Thursday, October 16, 2008

Note to the Palin crowd: Your roots are showing

-- by Dave

It was kind of strange, dintcha think, that John McCain came to the defense of his supporters last night after Barack Obama pointed out that people at McCain/Palin rallies were shouting out "terrorist" and "kill him!" in reference to Obama.

Now an Al Jazeera camera crew caught the honest sentiments of McCain/Palin supporters at an Ohio rally:

“I’m afraid if he wins, the blacks will take over. He’s not a Christian! This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?”

“When you got a Negra running for president, you need a first stringer. He’s definitely a second stringer.”

“He seems like a sheep - or a wolf in sheep’s clothing to be honest with you. And I believe Palin - she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe she’s gonna bring honesty and integrity to the White House.”

“He’s related to a known terrorist, for one.”

“He is friends with a terrorist of this country!”

“He must support terrorists! You know, uh, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. And that to me is Obama.”

“Just the whole, Muslim thing, and everything, and everybody’s still kinda - a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11, but… I dunno, it’s just kinda… a little unnerving.”

“Obama and his wife, I’m concerned that they could be anti-white. That he might hide that.”

“I don’t like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash… because we’re not!”

Yep, McCain must be so proud.

The rest of us, well ... let's just say those polls should tell the story.

[H/t to Ta-Nehisi Coates, via Spencer Ackerman.]

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CNN, Sarah Palin, and the LA Times

-- by Dave

The L.A. Times' James Rainey took out after CNN's Rick Sanchez this morning for his segment yesterday in which he interviewed me about the Salon piece I co-wrote with Max Blumenthal about Sarah Palin's past dalliances with Alaska's far-right fringe crowd.

Writes Rainey:

But Sanchez and the CNN crew instead ran their report off into the underbrush, reaching a low when the anchor tried to draw a parallel between the Alaska party and the forces behind the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

"Not comparing them to actions [sic] but comparing them in terms of ideology, not actions but ideology, are [members of the Alaskan Independence Party] similar to the group that blew up the [Alfred P.] Murrah building?" Sanchez asked, seemingly apologetic for that stinker, even as he unleashed it.

Even Neiwert, whose reporting makes him no Palin fan, seemed a bit taken aback by that line. "Well, of course, that was an individual lone wolf who was associated with the patriots" movement, Neiwert said of the Oklahoma City attack. "But, yes, they basically come from the same, uh, sort of ideological background. That's correct."

I still had trouble seeing what that had to do with Sarah Palin.

Well, it's true that I was a bit taken aback by the question. For one, hardly anyone in the mainstream media seems to remember the Oklahoma City bombing and the Patriot movement's involvement in it. For the most part, the mainstream line has evolved that this was an "isolated incident" involving a lone kook, rather than the signature event of a broad stream of right-wing domestic terrorism that hit the United States in the 1990s. So I was a little surprised to hear someone make the connection.

But it is a connection that involves some thoughtful nuance, so I was careful in answering him. The reality is that the 1990s "Patriot" movement was essentially the latest step in the racist right's ongoing efforts to return to the mainstream of American discourse -- and in mainstreaming themselves in the guise of "citizen militias" and the like, this meant a couple of things: First, that its rhetoric and appeals were largely stripped of its overtly racist and anti-Semitic elements, yet its political agenda was nonetheless as radical as before.

And second, it meant that a lot of mainstream conservatives were going to be brushing shoulders with real far-right radicals and, in many cases, being gulled into joining arms with them. Part of covering and writing about the Patriot movement involved listening and watching carefully to distinguish them, because to some extent, you had to give the mainstream conservatives the benefit of the doubt when it came to their actual intent in getting involved with these groups.

At the same time, they still had some real culpability insofar as they helped swell the ranks of the militias and other Patriot organizing strategies, as well as helped lend them a veneer of fake legitimacy and normalcy. Moreover, in many cases -- particularly with Republican politicians (the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth springs to mind) -- those who gave the militias cover of legitimacy, pandered to them, and actually empowered them should face serious questions from the mainstream electorate for their conduct in public office and their lack of judgment.

And that, for those who need ask, is what Sarah Palin has to do with all this.

