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Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes a videotaped address to the annual convention of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a far-right, secessionist third party that has had considerable success in state and local politics. Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP from 1995 through 2002, when he reregistered his voter status as “undecided.” Palin’s address steers clear of racist and secessionist rhetoric, but is very complimentary. She tells the assemblage: “I share your party’s vision of upholding the Constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty can expand. I know you agree with that.… Keep up the good work and God bless you.” Palin has been given tremendous, if behind-the-scenes, support from former AIP chairman Mark Chryson throughout her political career (see October 10, 2008). Her attendance at the 1994 and 2006 AIP conventions, her address to the 2008 convention, and her husband’s membership in the AIP, will become a minor issue when she is named as the running mate for presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ). Chryson will insist that neither of the Palins had any real dealings with the AIP. “Sarah’s never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party,” he will say. “Todd has, but most of rural Alaska has too. I never saw him at a meeting. They were at one meeting I was at. Sarah said hello, but I didn’t pay attention because I was taking care of business.” This contradicts Chryston’s near-boasting of his access to, and influence with, Palin during her tenure on the Wasilla City Council, as mayor of Wasilla, and as governor. And Dexter Clark, the current vice chairman of the AIP, will claim that Palin was an AIP member while she was Wasilla’s mayor, though she switched to the Republican Party to run for governor so as to have a broader appeal to the electorate. The McCain-Palin campaign will produce documentation that shows Palin registered as a Republican in 1988, and was never an official AIP member. (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) The AIP Web site’s convention page touts Palin’s videotaped message; the message is the only thing on the convention page. (Alaskan Independence Party 2008)
Reporters and authors Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert compile an investigative report for Salon that documents the large, if shadowy, network of far-right militia support that Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) enjoys. Palin is running for vice president with presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ). Two of her most powerful supporters are Mark Chryson, the former head of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), and Steve Stoll, a far-right activist and member of the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) known in his home region of the Mat-Su Valley as “Black Helicopter Steve.” Both Chryson and Stoll are large financial contributors to Palin’s various political campaigns, and, as Blumenthal and Neiwert write, “they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during, and after her victory,” referring to her successful campaigns for mayor of Wasilla (see Mid and Late 1996) and, later, Alaska’s governor. Chryson’s AIP fought to eliminate taxes, support what it called “traditional family” values, remove all restraints from gun ownership, and perhaps most controversially, force Alaska to secede from the United States. Still a proud AIP member, Chryson tells the reporters that he still has “enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement,” but assures the rest of the nation, “We want to go our separate ways, but we are not going to kill you.” Under Chryson’s leadership and on into the present, the AIP works to connect with like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South of the US. Chryson is from Wasilla, Palin’s hometown, and during the 1990s his support was critical in making Palin the mayor of Wasilla and later the governor of Alaska. He and Stoll played an equally critical role in shaping her political agenda after her victories. Governor Palin often worked closely with Chryson as he and the AIP worked to successfully advance a wave of anti-tax, pro-gun legislative initiatives, and helped Chryson put through a change in Alaska’s Constitution to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. As both mayor and governor, Palin and Chryson worked together to extract revenge against local officials they disliked. Palin often took Chryson and Stoll’s advice on hiring government officials. “Every time I showed up [in Wasilla] her door was open,” Chryson says. “And that policy continued when she became governor.”
Originally Saw Palin as Too Accomodating with Democrats - Chryson first met Palin in the early 1990s, when he was a member of a local libertarian pressure group called SAGE, or Standing Against Government Excess. He met her through SAGE founder Tammy McGraw, who was Palin’s birth coach. Palin was a leader in a pro-sales tax citizens group called WOW, or Watch Over Wasilla, which helped her win a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992. Chryson liked her, but considered her too willing to work with council Democrats to be of use to him. Chryson was then jockeying to become head of the AIP, a powerful political party that in 1990 had elected Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as governor; Palin wanted to be mayor of Wasilla. Chryson and Palin quickly determined that they could help one another. Chryson became leader of the AIP in 1997, and saw Palin as a chance for the AIP to take its message more mainstream. He helped quiet the more racist members and platform planks of the AIP, and reached out to Alaska’s growing Christian-right movement by emphasizing AIP’s commitment to “traditional family” values and its opposition to gay rights. Chryson even succeeded in softening the AIP’s insistence on secession. Chryson is an expert at crafting his political message to appeal to disparate groups, and succeeded in forging alliances with white supremacists, far-right theocrats, neo-Confederates, and more moderate right-wing groups that do not advocate open racism, rebellion, Christian theocracy, or violence. In 1995, Palin’s husband Todd joined the AIP, further cementing Chryson’s increasing support of Palin.
