Monday, May 20, 2019

The Pontifex Maximus and His Lawyer: Glenn Greenwald and his strange far-right blind spot


[Cross-posted at Daily Kos.]

You may be like me, confused about how nationally known pundits who label themselves “progressives” can go on Fox News and encourage Tucker Carlson in his attacks on liberal Democrats. Or how they can tell their readers that the threat of white nationalism and its violence is “nonexistent,” or that calling attention to the threat of hate groups and neo-Nazis is exactly like the neocons blaming all of Islam for 9/11.

But this has been happening with increasing regularity within a certain faction of “progressive” journalists who, as it happens, are also convinced that Russian interference in the 2016 election is a complete non-story—particularly Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey.

Over the weekend, Tracey tweeted out his view that the threat from white nationalism is “nonexistent” and that liberals were being politically overwhelmed by the hysteria of it all:

I replied with an extended thread pointing out the many acts of white-nationalist terrorism before and after Charlottesville, more than enough evidence that the violent hate being stirred into action by the new generation of young fascists is a serious problem that deserves our full attention. We are being inundated in a disturbingly large wave of hate crimes, against an increasing range of victims. We’re even seeing assassination attempts being made by far-right ideologues who believe they are doing the bidding of the authoritarian figure they worship—namely, Donald Trump.

These trends are not contained just to the United States, of course. From Norway in 2011 to Christchurch in 2019, the problem of rising fascist authoritarianism and its attendant violence has become a global one. We’ve seen authoritarian regimes take power in Hungary, in Turkey, in the Phillipines, and the results have all been predictably brutal and frightening for anyone who believes in open democracies.

One of the worst examples of this, of course, is in Brazil, where the ascendance of the proto-fascist authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency has been accompanied by assassinations of his opponents and a surging tide of hate crimes that has resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of assaults targeting the LGBT community—mirroring, perhaps on a more intense scale, what we are seeing in the United States. (Certainly Bolsonaro is more openly fascist and thuggish than Trump.)

So when Greenwald, who lives in Brazil and is highly active against Bolsonaro and his regime, published a tweet describing the kind of fear and loathing that exists within the LGBT community in Rio because of the regime, I politely reminded him that, while many communities (including the immigrant and Muslim, as well as LGBT) in the United States are under a similar cloud of fear, especially amid the current rising tide of hate crimes, people like Tracey—who Greenwald frequently promotes in his Twitter feed—were actively hurting our efforts to combat the problem by dismissing it as “nonexistent”: they “want to tell us that having white nationalists killing people in acts of targeted terrorism in our streets and houses of worship is just a figment of our overactive liberal imaginations.”

Greenwald—who apparently has a different interpretation of “nonexistent” than I do—responded that Tracey was saying “no such thing,” rather, that he was “saying it's important to keep the threat in perspective & not be alarmist about it so politicians can't exploit it.” We went to and fro, with me pointing out that “alarmist” is a label that could just as easily—and just as unjustifiably—be plastered on him as on me. And that I’ve been documenting the rise of this problem for years, which he full well knows.

I also pointed out that, in the not terribly distant past, he has himself been an enabler of fascist movements, much as Tracey is being now. So he dismissed me as a liar.

Well, here are the receipts. It’s a little story I call “The Little Pontifex Maximus Who Wanted to Make America White Again and His Lawyer.”

Ben Klassen
It all kind of begins in 1956, when a man named Ben Klassen invented an early version of an electric can opener and patented the device. Klassen was a tinkerer who had made a killing in real estate; he was one of the cofounders of Silver Springs, NV, and had walked away with a bundle. Klassen’s invention was a wall-mounted design, and he made another bundle off his patent for the first few years, mostly in industrial use. However, other designs that were cheaper, more portable and applicable to household appliances came along. By 1962 he had closed shop.

Having made a couple of small fortunes (mostly in real estate), Klassen decided to become a politician. A longtime member of the John Birch Society, he ran for the Florida House from his home in Broward County 1966 and won on an anti-busing, anti-government platform. He only served one term. Klassen also headed up a local group supporting George Wallace’s presidential candidacy.