For those who haven't read the Salon story, our findings about Sarah Palin's relationship to the Patriot right in Wasilla, and Alaska generally, boiled down to this:

  • Palin formed a political alliance with Wasilla's Patriot-movement faction while still a Wasilla city councilman, and they played a significant role in her successful campaign against the three-term incumbent mayor in 1996.

  • Palin, in one of her first acts as mayor, attempted to fill the seat vacated by her ascension to the mayorship with one of the leaders of this faction -- a bellicose man described by the city councilman who blocked his appointment as having a "violent" disposition.

  • Mayor Palin also fired the city's museum director at the behest of this faction.

  • Palin also organized this faction to turn out at a city council meeting to shout down a proposed local gun-control ordinance. Palin also determinedly allowed the testimony of the pro-gun crowd before the bill had even been presented to the council or prepared for public hearings -- a clear violation of city-council policy.

  • Palin had a continual association with Alaskan Independence Party chairman Mark Chryson (a Wasilla resident) throughout her tenure as mayor, and joined to support him in a series of anti-gun-control and anti-tax measures, both locally and statewide.

  • Palin attended the AIP's state conventions in 1994 and 2006, the latter when she was campaigning for the governorship. The 1994 appearance is more questionable, since it came at time when the AIP was more openly radical (its members had backed militia figure Col. James "Bo" Gritz in the 1992 election), and its platform then contained what Chryson calls "racist language".

  • She sent a videotaped address to the AIP at its 2008 convention (see above), ostensibly because "I've always thought competition is so good, and that applies to political parties as well" -- though notably, she sent no such similar videotaped welcome to the state's Democratic Party.

In fact, it should be clear to anyone who understands how politics work, especially in rural places like Alaska, that Palin's videotaped message to the AIP was a clear acknowledgment that they constitute a significant part of her base.

And that's really the problem. By itself, it might be benign. But given the history of associations with this faction we dug up in Wasilla, it takes on a much more troubling cast.

The McCain/Palin campaign, as we noted, wants to dismiss this as a "smear" with taking the trouble to demonstrate that it is one. And it's true that the on-air response to this was somewhat lacking. Writes Rainey:

"CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Sen. Obama's religion," said Michael Goldfarb, a McCain-Palin spokesman. "No serious news organization has tried to make this connection, and it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first."

Responding to the reference to Obama's religion toward the end of the segment, Sanchez either ignored or was too dull to understand that the McCain camp was complaining about unfairness. Instead, he turned to the Salon reporter and asked: "Is this in any way a religious organization, the AIP?"


I should have made clear at this point that the issue isn't one of Sarah Palin's faith, it's about her conduct in public office, and how it is affected by her ideological associations. Because that is the issue here.

And it's troubling that a mainstream political reporter like Rainey can't see that. This is underscored by his conclusion:

The regrettable episode ended with Neiwert suggesting that the secessionists have talked about "infiltrating" mainstream political parties to spread their influence.

"Infiltrating," repeated the malleable Sanchez. "Interesting choice of words."

Interesting indeed.

Well, what Rainey might find interesting is the video at left. It is footage of Dexter Clark, the AIP's vice-chairman, leading discussion of political tactics at the 2007 North American Secessionist Convention. In it, he discussed Sarah Palin thus:

She was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town -- that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along -- she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won't go into that. She also had about an 80% approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.

Now, it's true that Clark later disavowed this as "mistaken" after examining the AIP's actual rolls in 2008. But it's clear that Clark and many others within the AIP viewed Palin as "one of ours." And as we have demonstrated, they did so with good cause.

Clark then goes on to bring up Ron Paul as a good example of how to "infiltrate" other parties:

I think Ron Paul has kind of proven that. He's a dyed-in-the wool libertarian -- I know because he came to Alaska and spoke as a libertarian -- and he's put the Republican label on to get elected. That's all there is to it. And any one of your organizations -- should be using that same tactic. You should infiltrate -- I know that Christian Exodus is in favor of it. The Free State Movement is in favor of it. I don't even care which party it is. Whichever party you think in that area you can get something done, get into that party. Even though that party has its problems, right now that is the only avenue. And if you get some people on city council or a county board you can have some effect.

