I get letters
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Some letters really don't need any accompanying commentary. Like this one:
Your blog is entertaining, but your running, one sided debate is mostly with straw men of the kosher conservative variety. The real right doesn't take Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh seriously, and we know better than to use "exterminationist rhetoric." The real right is at Stormfront and VNN forum.
Anyway, I also wanted to address your whining at the fact that kosher kareer conservatives like Coulter and Limbaugh and Savage/Weiner are getting mean and using "exterminationist rhetoric." I agree that they are, but your side asked for it. Remember the early 90's? I was on a college campus back then, and I was a mere "kosher conservative" myself. I made the mistake of asking a professor why everyone was bashing Reagan so much. it was an honest question, and I was there to learn. The students, led by a Jewish kid, started literally screaming at me and calling me racist, Nazi, etc. What most surprised me was that the professor didn't enforce a standard of civility in the classroom, but permitted anarchy. After that it was a typical campaign of hate and bullying, calling me "nazi" in the halls. I could have easily beaten them up, I was an off campus Army reservist and athlete, but I didn't want to get kicked out of college. I was there to learn.
One of the things the Jewish kid would say to me was, "Why don't you go to your friends at Stormfront?" One day I said, "Fine, I will. I'll check them out!" I didn't even have a computer, so I used the one in the library. I went on Stormfront, and complained about my treatment at college, and complained about multiculturalism. What they said to me there was, "Multiculturalism and identity politics is not something to be mourned, but to be celebrated, becuase it means eventually white people will be allowed to have identity politics too. Ever wonder why there's a Hispanic club, a Jewish club, a Black club, an Asian club, a Gay club, but no White club?" Flawless logic, eh? To me it certainly is, and no one from your side has ever even tried to answer why white heteros are not permitted a group identity while gays and coloreds are allowed to have group identities and clubs based on their race and perversion.
So I thanked the Jewish kid for sending me to Stormfront, and I quit the College Republicans. I stopped wanting to be liked. And you know what? They backed off. THey stopped their catcalls and bullying behaviour, because they knew I was no longer restrained by "kosher konservativism." and that's the only way to deal with left wing bullying -- to say, "fine I'm a racist. Fine I'm a Nazi. I wish the Holocaust happened for real, because people like you deserver it." I really said that to him. And you know what? He and his little cat club of hat on backwards pussy boys didn't jump all over me. Nope, they backed off. I saw fear in their eyes after that What cowardly scum. Yep, that's how I learned to stop worrying about being called a racist and learned to love Hitler. You guys sowed the winds with bullying political correctness, now enjoy your whirlwind. From College Republican to Nazi in one semester. Oh, and I got several other people to go to Stomfront too, who were inspired by my courage and equally disgusted at TJB (typical Jewish behaviour).
I guess to sum it up, the Left are terrible salesmen . . . er . . salespeople, of their ideology. They are very mean and intolerant, and they have an exclusionary reflex towards anyone who disagrees in the slightest. So quick to censor, ban, bully, and ostracize. Thank God you're Stupid, is all we can say. (there's an essay out there called "Thank God They're Stupid" by Grant Bruer google it, he's as extreme as it gets, but very good writing) Cheers!
Nothing like a living, breathing example of how the transmission belt operates, is there?
Dumb and dumberest
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Mark Hyman, star of Sinclair Broadcasting, and host of "The Point" -- a two-minute commentary that is predictably a litany of conservative talking points, forcefed nightly to the 62 stations Sinclair owns -- will never, one hopes, be mistaken for one of the right's leading intellectual lights.
Media Matters directs us to some of Hyman's recent "points" in which he has begun attacking university professors. They included this:
- Hyman also claimed Michael R. Ball, professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin-Superior, "announced in a published paper that he discovered the common thread of hate groups: Christianity." Then Hyman quipped: "I'll make certain to mention this to all of the Christian suicide-bombers in the Middle East." In fact, Ball's 1996 paper focused specifically on American hate groups, and it did not identify Christianity in general as a motivation for hate. Rather, Ball identified a particular ideology, "Christian Identity" -- a distinct and extremist ideology that has little to do with mainstream Christianity -- as one of several "common threads" among the groups he studied. Here's the key excerpt from Ball's paper:
- Although each hate group had its specific emphasis, we found common threads of ideology which were woven through all. (note 7) These included Christian Identity or similar religious beliefs, white separatism as a part of the "natural order," religious justifications for violence, the "right to keep and bear arms," opposition to political "liberalism" in any form, strict separation of male and female roles, opposition to Affirmative Action, welfare, or other "governmental meddling."
Space limits me from explaining each of these in depth, although I would like to briefly discuss Christian Identity because of its centrality and its pervasiveness among racist groups.
Christian Identity (note 8) is a modern version of the "British Israelism" espoused by Henry Ford and others in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (note 9) This belief holds that in the beginning, God created the "beast of the field," including many resembling humans. These beasts (referred to as "mud people," or "mud races") were not human, lacking a soul. Finally, God created the "Adamic (white) race" and instilled its members with souls. ... British Israelism held that members of "the British race" were the true Israelites, while current Christian Identity believes that the true Israelites are members of any of the ten "Aryan nations" including the major countries of western Europe, the United States, and Canada. In their view, whenever the Bible speaks of conflicts, war and evil, it is in reference to maintaining their "race" from contamination or annihilation.
Funny thing. I'm sometimes accused of blurring the lines between mainstream conservatives and extremists. But that's exactly what Hyman does. Either he's a blunderer of the first order, or he's an extremist mole.
So, just so there's no confusion: Christian Identity has nothing to do with mainstream Christianity. It is an extremist racial belief system that adopts the guise of Christianity but has practices and beliefs that are not part of any traditional mainstream church. Most of their beliefs, in fact, constitute heresies for many faiths.
I'm hoping this was just a really dumb mistake. Because if it wasn't, and Hyman wanted us to think that Identity was just another kind of Christianity, well ... that's a problem.
Projection: Not just for theaters
Those mighty morphin' power rangers at Powerline continue to flail away at Jimmy Carter, criticizing him for behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Soviets that would enhance his chances at the polls in 1979. In the process, they prove once again that the Republican right is remarkably prone (as Richard Hofstadter might have predicted) to projecting their own traits onto their opponents:
- Conspiring with our chief enemy to try to influence an American Presidential election: We could have called that treason, but we didn't. You can form your own opinion.
Apparently, the fellows at Powerline have never heard of the "October Surprise" plot of 1979, parts of which I detailed here:
- Here are the relevant excerpts from Gary Sick's definitive text on the case, October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan (Random House, 1991), pp. 116-123:
- One of the most mystifying events of the entire election year took place in late September or early October 1980. The basic facts are not in dispute. [Future National Security Adviser] Richard Allen, together with Robert McFarlane and Laurence Silberman, met at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., with a Middle Easterner who offered to arrange the release of the American hostages directly to the Republicans. Beyond that rudimentary description, however, there is nothing but disagreement. Even people who admit attending the same meeting cannot agree on exact dates, times, or places.