After losing his seat in 1968, Klassen decided the Republicans and Democrats were too corrupted by Jews and founded his own party, the Nationalist White Party, in 1970. The NWP was aimed at recruiting white Christians: “We believe that the White Race was created in the Image of the Lord...” was No. 1 on the party’s official 14-point program. But it fell apart quickly when Klassen began expressing doubts about Christianity.

Klassen explained his apostacy in later books.
His main concern (elucidated at length in later works) was that Jesus was a Jew and the entire Christian faith was thus the tainted offspring of Judaism. Klassen regarded the Jews as children of Satan and believed no worthwhile religion could come from them. So he decided to found an entirely new religion, separate from Christianity and Judaism, predicated essentially on the worship of whiteness. He called it Creativity, and his organization the Church of the Creator.

Klassen’s first book, Nature’s Eternal Religion, explains the theology (such as it is) in detail: White people are the obvious cream of God’s creation, and as such should be held as the repositories of God’s Will, the holders of all religious, political and economic power. It’s also incredibly crude and vile, essentially third-grade-level racism expressed with sixth-grade-level intelligence. Klassen insisted on the persistent use of degrading stereotypes and epithets regarding all nonwhites and Jews. He reveled in it.

Klassen moved to rural North Carolina and set up his church operations near the rural town of Otto in 1982. He continued to churn out texts, notably The White Man’s Bible—a sort of refined version of the earlier texts—and an autobiography, Against the Evil Tide.

Here are some more prime pages from these texts. As I said, this is some of the most vile and hate-filled white supremacist propaganda you’ll find anywhere. The David Dukes and Richard Spencers are sagacious compared to Klassen. Klassen’s one major contribution to white supremacism was coining the war cry “RaHoWa!”, which is a shortened version of his core credo, “Racial Holy War.”

The Church of the Creator didn’t attract a large following, but those who did join were fairly predictable as far as white-supremacist groups go: Vicious, violent, thuggish, and not terribly bright. If anything, they seemed to attract a particularly cretinous stripe of hater, many of them criminals. Over the years they collected a very extensive track record.

George Loeb
One particular case brought real strife to Klassen: the 1991 shooting of a black man in Florida named Harold Mansfield by a Church of the Creator acolyte named George Loeb. The victim’s family took Klassen to court.

Fearing the lawsuit might result in him having to hand over his church and property to a black family, Klassen in 1992 sold it at a steep discount to William Pierce, leader of the infamous National Alliance hate group and author of The Turner Diaries.

Klassen by now was rather elderly, and there was already a scramble within the COTC membership for church leadership after his departure from the role of Pontifex Maximus. In 1990, Klassen had announced he would turn the job over to one Rev. Rudy Stanko.

Based in Billings, Montana, Stanko was a “deacon” in COTC. He was a former cattleman who had been sent to prison for selling tainted meat to Montana schoolchildren. It was during that prison stint that he was converted to the faith, such as it was. Upon his release, Stanko returned to Billings in the late ‘80s and began proselytizing on behalf of the COTC and formed a relatively active “church” there. He also penned a book titled The Score, an anti-Semitic screed that blamed Jews for his imprisonment.

Klassen adopted Stanko’s cause and promoted his work at the Creativity newsletter. Eventually, this led to Klassen anointing him his successor. Stanko, however, let his imminent Maximushood go to his head. Before the change had been made official, he began announcing his plans to move the church headquarters out to Montana. This did not sit well with Klassen, who wanted to keep the church in the South.

Klassen's Creativity church in South Carolina

So Klassen cancelled Stanko’s ceremonial anointment announced that he was changing the successorship, handing the title of next Pontifex Maximus to a pizza delivery man from Baltimore named Charles Altvater, who was later arrested for attempting to firebomb a cop’s car.

Klassen by then had already changed his mind again, and instead named a Milwaukee man named Mark Wilson as the successor. That lasted a few months before finally settling on a man named Rick McCarty. Upon being named leader, he moved COTC back to Florida.

