Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nuts and Fruits Department: Pamela Geller’s Puppy Bombs

One of the distinct qualities that often qualifies organizations for designation by the SPLC as hate groups is that they specialize in spinning degrading narratives about members of their target groups. And the really vicious haters often give away their game by unleashing the most heinous accusations imaginable — especially so when those accusations turn out to be based on completely false fairy tales.

Recently, far-right Islamophobes Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer demonstrated once again why their organization, Stop Islamization of America, has earned the SPLC’s “hate group” designation for several years running: According to a story heavily promoted by their organization, heartless Islamist radicals are now lighting puppies aflame and hurling them at their enemies.

This preposterous claim originated with a dubious report from a local CBS TV station in New York that has since retracted the story and removed it from the station’s website. The story, from reporter Amy Dardashtian, claimed that two puppies up for adoption in New Jersey had been rescued from Egypt after nearly becoming the victims of the puppy bombers.

Quoting an animal rescuer from New Jersey named Robyn Urman — who was herself quoting a Facebook post from an Egyptian rescue volunteer — the story originally claimed that “members of the Muslim Brotherhood marching toward Tahrir Square to demand that ousted President Mohamed Morsi be reinstated were using puppies as gas bombs — dipping them in gasoline and lighting them on fire.”
Urman’s group posted a semi-grammatical description of the supposed puppy-bomb gang: “Ten cruel bearded men gathered more than 20 puppies and start[ed] pouring gasoline on them and throw[ing] them at the army. These flying fire balls were puppies that [were] used as weapon[s]. We only could save these three poor babies.”

Within the day, the story was removed from the CBS 2 website and replaced with an uncontroversial piece simply saying the dogs were looking for a new home. A producer at WCBS, the parent station, told Hatewatch that the story’s initial publication was an error since it had not been properly sourced and vetted, and editors at the station immediately doubted its veracity. It was taken down from the website, the producer said, very shortly after it was first published, and replaced with the current story, since the facts of the initial version did not check out.

In spite of the story’s obviously dubious nature, Geller and Spencer avidly promoted it at their websites. Geller’s post at her blog, Atlas Shrugs, was headlined “Puppy Bombs: Puppies Being Used as Living Firebombs by Muslim Brotherhood” and attacked President Obama because he “backs these savages,” adding: “But then again, he eats dog, so …” (Of course, Geller’s blog has also claimed that Obama is the “love child” of Malcolm X.) Spencer’s post at his blog Jihad Watch was about as subtle: “Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood using ‘puppy bombs’ dipped in gasoline and set on fire,” its headline read, while the text noted helpfully that “Muhammad didn’t like dogs.”

From there, the tale made its way to sites in the right-wing blogsphere like Breitbart’s “Big Peace” blog, where one Mary Chastain dutifully wrote an outraged post under the headline “’Puppy Bombs’ Rescued From Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”

Patrick Kingsley, the Egypt correspondent for the Guardian, told the Huffington Post UK he did not believe the reports: “I think it’s really, really unlikely that Muslim Brotherhood protesters could have turned puppies into firebombs during clashes in Tahrir Square. Aside from a couple of brief instances, Brotherhood demonstrators have not been able to enter the square all summer. Most importantly, the logistics of this seem barely feasible. Gathering 20 puppies, transporting them to a protest, dousing them in petrol, and then throwing them at soldiers while being teargassed strikes me as not just impractical, but nigh-on impossible.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Dearborn, Mich.: We Are Not Under Shariah Law!

The world of right-wing extremism produces people who so deeply believe in conspiracy theories woven out of fantasies that they stop being able to distinguish between reality and fantasy – or, in some cases, satire.

And in the case of Dearborn, Mich., this week, satire was mistaken for reality by a large number of such people. An article published at a satirical website mocking right-wing paranoia about Shariah law (Muslim religious law) being imposed in the United States – headlined “City in Michigan First to Fully Implement Sharia Law” and informing readers that Dearborn was now under Muslim control – was mistaken by a large number of people for the real thing.

Spread widely through social media, the story published at the National Report satire site – which publishes fake news in the manner of The Onion, though perhaps more obliquely – sparked an outpouring of outrage from conservatives who have been warned by a number of conspiracist anti-Muslim organizations that Islamic radicals intend to begin imposing “Sharia Law” in the United States. Thousands of phone calls and E-mails came pouring in to Dearborn City Hall.

It reached such a boiling point that the Dearborn mayor’s office issued a statement over the weekend clarifying reality. “Dearborn has never been, nor ever will be, under sharia law. We are governed by the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of the State of Michigan and the City of Dearborn Charter,” Mayor John O’Reilly said. “We are a city named after a Revolutionary War hero. We have lost loyal Dearborn American military service personnel in every war this country has fought to protect the individual rights we are guaranteed through the U.S. Constitution.”

The National Report specializes in satire mocking extremist fears, often by taking them to their illogical conclusion. A similar satirical piece conned Fox News pundit Anna Kooiman into believing that President Obama intended to keep the International Museum of Muslim Cultures open during the government shutdown by paying for it out of his personal funds. She then went on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends Weekend” program and told her audience that Obama intended to do this, adding: “It really doesn’t seem fair.” She later retracted the remarks.

But the reason the Dearborn satire sparked such a reaction was that in many ways it told paranoid Muslim-bashers that fears they had warned about were coming true.

Dearborn in fact has one of the nation’s largest Arab-American communities by percentage of population, and as such is an active center of Muslim worship. That in turn has produced a great deal of paranoia about the town by right-wing conspiracists, especially since 2001. A 2012 Atlantic article, “Dearborn: Where Americans Come to Hate Muslims,” explored the great extent to which the city is a magnet for Muslim-bashers (notably the Islam-hating Florida pastor Terry Jones) and people committing acts of violence as well, including an attempted bombing of a Dearborn mosque.

Mayor O’Reilly blamed the National Report for inspiring the outpouring from angry conservatives who believed the fake report. “The National Report’s misguided attempt at humor furthers the goals of some people who have tried to suggest that the City of Dearborn is anti-American because our population includes residents who are Muslim,” the mayor’s statement read. “The National Report is not a news site, but is only pretending to be one. Its purpose is entertainment. In this case, its outrageous story, with no basis in fact, has ended up fooling people in part because it mirrors allegations made by others in the past with less than humorous intentions.”

Despite the mayor’s comments, it seems hard to believe that so many people would swallow the National Report’s tall tale, which was replete with sentences like this one: “The new law could see citizens stoned for adultery or having a limb amputated for theft. Lesser offenses, such as drinking alcohol or abortion, could result in flogging and/or caning. In addition, the law imposes harsh laws with regards to women and allows for child marriage.”

Attempts at contacting the editors of the National Report were not successful.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Florida Sheriff Who ‘Nullified’ Concealed Gun Arrest is Acquitted, Reinstated

The rural Florida sheriff whose arrest and trial on misconduct charges became a cause celebre among the “constitutionalists” of the antigovernment Patriot movement this summer was acquitted by a jury yesterday.

Nick Finch, the Liberty County sheriff who was arrested and suspended in June and accused of tampering with the arrest record of a man in custody on a weapon-concealment charge, was found not guilty by a six-person jury in Bristol.

Gov. Rick Scott, who had signed the arrest warrant for Finch and named his interim replacement, immediately announced that Finch would be returned to office. “Sheriff Nick Finch will be reinstated immediately,” Scott announced. “I would like to thank the members of the jury in Liberty County for their service in this trial. I would also like to thank Interim Sheriff Buddy Money for his service to the state of Florida.”

Finch was arrested after an incident in March in which one of his deputies arrested a man for carrying a concealed weapon during a traffic pullover. After the man’s mug shot was taken, Finch arrived at the jail with one of the man’s relatives, told his deputies to stop the procedures, released the suspect, and then allegedly walked away with the records that had already been generated. He told investigators he let the man go because he was protecting his Second Amendment rights, but he was charged with official misconduct for allegedly destroying the records.

The case attracted the interest of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the organization run by longtime Patriot movement figure Richard Mack, who made Finch’s arrest a fundraising issue. Mack organized a legal-defense fund for the sheriff and warned his followers: “If Sheriff Finch is found guilty in this case, the most unjustified and frivolous trial in history, then we are all in trouble and could be suspects in any incident!”