... Allen has said that he was initially contacted by Robert McFarlane, then a senior aide to Senator John Tower of Texas. Tower was a longtime friend of vice-presidential candidate George Bush and he was at that time the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McFarlane, a retired Marine Corps colonel, had been the executive assistant of the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and he was a strong supporter of the Reagan presidential candidacy.
... According to Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane, they had a relatively brief meeting in late September with a man who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin. This man, who claimed to be in contact with representatives of the Iranian government, made a presentation in which he offered to arrange the release of the American hostages directly to the Republican campaign. This offer was rejected out of hand, according to the three American participants, and the meeting was terminated abruptly. Allen and Silberman later insisted that the man made no mention of military equipment or the possibility of an arms-for-hostages swap.
... Silberman said he told the man his offer was totally unacceptable since "We have one President at a time."
However, as Sick goes on to detail, there are numerous problems with their account.
The unidentified Middle Easterner likely was a self-described international arms merchant name Hushang Lavi, who claimed that he was the man at the meeting. He says Lavi fits the physical description the Americans gave, and he furthermore had substantial evidence of being involved in the meeting (some of which actually surfaced independently through a third party after his death). Lavi claimed that he represented two officials of the Iranian government, and was offering the hostages in exchange for a pledge of F-14 parts -- the same parts, you may recall, that played such a key role in the Iran-Contra scandal. But Sick reports that Lavi claimed the refusal was not the noble one described by Larry Silberman:
- According to Lavi, his offer was rejected, but his recollection differed from those of the Americans. Lavi said the three Americans refused his offer on the grounds that they were "in touch with the Iranians themselves" and did not need his assistance. Both Allen and Silberman later insisted adamantly in interviews that the man they met was not Lavi.
Much of Sick's book, in fact, details that Lavi's characterization was substantially the case -- that is, the Reagan camp in fact was in close contact with other Iranians who controlled the hostages and were capable of releasing them.
The source for one of the key pieces of substantiation for Lavi's participation in the meeting was Ari Ben-Menashe, who had been a top agent and official in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad from 1977 to 1987, and was directly involved in Iranian affairs. Ben-Menashe later went on to write a book detailing some of the key aspects of the October Surprise affair in a book titled Profits of War, which was dismissed as fantasy by American and Israeli officials, but whose chief components were later substantially corroborated.
According to Sick, Ben-Menashe largely confirmed Lavi's participation, but with a twist:
- According to Ben-Menashe, the L'Enfant Plaza meeting was the result of an effort by Israeli intelligence to hasten the end of the hostage crisis.
The Israelis, Ben-Menashe said, were becoming increasingly uncomfortable about their involvement in U.S. domestic politics resulting from the Casey-Karubbi meetings in Madrid. ... So they attempted, without success, to short-circuit the entire problem by arranging a swap that would put an end to hostage issue before the election. Lavi, he said, was working for Israel when he helped to set up the L'Enfant Plaza meeting.
Ben-Menashe said that he traveled to the United States in late September 1980 with Dr. Ahmed Omshei, a former professor at Tehran University and a consultant to General Fakuri, the Iranian minister of defense. It was Omshei, according to Ben-Menashe, who met with Allen, McFarlane, and Silberman at the L'Enfant Plaza as an unofficial representative of the Iranian government. Ben-Menashe claims that there was not one meeting but two, and that he was present at one of them. Lavi, he said, was involved in making the arrangements and was briefed on the discussions, but he did not actually participate in the meetings. Ben-Menashe agrees that the meetings did not result in any action related to the hostages, but he believes the offer was considered seriously by others in the campaign, at least for several days, before it was rejected.
As Sick goes on to detail, Hushang Lavi later approached officials from the independent third-party candidacy of John Anderson with an identical offer. And this offer was immediately reported to officials at the Carter administration, which was of course the proper and correct course for any patriotic American. Not so the Reaganites, as Sick explains:
- Whoever the man was who met the Americans at the L'Enfant Plaza, and regardless of the nature of his offer -- whether an arms-for-hostages swap or simply a misguided attempt to intervene in the U.S. election -- it should have been reported to the administration. Here was a man who claimed to be in contact with representatives of Khomeini and who was offering to arrange a prompt release of the hostages. The very fact that such an offer was being made while negotiations were under way with Tehran was relevant to the negotiations. Perhaps this offer was a hoax. Perhaps he had his own political agenda. Perhaps his scheme had only a two percent change of success. No matter.
The correct response to such an offer is not to declare, "We have only one President at a time," as Silberman and Allen have claimed repeatedly, and then to walk away. The correct response is, "I'm sorry but you have come to the wrong address. Let me direct you to the proper authorities." ...
Silberman, years later, argued that "such a report could have been leaked during the campaign" to embarrass the Reagan-Bush campaign in a "reverse twist." That argument may accurately reflect the suspicious state of mind that existed within the Reagan-Bush campaign. At a minimum, it suggests that short-term tactical political advantage outweighed the possibility, however slight, that the man actually may have had useful contacts with the Khomeini regime, as he claimed.
And as Sick explains in detail, it was clear that the Carter administration would not in fact have done as Silberman suspected -- because it had the ability to do just that with the Anderson campaign, and did not do so.
What Carter was doing with the Russians in the 1979 was basic tit-for-tat diplomatic backscratching, the kind that occurred all the time during the Cold War: If you ease up on a problem policy that helps us win election, we'll reciprocate.
What the Reagan campaign team did was, in fact, negotiate with factions responsible for holding American citizens hostage in such a way that would ensure they were not released until later. We could have called that treason, but didn't. But you know, maybe we should have.
What's especially noteworthy about all this is that this issue is hardly a dead letter -- unlike the matter of Jimmy Carter, who has not held office as a Democrat for 24 years now.
Note that the person under discussion in the above link to the October Surprise matter is none other than Laurence Silberman -- chairman of George Bush's "independent" commission to investigate the intelligence failures that brought about the 9/11 attacks. Silberman, according to the Washington Post, was one of the leading candidates to become Bush's "intelligence czar" -- until, that is, he decided to name the even more execrable John Negroponte.
Liberals equal terrorists
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Via Atrios, I see that those icons of the right-wing blogosphere, Powerline, have penned the following remarks about a better American than they, in response to his apparently wrong prediction about the prospects for the Iraqi election:
- Jimmy Carter isn't just misguided or ill-informed. He's on the other side.
To which Matt Yglesias responds:
- Jimmy Carter left office as one of the least-loved presidents ever, and you'd still be hard-pressed to find a liberal who'll mount a really full-throated defense of his tenure in office. But on the other side? Not some academic or blogger or activist type, but a veteran of the United States military and a former President of the United States. On the other side. A traitor. These are serious allegations, seriously demented.