Church members were continuing to commit violent hate crimes, in ways indicating its spread nationally. In the Pacific Northwest, a couple of young COTC members bombed NAACP offices in Tacoma and a Seattle gay bar in July 1993. Two more COTC members, Geremy von Rineman and his girlfriend Jill Scarborough, were part of a group of neo-Nazis charged in Los Angeles with plotting to bomb the city’s largest black church, also in July 1993.

Apparently depressed by his wife’s recent death from cancer, and the looming likelihood that his church was about to be sued out of existence by the SPLC, working with the victims of COTC hate crimes, Klassen committed suicide on Aug. 7, 1993, with sleeping pills.

His worst fears shortly came true. Representing the family of Harold Mansfield, George Loeb’s victim, the SPLC took Rick McCarty and COTC to court in 1994 and won handily, with McCarty not contesting. It won a $1 million judgment and seized all of its assets.

Seizing the opportunity, a 20-year-old white supremacist from Peoria, Ill., named Matthew Hale announced he was dissolving the organization he headed, the National Socialist White Americans Party, and reforming it as a religion: the World Church of the Creator. The remaining Creativity true believers all quickly lined up behind him. This included Rudy Stanko, who still had a fairly active Creativity church group spread throughout Montana. He also had come into possession of most of the stock of Klassen’s library of books.

This is when I became more intimately familiar with the “Creativity” religion, due mainly to the recurring criminality emanating from its ranks in the Pacific Northwest, and in Montana particularly. At the time, I was reporting on the activities of the Militia of Montana and the Montana Freemen (I met my wife while working in Missoula and still have family scattered around the state). Stanko’s little congregation of haters, true to form, had been committing hate crimes in the Billings area: Defacing a Native American home, entering a black church during worship and threatening congregants, knocking over markers in a Jewish cemetery.

Things came to a head around the holidays in 1993, when someone threw a rock through the window of a 6-year-old Billings boy who had placed a Menorah in his window. The faith community, outraged, organized a public response in which everyone in town put Menorahs up. The response led to a PBS documentary titled Not In Our Town, the making of which itself led to the formation of a national organization with that name, devoted to enabling communities to stand up to hate groups and their toxic effects. They do great work to this day.

Stanko’s group became more muted in their activities, though they were known for going around and leaving copies of Klassen’s vile books on people’s doorsteps, apparently as a kind of proselytizing. The Montana Human Rights Network collected most of these.

Even though his operations were based in Illinois, the WCOTC held its annual national convention in the western Montana town of Superior every year, likely due to the prevalence of Montanans in the church’s membership. Matt Hale appeared to enjoy the annual trips.

Back in Illinois, Hale had gone to law school at Southern Illinois and obtained a degree and passed the bar, intent on using it on behalf of his ‘religion.’ However, the Illinois Bar had other ideas: A special panel refused to admit him, denying him a license. So he sued.

Hale’s case attracted media attention. He began hiring lawyers to assist him in his legal battle – notably, he seemed to have a thing about hiring _Jewish_ lawyers specifically. The first attorney he hired was none other than Alan Dershowitz. However, Hale soon discovered that Dershowitz’s fees were extraordinarily high, so he dropped him and turned to the services of another Jewish attorney, Robert Herman of the St. Louis firm Schwartz, Herman and Davidson.

Eventually he hired a young hotshot Jewish lawyer from New York to spearhead his legal challenge. Hale liked to trot this young man out for the press as proof (for dumb reporters who hadn’t bothered to crack open a Klassen text) he didn’t hate Jews. His name was Glenn Greenwald.

Yes, that Glenn Greenwald. As most of us know now, Greenwald has a long track record of defending the civil liberties of even the most questionable of cases, and they frankly didn’t come much more questionable than Matt Hale. In any event, this case launched his legal career, and probably ended it too. Greenwald never practiced law afterwards.