Similarly, the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers adopted Finch’s cause and organized fundraisers for his legal defense as well. The John Birch Society’s newsmagazine warned readers that “Freedom of speech, federalism, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right of the people to govern themselves through free elections are under assault in Florida.”

Much of the trial in Bristol centered around whether Finch had actually broken the law by whiting out the suspect’s name from the booking records. Finch claimed that the arrest records state officials alleged he walked away with never existed – and no one was able to prove otherwise.

Finch, meanwhile, acknowledged that he was practicing a kind of nullification of state law when he ordered the man’s release. He told the jury that he did not believe in enforcing the state’s concealment statutes, because he believed that Second Amendment rights trumped those laws.

The state prosecutor, Jack Campbell, questioned Finch on that point: “Don’t you agree that the Second Amendment doesn’t give you the power to pick and choose which laws you’re going to enforce and which laws you’re going to not enforce?”

Finch answered: “The Second Amendment is very specific to keeping and bearing arms, Mr. Campbell. You’re talking about many laws. What I believe is the Second Amendment requires me to make a decision based on that Second Amendment as to whether I’m going to go forward with the state charges. Yes, I think the Constitution has to mean something at some point, Mr. Campbell.”

There was no immediate response from Mack or his organization. A spokesman for an Oath Keepers unit in Florida posted on the organization’s blog: “This is a great day for Liberty and Freedom. This is a perfect example for the rest of the Sheriff’s [sic] in the state of Florida and in the United States that the Constitution still has authority in this country not the feds or any other state agency that thinks they can take our Sheriffs [sic] authority away.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trial of Florida Sheriff on Misconduct Charge Draws Wrath of ‘Constitutional Sheriffs’ and Oath Keepers

The trial of a Florida sheriff on a charge of official misconduct is attracting the attention of so-called “constitutional sheriffs” and the far-right Oath Keepers, who claim that the sheriff – Nick Finch of Liberty County – was only standing up for the Second Amendment when he “nullified” the arrest of a citizen on a concealed-weapon charge.

Those activists see the Finch trial as a showdown between their “constitutionalist” belief that the county sheriff is the highest authority in the nation and state and federal authorities intent on imposing their “tyranny” on the citizenry. In reality, Finch was arrested for allegedly tampering with the arrest record of a man on a concealment charge because he believed enforcing the law violated the Second Amendment.

Finch was arrested in June by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and charged with one count of official misconduct, a third-degree felony, for having “destroyed or removed official arrest documents” and making it appear an arrest had never occurred, including whiting out the suspect’s name in the booking log. His trial in Bristol began today.

Finch, 50, first elected in 2012, has been suspended and could be permanently removed from office.
The incident that sparked his arrest occurred on March 8, when a Liberty County deputy pulled over a Bristol man named Floyd Parrish on suspicion of drunken driving. While searching the man’s car, the deputy found a pistol hidden inside his pocket. Parrish had no concealed-weapon permit, so he wound up under arrest at the county jailhouse.

According to the arrest warrant (pdf), at that point Sheriff Finch – who had never met Parrish – entered the holding cell with Parrish’s brother. He then took possession of the arrest file and told the booking sergeant to release Parrish and not file any charges. The man’s mug shot had, apparently, already been taken and his name entered into the arrest log. The arrest log entry was later whited out by someone, though no one is certain who did so. Video tapes of the arrest and subsequent release of Parrish were later recorded over.

After Finch’s arrest in June, his case drew the attention of Richard Mack, the erstwhile Arizona sheriff who now runs the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization that draws its beliefs in the supremacy of the county sheriffs from old, anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus ideology. Also attracted to the cause were the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, who organized a fundraiser for Finch’s legal defense in August.

Finch’s case has become a fundraising draw for Sheriff Mack, who sent out an e-mail alert this week asking for help to support Finch. “Sheriff Finch did exactly what all of us have been hoping and praying for now for so many years; he nullified a gun charge and the arrest of a law-abiding citizen,” the e-mail said. “So the State, under the direction of one corrupt deputy Attorney General (Willie Meggs) with complicity of an equally corrupt FL Governor, actually arrested and removed from office the duly elected Sheriff of Liberty County, Florida.”

Finch himself has remained defiant while attracting support from a number of “constitutionalists.” He told an interviewer for the John Birch Society organ The New American that there was no chance he would stop fighting the charge: “Never! I will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Finch is fairly clear about his motives, telling the interviewer: “When I ordered him released from the holding cell I say that he has a right to carry a gun under the Second Amendment, and so I let him go.” Asked what prompted that step, he answered: “My beliefs and my stand on the Second Amendment.”

He also made clear his view of his obligations: “My only obligation is to the Constitution and I will continue to act according to my oath and that duty.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has been besieged by Sheriff Finch’s supporters. One report shortly after Finch’s arrest noted that Scott had received 1,326 e-mails, and only three of those supported the charges. Several writers suggested Scott resign because of the arrest, claiming it proved he opposed the Second Amendment.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Dodging 'Blackfish': What Sea World Doesn't Want You To Know

Memo to the honchos at Sea World: You know that you are in a world of hurt when Newt Gingrich, of all people, starts to lecture you about your total lack of transparency, as he did the other night on CNN while discussing the stunning documentary 'Blackfish':
GINGRICH: Let me -- let me say, let me say, first of all, because I think the audience probably is curious about this. I want people to know that I'm disappointed that SeaWorld isn't representing itself. I'm delighted to have somebody as professional and as competent as Greg, but SeaWorld's a huge institution. This is a very important movie that raises some very troubling questions.
They did release a statement. They said, "The film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld, among them that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.

Now, I thought we ought to say that in fairness, but let me also say personally, I would like to extend an invitation to SeaWorld, to have a representative come and be on the show one night. Because I think, as a multi-billion-dollar institution, they owe the country some level of transparency and some level of accountability. And I am disappointed that they're not here tonight.
Of course, there's a reason Sea World wouldn't come on CNN to talk about 'Blackfish' and instead was content to hide behind blanket and nonresponsive PR statements: The facts are not on their side.

As Tim Zimmerman, the film's co-producer, observed to the 'Crossfire' panel:
So they refused to participate in the movie. We tried endlessly to try to get them to provide their side of the story. And it's a little bit ironic to complain that the movie is distorted if, you know, you yourself refused to come forward and to present your point of view. So I don't really think that's a very fair criticism of the movie.
Sea World's hunker-down strategy was a catastrophic failure: Not only did CNN clean up in the network ratings thanks to 'Blackfish,' but the film was also the talk of Twitter through the weekend.

And it was also painfully obvious, if you watched the film, that Sea World's statement was a blizzard of irrelevancies and nonsequiturs designed to keep audiences from thinking too hard about the real issue the film raises: Namely, is keeping these large and intelligent animals captive the right thing to do?

As the blogger Cetacean Inspiration observes:
The ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity is totally irrelevant to conservation and rescue programs. Using these programs to justify killer whale captivity is a bit like defending an abusive person because they volunteer at a soup kitchen. The two are not related. Just because someone does something “good” does not mean that they are excused to do something evil.
So, Sea World folks, with your stock value plummeting and your Facebook page filled with angry cancellations, you really, really need to rethink your strategy. You do have a chance to come out ahead -- but only if you actually were to embrace the conservation ethic you claim to be teaching kids.

Naomi Rose, in fact, has a perfect plan: Begin a program of rehabilitation for the 13 wild-born orcas now in captivity with an eye toward releasing them in the wild, and involve the public every step of the way. Sell tickets. Warm hearts. Demonstrate that you really do have the animals' best interests at heart. Because no one believes that you do now.

As Rose observes:
The marine theme parks can shift with the paradigm or be left behind -- it is up to them.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beck Reality Show Promotes 'Documentary' on Alaska Militiamen

A documentary project that is currently faring well in the competition for the reality TV show Pursuit of Truth – a program on Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV network – purports to be about investigating the “truth” about the arrests and convictions of Alaska militia leader Schaeffer Cox and several of his cohorts. But if a “sizzle reel” video just released to promote the project is any measure, the film’s version of “truth” may well be at variance with the established facts of the case.