I don't think it's at all unreasonable to say that Hindrocket owes Carter a serious apology. Flinging this sort of totally unsubstantiated allegation is disgusting and utterly destructive of any effort to have serious debate about anything. Is Jimmy Carter really in league with the jihadist forces responsible for the murder of thousands of Americas? Is this what Power Line's fans and those who link to them believe? That a jihadist agent managed to get himself elected president? That an ex-president turned traitor?
Ah, but Matt: Being Republican means never saying you're sorry, whether you have to or not. You should know that by now.
But this is just par for the course for Powerline. Accusing liberals generically of being not merely traitorous in inclination, but in fact actually, knowingly aligned with radical Islamists is a stock in trade line of argument for these guys.
See, for instance, this earlier Powerline post:
- We have often commented on how many leftists have seamlessly taken up the cause of Islamic fascism--a movement that superficially seems to have little in common with Marxism or other forms of Western socialism. The alliance between the Western left and Islamism suggests that Western radicalism was always mostly about hating the West in general, and especially, America.
Regular readers know that this "traitor talk" has long been a topic of this blog, and I've posted at length on many occasions about how it marks a real rise in latent far-right impulses. Still, Digby had one of the more insightful discussions of the problem the other day, bouncing off a similarly trenchant post by Ted Barlow. Both are worthy contributions.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Old haters never die. They just reinvent themselves.
I'll be on the radio in Seattle later today, on Dave Ross's KIRO-AM drive-time talk show, at 5 p.m., discussing this case:
- White supremacist charged with selling machine guns
SEATTLE -- Federal agents arrested three men on gun and explosives charges Tuesday morning, including a white supremacist who once served time for plotting to kill Martin Luther King Jr.
Keith Gilbert, 65 - who also gained notoriety for spitting on a mentally retarded black girl in the mid-1980s - was taken into custody at his home in Seattle's University District, FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs said. His associate, William D. Heinrich, 50, was arrested at a nearby home.
They were scheduled to make their first appearance at U.S. District Court Tuesday afternoon, along with a third Seattle man, John P. Hejna, 44, who was arrested at the home of relatives in Grays Harbor County.
A federal court complaint unsealed Tuesday said Gilbert, a former follower of late Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler who later became Butler's rival in the supremacy movement, sold fully automatic AK-47 machine guns and other weapons to a confidential informant working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the past two years. Gilbert, who has criminal convictions for assault, distributing drugs and receiving stolen property dating to 1966, was charged in the complaint with being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a machine gun and possession of an unregistered gun.
The story goes on to cite my book, In God's Country, which includes a couple of brief sections on Gilbert's activities in Idaho. Here's the text of the passages on pp. 52-53:
- Then there were the Minutemen. Not only did they preach a more rabid style of anti-Communist paranoia than the Birch Society, their activities also manifested, for the first time, the violent undercurrent of these beliefs.
Led by a Missouri man named Robert DePugh, the Minutemen not only believed that government had been infiltrated at its highest levels by Communists, but that a Communist takeover was virtually inevitable; therefore, they told their believers, you should arm yourselves with whatever weaponry would be effective as a counterforce to strike back when the takeover occurred. DePugh, a onetime associate of Robert Welch before DePugh was dropped from the John Birch Society, also told his followers to harass "the enemy," and compiled at his headquarters a list of 1,500 people he identified as members of the "Communist hidden government," with the intent to assassinate them in the event of the Communist coup.
The Minutemen soon became associated with groups like Wesley Swift's Church of Jesus Christ Christian, a Christian Identity church located in Hollywood. Swift preached the "two-seed" brand of Identity, holding that not only are white people are the true Israelites and descendants of Adam, but that blacks, Asians, and other non-whites thus are "pre-Adamic" people without souls, and Jews are either descendants of Satan himself (the offspring of conjugal relations with Eve) or practitioners of a Satanic religion. Among Swift's more notable adherents: retired Col. William Potter Gale, a former MacArthur aide who eventually became a key figure in Posse Comitatus; and a quiet-spoken Lockheed engineer named Richard Girnt Butler.
Also in attendance at Swift's Sunday services was Keith Gilbert, a gunshop owner who also was a Minutemen member. Gilbert was arrested in 1965 and convicted for the theft of 1,400 pounds of TNT that he later said was part of a plot to plant a bomb under the stage of the Hollywood Palladium during an Anti-Defamation League convention, and to detonate it during the keynote speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- a plot only disrupted by his arrest.
And from pp. 54-55:
- After Minuteman (and would-be Martin Luther King assassin) Keith Gilbert finished five years of his prison term at Alcatraz in 1970, he moved to northern Idaho, where one of his acquaintances from Wesley Swift's church lived; with his friend's help, he set up a retail shop called AR-YA Electronics. He scandalized the locals by driving about in a swastika-enscribed Volkswagen van. [Note: This was slightly incorrect. It was actually a Volkswagen "Thing."]
Gilbert's old acquaintance at Wesley Swift's Hollywood church, Richard Butler, had meanwhile taken over the reins of the congregation following Swift's death in 1971. Butler, on a visit to northern Idaho in the early '70s, decided it was time to fulfill his dream of creating an all-white "Aryan Homeland," and the Northwest was where he wanted to do it. In 1974, he purchased a 20-acre tract surrounded by forest near Hayden Lake and proceeded to move the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian from Hollywood to Idaho. Along the gravel roadway leading to the compound he built, Butler erected a sign bearing the group’s crest and the words designating the church's new home: "Aryan Nations."
Gilbert quickly became a high-profile member of the Aryan Nations. But Gilbert apparently always suspected Butler of selling him out on his 1965 arrest; the tension erupted in 1977 with a public falling-out between the two, punctuated by Gilbert accusing Butler of a lack of will in confronting the "Zionist Occupation Government," and Butler accusing Gilbert of being a welfare cheat (correctly; Gilbert had done another short prison stint for welfare fraud since coming to Idaho). Gilbert promptly started up his own organization, the Socialist Nationalist Aryan People's Party, and started handing out flyers. Among them: "Hitler was Elijah," a two-page handout that expounded on the Nazi leader's place in history as a Biblical prophet. Still other flyers were examples of the white supremacists' idea of humor.
It seemed as though nearly everyone in the Panhandle saw these flyers, and they left a vivid impression. I received one in the mail at the Sandpoint Daily Bee. It was an "Official Running Nigger Target," a shooting-range-style silhouette target of a sprinting black man, replete with huge Afro and monstrous lips. The highest score listed on the target was on its feet, implying that the figure could take a shot in the head and keep going. Eventually, Gilbert confessed to distributing the posters.