From a purely abstract and legalistic standpoint, it’s possible to make a case, as Greenwald has, for a Jewish attorney to defend the civil rights of a militaristic anti-Semite and neo-Nazi. And from the first news story I read about his involvement, I understood this. The ethical case, however, is not so clear. After all, Hale’s group was primarily engaged in the business of depriving minorities—particularly blacks and Jews—of their civil rights through hate crimes, threats, and intimidation. They saw spreading such hate as one of their own rights.

So, from where I sat in Montana, spending time with the frightened victims of WCOTC thugs, someone who was defending their ability to use the levers of the legal system essentially was enabling their “right” to deprive other people, vulnerable people, of theirs. More to the point, in a world in which there are myriad opportunities to defend genuinely needy, innocent people being wrongly deprived of their civil and free-speech rights, I struggled to understand why any humane and capable attorney would devote their efforts to defending neo-Nazis’ rights.

The most disturbing aspect of Greenwald’s advocacy on Hale’s behalf, however, involved the viciousness with which he attacked Hale’s critics, as well as the strange and frankly dishonest twists of logic and rhetoric he deployed. It went well beyond the usual legal advocacy, as we’ll see.

Hale’s legal case wound through the state bar’s appeals process. He had two more hearings before the bar. On June 30, the second and final appeal was rejected. Hale had also looked into getting a license through the Montana bar but couldn’t. He was out of luck.

Benjamin Smith
Two days later, July 2, his longtime second-in-command—a hotheaded young man named Benjamin Smith, 21, whom Hale had recently named “Creator of the Month”—went on a killing rampage targeting minorities wherever he could find them.

He first took drive-by shots at Orthodox Jews in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood, wounding nine. Next he drove to Skokie, where he encountered a black man walking with two of his children outside his home. The man, as it happened, was former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Birdsong. Smith shot and killed him in front of his children.

Smith drove away from Skokie and headed to Northbrook, where he shot at an Asian-American couple but missed. On July 3, he drove through Urbana, Springfield, and Decatur, shooting and wounding two more black men and an Asian man. In Bloomington, Ind., he murdered Won-Joon Yoon, a 26-year-old Korean Indian University student as he walked into his church. Smith also shot at but missed about nine other people. Police soon tracked him down back in Illinois on July 4. After a high-speed chase, he shot himself in the head and crashed his car into a metal pole. Still alive, he shot himself once more in the chest, finishing the job.

In Evanston that week, a public memorial provided an opportunity for all of the victims of Smith’s rampage to mourn. There is an annual race held to this day in Evanston in Ricky Byrdsong’s memory.

A few months later, the Center for Constitutional Rights led a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims against Matt Hale and WCOTC. Here are excerpts from the original story published in the April 6, 2000, edition of American Lawyer:

Elevating the profile of last July's racially-motivated shooting spree to still a higher level, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights has filed suit against the white supremacist group it claims is responsible for the two-state tear that left two dead and nine wounded.

In a federal lawsuit filed here Tuesday, lawyers for a Decatur pastor wounded during the spree allege World Church of the Creator leader Matthew F. Hale not only encouraged, but conspired with shooter Benjamin Nathaniel Smith to "commit wholesale acts of genocidal violence in furtherance of their self-proclaimed 'racial holy war' against any and all African-Americans, Jews, Asians and other ethnic groups."

This is the second such suit filed against Hale, an Illinois bar applicant who has been denied a law license on moral fitness grounds.

Indeed the Center's suit appears to link Hale's rejection into the bar to Smith's "rampage." In late June, the state bar's Committee on Character and Fitness again denied Hale's petition to join the bar. Smith, who had testified as a character witness for Hale that April, began shooting two days later. "Immediately after the Illinois State Bar's decision and as part of the World Church of the Creator's war, Smith ... began a rampage of genocidal violence," the lawsuit states.

And while Hale himself has linked the shootings to his bar application in the past, he said Tuesday that it's ridiculous to think he had any control over Smith.

"Certainly I had a lot of contact with Ben Smith, I never denied that for one minute," Hale said. "If every lawyer who knows someone who commits a crime is a conspirator, the legal profession would cease to exist."

