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Profile: John Avlon

John Avlon was a participant or observer in the following events:

Photo of a rock included on his blog post by Mike Vanderboegh. The meaning of the Roman numeral III is unclear.Photo of a rock included on his blog post by Mike Vanderboegh. The meaning of the Roman numeral III is unclear. [Source: Mike Vanderboegh]Mike Vanderboegh, the former head of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, writes a blog post urging his readers to show their displeasure over the Democrats’ health care reform bill by breaking the windows of Democratic legislative offices. “To all modern Sons of Liberty,” he writes on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars,” “THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.” Vanderboegh, who lives on government disability payments, writes of what he calls “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act”: “So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.” [Mike Vanderboegh, 3/19/2010; Kansas City Star, 3/22/2010; Think Progress, 3/23/2010; Daily Beast, 3/24/2010; Washington Post, 3/25/2010; Salon, 3/26/2010]
Vandalism, Death Threats against Lawmakers and Children in Three States - In the days that follow, windows and glass door panels are shattered in Democratic Party offices and Democrats’ district legislative offices in Arizona, Kansas, and New York. At least 10 Democratic legislators report receiving death threats, harassment, and vandalism at their offices. In the Niagara Falls, New York, office of Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a voice mail message is left threatening to send snipers to “assassinate… the children of lawmakers who voted yes” on health care reform. [Kansas City Star, 3/22/2010; Think Progress, 3/23/2010; Politico, 3/24/2010; Washington Post, 3/25/2010] Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg, Virginia, Tea Party, publishes what he believes to be the home address of Representative Thomas Perriello (D-VA), and urges angry voters to “drop by” for a “good face-to-face chat.” (The address is that of Bo Perriello, the brother of Thomas. Troxel refuses to take it down from his blog, but says he would be happy to amend his post with Perriello’s own address. Within days of Troxel’s post, someone cuts Bo Perriello’s propane gas line, an act that could lead to a fire.) Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), whose last-minute compromise on abortion (see March 24, 2010) guaranteed passage of the health care bill, reports receiving multiple death threats on his home and office answering machines, including one that said, “You’re dead; we know where you live; we’ll get you.” Stupak tells a reporter, “My wife still can’t answer the phone.” The messages are “full of obscenities if she leaves it plugged in. In my office, we can’t get a phone out. It’s just bombarded.” [Politico, 3/24/2010; Right Wing Watch, 3/24/2010]
Prediction of 'Civil War' over Health Care, Taxation - Though Democratic Party officials in New York call for Vanderboegh’s arrest, believing he is behind an incident of vandalism in Rochester, he has not as yet been interviewed by law enforcement authorities. Vanderboegh tells Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker that he has no regrets over his call for vandalism and violence, and says that throwing bricks through windows sends a clear message to Democrats that “the health care reform legislation they passed Sunday has caused so much unrest that it could result in a civil war.” Vanderboegh, Rucker writes, has “a complicated theory that IRS agents will go after people who refuse to buy insurance or pay the fines,” and the result of that action will be “civil war.” Vanderboegh says: “The central fact of the health care bill is this, and we find it tyrannical and unconstitutional on its face. The federal government now demands all Americans to pay and play in this system, and if we refuse, we will be fined, and if we refuse to pay the fine, they will come to arrest us, and if we resist arrest… then we will be killed. The bill certainly doesn’t say that, but that’s exactly and precisely what is behind every bill like this.” Throwing bricks through windows, he says, is “both good manners and it’s also a moral duty to try to warn people.” Vanderboegh describes himself as a “Christian libertarian” and a gun rights advocate who once belonged to two Alabama militia organizations. Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that tracks extremist and hate groups, says the SPLC has been aware of Vanderboegh “forever,” and says: “He hasn’t been involved in any kind of violence that we know of ourselves, but these causes that he’s involved in led to a lot of violence. The ideas that Vanderboegh’s militia groups were pushing were the same extreme anti-government ideas that inspired [Timothy] McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 3/25/2010; Salon, 3/26/2010] One of Vanderboegh’s blog commentators asks, “Is this our Fort Sumter?” referring to the opening battle of the Civil War. [Mike Vanderboegh, 3/19/2010] Reporter John Avlon writes that the comparison to 1938’s “Kristallnacht,” the Nazis’ “Night of Broken Glass,” are “inevitable.” He notes that Vanderboegh’s home page warns, “All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war.” [Daily Beast, 3/24/2010]
Prediction of 'Race War' - Vanderboegh tells Avnel that he believes President Obama’s election will spark a “race war,” saying: “Now we have a gangster culture in the middle of the cities. We’ve imported into this country over the last 20 years a significant subculture that comes from south of the border [presumably Mexico] that also has not bought in and identified with the larger culture. Our fear is that any breakdown in this country of law and order will turn into a three-sided race war, and I can’t think of anything that’s more calculated to bring long-term tyranny and chaos than something like that.” [Daily Beast, 3/24/2010]
Republican Leadership Should 'Stop' Incendiary Rhetoric - Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says: “The real problem is the people who are calling and talking about a revolution and overthrowing government. They can be angry. We’re all for that. But when they talk about taking over the government, the leadership has to do its part to stop that.” [Politico, 3/24/2010]
Problem for 'Tea Parties'? - Progressive columnist David Weigel predicts that Vanderboegh’s “off the rails” post “will end up making a lot of trouble for Tea Parties… calling, many times over, for violence against members of Congress. Vanderboegh basically courts controversy—his blog profile tells readers how to send him anthrax and death threats—but as Democrats make hay from attacks on Congressional offices, this blog post might become a sort of Rosetta Stone of wingnuttery.” [Washington Independent, 3/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Louise Slaughter, Mike Vanderboegh, Philip Rucker, John Avlon, Southern Poverty Law Center, Heidi Beirich, Bart Stupak, C.A. Ruppersberger, Alabama Constitutional Militia, David Weigel, Barack Obama, Thomas Perriello, Mike Troxel, Bo Perriello

