll says the state ethics board "is out to get me," while the neighborhood group's leaders "stabbed me in the back."
Ingersoll, 27, also is the Republican candidate for Peoria County state's attorney. He's always voted as an "independent," he said, and has never cast a primary election ballot.
"I'm a Republican because I have a conservative lifestyle," said the attorney known for riding his bicycle to court and following what father Lewis Ingersoll called his teachings in "the value of austerity." "Our rights are impugned by big government," Ingersoll said. "We opened up Pandora's Box when we gave government the right to tax income. We should tax consumption," he said, referring to sales taxes.
Ingersoll, however, is not running for state's attorney to begin his own political career. If he wins, he'll probably resign "after getting rid of some people" in that office and purifying it of the sins he's sure have corrupted it, he said.
His goal is to destroy the career of his opponent, incumbent Democrat Kevin Lyons.
Lyons is the most corrupt politician around, Ingersoll believes. He's running "because no one else is willing to stand up to the biggest bully in town."
Ingersoll is unwavering in that conviction, as he is in all his others. He's convinced that a study of Lyons' eight years of case files would reveal many defendants prosecuted merely out of a warped vendetta that stems from a "weakness" within Lyons' character.
Ingersoll has no solid evidence of either supposed vendetta or weakness, but he said he doesn't need any. He must act on his faith, he said, as Christ did when he walked on the water.
"Take a human being that's weak and look at his background," Ingersoll said. "See if his weakness is deep-seated, covered up, and see if he's reacting (against others) from that weakness."
That's what Lyons is doing -- just as Ingersoll's mother, who lashed out with abuse as she suppressed her own "borderline personality problem," did to him, he said.
Lyons clearly is angered by Ingersoll's claims but said he won't respond to them.
Lewis Ingersoll has a right to be proud of his seven children. Chase, the oldest, is an attorney and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His two youngest, Abraham and Isaac, are solid students at Woodruff High School and Von Steuben Middle School, respectively.
In between are Sam, a Yale University graduate active in social services in San Diego; Hope, bound for the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston; Adam, a student at the University of Southern California, and Joseph, who will enroll there this fall.
Joseph, like Chase, had the grades to skip his senior high school year. Lewis Ingersoll said he isn't sure that's the best strategy for every bright student, but Joseph has "a good attitude" and should thrive, he said.
Academically, Chase thrived as well after entering Bradley University "at the tender age of 16," his father said. He already was a year ahead of his Tiskilwa High School classmates when he entered that school as a freshman, Lewis said.
But Chase's "whole upbringing was peculiar," more so than his younger children, who experienced lesser degrees of their parents' "spiritual seeking" through religious cults and who were less a target of mother Dale's sharp attentions, Lewis said.
"No one in the family, including her, will deny there was some abuse," Lewis said. "I didn't know about a lot of it until she talked about it in therapy" years later, when the couple were heading toward divorce as Chase entered Bradley. Dale Ingersoll, now living in DeKalb, did not answer requests for comment for this story.
Chase's schooling began with tutelage and reading lessons from the Bible. "By 4 I was reading the King James version," he said. "I had a biblical seminary education by 7," and by then he had begun his own educational sojourn.
"I was switching schools every year," he said, as his parents departed Texas and the Children of God for other religious communities in California; the Cascade Mountains in Washington state; Athens, Ohio; and finally in Tiskilwa.
There they joined the Plow Creek Fellowship, a farm- based commune outside of town that included teachers, a lawyer and a medical doctor among its members.
To impress each new set of classmates, Chase learned to ruffle feathers.
"I've done it all my life," he said. "If you want to make new friends you better open your mouth and say something. And it better be funny, articulate and intelligent. And if it's controversial, all the better. Then you have something (happening) instead of just schoolwork. " Who is he? At Tiskilwa, the older Ingersoll children quickly stood out, even from the estimated dozen other Plow Creek youngsters among the school's 140 students.
"They were well-behaved, but possibly a little cocky with their attitudes," said Sharon Borg, then the school's office secretary. "They were smart, and they knew it."