Hale's lawyer, New York attorney Glenn Greenwald, took a similar tact in responding to the suit.

"It's all just guilt by association," said Greenwald, who isn't sure yet whether he will be representing Hale on this latest federal action.

He did, however, seem interested in taking the case on. He compared it to the first suit, which alleged Hale ordered Smith to target minorities.

"All they can say Matt Hale did is express the view that Jews and blacks are inferior,” he said. "There's just no question that expressing those views is a core First Amendment activity."

Further, Greenwald said, "I find that the people behind these lawsuits are truly so odious and repugnant, that creates its own motivation for me."

Take note of Greenwald’s comments. It’s common to see some hyperbole on a defendant’s behalf in such cases. What’s not common is talk like this: "I find that the people behind these lawsuits are truly so odious and repugnant, that creates its own motivation for me." (Also, note how Greenwald bandies the phrase “guilt by association” to describe Matt Hale’s culpability in the rampage. Many of Glenn’s critics would become accustomed to hearing the same phrase, abused in exactly the same fashion, in the years ahead.)

He was also interviewed for an August 2000 Los Angeles Times piece describing how civil-rights groups were using civil courts to bankrupt hate groups. Greenwald was quoted thus:

"Nobody has found a shred of evidence that Matt Hale even knew about the crimes, let alone participated in them," said his lawyer, Glenn Greenwald. Civil rights groups "have said their intent . . . is to bankrupt these hate groups by forcing them to put their resources into litigation so they don't have any money for anything else, which I think . . . is an abuse of the court system."

"By suing us, they demonstrate the correctness of our cause," Hale added. "They're demonstrating how desperate they are to stop us."

Yes, for some reason, survivors of a shooting and families of the victims do, indeed, become desperate to stop neo-Nazis replicating their murderous rampages.

Moreover, there are a number of noteworthy issues here regarding Greenwald’s truthfulness. First, in fact, it shortly emerged that not only had Hale just given Smith his group’s top award, he had spent 16 hours on the phone with Smith in the two weeks before the rampage.

Even more significant is Greenwald’s view that the standard tactics used by the SPLC and other civil-rights groups to bankrupt hate groups that actively deprive minorities of their civil rights (both via advocacy and action) via the civil process is “an abuse of the courts.”

In his subsequent attempts to help Hale get his law license, Greenwald’s rhetoric was similarly over the top, as in this lawsuit before the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001 (which, unsurprisingly, failed badly):

The denial of Matthew Hale's application to practice law in the State of Illinois embodies the most egregious -- and most dangerous -- constitutional abuses which have, again and again, been resoundingly declared by courts in this Nation to be patently unlawful. In sum, Hale, a well-known and vigorous advocate of racist and anti-Semitic ideas, was barred from the legal profession and denied his livelihood because the individuals sitting on the Committee of Character and Fitness for the State of Illinois happened to disagree -- strongly -- with Hale's political and religious views. To describe the denial of Hale's application to practice law, then, is to illustrate the profound dangers it poses to the most basic and valued liberties guaranteed to all citizens by the United States Constitution.

Eventually, Greenwald ran afoul of the courts on ethical grounds, when he recorded interviews with witnesses in the lawsuit brought by one of Ben Smith’s victims without their knowledge or permission. The magistrate judge granted both motions, finding defense counsel's conduct unethical under two separate rules: Local Rule 83.58.4(a)(4), prohibiting ‘dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;’ and Local Rule 83.54.4, stating ‘a lawyer shall not ... use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of [another] person.’”

Hale explicitly depicted Smith’s “free speech martyrdom” as a good thing. Indeed, here’s how Matt Hale was quoted in a July 2000 Peoria Journal Star article examining the effects of Smith’s murder spree, headlined “Hate Changing Us in Good, Bad Ways.”

The past year has been a roller coaster ride for Matt Hale.

Hale, 28, has found himself known worldwide. His organization, the World Church of the Creator, couldn't have asked for better publicity than what it got after Smith's shooting spree, which ended in Smith's suicide.

