Monday, February 23, 2004

Family ties

Atrios mentions the just-announced criminal fraud investigation into Halliburton by none other than the Pentagon Inspector General's office.

Yes, that Pentagon Inspector General's office.

Regular readers will know that I've been trying to look into the activities of the Pentagon IG ever since it emerged last September that the office's new chief of staff was none other than L. Jean Lewis. Believe it or not, I'm still rooting around, a job not made easy by the need to do everything by phone; mostly, I've been trying to obtain more details about the case of the "Arlington Three," the trio of IG staffers purged in a classic Jean Lewis-style perversion of the whistleblowing system. As I noted later, Lewis in fact had a direct connection to that case.

There are other avenues worth exploring in the case of the Pentagon IG's office and how it's being operated. As I've mentioned, the "reforms" instituted by the IG since 2001 may well be a source of concern, since there is the potential for diminishing the independence of the office's auditors.

But while doing all this digging, I happened upon a little nugget of information that was, well ... striking. Not particularly meaningful, but certainly very interesting.

It has to do with the Inspector General himself, Joseph E. Schmitz.

By all accounts, Schmitz is a standup guy and a straight shooter. The Lewis hiring calls his probity into question, but other than that there has never been a hint of anything inappropriate in his career, which as you can see from his bio is fairly distinguished.

But his family history, you'll note, is fairly abbreviated in his official bio. That may be because Schmitz's family is very ... interesting.

You see, Joseph E. Schmitz is the son of John G. Schmitz, the former ultraconservative California congressman and onetime Independent Party presidential candidate, back in 1972. He was running, of course, because Nixon was "too liberal."

I actually met John Schmitz a couple of times, because he had an enthusiastic reception and nice voter base in southeastern Idaho (it was the Bircher connection), and he liked to fly into the airport where my dad worked, so I would mosey down and shake hands with the candidates who came in. (I also got to shake Gene McCarthy's hand once doing this.)

Schmitz was, in the parlance, a real piece of work. A complete maverick, he managed to even make Idaho's George Hansen look sane by comparison. As this gossipy but largely accurate piece about the career of Schmitz describes:
Schmitz found he had a great talent for garnering controversy merely by opening his mouth. He called the Watts riots a year later "a communist operation." In 1968 he said California Governor Ronald Reagan was unsuitable for President because Reagan had abandoned conservative principles. He said, "Jews are like everybody else, only more so." Schmitz was anti-immigrant, anti-women's lib, anti-communist, anti-black, anti-homo. He named his dog Kaiser and thought that giving a Hitler salute was a good joke.

Schmitz's national career was relatively short-lived, but he managed to win election to the California Senate in 1978 and continued to hold office until 1982, when his career melted down in a blaze of classic conservative hypocrisy:
[T]he man who saw conspiracies everywhere, who was an equal opportunity bigot, and who decried America's moral decrepitude, had, himself, a skeleton in the closet. It came to light in a curious way. An Orange County child abuse case in 1982 concerned a thirteen-month-old infant who was discovered with hair so tightly wound around his penis that the organ had nearly been severed. The baby was placed in protective custody, and the court demanded that the father step forward. It turned out to be none other than John G. Schmitz, now again a state Senator, paterfamilias of five children and, er, two others with his German mistress, once his student at Santa Ana. It marked the end of Schmitz's political career (although he did attempt to run for Congress once more). The charges against the mother were eventually dropped and the infant restored to her care. But it was never explained what was going on with the hair-wound penis. One historian has suggested that it was a "mysterious sex -- or probably anti-sex ritual -- as if a chastity device." Schmitz, feisty as ever, remarked, "I ought to get the Right to Life man-of-the-year award for this."

Schmitz was mostly identified with the John Birch style of ultraconservatism that eschewed anti-Semitism, but he nonetheless cultivated associations with far-right extremists. After he died, for instance, among those paying tribute were the Holocaust-denial organ Institute for Historical Review.

As you can see from the obituary for John Schmitz (who died in 2001), among his survivors is none other than his son, then-Capt. Joseph E. Schmitz. And if you read it carefully enough, you'll see that also among the survivors is his daughter, Mary Kay Letourneau.

Yes, that Mary Kay Letourneau.

Not that any of this proves, or really even suggests, much of anything about Joseph E. Schmitz and the operation of the Pentagon IG's office. Much has been written, in the wake of the Letourneau case, of the Schmitz family home environment. Yet many people have emerged from difficult early home life to become quite healthy and sane adults, and much to their credit. There's no reason to believe Joseph Schmitz hasn't done so, despite his sister's travails.

But it is, well, interesting. There's something not right about what's going on in the Pentagon IG's office, and you can't help but feel that it's all going to come out someday, unpleasantly. For me at least, this bit of information just adds to that queasy feeling.

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