Cox, declared “delusionarily dangerous” at his sentencing, is currently serving a 26-year prison term for organizing a conspiracy to kill a federal judge and law-enforcement officers in the Fairbanks area, where he lived. He and three other militiamen were arrested in March 2011 and served with the conspiracy charges, along with a bevy of related firearms charges.

On Pursuit of Truth, hosted by actor Vince Vaughan, a Salt Lake City filmmaker named Joshua Ligairi has been preparing a project purporting to demonstrate that Cox and his cohorts were railroaded by a rogue FBI investigation, and selling it to the show’s judges – quite successfully so far. His project, titled “Plan 241,” was named a semi-finalist in the competition that aired last Wednesday.

The competition’s winner will get to produce a full-length version of their documentary with the help of the show.

The “Sizzle Reel” – a two-minute preview of the film, highlighting its most intriguing components – was released as part of the competition. It primarily features a handful of people telling the filmmakers how Cox and the others were railroaded by the FBI and an “out of control” informant.

Much of the onscreen time is devoted to Aaron Bennett, the tattooed proprietor of a Fairbanks gun-and-gear shop called Far North Tactical, who is a friend of the convicted militiamen. At a key point in the video he describes some of the “out of control” behavior of the key government informant in the case, telling the documentary makers: “Bill pulled out a knife, grabs him and puts it up to his throat and says, ‘You say one more word, I’ll kill you, I’ll cut your throat.”

Bennett is describing a verbal confrontation between the informant – a onetime militiaman from Anchorage named Bill Fulton, who owned and operated a gun-and-gear shop there – and Schaeffer Cox’s second-in-command, a Fairbanks man named Les Zerbe. But it is not at all clear that he’s giving an accurate description.

As blogger Jeanne Devon of Anchorage, who covered the trial daily, reported at the time, when Zerbe testified in court, he claimed that Fulton “came at me with a knife,” but then admitted that he did not see a knife in Fulton’s hand: “I was looking in the man’s eyes to see how serious he was on harming me. I did not see the weapon although I was told it was a knife.”

Fulton himself testified that Aaron Bennett was in between himself and Zerbe during their altercation, which he described as purely verbal. So the court evidence suggests that if Fulton did have a knife – and Fulton himself testified that he had one, but didn’t threaten Zerbe with it – it is highly unlikely it was brandished and held to Zerbe’s throat – otherwise, Zerbe would have testified to that effect.

The other primary witnesses in the video are the parents of militiaman Coleman Barney – a militiaman who, the evidence suggests, was accidentally caught up in Schaeffer Cox’s schemes and, accordingly, was given a lighter sentence – earning, ultimately, a pair of concurrent five-year sentences. All of them express the opinion that the case against the men was unproven – though that was clearly not the opinion of the jurors who heard the evidence in the case.

During his conversations with the Pursuit of Truth judges, Joshua Ligairi made clear that he had already decided on the angle for the film he wanted to make. He told them that “basically, the FBI’s investigation crossed all these boundaries they weren’t supposed to cross,” and described the agency’s behavior as “Orwellian.” When one judge asked if he would be able to remain objective during the investigation, Ligairi indicated that he had already made up his mind: “I don’t agree with what they’re doing, but I do not want to see innocent people go to jail.”

For all its ominous music and imprecations, however, there is no evidence, physical or otherwise, in any of Ligairi’s footage so far to support the allegations of improper convictions in these cases.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Argle Bargle Morble Whoosh

Holy cow. Sarah Palin sounds like she's been nipping into the ol' Rushbo 151 again, hasn't she? With a side of Peggy Noonan's Magic Dolphin Helpers.

Reminds me of Frito Bugger the evening he hung out with Tim Benzedrine. And the funniest part is watching Megyn Kelly, nobody's fool, trying to maintain her composure and put a nice face on all this.

This is classic Palin, right up there with the Great Turkey Massacre.

Bob Cesca has a transcript.

Seattle Metro’s Refusal to Run Anti-Jihad Ads By Geller Group Sparks Lawsuit

Pamela Geller
and her far-right Muslim-bashing organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, have announced they are striking back at “Sharia Enforcement” by suing the city of Seattle. Or someone.

In a press release earlier this week headlined “We Are Suing the City of Seattle,” Geller heralded the lawsuit by claiming that transit authorities in Seattle had refused one of the AFDI’s incendiary advertisements for their buses.

However, the lawsuit AFDI filed this week is actually against King County’s Metro Transit Authority, not the City of Seattle -- a much smaller entity fiscally and geographically than King County.

“Twelve years after the 9/11 jihad terror attacks, it has come to this: we have to file suit to fight against jihad terrorism, and the media calls us a ‘hate group’ for doing it,” Geller’s press release said.

As the release notes, the dispute revolves around a series of ads the AFDI purchased to appear on the sides of Metro buses. They featured mug shots of 16 “Faces of Global Terrorism” – all Arabic or black men – and all of whom are highly unlikely to be making appearances in Seattle anytime soon.

Previously, Metro had allowed the AFDI to run anti-Palestinian ads on some buses in response to similar ads run by pro-Palestinian groups. And it had run ads nearly identical to the “Faces” billboards when they were sponsored by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in June 2013. The JTTF, however, voluntarily removed those ads after U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, wrote a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller expressing concern. McDermott said the ads would “only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim-Americans.”

Geller’s press release explains: “But then the leftists and Islamic supremacists complained that the ads were ‘Islamophobic,’ and they came down – and now  Seattle is refusing to allow my group, the AFDI, to put them back up. This is sharia compliance.”

Jeff Switzer, a spokesman for Metro, declined to comment on the pending litigation but said the ads were refused because of Metro’s longstanding policy of refusing ads if they are have false and misleading statements, demeaning or disparaging content, or material that might lead to service disruptions.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Oath Keepers Pushing Oregonians to Resist Gov’t Concentration Camps

A statewide organization of conspiracy-peddling Oath Keepers has been gaining traction in small-town Oregon by convincing a series of county-level officials that they need to speak out against the enactment of the National Defense Appropriations Act by passing official resolutions defending the constitutional rights of their citizens.

Among the concerns that these county officials cite is the alleged threat, raised by the Oath Keeper activists who promote these resolutions, that federal authorities are planning to round up American citizens and incarcerate them in concentration camps.

The resolution passed by the Klamath County board of commissioners on Sept. 24, for example, warned that “Whereas Klamath County is not a ‘battlefield’ subject to the ‘laws of war’,” the county commission was declaring that “it is unconstitutional, and therefore unlawful for any person to … arrest or capture any person in Klamath County, or citizen of Klamath County within the United States, with the intent of ‘detention under the law of war’ … or subject any person to targeted killing in Klamath County.”

Most of these resolutions are the handiwork of Tom McKirgan, who heads up the Oregon chapter of the Oath Keepers from his home in rural Coquille. He first convinced the Coos County commissioners – after months of activism – to pass a resolution in late July opposing the NDAA because of its supposed violations of the Fourth Amendment’s requirements for due process. (The national Oath Keepers organization also promotes NDAA-related conspiracy theories on its website.)

McKirgan has been working in tandem with activists from the state chapter of People against the National Defense Authorization Act (PANDAA) to promote the resolutions. And while PANDAA’s portion of the presentations have remained within the realm of the rational concerns about civil liberties related to the bill, when the Oath Keepers have spoken up, it has veered into the wildly conspiratorial.

Among the dire warnings these commissioners heard during the process were allusions to the Oath Keepers’ oft-stated belief that the NDAA creates the legal pretext for federal authorities to begin rounding up right-wing citizens and placing them in concentration camps, or that they might begin labeling Tea Party leaders “enemy combatants” and start assassinating them. At times – particularly in Klamath County – it seemed some of the commissioners shared those fears.

The same warning showed up on the Oath Keepers website in a discussion of the Oregon successes around the NDAA issue. A commenter named “D. Bertrand” explained: “One reason for the NDAA, (or maybe two reasons) is because, at some point in the near future, a massive round-up of any particular group and/or activists/journalists, would be so many that DUE PROCESS would be virtually impossible and would clog the legal system. The other reason would be … These massive arrests would be un-constitutional without legal probable cause, and a violation of 1st and 4th amendment rights, therefore….they will just go for it !!”