"It's what Ben would have wanted," Hale said from his East Peoria home, which also doubles as his group's headquarters.

While refusing to disclose numbers, Hale said the World Church has grown greatly, and he credits the media with spreading the word.

An Oak Park-based watchdog group, the Center for New Community, issued a report last week saying the group has gained about 100 members since last year. Still, that puts the World Church at only about 300 members - far less than the numbers hinted at by Hale.

Hale failed in his attempts to get a law license - a matter he says probably played a role in one-time Morton resident Smith's decision to begin his killing spree.

For Hale, the immediate legacy is that he, an unlicensed attorney, finds himself the defendant of several lawsuits brought by the victims' families. A little-known group in Oregon even filed suit against Hale and his World Church, alleging Hale's group stole their name and tarnished it.

All the work and talk by religious groups, Hale says, hasn't done anything to change the climate of tolerance in Peoria.
"I think these so-called plans and programs are a joke," he said. "When people say we are combating racism, that's a crock - everywhere I go, I see racism."

Any discussion of race or hatred must involve him, Hale maintains, since his religion is based upon the notion that whites are superior to all other races or religions.

"Until they invite me to the table, we have a monologue, not a dialogue," he states flatly.

Judge Joan H. Lefkow
As the story notes, an Oregon church called Te-Te-Ma Truth Foundation, based in Ashland, which had some years before copyrighted the named Church of the Creator for their multiple congregations, sued Hale’s organization in federal court for trademark violation. Hale initially won that lawsuit: District Judge Joan H. Lefkow dismissed the trademark case in 2002. However, an appeals court reversed her decision, forcing her to order Hale to remove the World Church’s name from its websites and literature.

Judge Lefkow then became the early victim of what we now think of as a “troll storm,” but in this event by rabid neo-Nazis around the country. White supremacist radio host Hal Turner said she was “worthy of being killed” … “it wouldn't be legal, but in my opinion it wouldn't be wrong." Photos of her home were posted on the web.

The whole enterprise blew up for good on January 8, 2003, when Matt Hale was arrested for conspiring to murder Judge Lefkow. An informant had assembled a collection of video and audio evidence showing him doing exactly that. He was convicted in April 2004.

While Hale was awaiting sentencing, on Feb. 28, 2005, a man entered Judge Lefkow’s home and murdered her mother and her husband. Initially assumed to be related to the Hale case, it turned out to be a man angry over another case.

Hale’s allies on the Web and elsewhere celebrated. “I can barely contain my glee,” one of them wrote.

Matthew Hale was handed a 40-year prison sentence a few weeks later. The judge called it an “extreme, egregious attack on the rule of law.” Hale called it “a horrible miscarriage of justice.” Greenwald concurred, telling the New York Times that Hale had been “wrongly imprisoned.” The interview occurred when it emerged that Hale had attempted to send a coded message of some kind through Greenwald via his mother. He denied he had delivered it.

The Church of the Creator promptly fell into complete disarray. In Montana, one key member who happened to have possession of the stock of Klassen books that Rudy Stanko had originally obtained decided to defect. He sold them all, $41,000 worth, to the Montana Human Rights Network for $300. As often happens with such orgs when they begin to decay, the WCOTC continued to rack up an impressive and disturbing record of hate-fueled violence.

Now, as someone who tracked the WCOTC carefully due to their presence in the Northwest, I was familiar with most of this information at the time. As I said, though I understood and, on general principle, respected Greenwald’s reasons for taking on Hale, I had questions about how he went about it.

So I was surprised in a good way by much of what I began reading at Greenwald’s blog, Unclaimed Territory, in fall of 2005. It was smart, thoughtful, and quite insightful about what he rightly saw as an executive power grab in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. I began citing it favorably at my own blog, Orcinus, which at that point was also pretty well established (I opened shop there in January 2003). One of the first times I did so, in fact, was to defend him for having taken on Hale as a client, with which critics tried to smear him.