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly denies there were ever any racial connotations to the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s US citizenship. On his show The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly notes that many “defenders of Obama labeled the whole thing racist,” and plays clips from MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, The View’s Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg (see April 27, 2011), MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, and BET host Tavis Smiley, many of them focusing on billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump and his pronouncements (see April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). O’Reilly’s guests, Fox analyst Alicia Menendez and Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, join in denouncing what Hoover calls “the most predictable” reactions imaginable from “the entire left.” Hoover says that liberals always cry “racist” when they want to criticize conservatives. Hoover does admit that Trump’s claims that Obama got into Ivy League schools due to affirmative action, and the “widespread movement to delegitimize the president to say he’s not American enough (see April 27, 2011), I think it’s not unrelated to race.” O’Reilly disagrees, saying that questions about Obama’s college career are different from “calling him out because of his skin color.” Trump may be “stoking the discomfort that some people have with [Obama’s] skin color,” Hoover says, a remark that draws a snort of derision from O’Reilly, who says he knows Trump well and does not believe he is a racist. Menendez, described by an on-screen chyron as a member of a “center-left think tank,” agrees with Hoover that some of the comments and charges leveled by “birthers” may aggravate the racial tensions that exist in America today. O’Reilly cuts her off and says he does not see “any of these racial confrontations in this country, and I do this every day.” He demands proof of her contention. “I’m not saying it’s just about Barack Obama,” Menendez says, “I’m saying it’s generally about people trying to figure out what to do with this change in America.” Menendez says that there is “some intertwining” between the birther controversy and racist attitudes, but calls the comments by Schulz and others “very radical and obscure the conversation we should be having.” O’Reilly calls the charges of racism “vicious,” and presses for agreement from both Hoover and Menendez. Menendez attempts to qualify, calling the charges a response to “a vicious and hateful thing coming out of the right. And there were very few people like you who were being honest and calling it what it was.” O’Reilly says that the “bad behavior” from the right does not justify “bad behavior” from the left. He says the charges that “the birth certificate was phony” had no connection to racism at all, and continues to lambast “the left” for trying to tie racism into the controversy. Menendez asks if O’Reilly believes that “it was just coincidental” that Obama, the first African-American president, was targeted as not “being a real American” by right-wing opponents. “That’s just a weird coincidence,” she says. O’Reilly says the entire controversy was “borne out of hatred for the man.… The people who hate Barack Obama will latch on to anything. It’s not because of his skin color.” O’Reilly concludes that the “far left” did not act “in a responsible way” in challenging the controversy “as we did [presumably referring to his show]. We just took it apart” (see July 29, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/28/2011] An Associated Press analysis has found that the “birther” controversy was fueled in large part by racism (see April 27, 2011), and liberals (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 28, 2011), moderates (see April 27, 2011), and conservatives (see April 27, 2011) alike have decried the racism at the heart of “birtherism.” Author John Avlon has said that “birthers” will never give up their conspiracy theories because even Republicans who disbelieve the claims and do not themselves harbor racist beliefs will not denounce the claims and the racism behind them (see April 28, 2011). Some conservative media outlets, including Fox News, are launching a new series of attacks on Obama through his father, vilifying the senior Obama because of his alleged “penchant” for “white women” (see April 28, 2011, April 29, 2011, and April 29, 2011). And conservative radio host Laura Ingraham says the release of the “long form” certificate “proves” Obama intends to make his re-election bid about race (see April 28, 2011).