Chase fit that description and more, said his math teacher, John Garvin.
"Pete (as Ingersoll was known then) let it be known we didn't have much to offer him," Garvin said. "He stood himself apart (from other students) on purpose."
That's one of his most natural and necessary traits, Ingersoll said.
"Probably the difference between me and 90 percent of the population is I know who I am and what I'm about.
"Those who ask me who I am probably don't know who they are. They've never questioned themselves; they live in ignorant bliss." "Not many 8-year-olds could call themselves agnostic and explain what that was," he said of the belief that it's impossible to know if God exists.
He's not an agnostic anymore, but a deep believer in the existence of God and a universal right and wrong. What brought him back to God? "The Marines," he said, laughing.
He now attends Grace Presbyterian Church, "though I don't know if (his fellow parishioners) are all that comfortable" with that, he laughed.
And what brought him to the Marines after graduating from Bradley was a desire to emulate Oliver North, the Marine colonel who testified falsely before Congress about a clandestine policy to arm rebels in Communist Nicaragua.
"I had a lot more respect for him than for those (questioning) politicians" in Congress, he said. "Even if he was lying, he was doing it for a cause, sacrificing himself, his pension, willing to risk everything he had to do what he thought was right."
Conversely, Ingersoll gives no credit to Lyons for any of his hundreds of criminal prosecutions. "I don't care if something turns out right if the motive is incorrect in the first place," he said.
From the Marines, Ingersoll went to the University of Illinois College of Law. There his personality began to flourish.
Unable to obtain a school loan -- "because the Marines defaulted me in clear violation of the Soldiers and Sailors Act," a "bureaucratic goof" eventually resolved, he said -- Ingersoll found alternatives.
Through much of his freshman year, he slept on the floor of the law school library's basement, he said. Lewis Ingersoll recalls Chase showing the blanket and pillow he'd hidden there.
Jane Williams, head of the library's reference desk, calls that story unbelievable. "I virtually lived here then," when the basement was undergoing renovation, and neither she nor any other librarian heard of any mysterious basement dweller, she said.
Ingersoll used his Marines training to evade them all, he said.
Much of the following two years he lived and worked at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter in Champaign. Ingersoll left there with the thanks of staff members and residents who say he rescued more than a few men from the streets back to sober and productive lives. "I know he was all about helping the underdog; that's what he was for," said Libbie Smith, then a part-time shelter volunteer whom Ingersoll convinced to take full-time duties. "He's a very unique individual. " `Just a tool' Lewis Ingersoll said his own days of searching for heavenly righteousness on Earth are over. "I'm just a father now," though one still trying to raise his last two teen-agers in the light of the Lord.
But he doesn't expect his eldest to mellow much over the next 20 years. "You mature somewhat, but you don't really change," he said. "There's a history of radical lawyers in this country," and Chase will add to it, he said.
Even if it's as a radical non-lawyer, Chase Ingersoll said it won't matter.
"A law degree is just a tool," he said. He doesn't care if he loses it "as long as it's in the cause of what's right."
If he does lose it, he'll find another tool "and be a bigger pain in the - - -. People better be careful what they ask for. They might get it," he said.
As for now, Ingersoll excites himself with his "labor of love," a tabloid pamphlet he's published twice this spring called The Citizen's Journal. He's left hundreds of free copies beneath windshield wipers and in public buildings where the curious might find them before the authorities, usually, dispose of them.
In its second edition, the Journal takes direct aim at Lyons' alleged "weakness" and the persecution of one defendant whom it supposedly spawned.
Ingersoll acknowledged he has no documentation or other hard evidence to support the Journal's potentially libelous claims.
"I know (newspaper) reporters need documentation for their stories, but I'm a publisher," he said with a laugh.
Ingersoll points to his heart and then to his head to emphasize his "walk on water" approach to society's ills -- to pursue what you're convinced is right and never doubt your convictions "or you'll sink." "If I see something that's bugging me, that's not right, I'll be the first to step out" against it, he said. "It goes back to my father speaking up and then having to leave town.
"And to my mother. I wish someone had spoken up about her.