There were stumbles—such as his now-infamous (and disavowed) post describing the “parade of evils caused by illegal immigration”—that harkened back to my earlier concerns about his work. The disavowal, written years later and defensively blaming “Obama cultists,” is also less than persuasive.

I also was an admirer of Greenwald’s terrific 2006 book How Would A Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. Having just wrapped up my study of the Japanese American internment, I wrote a number of posts concurring with its thesis.

I finally met Glenn in person at the 2007 Yearly Kos gathering in Chicago, the year before it was renamed to Netroots Nation. We really only had a brief conversation, and so even though I was bursting with questions for him, I never got to ask them.

Questions like:

  • ·      Do you have any regrets about everything that went down around having Matthew Hale as a client?

  • ·      Did it ever bother you that the organization whose rights (not altogether clear in any event, since you lost all the rulings on his law license denial) you were expending your expertise defending was itself in the business of depriving vulnerable minorities of their civil rights?

  • ·      Did it ever bother you that by trying to make it possible for Hale to practice law, you were actively assisting WCOTC’s explicit efforts to become part of the mainstream – that is, normalizing them?

  • ·      Do you still believe using the civil courts to bankrupt hate groups for their followers’ criminal acts, as the SPLC, Center for New Community, Center for Constitutional Rights, and many others do, is an abuse of the system?

I continued to cite Greenwald’s work quite bit over the years anyway. But beginning in the fall of 2007, as he increasingly promoted the presidential candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul, I chimed in by pointing out Paul’s long record of dalliances with the far right. My then-blog partner Sara Robinson and I began publishing a series of posts about Ron Paul and this history. It culminated with a post I composed with the help of readers, detailing the long legislative record of Paul’s extremism in Congress—some 161 bills, all linked.

A couple of days later, Greenwald attacked me at Salon. It opens: “I’m not trying to be Ron Paul’s advocate, but still, outright distortions and smears are distortions and smears.”

I responded the next day, pointing out that those “distortions and smears” were comprised of a laundry list of legislation with links. Also known as cold dry facts.

Now, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that a smear by definition is false. And I'm having difficulty fathoming how a post comprised almost solely of links to legislation Paul has sponsored -- 161 of them, in fact -- could constitute a smear. In the world of the blogosphere, the posts don't get much more fact-oriented.

In one of his updates, Greenwald countered with his favorite phrase.

For reasons I’ll detail at another time [ed note: He never did], I found virtually all of that to be unpersuasive, relying almost entirely on lame guilt-by-association arguments that could sink most if not all candidates (the only arguably disturbing evidence in this regard is this 1996 Houston Chronicle article, which Neiwert didn’t mention [ed. Note: Actually, I did] and the pro-Paul response is here).

As I pointed out, that’s not how “guilt by association” works, no more than you can dismiss Matt Hale’s ties to Ben Smith’s rampage with by waving that phrase about.

The problem with Ron Paul isn't that he has irrelevant associations with far-right extremists—it’s that he seeks out their support, openly advocates their agenda, and receives financial and ideological support from them. … Those grim realities make his associations all too relevant, especially for a public official in the position of a serving congressman, and now, presidential candidate.

… [T]his isn't "guilt by association"—first, the argument isn't that Paul is a racist per se, but that he is an extremist who shares a belief system held not just by racists but other anti-government zealots as well. Paul is identified with their causes not simply because he speaks to them, but because he elucidates ideas and positions—especially regarding the IRS, the UN, the gold standard, and education—identical to theirs. This is why he has their rabid support. There is an underlying reason, after all, that Paul attracts backers like David Duke and the Stormfront gang: he talks like them.

Second and perhaps most importantly, there are legitimate reasons for anyone to raise objections to Paul's associations, speaking before the Patriot Network, the CofCC, and similar groups—he's a public official, and he is lending the power of his public office to legitimizing radical-right organizations like this. Think of why it would be wrong to appear before the Klan, or the CofCC, as Trent Lott and Hayley Barbour have done in the latter case.

