Saturday, August 21, 2004

Our friends at Citizens United

It really shouldn't surprise anyone that the right-wing attacks on John Kerry -- notably including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- have all so far proven to be brazen falsehoods and crudely nasty smears. One of the main players in perpetrating the smears, as it turns out, is none other than Citizens United, the Floyd Brown/David Bossie dirty-tricks operation.

These are guys whose ethos makes Dick Nixon look like a choirboy.

Again, this isn't a surprise, if you happen to know a little about their history. Not only were these characters central actors in the misbegotten attempt to impeach Bill Clinton; not only does their involvement in dirty smears date back to the first Bush presidential campaign and the "Willie Horton" ads; but they have also been, over the years, significant players in the transmission of far-right extremist ideas and agendas into the mainstream and the concomitant bridging and coalition-building between the mainstream and extremist right.

Their most recent project, as Joe Conason reports in Salon, is releasing a pro-Bush counter to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to be titled The Big Picture. But it's only half an enconium to Bush; it also features an extended attack on Kerry:
An outline of the "The Big Picture" obtained by Salon suggests that the Citizens United documentary will offer not only a staunch defense of Bush but also an aggressive attack on Kerry, including a recitation of various smears having to do with his medal-winning military history put forward lately by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The outline portrays the Democratic nominee as the preferred candidate of such "foreign leaders" as Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il and the Nicaraguan Sandinista Party, and as an "appeaser" of European powers deemed corrupt and hostile to U.S. interests -- especially France. Virtually all the world's other nations are solidly behind Bush and the war in Iraq, according to the outline, which labors to disprove allegations that Bush "lied" about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida.

Note the hostility to international cooperation? Note the eagerness to pull out the lowest of cheap shots, namely, the insinuation that Kerry is "the favored candidate" of the nation's enemies? Note the allergy to factuality or fairness, and the eagerness to distort, twist and lie?

Well, these are all perfectly in character for Citizens United.

Salon previously examined Bossie, who seems to have taken up residency among the "respectable" pundit class, including semi-regular appearances on Lou Dobbs' CNN talk program.

Just as significant, though, is the background of Floyd G. Brown, the group's founder and chairman. Brown's current bio (at the Young America's Foundation)neglects to mention it, but his old bio at Citizens United (no longer available) used to read proudly:
In 1988 and 1992, Mr. Brown's independent expenditure campaigns supporting President Bush produced effective and memorable ads including the now-famous "Willie Horton ad."

Now, most people would run from any association with the Horton ad, which stands today as an icon of Republicans' dalliances with racism. But not Brown, who understood that the damage inflicted by such an ad would easily overcome any outrage that might follow. The important thing was to get the meme out there -- regardless of its noxious nature.

This was discussed in detail in a report by Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates on the reach of the "Clinton conspiracy" industry into the extremist right, in which Citizens United played a starring role:
Brown remains proud of the 1988 Willie Horton ad, widely denounced as racist pandering. In 1992, he attempted to place ads for a $4.99 paid phone call that would play tapes of Gennifer Flowers in a telephone conversation with then-governor Clinton. The hook was a promise that the conversation probed sexual matters. The incident was so tasteless that the Bush/Quayle campaign was again forced to condemn Brown and his tactics. Brown also arranged a screening for a reporter of Militia leader Linda Thompson's video, "Waco: The Big Lie," a potage of conspiracy theories linking Clinton to premeditated murder.

Two of Brown's senior staff are veterans of the ultra-conservative subculture with its conspiracist worldview of communism as a vast left wing conspiracy-a worldview that originated in the Old Right. Cliff Kincaid is director of Citizens United Foundation's American Sovereignty Action Project. He the author of two conspiracist books on the United Nations, Global Bondage: The U.N. Plan to Rule the World and Global Taxes for World Government, both published by Huntington House. Kincaid's claims about the UN are promoted within the patriot movement. Kincaid also works for Accuracy in Media, and writes columns for Human Events and the American Legion Magazine, with a circulation of 3 million. In a 1991 article for Human Events, Kincaid red-baited groups protesting the Gulf War and quoted right-wing undercover operative Sheila Louise Rees, claiming antiwar demonstrations were concocted "by the traditional hard-line peace activist organizations that have always worked with the Communist Party U.S.A." Human Events is now published by Eagle/Phillips Publishing. Regnery Publishing is primarily owned by Phillips Publishing and the Regnery family.