Palin Secured AIP Support for Mayorality - With Stoll, Chryson helped gain Palin the mayorship of Wasilla in the 1996 election, comforted by Palin’s steady move rightward as she continued her tenure on the city council. Palin’s opponent in that election, Republican John Stein, will later say of Chryson and Stoll: “She got support from these guys. I think smart politicians never utter those kind of radical things, but they let other people do it for them. I never recall Sarah saying she supported the militia or taking a public stand like that. But these guys were definitely behind Sarah, thinking she was the more conservative choice.… They worked behind the scenes. I think they had a lot of influence in terms of helping with the back-scatter negative campaigning.” Chryson helped Palin craft a successful campaign based on personal attacks on her opponents, both Stein and her Democratic opponent. Palin characterized Stein as a closet Jew and a sexist, both mischaracterizations, and falsely challenged the legal status of his marriage. Wasilla resident Phil Munger, a close friend of Stein’s, recalls, “I watched that campaign unfold, bringing a level of slime our community hadn’t seen until then.” Chryson helped Palin thwart a local gun-control measure (see June 1997). Chryson and Palin attempted to name Stoll to an empty seat on the Wasilla City Council, but were thwarted by another councilman, Nick Carney, who considered Stoll too “violent” to be a successful council member.
Implementing AIP Agenda as Governor - Chryson recalls helping Governor Palin slash property taxes and block a measure that would have taken money for public programs from the Permanent Fund Dividend, or the oil and gas fund that doles out annual payments to citizens of Alaska. Palin endorsed Chryson’s unsuccessful initiative to move the state legislature from Juneau to Wasilla. She was successful at helping Chryson get pro-militia and gun-rights language into the Alaska Constitution. In 2006, Chryson helped Palin bring Hickel on board as the co-chairman of her gubernatorial campaign; Hickel’s presence meant the implicit endorsement of the AIP for Palin’s candidacy. Hickel later said of his support, “I made her governor.” Hickel now supports Palin’s bid for the vice-presidency, spurred in part by her explicit endorsement of the AIP agenda (see March 2008).
Infiltrating the Mainstream - Chryson has long advocated that AIP members “infiltrate” both Republican and Democratic parties, and points to Palin as a model of successful infiltration. “There’s a lot of talk of her moving up,” AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark says of Palin. “She was a member [of the AIP] when she was mayor of a small town, that was a nonpartisan job. But to get along and to go along she switched to the Republican Party.… She is pretty well sympathetic because of her membership.” It is possible, Blumenthal and Neiwert speculate, that Clark saw Palin as so closely aligned with Chryson and the AIP that he wrongly assumed she was an official member. Chryson understands that as a vice-presidential candidate, Palin has no intention of espousing secessionist or racist views. Indeed, he hopes that her inauguration will represent the beginning of a new and deeper infiltration. “I’ve had my issues but she’s still staying true to her core values,” Chryson says. “Sarah’s friends don’t all agree with her, but do they respect her? Do they respect her ideology and her values? Definitely.” (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) In the days after this article appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will say that her husband Dexter’s recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey lambasts CNN for what he calls an attempted “smear” against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK). Rainey is referring to a segment recently aired on CNN (see October 14, 2008) that interviewed author and columnist David Neiwert, who recently co-wrote an article about Palin’s connections to the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008). Palin has already demanded that the McCain-Palin campaign issue a statement repudiating the CNN segment, a decision the campaign did not acquiesce to (see October 15, 2008); it is unclear whether Rainey had any knowledge of Palin’s demand, though McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sent a message to CNN calling the segment “a smear” that was aired during the segment itself. Rainey writes that the Neiwert interview was little more than “a reheated, overwrought, and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.” He acknowledges that Palin’s husband Todd Palin once belonged to the AIP, and writes, “[H]is wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.” (The article by Neiwert and co-author Max Blumenthal goes into significant detail about how AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson have steered Palin’s rise to power from her days as a Wasilla city council member.) Rainey accurately notes that neither Neiwert, Blumenthal, nor CNN have shown that Palin has echoed the AIP’s central platform call for Alaska’s secession from the United States. He calls Alaskan politics “eccentric,” and says that in Alaska, the AIP “is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990. And party members have been in the thick of the state’s public life for decades. Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.” Rainey criticizes CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez for “front-loading” his segment with “outrageous pronouncements from AIP founder Joe Vogler, now deceased,” including Voger’s famous pronoucement: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag.” Rainey draws a comparison to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “old pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.,” then writes, “[T]o my knowledge, no direct connection between Vogler and Gov. Palin has been reported.” (Rainey 10/15/2008) In a rejoinder published on the liberal news blog Crooks and Liars, Neiwert notes that in the CNN interview, he was careful not to associate Palin directly with far-right radicals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez attempted to do, and notes, “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.” However, Neiwert goes on to say, the connections between Palin and the AIP are quite strong and well detailed. He also notes that AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark said flatly in 2007 that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town (see Mid and Late 1996)—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 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.” He also notes that Clark later disavowed his claim of Palin’s membership in the AIP. However, Neiwert writes, “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.” He concludes that it is a “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.” (Neiwert 10/15/2008)
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