Gilbert also made an appearance in my second book, Death on the Fourth of July, because Gilbert also played a key role in bringing about passage Idaho's hate-crime law, one of the first such laws in the nation. (I also excerpted this portion in this post.)
- The threats and intimidation came to a head in September 1982, thanks largely to one of the more troublesome hooligans attracted to northern Idaho by Butler’s church: an ex-convict named Keith Gilbert. He had moved to the region after doing time at California's San Quentin prison for having 1,500 pounds of dynamite at his Glendale home, which he later claimed was intended to assassinate Martin Luther King at a 1965 appearance in Los Angeles. Gilbert had been a follower of Butler’s in California, but shortly after moving to Idaho they had a dispute, and Gilbert attempted to set up his own white-supremacist organization. Gilbert, who later admitted responsibility for distributing the "running nigger" targets, then began his own campaign of threats and intimidation.
His chief target was a Coeur d'Alene family headed by a white woman named Connie Fort who had been married for several years to a black man and had three mixed-race children. Gilbert began by walking up to the eldest boy and spitting on him, saying: "Your life is condemned. You shall be served in front of the devil." Having discovered where Fort's family lived, Gilbert began driving by the home and shouting threats and obscenities at the children. He mailed an envelope containing a death threat for "race traitors" who engaged in "miscegenation." Another mailing contained a news clipping about the corpse of a black man found floating in Spirit Lake, shot through the head.
Police were initially hesitant to charge Gilbert, partly because Idaho law made racial slander only a misdemeanor. But as the threats escalated, he eventually was charged and convicted of misdemeanor assault, and fined $300 with a 45-day jail sentence. Gilbert merely laughed it off.
The rest of the community, however, did not. Local churches circulated petitions in support of Connie Fort's family and managed to gather hundreds of signatures. And Fort herself decided that something had to be done about the failure of Idaho law to adequately address this kind of hateful harassment. The previous year, a coalition of church leaders, city and law-enforcement officials, and businessmen from throughout the county had already formed, calling itself the Kootenai County Human Relations Task Force. As Fort's story gained publicity in the local press, the KCHRTF took up the task of gaining public support for changing the law. It organized town-hall meetings to discuss the issue, and found that its support was deep and broad; at a panel discussion set up by the Idaho Human Rights Commission in 1982, other participants included the Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union, and law-enforcement officers.
Out of those discussions, the Human Rights Commission composed legislation -- similar to a law just passed in Washington state, also largely in response to the activities emanating from the Aryan Nations -- that would make it a felony to intimidate or harass another person because of their race or religion, either with physical assault or with threatening words. The bill was introduced in the Idaho Legislature's 1983 with considerable fanfare, and its advocates claimed the support of over a hundred voluntary organizations in the state that supported its passage.
However, the bill encountered considerable opposition among legislators from the state’s notoriously conservative southern half. Many voiced concern that the law would trample on constitutional rights to religious freedom and free speech. Others accused the sponsors of secretly supporting the United Nations genocide convention. Richard Butler testified against it: "This bill would take away sovereign, inalienable rights of white Christians," he told legislators.
The tide slowly turned in the bill's favor, however, as the breadth of support for it became apparent. Kootenai County Prosecutor Glen Walker -- a conservative Republican -- traveled to Boise and patiently explained to lawmakers why the law was needed, particularly as a tool for dealing with a kind of crime they all recognized had deeply corrosive consequences for their community. Walker also shepherded several compromises to the legislation, including a clause that would specify it was not intended to imply support for the United Nations.
The coup de grace, however, was delivered by Keith Gilbert himself. He created a phony "Anti Defamation League" lobby, concocted a letterhead and a nonexistent leader named "Rabbi Schechter," and sent letters to all members of the Legislature under "Schechter's" signature voicing full support for the bill. Gilbert assumed that such "Jewish" support would inspire legislators to oppose the measure -- but his ruse was discovered and publicized instead. Angered by his brazenness, legislators rushed to support the bill, and it wound up passing handily.
Since those days, Gilbert moved to Seattle and ceased the high-profile activism on behalf of white supremacism. Instead, as this article by Nina Shapiro described in detail in the Seattle Weekly a few years ago, Gilbert has been in the employ of two of Seattle's most notorious landlords, Hugh and Drake Sisley. He's been working as a thuggish enforcer for them:
- To say that Keith Gilbert has a shady past is something of an understatement. In the 1980s, when he lived in Idaho, he was convicted of 35 counts of welfare fraud and state-income-tax evasion. While he was lying to the government, according to court documents, Gilbert was also whipping up hate as a member of the Aryan Nation, which he left to form his own white supremacist organization. He had a particular objection to an adoption agency that sometimes placed minority kids with white parents. In July 1982, he almost ran down a black adopted child--one of several incidents that earned him a federal conviction for violating the Fair Housing Act.
It is best to keep Gilbert's record in mind when you hear him declare that he's not a property manager for brothers Hugh and Drake Sisley, as is widely believed, but an agent for a nonprofit, religious "residents' club." And his ties to the far right, which he denies, make sense in light of his tendency to use lawsuits, the way the militia use liens, as a form of harassment--employed, in Gilbert's case, against tenants and city officials who give him problems. In the words of one city official, Gilbert and the Sisleys like to "run roughshod over people constantly."
... Then, when it comes to the Sisleys, there's also the intimidation factor. The brothers--particularly Hugh--tend to strike back at anyone who challenges them, be they tenants, attorneys, or city officials. Clay Thompson, a DCLU inspector, recalls his first dealing with Hugh Sisley some eight years ago when he came out to one property to find that Sisley had dug up a sewer line, leaving a rank open pit. Thompson issued an emergency violation order to fill the pit. "The next thing I know, I'm being sued for trespassing and violating the rights of tenants," he says. In the years that followed, he says, "It seemed that every time I issued a notice of violation, along would come a lawsuit." None have yet been successful, but they have been what Thompson calls a "nuisance"; even frivolous lawsuits gobble up time and money.
Gilbert, who has elevated the lawsuit-as-harassment to a high art, has proven enormously ingenious at flouting landlord-tenant law. In 1994, the 59-year-old former convict registered incorporation records with the secretary of state for "Acme Residents Club," described in its charter as an organization devoted to "providing services which include but are not limited to decent and affordable housing."
A portly man with a fuzzy gray beard and long ponytail who walks with a cane, Gilbert takes a reasonable tone as he gives a tour of some Acme buildings. (He claims he can't recall how many there are.) "These houses are in deplorable condition," he concedes after unabashedly showing off cracked floors, moldy ceilings, and grease-covered walls. But he portrays himself as trying to clean up buildings that were in even worse shape before Acme took them over; many, he says, are former drug houses. "Whatever money we get, we put back into the buildings."