[Regnery (and Eagle/Phillips Publishing) may ring a familiar bell: This is the house that published both Michelle Malkin's dismal pro-internment screed and the Not So Swift Liars' book.]

As Berlet notes, though, Brown moved from "Willie Horton"-style dirty tricks in the 1990s to specializing in promoting far-right "Patriot" movement beliefs, notably theories about Bill Clinton's evil conspiracy to enslave America by instituting a United Nations-led "New World Order."

As recently as 1999 at the Citizens United Web site -- in addition, naturally, to a bevy of Monica-related impeachment demands -- one could find screaming exposes of the Clintons' alleged involvement in the United Nations one-world-government plot. A streaming banner on the site shouted: "Secret United Nations Agenda Exposed In Explosive New Video!" A little further down, the site explained: "This timely new video reveals how the liberal regime of Bill Clinton is actively conspiring to aid and abet the United Nations in its drive for global supremacy." For those who follow the militia movement, these tales have more than a familiar ring.

Indeed, it used to be a common sight at militia meetings in the mid-1990s to see stacks of Brown and Bossie's tome Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton for sale in stacks, right alongside The Clinton Chronicles (both book and video). Later, of course, Bossie began achieving a certain level of notoriety for his anti-Clinton activities, notably distributing doctored audio tapes to the press under the auspices of his position as an investigator for Rep. Dan Burton, R-Melon Shooters, from which he was summarily fired.

In recent years, as they're striven for media respectability -- which has apparently been granted -- Citizens United has toned down the overt appeals to the far right. But you don't have to look far to see it simmering just beneath the surface, and in revealing fashion.

Nowadays at their Web site, for instance, you can find this description of the activities of the Citizens United Foundation:
American Sovereignty Project

American Sovereignty Project ("ASP") is the grass-roots lobbying arm of Citizens United that works to protect American sovereignty and security. ASP's major objectives include complete U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, defeat of the treaty to establish a permanent U.N.-controlled International Criminal Court, and rejection of one-world government.

Citizens United for the Bush Agenda

Citizens United for the Bush Agenda is the project through which Citizens United members work to enact key elements of President Bush's conservative legislative and policy agenda, including across the board tax cuts, complete elimination of the death tax, a strong national defense, deployment of a missile defense system, educational choice, and a reduction in government regulation and red tape.

This is an interesting one-two punch, planning-wise. The first project appears directed at what we can expect from the far-right/mainstream conservative nexus if John Kerry is elected; the second project looks forward to a Bush election.

The latter is disturbing enough (can anyone explain to me why pushing a missile defense system is even on the list of Bush priorities?). But the former is a chilling harbinger of what awaits us if Kerry wins the presidency:

McCarthyite railing against "communist" influences. Patriot-oriented conspiracy theories about a "New World Order" global government (with the Swift Boats Veterans material -- replete with its theories about Kerry's "long-term" plans to become president -- playing a starring role). Bizarre and divisive claims about the "homosexual agenda" and gun-control plots and "Green Nazis." Most of all, incessant attacks, both on Kerry's character along with otherworldly distortions of his actual political agenda, combined with larger attacks on "liberalism" as a disease in need of eradication.

If it sounds a lot like what Bill Clinton faced upon his election 12 years ago, you're right. But there's a difference, and it's significant: Bossie and Brown are no longer consigned to obscurity. Nowadays, they're players among the pundit class.

The promulgation of the "New World Order" hysteria, in particular, threatens to be a real problem for Kerry, because his plans for dealing with the mess in Iraq, as well as for dealing with the "war on terror," revolve around building international coalitions. [Remember, if you will, the response at Free Republic to news stories about international monitors at American elections.) And he'll be contending against a mainstream right that, contaminated by growing extremism, is certain to become not only bellicose, but irrational and perhaps even radical in opposing him. Certainly, they will stop at nothing to paint him as betraying America in the process.

What really is surprising, ultimately, is the fact that not only do Bossie & Co. have even a shred of credibility, but they're given a national platform on mainstream media. As Atrios put it, it's astonishing -- and telling -- that people like the smear artists at Citizens United and Swift Boat Liars are given any media time whatsoever, instead of being shoved to the sidelines along with Lyndon LaRouche, Militia of Montana and the rest of the nation's immensely destructive far-right lunatic contingent.

That is, after all, exactly where they belong.

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