It's not merely what it implies about your own beliefs and standards—it’s that you've lent the power of your public office to empowering and raising the stature of racists and extremists. You of course have the right to do so—but the public has every right to criticize you for it as well, as it should. After all, what this comes down to is not so much beliefs and values but judgment. One expects, after all, a congressman to display better judgment than to appear before a group of nutcases. Ron Paul didn't, and hasn't, for a simple reason—he’s one of them.

And just as his associations with far-right extremists have empowered those groups—a favor now being returned in the form of their avid support for him even as he attempts to strategically distance himself from them—his recent stunning successes mean the further empowerment of these groups. And that is why, over the long term, we ought to take much greater pause in considering the value of his success.

Before signing off, I offered one more missive, which Glenn sniffed at and dismissed.

At this point, it had become manifestly clear to me that Greenwald has an immense blind spot—an inexplicable one, really—when it comes to far-right extremism and its spread into the mainstream, and the toxic effects of that spread.

This isn’t a matter of whether Greenwald is a racist or an extremist or an anti-Semite or anything like that. I don’t believe he is, even remotely. I’m glad I defended him initially. And no doubt, Glenn will dismiss this entire piece as a lie and a smear in which I make him out to be a racist. But seriously, I don’t believe for a minute that he is.

I just believe his sort of principled rigidity on free-speech issues blinds him to the real-world effects of fascism—particularly how it manipulates free-speech principles in order to destroy them. Fascists use people like Greenwald to leave a trail of wreckage.

It’s not about whether or not he’s racist—which, after all, would indeed make the whole issue one of guilt by association. That’s not the point of all this. No, this is a question of judgment: If you’re so short-sighted that you can’t see how your ethical choices wind up enabling harmful behavior, then exactly how astute is your judgment in any event?

It’s not guilt by association, it’s the guilt of association: People in responsible mainstream positions who lend legitimacy to people from far-right hate groups—whether Klansmen, skinheads, neo-Nazis, or militiamen—are exercising profoundly poor judgment. Lending them that legitimacy not only normalizes them, it empowers them. It helps fuel the twisted psychology of the far right that inevitably, like a law of physics itself, produces violent horrors and ruptured communities. Ask the folks in Billings, or in Illinois.

The closest anyone has come to getting an answer out of Greenwald about the questions about judgment raised by his work on Matt Hale’s behalf was in an interview in Rolling Stone in 2013. His answer was typically self-serving, and certainly indicates a lack of any regret: “To me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy ... not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate."

All very noble-sounding of course, but it hardly squares with the reality of how he conducted himself. There is no indication Glenn hated Hale or WCTOC in any of his dealings with them; indeed, you can easily find expressions of admiration both in his public remarks and his legal filings. But his expressions of hatred for Center for Constitutional Rights and SPLC were vivid, not to mention anyone who dared oppose his cause. Equally vivid were his dismissal of the families of Ben Smith’s victims for being “desperate to stop us”—and assertion that their desperation proved the “correctness of our cause.”

Over the ensuing years, he’s manifested this blind spot, and supremely bad judgment, many times. Once he posted a tweet promoting an ad by the far-right conspiracist outfit the Oath Keepers, soft-pedaling them as “a coalition of former police, military and public officials.”

More recently, of course, he has appeared frequently on Fox News with Tucker Carlson. Carlson’s record of promoting white-nationalist causes and ideas clearly doesn’t bother Greenwald. In the process, of course, he has become exactly what he once derided caustically: a “Fox News liberal,” one whose appearance on the network is mainly used to help forward right-wing talking points and destroy the left. He’s now a Useful Tool.

And now he is defending his fellow faux progressives as they join Carlson in his campaign to minimize and defend fascist white nationalism as Not Really A Problem.

But apparently, fascist authoritarianism is only a problem in Brazil. Because Glenn lives there and he is seeing the consequences in person. Perhaps Greenwald should try living in the States again, so he can experience firsthand that the consequences are here too. It’s not clear what alternative universe Michael Tracey is living in, however.