Not only did Palin conduct her office in just such a fashion -- trying to appoint Patriot-movement followers to vacant city-council seats -- it's clear that Clark, Chryson, and many others within the AIP continue to view Palin as "one of theirs." This is no doubt why they urged their members to support her in 2006. However, their belief that she is "infiltrating" the Republican Party is more likely than not simply part of their long-running delusional belief system.

What's not delusional, however, is the cold reality that Palin has a real history of empowering these extremists, and pandering to their conspiratorial beliefs, from her position of public office. And the question is whether that would continue from a position of real power in the White House.

(You can send your thoughts -- respectfully, please -- to Rainey at

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sarah Palin's fringe roots: Talking on CNN

-- by Dave

Well, now we know what it takes to get a response to legitimate questions about their candidate out of the McCain/Palin campaign: Appear on CNN.

I did so today, on Rick Sanchez's CNN Newsroom program, where we discussed the Salon piece Max Blumenthal and I co-wrote and its ramifications. Sanchez was particularly focused on Palin's connections to the Alaskan Independence Party, so that was the bulk of our discussion. (I'll update with the transcript when it's available.) [Update: Here is the transcript.]

Now, when we were preparing the Salon piece for publication, I contacted the McCain/Palin campaign first by phone to ask for their reactions to our report's findings. They asked me to send an e-mail, which I did. But I never heard a word back from them.

So today, after CNN picked up the story, they were in fact able to elicit the following response:

CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator Obama's religion. No serious news organization has tried to make this connection, and it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first.

We are trying to arrange to have one of the Governor's people come on air to respond in the event you do run this piece.

A few points about this:

-- A smear by definition is untrue. However, everything in our story is fully documented. We've even posted the relevant documents here so readers can judge the accuracy of the story for themselves.

-- This is not about Sarah Palin's faith; it's about her conduct as a public official.

-- In fact, CNN is not the first network to pick up on this story. Rachel Maddow at MSNBC in fact featured Blumenthal on her Thursday night broadcast, when the story first broke, to talk about it.

If Team McCain wants to convince anyone this is merely a "smear", they're going to have to demonstrate some falsity or distortion first.

What we've already heard from some Palin defenders is that this report is merely another attempt at "guilt by association."

But "guilt by association," by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association (which describes the William Ayers "connection" to a T). Palin's associations with the "Patriot" right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she's been indulging in recent weeks.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Palin's '90s dalliances tell us now

-- by Dave

I wanted to offer a little deeper detail on the report in Salon that Max Blumenthal and I put together on Sarah Palin's radical-right friends in Wasilla and the extent to which they worked together -- partly because some of the details reveal a good deal about Palin's approach to governance.

As the story explains, when Palin was elected mayor in 1996, one of her first acts was to attempt to fill her former city council seat by appointing one of the leaders of the town's Bircherite faction, Steve Stoll. She was blocked in that effort by a single vote from former councilman Nick Carney.

Here's a PDF of the minutes from that meeting. What's particularly noteworthy is that Palin was on the verge of ramming the appointment through over Carney's head.

The situation was this: Wasilla's city council comprises six seats. Two of those had been vacated by the just-finished election -- Palin into the mayorship, and another councilman who'd been elected to the Mat-Su Borough Council. The city charter requires all votes to be a majority (that is, 4-2, 4-1, 5-1, 5-0, or 6-0) in order for a measure to pass, including council-seat appointments. Since there was no quorum of the council available, any of these seats had to be approved 4-0 by those council members remaining.

So when Carney refused to put Stoll on the council, it made the vote 3-1. The council minutes tell us that the situation lingered for a week, for a follow-up meeting on Oct. 21, and when they came back, Palin announced that she had some legal opinions saying she could proceed despite Carney's opposition:

Mayor Palin following consultation with several attorneys suggested that since there appeared to be an impasse, that Steve Stoll and Mrs. Dianne Keller be appointed to the vacant council seats based on a 3 to 1 vote previously made by the council.