He also says that Acme is trying to help its residents--many of whom are disabled, prison parolees, or former alcohol and drug addicts. "We function a little like how Oxford House works," he says, referring to the national chain of group homes for former addicts. The people who live in his house, therefore, are "members" or "guests" (not tenants) who pay a "membership fee" (not rent) that allows them to live in an Acme building. As for the religious component, Gilbert says it is nondenominational. "We advocate that people have faith," he says.
Some tenants do feel that, with his willingness to shelter all comers, Gilbert has done them a service. One woman released last month from prison says that Gilbert (and several people who work with him) took her in when few others would. "Knowing the position I was in, for them to reach out and help me means a great deal." Gilbert also let her hold off on paying rent until she got her first paycheck from a new job.
On the other hand, she continues, "they do need to put a little more work into the buildings. In a way I feel like they're taking advantage of people who can't complain and who have nowhere else to go. They can also raise the rent. My room is half the size of other rooms in the house, and my rent [at $350] is $50 to $70 more."
What's more, Gilbert apparently feels that if you're a "guest," you can be evicted at will, you cannot give permission for housing inspectors to enter the property, and you have no right to expect such amenities as a lock on your door--or even a door at all.
A lawsuit in federal court ties together several such cases. Twice, according to his own legal pleadings, Gilbert locked out people that city officials considered to be tenants. And Gilbert once removed what DCLU called the entry door to an apartment (Gilbert says it was a door to an interior passageway), ostensibly to paint the door jamb.
An array of city officials sanctioned him for such behavior: Prosecutors charged him with "harassing or retaliating against a tenant" for one lock-out; DCLU issued an emergency order to replace the missing door.
Gilbert's response in November 1994 was to file a federal lawsuit. Representing himself, as is his custom, he named seemingly everyone he could think of, including City Attorney Mark Sidran, the entire City Council, several DCLU inspectors, and a police officer. The charge: racketeering. By his reasoning, the conspiracy against him violated his right "not be made a real estate property owner against his wishes because such property ownership would violate the beliefs of the plaintiff which prohibit such property ownership." He says he is a "Nazarite," an archaic term used once by ancient Christians and Hebrews.
Gilbert also says that he is too poor to afford legal filing fees, that he is disabled with chronic bronchitis, that he is both black and Cajun. Indeed, in the federal suit and elsewhere, he claims racial discrimination by city officials.
The court ultimately proved unimpressed with Gilbert's claims. In two separate recommendations to the court considering motions to dismiss the case, US Magistrate Judge Philip Sweigert attacked Gilbert's credibility. At one point taking up Gilbert's claim to be both black and Cajun, Sweigert noted that Cajuns are descendants of the Acadians, mostly French immigrants who settled in Louisiana. "It goes without saying that the Acadians were white," Sweigert wrote. More important, he concluded, "It appears that the purpose of this incorporation [of Acme Residents Club] as a fraternal organization is to avoid the application of landlord-tenant laws."
I'm not a big fan of "three strikes"-type laws, but if ever they were needed, it would be for cases like Keith Gilbert.
I'm pleased to announce that my next book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, can now be pre-ordered at Amazon.com, or wherever fine books are sold. (I get a little cut of the Amazon sales made through this site.)
I'm really quite pleased to finally reach the closing stages of publication for this book, because I really began work on gathering material for it back in 1991, and have been steadily gathering more over the ensuing years.
Here's the publisher's description of it:
- Strawberry Days tells the vivid and moving tale of the creation and destruction of a Japanese immigrant community. Before World War II, Bellevue, the now-booming "edge city" on the outskirts of Seattle, was a prosperous farm town renowned for its strawberries. Many of its farmers were recent Japanese immigrants who, despite being rejected by white society, were able to make a living cultivating the rich soil. Yet the lives they created for themselves through years of hard work vanished almost instantly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. David Neiwert combines compelling story-telling with first-hand interviews and newly uncovered documents to weave together the history of this community and the racist schemes that prevented the immigrants from reclaiming their land after the war. Ultimately, Strawberry Days represents more than one community’s story, reminding us that bigotry's roots are deeply entwined in the very fiber of American society.
It's supposed to hit the shelves the first week of June. I'll keep everyone posted.
Spreading the virus
I think, thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is now clearer to everyone that the Washington Times not only dallies with racists, it is, at its core (as Atrios suggests), a racist propaganda organ, being led from the top by neo-Confederates and similar kinds of right-wing extremists, its staff similarly riddled with the like-minded.
As if to erase any doubts remaining in the wake of the SPLC's devastating report, the Times recently ran a "special report" warning that immigrants were also bringing with them a fresh tide of "imported diseases":
- In addition to a list of imported diseases that includes tuberculosis, sickle cell anemia, hepatitis B, measles and the potentially deadly parasitic disease Chagas, officials fear what could happen if the avian flu, which is flourishing among poultry in Southeast Asia, mutates so that it is capable of human-to-human transmission through casual contact.
So, why include sickle-cell anemia in this laundry list of otherwise contagious diseases, other than that we already know that it is associated with nonwhites? As the Mayo Clinic explains:
- Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, inherited blood disease. People who have the disease usually receive the diagnosis as infants. The disease causes red blood cells to change from healthy, round red blood cells to sickly and crescent-shaped ones. The disorder causes anemia and pain, among other problems.
Another site explains further:
- Sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait are not contagious. They are passed genetically from parents to their children.
What's especially worth noting is how the Times piece won the rapid endorsement of supposed "mainstream" conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who proceeded to post on "contagious and other diseases". As the Liberal Avenger puts it:
- We know that sickle cell anemia isn't "contagious," nor is it an indicator that the carrier is poor, dirty, has poor hygiene, has a poor diet, etc. It is a genetic disease that indicates only ancestry in a region plagued by malaria. It does not, Malkin-defenders, mean that they have malaria.
Given that this undesirable condition is genetic, what then might we change in our immigration policy to weed out immigrants carrying this undesirable trait? The only choice is genetic testing. Does that sound right? We should subject immigrants to testing to see if they carry the sickle cell anemia trait and then what -- deny them entry to the country if they do?
Would this brave new policy extend to immigrants who are already in this country? Should we start testing retroactively?
Malkin also makes a note that "Canada has a problem too".
Well, yes, it does. But as it happens -- contrary to the shrill information contained at the link to which she directs her readers -- according to Canadian health officials, the highest-risk groups in Canada for tuberculosis today are not Asians, but First Nation people, that is, Inuits and Indians. Should we begin deporting them as well?
The site to which Michelle directs us, Canada First, is a virulently anti-immigrant organization that commonly refers to immigrants in derogatory terms and using degrading stereotypes, with links to reports on cockroaches in Chinese restaurants and the like. Indeed, the anti-Asian bigotry at Canada First is barely concealed; odd that the daughter of Asian immigrants would find their views worth citing.