“Bertrand” then explained that, out of eight levels needed to reach that dire stage, “we are currently at Level Five,” adding: “Unfortunately, most Americans slept through Levels One thru Four and the NDAA is creeping through the back-door. Oregon Oath Keepers, and California, are going head to head with the NDAA. If when the NDAA goes live…that means WE ARE IN A WAR.”

McKirgan has weighed in on local issues in the Coos County area with a similarly conspiratorial perspective. When local night-sky watchers in the coastal town of Bandon promoted an ordinance to regulate residents’ lighting, he warned in a letter to the editor: “This is another avenue exploited by the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] to greatly expand their ulterior motive of turning the entire Coquille Valley into a massive mosquito bog unfit for human habitation.”

At an Oath Keepers gathering in Reedsport, he warned: “We are living under a soft form of martial law.” He also dismissed President Obama’s authority: “Obama is not a president,” he said. “He is nothing but a communist trying to usurp his power and bring us under the United Nations banner.”

“We’re trying to nullify, actually the Constitution nullifies it, we’re trying to reject and repeal section 1021 and 1022,” McKirgan told the Reedsport City Council. “Oath Keepers is not a militia. We are an organization of education. We reach, teach and inspire others to follow the oaths of office that they swore to uphold the Constitution. This is an unconstitutional act that places America on the battlefield, where everybody inside that battlefield are subject to the rules of military law.”

However, both the Reedsport and the Coos Bay city councils did turn him away in his efforts to get them to similarly endorse his conspiracy theories. But McKirgan has turned his sights to other precincts, with Douglas County next on his list, he says. And he promised: “We have other counties in our cross hairs.”

In the meantime, the Oath Keepers may not yet be calling their operations militias, but they are functionally becoming one: President/founder Stewart Rhodes recently announced that Oath Keepers were “going operational” with the formation of “Civilization Preservation Teams.” Last week, the organization announced it was forming an “honor guard” at the nation’s war memorials to prevent their closures during the government shutdown.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gun-Rights Group Wants to Make Sandy Hook Anniversary 'Guns Save Lives Day'

Ah, nothing like the gun nuts, keeping it classy:
A national Second Amendment group based in Bellevue has decided to sponsor “Guns Save Lives Day” on Dec. 14 — the anniversary of last year’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
The 650,000-member Second Amendment Foundation, which announced the event Thursday with the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and DefendGunRights.com, has not yet decided what it will entail. But Alan Gottlieb, the president of the group, said the goal is to show “there’s a good side of guns.”

“People every single day use guns to save lives,” Gottlieb said. “We don’t think anybody should have been a victim at Sandy Hook, and we don’t think anybody should be a victim in the future.”

Gottlieb estimated that some 200 gun-rights groups from all 50 states would participate in the event.

“Quite frankly, we don’t want the gun prohibition lobby to own that day,” he said. “So we’re starting early.”

Critics blasted the event as disrespectful.

Cheryl Stumbo, a victim of the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting on July 28, 2006, said that if gun-rights groups tried to sponsor a similar event on July 28, it would feel like “a slap in the face.”

“It’s an attempt to blame victims, and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” said Stumbo, the sponsor of a 2014 initiative campaign to require background checks for all gun sales, not just those by licensed dealers.
Gottlieb's group is probably the second-most influential gun-rights outfit in the United States after the NRA. It's also one of the more radical: In the 1990s, Gottlieb was closely associated with the "Wise Use" movement and its leader Ron Arnold, and the two of them were involved in militia organizing in the Northwest.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Wingnut Truckers Vow to Bring 3,000 to D.C., But That's Looking Dubious at Best

Those angry right-wing truckers are still promising that at least 3,000 of their number will be showing up in Washington, D.C., this weekend to bring traffic along the Beltway to a grinding halt as part of a protest of what organizers call “the blatant disregard of our Constitution”.

It’s not so clear, however, whether the protest organizers will be able to deliver on those promises. Some of the participants appear to be backing out – or at least tempering their rhetoric – and the protest so far appears to be, as a conservative Washington Times columnist put it, “disorganized and confusing.”

Much of the confusion was spawned by a leading participant named Earl Conlon, a Georgia trucker who earlier told U.S. News and World Report that the protesters intended to arrest President Obama and members of Congress. A couple of days later, he told a Washington Post reporter that the whole thing was a hoax and that he wouldn’t be showing up there after all.
However, Conlon was never one of the organizers of the event. That title belongs to Zeeda Andrews, a former country singer who appeared on Glenn Beck’s television show this week to explain that indeed the protest was proceeding according to plan. At the protest’s Facebook page, Andrews and other participants dismissed the Washington Post story as disinformation ordered by the Obama administration.

Andrews told Beck that she had 3,000 “RSVPs” from other truckers for the protest. She also urged non-truckers to participate by refusing to buy anything on the weekend.

However, Andrews’ credibility is probably not much greater than Earl Conlon’s, considering her own lengthy history of dubious pronouncements. As Ben Dimiero at Media Matters explored at length, Andrews has a considerable record of imbibing in bizarre conspiracy theories.

That includes her belief that President Obama is actually Osama bin Laden in disguise, as she described in a YouTube post: “He is alive call me crazy but, Osama Bin Laden is our President Obama do your research,” she wrote. “The CIA has been preparing for this since he was a boy. They have same height, bone structure, hands and ears both are left handed the Osama face was created by Hollywood. The fox is in the hen house.”

The report also demonstrates that Andrews has a history of posting racially incendiary material, including photos suggesting the Obama is a secret Muslim, to her Facebook page. Among her “likes” are a variety of conspiracy theories, including so-called “chemtrail” theories positing that passenger jets flying across American skies are secretly poisoning or drugging the population.

Also, as we noted earlier, the truckers’ protest is employing radio host Pete Santilli as one of their chief media spokesmen; Santilli is perhaps best known for wishing on the air that he could shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina. As RightWingWatch notes, Santilli angrily denounced Earl Conlon’s threat to arrest members of Congress, saying the truckers only were demanding the impeachment of President Obama.

But on Wednesday, as Media Matters reports, Santilli called for violence if the trucker protest fails. Santilli referred to a group militiamen who dub themselves “Three Percenters” – that is, a tiny faction willing to take violent action – in the rant: “If we do not rise up this week, peacefully, there is going to be Three Percenters who I will also join, to make it not so peacefully. That's what's going to happen,” he said.

“Okay, our country will be saved. There is a select few of us, we'll call them Three Percenters that will take the next logical step to stop our domestic enemies. It will be stopped, I'm going to say this, this is not a threat. We will defend our nation to the absolute death.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Arizona Lawmaker’s Call for Constitutional Sheriffs Has Radical Roots

An Arizona legislator recently made headlines by comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler as she decried the closures of national parks within her district, part of the ongoing federal shutdown. She posted the following on her Facebook page:
Barton later defended the Obama-Hitler comparison, telling the Arizona Capitol Times that she believes the president is “dictating beyond his authority,” citing gun-control legislation and Obamacare as examples: “It’s not just the death camps. [Hitler] started in the communities, with national health care and gun control. You better read your history. Germany started with national health care and gun control before any of that other stuff happened. And Hitler was elected by a majority of people,” she said.

But while the inapt comparison may seem outrageous (the claim about gun control under the Nazis, for one, is entirely bogus), Barton’s plea to call out “Constitutional Sheriffs” to nullify the authority of federal park rangers is even more interesting, and certainly more revealing.

Those “Constitutional Sheriffs” that she hopes can “revoke” the power of federal authorities are actually participants in a far-right antigovernment “Patriot” movement effort — descended from old Posse Comitatus teachings — to enlist the sheriffs of America in the belief that individual county sheriffs are the highest law of the land and possess the power to nullify and even arrest federal authorities.

One of the leaders of the “Constitutional Sheriffs” campaign is longtime Patriot movement figure Richard Mack (who counts Safford, Ariz. — Rep. Barton’s home — as his own childhood hometown). His efforts to enlist law-enforcement officers in the conspiracist worldview of the Patriots and militias dates back to the 1990s, but is also credited with helping to spur the movement’s recent resurgence. In addition to his own Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, Mack is also prominent in the Oath Keepers movement.