Evidently, much wrangling then ensued, during which Palin ultimately backed down and nominated a compromise candidate, Darlene Langill, who was appointed to the seat.

It's also worth noting that, according to Carney, Palin also was hoping to appoint one of Stoll's right-wing cohorts, a man named Mike Chryst, to the second council seat. But the city clerk ruled him ineligible because he lived outside the city limits.

The other Wasilla City Council meeting of special note that we describe in the story involved Carney's attempt to pass a common-sense local gun-control ordinance (which you can read as a PDF here. It was this meeting to which Palin recruited a number of witnesses, led by Mark Chryson, to protest the proposal even before it had been completed, and certainly before any hearings were planned.

The minutes read:

Councilwoman Langill requested clarification whether or not the public hearing on Ordinance Serial No. 97-43 was being conducted at this time, as Council Policy was not being followed since people were being allowed to speak on a scheduled agenda item under persons to be heard. Mayor Palin stated that she invites the public to speak on any issue, at any time. Councilman Carney stated that he thought it was unfortunate that Mayor Palin was allowing discussion on Ordinance Serial No. 97-43 at this time. He stated that his intention in presenting this ordinance was to make Wasilla the safest community possible. He feels there are areas of Wasilla where offensive weapons should not be allowed. He never expected to get a second on the introduction of this ordinance, and since there is no support from the Council on the proposed ordinance, allowing discussion is a waste of time. He stated Mayor Palin is violating the meeting rules set for this Council.

Later on, when Carney did try to get a second to advance the ordinance for the next council meeting, he couldn't get one. And so it died then (though Carney did later introduce a resolution banning weapons from city offices, but that too went nowhere).

The picture of Palin's style of governance is eerily similar to what we've seen from the Bush White House the past eight years: When laws, rules, and policies stand in the way of getting what you want, simply ignore them away.

Moreover, what we also see is Palin's early willingness to use demagoguery and overt appeals to the paranoid, angry fringe of the right to get what she wants.

Pretty much what we're seeing on the campaign trail these days, don't you think?

GOP: The Party of Fear

-- by Dave

The other day Digby picked up on Michael Froomkin report about a flyer being distributed in Florida that says:

Republicans have proven they will never retreat under pressure from terrorists or the nations who harbor them.

While Democrats have called for surrender in the fight against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, they have also pledged to meet unconditionally with dictators and tyrants.

Keep America Safe. Vote Republican.

And Eli observes at Multi Medium that the McCain campaign is in fact training its volunteers to think of, and to portray, Obama as a terrorist, "a ground operation actually training its volunteers to elicit violent responses in voters."

Then there was Sarah Palin in her debate with Joe Biden:

You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy, is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, "How are you feeling about the economy?"

And I'll bet you, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market. Did we just take a major hit with those investments?

Fear about, how are we going to afford to send our kids to college? A fear, as small-business owners, perhaps, how we're going to borrow any money to increase inventory or hire more people.

Fear, fear everywhere. That's what Republicans are selling.

And in reality, this is now the standard Republican campaign: Create fear among voters, and then play on those fears. It has been so for as long as I've been in politics.

I've been rereading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, which explores in colorful detail how masterful The Trickster was in conducting precisely just such a divisive, culture-war campaign. In his day, it was all about appealing to white voters fearful about Negro rioters and depraved hippies and conspiring commies. The precise objects of fear have altered slightly -- now it's simply black "criminals" and dirty-hippie liberals and bloodthirsty terrorists -- but the basic outline is the same.

Of course, as you can see from the billboard above -- which appeared at a Pittsburgh suburb in 1949 -- this sort of appeal even preceded Nixon.

But this year, their fearmongering is reaching new depths. As Adam Serwer at TAP recently explored, the talk about Obama as a terrorist has its roots in this ancient sewer, and more important, it has dangerous consequences. Serwer was describing the weekend dustup over the remarks by Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights pioneer, comparing McCain to George Wallace. As Serwer observes:

Lewis was expressing concern that the McCain campaign’s rhetoric could lead some of their supporters to conclude that violence is the only rational response to an Obama victory.

And as an Obama victory begins to appear even more inevitable, watch for the Little Timmys to start coming out of the woodwork.