All this has a familiar ring to students of American history. The very same kind of associations -- equating immigrants with pestilence -- were part and parcel of previous nativist outbreaks in the United States, particularly those in which the targets were Asians. Here's an excerpt from Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer's The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1991, University of Illinois Press), pp. 37-38:
- In addition to the stench, filth, crowding, and general dilapidation with which Chinatown was accused of afflicting the community, another serious charge was made that the Chinese were introducing foreign diseases among the whites. For instance, it was claimed by both civil and medical authorities that Chinese men and women were afflicted with venereal disease to an uncommon degree. The Chinese prostitutes were accused of luring young boys into their houses and of infecting them with the disease. A medical journal charged that the blood stream of the Anglo-Saxon population was being poisoned through the American men who, "by thousands nightly," visited these resorts. A cause of rather frequent concern to the officials were outbreaks of smallpox. The Chinese were suspected as the source of the disease, since cases appeared among them while they were still on shipboard. They were condemned especially for not reporting their cases of the disease. "It [Chinatown] is almost invariably the seed-bed of smallpox, whence the scourge is sent abroad into the city.
The most exciting charge under this head, however, was that the Chinese were introducing leprosy into California. The very strangeness of the disease made this charge all the more ominous. It was claimed that wherever Chinese coolies had gone leprosy had developed, and that purchasers of Chinese goods were likely to contract the disease. Dr. Charles C. O'Donnell, a politically minded physician, discovered a case in a Chinese warehouse, placed him in an express wagon and drove through the streets, haranguing the crowds on the street corners concerning the dangers to which the community was being exposed. The contention of some physicians that it was not real leprosy but rather a "sporadic case of elephantitis" did not help matters a great deal. During a period of less than ten years the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco arranged for the deportation of forty-eight cases.
The same kind of charges of being spreaders of disease appeared early in the campaign against Japanese immigrants, at the turn of the century, as I describe in my forthcoming book, Strawberry Days : How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community [see above]. This is from Chapter 1:
- All along the Pacific Coast, rumors were running rampant that the Chinese Exclusion Act, up for renewal in 1902, was going to be undermined or done away with completely by insidious legislative forces from the East Coast. Combined with continuing alarms over the arrival of Japanese, sentiments were ripe for a resurgence in anti-Asian fearmongering. Leaping onto that particular stage with gusto was San Francisco’s mayor, James Duval Phelan.
A banker and native son, born in San Francisco in 1861, Phelan was elected mayor in 1896 as a Democrat and his tenure was largely undistinguished. But in 1900, he caught national attention when the city’s Board of Health “discovered” an ostensible victim of bubonic plague in the Chinatown district. Phelan declared a quarantine and blamed conditions among the Japanese and Chinese. The “plague scare” was widely reported in the nation's press, and Phelan had to scramble as local businessmen descended on him to protest that the scare was ruining their trade. The mayor quickly backed down and blamed the health board’s overzealousness. In fact, the only problem a health board inspector had been able to observe among the Japanese was that he found three Japanese men in a single tub in a local bathhouse; evidently, the inspectors were unaware that this style of washing was common in the men’s homeland.
[You can find a picture of a Phelan campaign poster at this post, as well as a more detailed discussion of the early anti-Asian-immigrant agitation.]
The Washington Times report similarly links immigrants to the influx of a seemingly exotic and potentially lethal disease: avian influenza.
- The bird flu has killed at least eight Asians since early January. Several of those deaths -- in Vietnam and Thailand -- were believed to have been caused when the virus passed between people who had sustained contact. If the avian flu mutates so that it can be transmitted with only casual contact, WHO authorities predict at least 7 million and as many as 100 million would die in a worldwide pandemic.
In reality, a careful review of WHO information makes clear that avian flu is a global phenomenon, with outbreaks occurring in Europe as well. A Washington Post report on avian flu described the destruction of thousands of chickens infected with the disease in Virginia.
There is no small irony in all this, of course. Because racial bigotry is like a virus, too. Given the proper iteration -- especially by disguising itself as part of the discourse over the "war on terror" -- it can quickly spread from the fringes into the mainstream. Of course, it always takes special transmitters, modern-day Typhoid Marys, to do it. The Washington Times and Michelle Malkin fit that description to a T.
[Hat tip to Liberal Avenger.]
How white supremacy festers
Monday, February 14, 2005
I've been writing for some time now about how right-wing extremists -- especially white supremacists -- have been growing increasingly bolder, increasingly aggressive in their recruitment efforts. In recent weeks, this seems to be ratcheting up yet another notch.
In Calumet City, Ill., someone has been using an unusually graphic form of graffiti to inject an ugly tone of racism into local politics:
- Calumet City police said that on Wednesday and Saturday of last week, someone hung a mannequin attached to a noose from a billboard on Michigan City Road just west of Burnham Avenue. The mannequin was painted black, and racial slurs were spray-painted on the billboard, NBC5's Darren Kramer reported.
Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said her opponents have been taking unfair shots at her about race, and she thinks the hate crime was designed to hurt her. There is primary election in two weeks, and Qualkinbush said the crime had as much to do with politics as race.
"I can't tell you in most recent memory when there has ever been an incident like this and I have to be suspect of this incident two weeks before a primary election," Qualkinbush said.
It's worth noting, of course, that not everyone connects this to the political scene, but it's clear that regardless of the reason, it reflects a much more aggressive brand of white supremacy:
- Cheryl Cornelius, a minister who is also running against Qualkinbush, also denied anyone from her campaign is involved. Cornelius said the incidents are part of the "systemic racism" that exists in Calumet City.
"It is not politically motivated," Cornelius said. "It's just part of the systemic racism that has taken place and that is consistent with Calumet City."
Elsewhere, the neo-Nazi National Alliance [warning: racist Web site] has announced its plans to recruit aggressively at NASCAR events this coming summer, notably the Daytona 500:
- On Sunday, February 20th, shortly before the start of this year’s Daytona 500, the 200,000 fans in attendance will look up and see a small plane towing a banner that reads, "Love Your Race, visit natall.com." The Tampa Local Unit of the National Alliance is hiring the plane and will be on hand to distribute literature.
Indeed, as the same NatVan writer has noted elsewhere, a large part of NASCAR's appeal may indeed be the fact that it is almost devoid of black participants and fans:
- More and more doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are attending events along with blue collar workers and "Rednecks." Regardless of their sex, income, class, or background they are all White, and they are mostly Country music or Southern Rock fans.
Many of these NASCAR fans won't watch any other sport: to them ball games are for Blacks and wimps.
NASCAR, to its credit, has been working to try change that environment, adopting a program intended to make minorities more welcome both in the stands and in the pits. Still, these efforts have been somewhat less than convincing to African Americans.
Moreover, the organization also demonstrated a remarkably thin skin when it cut off it previous funding for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH organization when one of its officials described NASCAR as "the last bastion of white supremacy." [You can visit the Web site of the National Association of Minority Racing Fans for more on NASCAR's supposed "sensitivity."]