Rep. Barton also has a history of far-right activism. Her page at the website of the Arizona House of Representatives trumpets her mid-1990s activism in the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” — an antigovernment land-rights movement popular in the West in the 1980s and ’90s — and says she was “an elected officer in People for the West, a land-rights group.” This latter organization was a major player in the so-called “Wise Use” movement, which in the 1990s became a fertile recruitment ground for the Patriot movement and efforts to organize militias.

The notion of the supremacy of the local sheriff originated with the Posse Comitatus movement, a radical anti-Semitic organization, fueled by conspiracy theories and race hatred, that sought to dismantle the federal government and its civil-rights institutions. The Posse laid the groundwork for various Patriot-movement organizations in the 1990s, including the Montana Freemen and Richard Mack’s own early organizations.

Rep. Barton so far has not responded to the SPLC’s queries regarding her promotion of the “Constitutional Sheriffs” and its Patriot movement agenda.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Truckers' Protest in D.C. This Weekend to Demand Obama Impeachment

A group of politically right-oriented long-haul truckers is attempting to organize a day of protest in Washington, D.C., wherein they essentially bring all traffic around the nation’s capital to a grinding halt by creating traffic jams on the “Beltway” system surrounding the city.

The only problem with the protest – scheduled for the coming weekend of Oct. 11-13 – is that it isn’t exactly clear what the truckers are protesting, nor is it clear what will meet their demands. It appears, though, that they expect Congress to impeach President Obama, overturn the congressionally approved health care reforms, and to disband the Department of Homeland Security.

The only aspect of the planned protest that is clear is that it is fueled by conspiracy theories regarding President Obama and fears about an imminent economic collapse. And it is being promoted by “Patriots” and radio-show hosts with a history of far-right agitation.

One of the would-be participants told U.S. News and World Report that the truckers intend to inspire the masses to force the arrest of President Obama and members of Congress.

The chief organizer of the “Truckers Ride for the Constitution” is a former country music singer named Zeeda Andrews who created a website and Facebook page for the campaign earlier this summer, and it has been gradually building momentum with the help of right-wing radio hosts.

Andrews’ website details the “demands” of the truckers in a somewhat oblique fashion, presented as a list of paranoid fears of supposed “unconstitutional” behavior by the government. Indeed, the list of demands begins: “Long before he was president, Barry Soetoro, aka Barack Obama, was already plotting with others, to overturn the Constitution for the United States.”

It then goes on to list a variety of offending actions – including emissions regulations for trucks in California, and a lack of truck parking (“More truck stops have went out of business because of this administration’s economic impact,” the manifesto reads). Among the actions the truckers appear to believe are unconstitutional are the Affordable Care Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the Patriot Act, since the truckers insist the Department of Homeland Security is an “unconstitutional” entity.

It also claims the Obama administration is violation the War Powers Act by “exposing, and administering experimental, psychotropic, mind altering drugs for control over soldiers during secret, clandestine operations.”

Andrews told U.S. News and World Report that among the actions that Congress could take to prevent the “shutdown” by the truckers would be the impeachment of President Obama. But not all of the participants agree.

"We are not going to ask for impeachment," a Georgia trucker named Earl Conlon, who claimed to be in charge of logistics for the protest, told the reporter. "We are coming whether they like it or not. We're not asking for impeachment, we're asking for the arrest of everyone in government who has violated their oath of office." Among those he expected to see arrested are former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

One of the most avid supporters of the protest is radio host Pete Santilli, who recently joined up with fired Pennsylvania police chief Mark Kessler to cohost a Patriot-movement radio show. He hosted Andrews on his show recently to promote the protest, promising to “shut Washington down.”

On that program, Andrews made clear that the purpose of the protest was to warn Americans that the government was conspiring to bring down the nation’s economy. “They are going to crash the economy, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “That’s what they’re planning.”

Conlon, in the meantime, appears to be promoting the classic Patriot-movement strategy of applying a “Citizens Grand Jury” – in which ordinary “sovereign citizens” can convene a jury and declare federal laws unconstitutional without court approval – to the elected officials in Washington. He told the U.S. News and World reporter that such a jury would be used to indict various liberal officials.

"We want these people arrested, and we're coming in with the grand jury to do it," he said. "We are going to ask the law enforcement to uphold their constitutional oath and make these arrests. If they refuse to do it, by the power of the people of the United States and the people's grand jury, they don't want to do it, we will. ... We the people will find a way."

However, the movement is already showing signs of fractiousness: Andrews has angrily disclaimed Conlon’s participation, warning him on the protest’s Facebook page that he has been “advised NOT to misrepresent himself as a spokesperson for this peaceful event.” One post commented: “Although Earl riled up a sensational title, he stepped out of bounds of our peaceful intent and methods. DHS would love to have a reason to use their bullets.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Leading Christian Hard-Liner Calls for Military Takeover in U.S.

Rick Joyner, one of the leading lights of the Christian Dominionist movement, recently told his television audience that democracy has failed in America, and that the nation’s only hope, in light of the looming “tyranny” of the Obama administration, is “a military takeover – martial law.”

Said Joyner: “There’s no way our Republic can last much longer. It may not last through Obama’s second term. There are a lot of people who feel that it can’t. That there are forces right now that are seeking to undermine and to destroy the Republic. There’s almost a glib and almost a joyful disregard of the Constitution and belittling of the Constitution. We can’t make it without that. It’s our foundation, our moorings. We’re headed for serious tyranny…

“I think we’ve been used in some wonderful and powerful ways by God. We’ve been one of the most generous nations in history. We’ve done so much good. And that’s why I appeal to the Lord: ‘Don’t let us be totally destroyed, please raise up those who will save us!’ And as I’ve started telling friends for a long time, no election is going to get the right person in there that’s going to restore us, because the system is so broken, so undermined right now, the whole system.

“I believe our only hope is a military takeover – martial law.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of this pronouncement is the fact that Joyner — who heads up the dominionist Oak Initiative, which seeks out “Christian leaders” and then tries to place them within the halls of government, including the military — is also a close associate of retired Gen. Jerry Boykin.
Boykin is best remembered as the general who, while helping to oversee the invasion of Iraq, told an audience that Islamic extremists hated the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. … And the enemy is a guy named Satan.” (Boykin also told another audience that he tracked down an Islamic terrorist successfully because “I knew that my God was bigger than his.”) More recently, he has gained attention for claiming that President Obama is secretly plotting a Marxist takeover of America through his health-care reforms.

Boykin’s is the first name listed on the board of Joyner’s Oak Initiative. He regularly broadcasts a TV program under the auspices of the Initiative, and has appeared in public and on TV with Joyner many times.

In one of these, they were joined by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council — where Boykin in 2012 was named executive vice-president — in a discussion of how to get ordinary Christians involved in “the battle that America’s in today”, and Boykin urged them to form a modern-day Spartan army, declaring “Molon Labe” (“Come and take them”): “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m at the point now where I am ready to say ‘Molon labe!’ to those in Washington, to those in the special interest groups that want to take my liberties, that want to rob my grandchildren of the ability to have the kind of America that I grew up in. I’m at the point where I’m saying, ‘Molon labe!”

However, even if Boykin agrees with Joyner that a military coup is what’s needed to save America, it is worth keeping in mind that it appears Boykin – who at one time was the nation’s deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence – now has very little influence within the Pentagon. He was, after all, investigated and rebuked by the Department of Defense for his remarks about Islam.  More recently, his bigoted remarks about Islam resulted in an Egyptian mob attacking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s motorcade.

Joyner is not the first conservative to suggest a military coup as a means to overthrow President Obama. In July 2009, while discussing the military coup that had just occurred in Honduras, Rush Limbaugh semi-jokingly suggested that our own military leaders should follow suit, since Obama was “doing everything he could to ensure the defeat of the U.S. military,” later adding: “And if we had any good luck, Honduras would send some people here and help us get our government back.”

Limbaugh’s show is broadcast daily on Armed Services Radio.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Conversation With Cliff Schechter About the Minutemen, Immigration, and 'And Hell Followed With Her'

I thought you all might enjoy hearing the conversation Cliff Schechter and I had last week on Virtually Speaking, the popular web-based interview program from BlogTalkRadio, normally hosted by my old friend Jay Ackroyd. The conversation was all about the Minutemen, Shawna Forde, immigration, "border security", and all those subjects wrapped into my new book, And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border. 