And so far, there's been no denunciation of the National Alliance campaign planned for the Daytona 500 -- though there is a piece about how NASCAR racing is "a sport for the average Joe" -- who, apparently from the photographic illustrations, are all white. The piece simultaneously attacks other sports -- illustrated, prominently, with photos of black athletes.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, a white supremacist named Frank Weltner has been enjoying increasing popularity promoting racism and anti-Semitism on his show and at his Web sites:
- It was a familiar brand of anti-Semitism, full of conspiracy theories: Jews rewrote and manipulated history for their own ends. Jews control the media and government.
"They led to the downfall of the white people in America," Weltner said. "The Jews, to undermine white people, started the civil rights movement. They were in many ways favorable to the woman's vote. They don't like white males, let's face it."
And blacks: "The blacks are the storm troopers of the Jews."
Weltner's solution -- and that of the National Alliance -- is separation.
"I don't want to live with you anymore. I want to be separate. I've tried that - I've lived with you. I didn't like it," Weltner explained sitting in his office. "You got your society, you've got your people, you've got your destiny. I've got mine. We need to separate this thing. We've had this horror story going on with integration long enough. It hasn't worked. Nobody likes it. The government keeps churning it out. It's tyranny over the mind of man."
A recent Los Angeles Times report describes the aggressive recruitment efforts of white supremacists, particularly in the St. Louis area through a recent spate of advertising, in detail:
- Neo-Nazi organizations are not only putting up billboards, they're also instructing members to hide tattoos and dress for rallies in conservative suits to avoid being dismissed as extremists. Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the KKK, urges his members to serve on community boards and in political parties so they can push their white-power agenda from positions of social respect.
"I encourage them to do that, absolutely," Robb said. "Though it has to be done gently."
The National Alliance, meanwhile, is increasingly tailoring its leaflets to current events. Local members seize on any racial tensions in their community as an excuse to blanket the area with articles explaining the white-power worldview.
And the most disturbing aspect of this is that it appears to be working:
- When the flap about the MetroLink ads made news here, the National Alliance got so many calls that the phone company insisted that the group upgrade its voice mail system, said Collins, the chapter leader. He wouldn't give precise numbers, but said 80% of the callers listened to the two-minute white-power message on the group's answering machine, then hung up. He said there were two angry callers but that many people asked for more information. "I had to appoint three people just to call people back," he said.
The bigger question, though, is why white supremacists now feel emboldened to make their presence more public. If you look at most of these cases, the thread running through them is that they are clearly tying themselves to mainstream conservative issues: the National Alliance ad campaign, for instance, targeted immigration and "European American" rights.
What is enabling these extremists, in reality, is a conservative movement that has in fact been moving in their direction in recent years. Like the NASCAR folks, conservative Republicans apply cosmetics and give lip service to the causes of equality and tolerance. But the proof, as always, lies in the pudding.
Nail, meet hammer
Molly in NYC had this comment over at Digby's blog, and it was just so good I had to share it:
- Since the November elections, I feel like the woman whose husband refused to listen when she told him not to sell the family cow for magic beans. She's still forced to consider his welfare, but it's neurochemically impossible to be more angry. And she can see that, irresponsible as he was to do it, as soon as it dawns on him that he's been rooked, he won't repent or apologize -- he'll blame her.
Get that woman a blog.
I'm pleased, stunned, and honored to announce that Orcinus is a finalist in four categories of this year's prestigious Koufax Awards:
- Single Issue Blog
Best Expert Blog
I always appreciate support from my readers, but please be sure to spend some time going through as many of the other finalists as possible before voting. There's a lot of great writing there. That's why I'm so tickled by these nominations -- there's nothing more flattering than being the company of a lot of people whose work I really admire.
Oh, and be sure to hit that donation button for the fine folks at Wampum. They really deserve as much support as possible for putting together such a superb competition and running it so well.
The Washington microcosm
Sunday, February 13, 2005
I'm sure glad the Democrats took my advice [as if!] and made Howard Dean chair of the DNC. It'll bring some fresh life to the party -- but he has his work cut out for him.
If he wants a good case in microcosm of what he's up against, particularly the kinds of tactics that Democrats will be facing, he should take a good look at the fight over the election of Washington's governor.
For the time being, Democrat Christine Gregoire appears fairly secure in her narrow 129-vote win. Dino Rossi, her Republican opponent, has continued to pursue his court challenge of the election, even though the rulings so far have not gone his way. A Chelan County Superior Court judge ruled last week that state law does not provide for a revote, which is what Republicans have been pushing for. The state Supreme Court eventually will make the final decision, though that likely won't happen until June at the earliest -- by which time Gregoire will have had about six months to entrench herself as governor.
But that doesn't mean Republicans will give up. Even now, they continue to beat the war drums, demanding a revote, while Rossi steadfastly refuses to concede.
This public campaign -- waged largely on the right-wing talk-radio bandwidths, as well as those belonging to conservative bloggers like Stefan Sharkansky's Sound Politics -- is in fact representative of Republicans' larger effort to remake America into a one-party state.
The whole idea, it seems, is to attack relentlessly, barraging the public with a steady drumbeat of misinformation and wild speculation, all designed to undermine the legitimacy of the Democrats.
And if you want to see how to counter it, check out the work that's been conducted so far by progressive Northwest bloggers, particularly the folks at Also Also and Preemptive Karma. (For a great read on these battles, be sure to also visit David Goldstein's blog, Horses Ass.)
Late last week, Carla at Preemptive Karma and Torrid Joe at Also Also posted their most recent analysis of the election results, particularly Sharkansky's claims that the rate of errors in King County, a Democratic stronghold, were significant enough to change the election's outcome. Indeed, the entire revote campaign is focused on the King errors. But as Carla and TJ point out, its errors were well in line with what occurred elsewhere:
- Notice Spokane County. Rossi won this county easily. Total voters are fewer than one fourth of King County’s. But they have twice as many errors as King per voter. Moreover, their discrepancy represents more voters than ballots, a condition which Sharkansky claimed lacked plausibility as a type of honest error. However Spokane is apparently a Republican leaning county—is it therefore not worth mentioning? Are their errors not so egregious?
Be sure, while you're at it, to read some of their previous analyses, including the first installment of the vote analysis (cross-posted here) as well as pieces on the revote, and Sharkansky's atrocious public behavior, not to mention as his attacks on his critics. Both of these bloggers are non-journalists, but the work they've performed so far has been so sound that it would make any working journalist proud.
Somewhat unsurprisingly for those of us skeptical of conservatives' claims to be openly engaging their critics, Sharkansky has banned both Carla and TJ from his boards, refuses to link to them, and likewise has banned any links to their work even in his comments. (I guess Michelle Malkin must be his role model.) In response, Carla has continued to respond with strong factual refutations.