I hope you find it enlightening and interesting. And if it's the kind of work you want to see continue, please help pitch in with my revival fundraiser.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Minutemen May Be Gone, But Small Militia Cells Linger in Arizona

Even though it has been more than three years since the national Minutemen organization based in Arizona, and run by movement cofounder Chris Simcox, shuttered its operations, there are still would-be vigilante militiamen out patrolling the Arizona desert on the lookout for illegal border crossers. And because they are smaller cells and increasingly radical, they are proving to be a real problem.

Most recently, one of these militiamen made headlines when he got into an armed confrontation with a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy. This was especially noteworthy, since Sheriff Joe Arpaio – a well-known nativist figure himself – made a point of denouncing the vigilantism of the border watchers.

The border-watch movement has significantly dropped in popularity in recent years, largely due to the murders of an Arivaca man and his 9-year-old daughter by movement leader Shawna Forde in 2009, as well as the lethal rampage of onetime border-watch organizer J.T. Ready in 2012, and capped off by Simcox's recent arrest on charges of child molestation.

Nonetheless, they have come creeping back along the fringes in the form of small cells that do not attempt to answer to a national movement and are freer to become much more radical than the Minutemen, who in contrast aspired to appear mainstream and often vowed to "weed out" criminals and extremists – though the cases of Shawna Forde (who, it emerged, had a long and prolific criminal record) and Chris Simcox (who had previously been accused of molesting a child but never charged) make clear that was never really the case.

The new border militias make similar vows, but also do not pretend to be a mere "neighborhood watch" calling in violations to the Border Patrol, as the Minutemen did. They are drawing down on people they confront in the desert, as the clash with the deputy demonstrated.

The militias are also raising the level of fear and concern among people who do humanitarian work along these borders. Juanita Molina of the Border Action Network in Tucson described for Hatewatch a milieu in certain areas of the border where deaths have been occurring amid harassment and vandalization by border militiamen.

Molina also volunteers for the humanitarian group Humane Borders, which puts out water stations in areas of the desert where migrants are crossing and the highest incidence of deaths – most of them related to dehydration – have been occurring.

"The issues with militias out in the desert itself are significant," Molina said. "Most recently there have been a series of deaths that have occurred in the Gila Bend area.  And although humanitarian groups and law enforcement are very concerned about that area and can see that there has been an increase in deaths, unfortunately, there has been such a severe problem with the militia that humanitarian groups and law enforcement have had concerns about patrolling and even entering certain areas of the desert."

Molina said that she and her workers encounter "everyday attitudes" among militia groups that are uniformly hostile and violent: "It's not uncommon for us to receive threats or to have our offices, our trucks, our water stations vandalized, stabbed, shot," she said. "We live with this violence every day."

A TV crew from KPHO-TV in Phoenix recently went out with one of these militia crews and filmed them in action in the desert, as well as at a recruitment gathering. The militiamen insisted on anonymity – dubbing themselves such monikers as "Reaper" and "Raptor" – but insisted they were only out to perform a public service.

"We're here to protect our community, first and foremost. Protect our state, second. And in doing so, that also means curbing the flow of drugs into our cities," the man dubbed Reaper told the reporters.

This militia is being operated by a former California Minuteman named Robert Crooks, who has since removed himself to Arizona. As did Simcox and his colleagues, Crooks insisted to the KPHO reporters that he "wants to change the way militias are viewed" and claimed he doesn't accept felons or racists. 

He also dismissed the confrontation between militiaman from his crew and the Maricopa County sheriff's deputy.

"In reality, it was just the fog of war," said Crooks, adding that he is trying to cut down on drug smuggling through the Vekol Valley. "I've been shot at 23 times in 24 months," he said.

The man dubbed "Reaper" also described for the reporters how the group allows for military contractors – a number of whom showed up for a recruitment meeting, including some on active duty – to participate without officially joining so that the contractors can get around government prohibitions against joining militias.

"So we have runarounds that will legally allow for membership without the membership," said Reaper. "So you'll pass your polygraph, and everyone can sleep at night."

Crooks, who goes by the nom de guerre "Little Dog," has a colorful history as a Minuteman. He got his start running border watches in the Campo, California area for movement cofounder Jim Gilchrist and his Minuteman Project. He was described (though misidentified as "Robert Cook") in a 2006 New York Times piece about vigilante border watchers.

The piece profiled a border watcher named Britt Craig, who appeared to be running a completely solo operation outside of Campo. This probably would not be exceptional, except that Craig refused to recognize the leadership of the Campo unit of Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project – namely, Robert Crooks, who so openly and aggressively insulted Craig on e-mails to his charges – calling him, among other things, "a swine who lives in a cat box" – that it eventually came to fisticuffs on the main street in Campo. Craig broke Crooks' glasses after the man refused to apologize for the insults.

Crooks had a falling out with Gilchrist a year later and formed his own outfit, calling it the Mountain Minutemen. Crooks sent Gilchrist a taunting e-mail, telling him he was a weakling who could "Talk the Talk" but not "Walk the Walk".

Attached was a video, shot through a night-vision scope, watching two or three men in the distance atop a hill, on the other side of a barbed-wire fence, surveying the ground. “All right, come on across, motherfuckers,” a man said quietly off camera. “Yeah, go that way. I dare you to go that way. That’s my fucking trail, bitch!” He keeps muttering for several minutes, calling his targets "cockroaches." Then he shouts out: “Hey putos [“faggots”], one, two, three!” – followed by the chambering sound of a shotgun shell, then a blast and a flash.

“This video shows how to keep a ‘Home Depot’ parking lot empty,” Crooks told Gilchrist. Gilchrist, whose Minuteman Project had earlier provided Crooks’ group with supplies, responded by banning Crooks from contact with his own group. When asked by reporters, Crooks denied being the shooter in the video.

A week later, a second video featuring the same night scope and the same shooter surfaced, and it was far more disturbing, because it purported to show the actual shooting of a border crosser with a backpack. Again, Crooks later admitted that the shooting was faked.

Cross-posted at Hatewatch. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Reviving Orcinus: The fundraiser

I just wanted to make a brief reminder that, while I'm busy reviving this blog, I'm also just scraping by and am in need of whatever support you, the readers, are willing to toss my way. So far the fund-raising has been a modest success (a million deep thanks to those who have contributed), and I'm still hoping to do better.

I've already written about why Orcinus is worthy of your financial support:

I should also simply add that it's rare for journalists to take on the far right because they are quite capable of making your personal life difficult. Moreover, they are some of the most unpleasant people on the planet, and dealing with them -- let alone reporting on them -- is unpleasant in the extreme. I've had a number of colleagues jump off this beat for exactly that reason.

And since mainstream journalism is in raw survival/pure corporate mode these days, there is almost no interest in maintaining reporters on a terrorism beat, especially not one that includes right-wing extremism.

There is a real need for this kind of coverage, unpleasant as it may be. And I am not chased off so easily, in the fearless spirit of the animal who adorns the blog. So I will be maintaining this little space for the foreseeable, just so people can know where to come look for it when they need it.

The people who support Orcinus can see that we need this coverage now -- especially as the Republican Party sinks further into the madness Amato and I wrote about in Over the Cliff. If you are so inclined, please help as much as you can.

P.S. Be sure to check out my interview with Claudia Shambaugh of Orange County's KUCI-FM last week, discussing And Hell Followed With Her.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Far Right Embraces Book That Rewrites Matthew Shepard Case

Right-wing pundits, radio hosts and bloggers are celebrating a brand new book purporting to demonstrate that Matthew Shepard’s brutal 1998 murder in Wyoming was not an anti-gay hate crime, but rather a simple drug-motivated crime fueled by crystal methamphetamine. The book is capped by the sensational, and utterly unproven, claim that Shepard had previously engaged in gay sex with his eventual murderer.

These are not new claims — the allegation that the murder was primarily drug-fueled was in fact aired during the trial of Shepard’s killers. Similarly, claims that the chief perpetrator, Aaron McKinney, had had sex with Shepard, had previously surfaced. But McKinney has angrily denied those claims, and they are based on nothing more than hearsay evidence from questionable witnesses.

The book’s central assertions, in fact, are both factually flawed and, at bottom, profoundly irrelevant. They are also essentially recycled.