TJ at Also Also likewise took apart Sound Politics' claims that the occurrence of votes by ineligible felons tipped the scales in Gregoire's favor. This particular claim is significant, since it appears likely to play a major role in Republicans' ongoing legal challenges to the election.
However, as University of Washington Law School professor Eric Schnapper recently explained in a Seattle Times op-ed, this whole issue of felons voting is extremely problematic, because most of the measures taken so far to remove these felons from the rolls have had the effect of keeping thousands of eligible voters from legitimately taking part in the democratic process:
- There are an estimated 150,000 adults in Washington who are ineligible to vote under current law. The prohibition applies to Washington residents who were convicted in Washington, in any of the other 49 states or a foreign country, or by the federal government.
But there is no centralized, reliable list of all those so convicted. Computerized criminal histories often include individuals arrested for felonies but eventually convicted only of misdemeanors, or even acquitted. Many of these records have insufficient information to indicate whether the person arrested is the same individual as a voter with the same, or a similar, name.
The upshot of Republican demands to remove felons from the rolls is to place an extraordinary burden on the election process itself:
- In Washington, as in Florida, local election officials have properly objected to a system that requires them to conduct investigations of thousands of individual voters, a process for which election officials have neither the resources nor the expertise. County election officials would need an army of investigators to check out the many thousands of possibly illegal voters who would be identified if the voter rolls were compared with the state, out-of-state and federal criminal-history records.
An election official in King County would have to figure out whether the John Doe registered in Ballard was the same John Doe convicted of auto theft in Spokane (or Miami) in 1990 or the John Doe who had his civil rights restored by a state board in Olympia (or Tallahassee) in 2000. Investigations of voters with possible out-of-state convictions would be particularly impracticable.
The end result of this effort to purge felons from the rolls has been the disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible voters. That indeed calls into serious question the legitimacy of the election, or at least its close outcome, though not in the way Republicans would like. As Schnapper put it in his conclusion:
- So long as 150,000 Washingtonians are prohibited from voting, the unsolvable problem of determining who is and is not eligible will confound local election officials, and call into question the result of every close election.
It's worth remembering that the purging of felon voters from the rolls had a significant effect on both of the most recent national elections. Disenfranchised voters resulting from felon purges almost certainly decided the outcome in Florida in 2000, and they probably had an effect in Ohio in 2004. (Notably, the felon purge planned in Florida last year was abandoned when it turned out that Hispanics had been "accidentally" omitted.)
There were other factors at play in the Washington election that likewise echoed some of the serious issues raised in the national vote, especially questions surrounding electronic voting technology. Rick Anderson at Seattle Weekly reported on a study that raised legitimate issues about the outcome in Snohomish County, the state's third-most populous county:
- Even if you have followed every strange twist and U-turn of the 2004–05 Washington gubernatorial election, would it surprise you to hear that more than 100,000 votes were never recounted? These are the electronic votes from the two counties, Snohomish and Yakima, that have computerized touch-screen voting in Washington. The computers do not include a mechanism to recount and compare votes for error. More than 2.7 million paper votes statewide were recounted by optical-reader machine and by hand, ultimately giving Democrat Christine Gregoire a hairbreadth 129-vote victory. But the 106,000 touch-screen ballots—constituting almost 4 percent of the state vote—were simply re-totaled without review and added in. A new study questions the validity of many of those touch-screen votes, suggesting that Gregoire should have beaten Republican Dino Rossi in the initial tally of ballots on Election Day. Rossi was on top at that point by 261 votes, before a final hand recount gave the election to Gregoire.
The study that Anderson cites was conducted by Paul Lehto, an Everett attorney, and Jeffrey Hoffman, a Michigan engineering professor, who took a close look at the Snohomish vote:
- They contend the outcome of the Nov. 2 election was affected by electronic irregularities. Their 29-page report found that problems of switched votes or machines freezing up occurred at more than 50 polling places. Under their scenario, Gregoire likely beat Rossi in Snohomish County or, at worst, lost by a much narrower margin—meaning she likely lost enough votes to account for Rossi's 261-vote statewide lead shortly after Election Day. Two-thirds of Snohomish County voted with paper absentee and provisional ballots, favoring Gregoire over Rossi by 97,044 to 95,228. The remaining one-third, voting electronically Nov. 2, favored Rossi—and by a much greater margin: 50,400 to 42,135. Though they can't prove it, Lehto and Hoffman think many Democratic votes were switched to the GOP. They believe it was "a mathematical impossibility that Gregoire's 1,800-vote lead on absentee paper ballots was completely overcome by an 8,000-vote Rossi landslide on Election Day on the Sequoia touch screens, ultimately leaving Republican Rossi with a 6,000-vote margin in traditionally Democratic Snohomish County."
Of course, this isn't the first time questions have been raised about this voting technology. The 2004 results in Ohio and Florida likewise demonstrated some serious anomalies (which may in turn explain the remarkable exit poll discrepancy in the election).
What emerges from the bigger picture of the Washington vote is, in fact, almost a replica in miniature of the Republican strategy for the national vote. It has four essential components:
- -- Undermine the legitimacy of any Democrat elected to office, regardless of the margin.
-- Undermine public confidence in long-established election procedures, particularly hand recounts, as well as confidence in the integrity of the officials conducting the elections.
-- Undermine the voting rights of minorities and lower-income voters, particularly by purging supposed felons from the voting rolls, thereby discouraging participation in the election process and underscoring their historic disenfranchisement.
-- Undermine the integrity of the voting process itself by introducing readily manipulable electronic voting technology that leaves no auditable paper trail.
If Howard Dean and the Democrats want to have any hope of turning around their fortunes, they're going to have to not just acknowledge these problems, but attack them aggressively.
When Republicans mount nasty misinformation and smear campaigns, they need to respond quickly and vigorously. Countenancing these attacks without a response only lends them legitimacy.
When the misinformation attacks established procedures and hard-working public officials who perform their work as well as can be reasonably expected, Democrats need to defend them with facts and figures, as well as a hefty dose of moral outrage.
They need to question the way felon voter-roll purges have been conducted, particularly pointing to the numbers of errors with which these purges have been riddled (since Republicans, in Washington at least, seem to have developed a recent attachment to absolute accuracy in election processes). They should also point out the enormous expense and effort that an effective and accurate felon purge would require, and contrast that with the actual effect a purge would have over the long term. Most of all, they need to point out that Republican agitation over this issue points to a real hostility to widespread public participation in the democratic process.
And they need to demand immediate implementation of a requirement for auditable paper trails in any voting technology, whether paper or otherwise. This cannot wait. Republicans are hoping to push these changes past the 2008 election, and they should not be allowed to do so.
Of course, that's just a start for Dean and the Democrats. But it would be a good, solid start.