Indeed, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard is the work of Stephen Jimenez, one of the producers of an ABC News “20/20” report in 2004 that was widely criticized by other journalists, gay-rights organizations and the Shepard family for its factual inaccuracies and distortions, as well as its clear bias. For instance, ABC News failed to reveal to its viewers that Jimenez was a longtime friend of the defense attorney for McKinney co-defendant Russell Henderson  who, when he pitched the story to ABC producers, had already reached his sensational conclusions — long before ABC’s reporters had begun doing actual investigative work.

A number of right-wing pundits have seized upon Jimenez’s book, which was just published on Sept. 24, to claim that the much of the justification for the nation’s anti-gay hate-crime laws — including the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009 — is little more than a fabric of lies. These pundits claim that the Shepard “mythology” has been used to fuel a “grievance industry” that is based on the supposedly false notion that hate crimes, in particular anti-LGBT hate crimes, are widespread.

Even before taking on that claim, it should be noted that regardless of the realities of the Shepard case and its many complexities, it was only a single if symbolically galvanizing case.

That said, the greater reality, denied by those who complain of a “grievance industry,” is that gay people are the most targeted minority in America for hate crime. According to a detailed analysis of FBI national hate crime statistics by the Southern Poverty Law Center, gay people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as black people or Jews, more than four times as likely as Muslims, and some 14 times as likely as Latinos.

Moreover, these FBI statistics have been well known for some time to vastly underreport the actual levels of hate crime for a variety of reasons. Recent studies by the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest that there are more than 250,000 hate crimes in America per year — not the 6,000 to 10,000 annual total that the FBI has reported since 1995. If those studies are correct, the real level of hate crimes in America is some 25 to 40 times higher than the numbers given in the FBI’s annual reports. Assuming that that also roughly applies to anti-LGBT hate crimes, of which there were about 1,100 reported by the FBI in its most recent report, then there may really be some 32,000 to 52,000 anti-LGBT hate crimes every year.

In any event, there are serious flaws with Jimenez’s attempt to rewrite the history around Matt Shepard’s murder now, just as there were 10 years ago with ABC News’ reportage. The most obvious is in the book’s central thesis — that anti-gay animus was not involved Shepard’s murder. Or, as U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) notoriously put it in 2009 in speaking out against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act: “[W]e know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. … [I]t’s really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

This conception of the nature of hate crimes is innately flawed. All bias crimes in fact are acts (including, say, robbery) which are already crimes but which are committed with a bias motive. More to the point, the presence of drugs as a factor doesn’t negate the concurrent presence of a bias motive.
Jimenez’s account omits central pieces of evidence which established clearly that it was no mere theory that McKinney had committed an anti-gay hate crime.

What we know, from multiple witness accounts at the trials, is this: Shepard, a 22-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was openly gay, and was somewhat flamboyant about it, at least by Laramie standards. Hanging out in a local bar the night of Oct. 6, he managed to attract the attention of two local rednecks, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were looking for someone to rob, and picked Shepard because he was gay. They told Shepard they too were gay and offered to give him a ride home in their pickup truck, and Shepard accepted.

McKinney later gave multiple, conflicting accounts of what happened that night. He told a police detective that Shepard had not made any advances toward him at the bar, but that Shepard put his hand on McKinney’s leg inside the pickup, at which point McKinney told him: “Guess what? We’re not gay. You’re gonna get jacked.” From prison, he wrote to a friend that he started beating Shepard in the car because of an even more naked advance: “When we got out to where he was living, I got ready to draw down on his ass, and all of the sudden he said he was gay and wanted a piece of me. While he was ‘comming out of the closet’ he grabbed my nuts and licked my ear!! Being a verry drunk homofobic [sic] I flipped out and began to pistol whip the fag with my gun, ready at hand.”

Later, at trial, McKinney attempted to claim that Shepard had in fact made an advance on him at the bar, whispering a sexual proposition into his ear and then licking his lips suggestively. The humiliation he felt at the advance, he claimed, spurred a violent rage that made him want to beat Shepard. (The judge, however, struck down this testimony.)

Whatever the sequence of events and motivations, the three men wound up southeast of town in a remote area. McKinney and Henderson robbed Shepard and tied him up with rope. As Shepard begged for his life, McKinney proceeded to beat him severely, ultimately pulling out a gun and pistol-whipping him about the head. They left him to die, in the freezing night air, leaned up against a wooden rail fence.

It was in that pose that two mountain bikers found him, some 12 hours later, at first thinking he was a “scarecrow” someone had propped up on the fence. (Their original description created a popular image of Shepard strung up on the fence like a crucified martyr, though in fact his arms were tied behind him and he was seated on the ground.) He was barely alive, and lingered for another five days at the Laramie hospital before he finally died of his injuries.

Jimenez’s books also substantially omits evidence that was produced at the time establishing McKinney’s bias motivation. And indeed, McKinney not only did not deny the existence of this bias, he positively embraced it at trial by attempting a “gay panic” defense – claiming that he had “freaked out” at Shepard’s sexual advances and beaten him to death in anger – that ultimately failed before the jury.

There’s more. The lead investigator in the case, a detective named Rob DeBree, has repudiated the crystal meth theory. Debree told Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder, that “the murder didn’t look like any meth crime” he had seen. Debree said the attempt by McKinney’s defense team to paint him as being under the influence of crystal meth had no evidence to support it: There was no evidence, he said, of recent drug use “found in the search of their residences. There was no evidence in the truck. From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been up to two to three weeks previous to that night. What the defense attempted to do was a bluff.”

As Luke Brinker at Media Matter observes, it isn’t difficult to discern the motives of the right-wing pundits eager to embrace this revisionist smear of Matthew Shepard: “It’s also an opportunity to assail the LGBT community’s campaign for equal rights and protection from violence and bigotry,” Brinker wrote.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation, responding to the latest attack on the memory of Matt Shepard, issued a brief response: “Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law. We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead we recommit ourselves to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Ranting Ex-Police Chief Hooks Up With Vicious Radio Host for Show

Former Police Chief Mark Kessler didn't take long to bounce back from his firing by the borough council of Gilberton, Pa., where city fathers finally had enough of his expletive-laced and conspiracy-riddled "Patriot" rants on video.

Kessler now has a radio show. And for audiences eager to lap up angry-foul-mouthed anti-liberal rants alongside a heaping helping of right-wing conspiracism, he has partnered for the enterprise with another far-right figure, radio host Pete Santilli.

Santilli's idea of civil discourse is very similar to Kessler's. Last May, Santilli told listeners that he wanted he wanted to "shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina" and then watch her slowly die afterward:
I want to shoot her right in the vagina and I don't want her to die right away; I want her to feel the pain and I want to look her in the eyes and I want to say, on behalf of all Americans that you've killed, on behalf of the Navy SEALS, the families of Navy SEAL Team Six who were involved in the fake hunt down of this Obama, Obama bin Laden thing, that whole fake scenario, because these Navy SEALS know the truth, they killed them all. On behalf of all of those people, I'm supporting our troops by saying we need to try, convict, and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Kessler announced the radio show on his website, saying the show would be broadcast Mondays and Fridays for one hour. Santilli's regular show runs daily.

Santilli's hate-filled rants are reminiscent of those of another of his radio guests, Ted Nugent, who once told an audience onstage, waving an assault rifle, that he wished Clinton would "ride one of these into the sunset."

They also reflect the same kind of rhetoric Kessler spewed at length in the videos that got him fired:
“F*ck all you libtards out there, as a matter of fact, read my shirt,” he says, turning around to show a message on his back which read, “Liberals take it in the a**.”

“You take it in the ass and I don’t give a f*ck what you say so you can all just go f*ck yourselves. Period. I wont be going to D.C. and I don’t give a f*ck. If you f*cking maniacs want to turn this into an armed revolt, knock yourselves out. I’m not about that, so see you on the other side.”
In the wake of his termination, Kessler has turned conspiratorial on his own website:
The real reason he was suspended was because elites in Washington D.C. demanded his JOB for videos depicting the Chief exercising his First & second amendment right! although the Videos are spicy the Chief violated no policy, broke no law, because the chief stood his ground and said no more, no more will he stand idle and watch as his country crumbles, for this the Chief was selectively persecuted by elected elites who only want to instill their will onto Americans despite what we the people say! so now Gilberton, officials sided with tyranny, abandoned the constitution & folded like a deck of cards.
Kessler, when contacted by SPLC reporter Ryan Lenz about his termination, insisted he would take legal action against the Gilberton town fathers. And then he launched into a vicious verbal assault on the SPLC and Lenz.

“Russia needs good people. Why don’t you get on a boat, and take your whole organization with you?” Kessler said. “You’re disgusting. You’re vile creatures. You don’t belong in this country.”

Cross-posted at Hatewatch.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why It's Important for Communities to Confront Nazis

(YouTube version here.)

It turns out that North Dakotans are more than happy to let neo-Nazis know they are not welcome to come in and take over their small towns.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in a North Dakota town on Sunday to speak out against plans by an American Nazi group to buy up property and take over the local government in an effort to build a bastion against diversity.

About 300 protesters, including some 200 Native Americans from nearby reservations, gathered outside the Leith City Hall where Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement presented his plans for turning the tiny North Dakota town  – population 24 – into a segregated place where whites can live among themselves. 

Native Americans in particular took an active role in  organizing the protests:

Various protest speakers took the mike and denounced the neo-Nazis peacefully, but emphatically. “We want the Nazis to know this is not a one day protest. We’ll be watching everything you do.” The protestors chanted, “No Nazis, no KKK!” A World War II Veteran said, “Let these creepy Nazi-Ku Klux people get out.” “Hey, hey! Ho ho! These Nazis have got to go!” the protesters chanted. “Our grandmothers will stand up to you! Our women will take you on!” one speaker said. “This is not your land. This is my land and you can go back home.” “On behalf of everybody here I’d like to say, go home.” “Go home, go home!” the crowd chanted.

Somewhat predictably, all this gets a mixed review from the hand-wringing conservatives at one of the leading North Dakota political blogs:

I admire what the folks at UnityND have done in organizing a social media and in-person response to the nazis, but in a way I think they’re helping those they oppose more than they like to realize.

I can’t help but feel as though the best response to the nazi “town hall” would have been no response at all.

It has to be cathartic to show up and scream at nazis. To call them names, mock their movement and denounce their bigoted ideology. I’ll bet that feels good, particularly for the large Native American contingent on hand who know a thing or two about racism, but what does it accomplish? Very little, as the right of these nazis to organize, hold meetings and purchase property is as sacrosanct as it is for any of the rest of us. Protesting isn’t going to stop them.

In fact, protesting gives them the one thing they need desperately from outside of their movement, and that’s attention.

These creeps live on the margins. Their ideas find few adherents. They have very little political and social clout. Except when they are given attention from outside of their movement.

They accomplish this by causing a stir. By doing and saying controversial things that fire up the public, and draw media attention.
Once upon a time -- when I was confronted with the decision on whether or not to devote news coverage to the activities of the neo-Nazi enclave known as the Aryan Nations -- I actually agreed with this.

And then I learned that following this advice -- ignoring the Nazis in the hope they will go away -- was a huge mistake. I have never forgotten it.

This was a debate with which I have become all too familiar over the years. I first dealt with it in the late 1970s, when I was the editor (something of a punk, at age 21) of the little daily in Sandpoint, Idaho, some 25 miles north of the new arrivals at Hayden Lake who called themselves the Aryan Nations.

I described some of my early encounters with the dilemma in Chapter 3 of In God's Country:
The letters all arrived the same way: neat, clean, carefully typed in all capitals. It was the neatness -- and the capitals -- that made them distinctive from many of the letters to the editor that crossed my desk at the Sandpoint Daily Bee. But after awhile, it was easy to recognize the correspondence from Robert Mathews.

The Bee was really a small-town paper; we only published five days a week and the paper itself was sometimes only ten or twelve pages thick. We didn't get all that many letters to the editor, so we treasured the few we got. You wrote a letter to us, it was probably going to get published.

Robert Mathews, though, was a little different story.

Mathews sent us letters regularly, one about every three or four weeks, from his home in Metaline Falls. This was actually out of the Bee's circulation area, and we knew he sent the same letters to our sister paper, the weekly Priest River Times, and its cross-river competitor, the Newport Miner. Since we preferred to publish letters from people who lived among our subscribers, we had an easy excuse not to run them.

There were better reasons, though. Almost inevitably, Mathews' missives were filled with anti-Semitic rants about the "Zionist Occupation Government" and the international banking conspiracy, at other times attacking "shiftless blacks" whose welfare burden was killing the nation with taxes. Yes, we welcomed an open debate on the pages of the Bee; but we felt like we had to draw a line when it came to spreading hate and falsehoods.

Most of Mathews' letters went directly to the "round file." Because he wrote so regularly, though, I looked for opportunities to reward his doggedness, deciding I would run the letters if they appeared free of racist or anti-Semitic references. This, however, never did occur.

Robert Mathews' letters were part of a disturbing tide of racial hate, and bizarre radical-right belief systems, that we had observed rising in the Northwest in the 1970s. The phenomenon was a puzzling one, especially for those of us in the newspaper business, because we were uncertain how to respond to it. Were we simply observing a few loud-mouthed ranters wishing to attract attention to themselves? And would covering them or allowing their hate to spew on our pages just give them the publicity, and the foothold, they sought? Would reporting on them just encourage them?

This was not the only context in which we discussed the Aryan Nations in our newsroom. We also discussed -- with the publisher/owner, Pete Thompson, in the mix -- whether or not we should even cover the activities at the compound, as well as some of the hateful material its followers trafficked in beyond even letters to the editor. And we decided not to. With our resources limited in the first place, it seemed as though giving their fringe fantasies about creating a "white Northwest" was not just a waste of space, but something that might actually help distribute those views and, worse yet, recruit fresh followers.

The moral of this story, of course, is that Robert Mathews was not just a typical writer of letters to the editor. Some four years later, he would organize a group of extremist revolutionaries who called themselves the Bruders Schweigen (Silent Brotherhood), more popularly known as The Order. By the time their yearlong crime spree was done, they ended up with an astonishing record of havoc in their wake: some twenty-odd bank robberies and armored-car stickups, including the largest take in an overland-carrier holdup in history ($3.6 million from a Wells Fargo armored car in Ukiah, Calif.); operating a large counterfeiting ring; and most notoriously, the assassination of Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg.

As I noted in the book, the Daily Bee changed its policies by the time it was all over. In his last week alive, Mathews penned a long letter and sent it to a few newspapers, including the little paper in Sandpoint. A few days later, he was cornered by the FBI on Whidbey Island and went out in a blaze of glory, remaining inside his cabin after an incendiary device was lobbed into it. The Bee finally ran that letter.

What that incident, and many subsequent cases, convinced me of was this: We can never let our guard down when it comes to fascists and fascism -- especially when it is the real thing. We dismiss them as inconsequential at our extreme peril.
It's not that the counterpoint is meritless:

There is, in fact, a real danger that giving liars like the Holocaust deniers and the neo-Nazis any kind of publicity at all will help them spread their poison and gain new followers. In fact, it's almost certain that this will happen to at least a minor extent. However, that problem is far outweighed by the extent to which the larger society can see this kind of activity for what it is. In this sense, the kind of reporting that's done is essential; if it's shallow reporting that resorts to a phony "balancing" act, then the more likely the extremists are to succeed; the more grounded and in-depth it is, the more likely you are to blunt any potential recruitment effect.

Worse, trying to create an information vacuum only leaves society even more vulnerable. Pretending they don't exist, for one thing, plays into extremists' own mythology, particularly the belief that the "mainstream media" don't "dare" to run their conspiracy theories because it's the "truth". It also means that the widespread opprobrium they should be hearing is absent. Haters love to believe they're carrying out what the rest of society really, secretly, wants, but no one dares say so because of "political correctness."
Haters and racists thrive in darkness, and they thrive on silence. They look for approval from whatever source they can muster. For them, silence equals tacit approval.

But paying attention to haters and, moreover, standing up to them requires both constant vigilance and a keen awareness of the dangers inherent in doing so. In my experience, the best response it to make a complete mockery of them, as a crowd of counter-protesters did several years ago in Olympia. (Talk about a bunch of guys going home with their heads down and their tails between their legs.)

The important thing, though, is for these communities to be able to stand up and say "Not In Our Town". And this time it was successful.