Entity Tags: Edward Andrew (“Ed”) Schultz, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Alicia Menendez, Donald Trump, Whoopi Goldberg, Fox News, Margaret Hoover, Bob Schieffer, John Avlon, Jonathan Alter, Joy Behar, Laura Ingraham, Tavis Smiley

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Author and columnist John Avlon says the “birther conspiracy theory should now be placed on the ash heap of presidential derangement syndromes that date back to at least the John Birch Society’s founder declaring President Dwight David Eisenhower a ‘dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy’—or, a Soviet spy.” However, this will not happen, he predicts, because in part no respected Republican lawmaker or pundit will denounce it. “Today, because the fringe is blurring with the base, conservative leaders seem afraid to confront the unhinged extremists in their midst,” he writes. Avlon writes that the swirl of conspiracies and allegations contained in the “birther” controversy include a number of related conspiracies—Obama is a “Marxist Manchurian Candidate” (see May 7, 2010] and April 27, 2011), he is a “closet Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, April 18, 2008, and April 26, 2011), and others. However, he continues, “[i]t’s worth noting… that the birther equivalent of the Bush years—the 9/11 ‘Truthers’—would never have been allowed to make such inroads into national debates or presidential politics in 2004 or 2008, by Republicans or Democrats.” The recent “bump in the polls” earned by billionaire television host and rumored presidential candidate Donald Trump for his aggressive promotion of the “birther” conspiracy theory (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011) worried some Republicans, including former Bush administration political chief Karl Rove. The polls reflected what Avlon calls “evidence of the real costs that came with encouraging Obama Derangement Syndrome for political gain—the inmates start to run the asylum.” However, the birther controversy will continue unabated, he writes, no matter what documents or proof Obama releases (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 29, 2009, April 11, 2011, April 25, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Now the birthers are moving towards Trump’s insistence that Obama is hiding something suspicious in his college records (see April 26, 2011), “an affirmative action dig that tries to deepen the narrative of Obama as a monstrous fraud.” Avlon concludes: “History will be more unforgiving and see the birther conspiracy more clearly than we have in our contemporary debates. It will be hard to miss the fact that so much time and energy was spent trying to prove the illegitimacy and un-American-ness of our first black president. It will seem shameful. And it is.” [Daily Beast, 4/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Karl C. Rove, John Avlon, Donald Trump

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Premiere Radio Networks logo.Premiere Radio Networks logo. [Source: Premiere Radio Networks]Premiere Radio Networks, the company that distributes radio shows by an array of right-wing hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, announces that 98 out of 350 advertisers, including a number of major corporations, have requested that their ads only appear on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).” The Premiere email says, “Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.” Limbaugh vilified law student Sandra Fluke for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012), and though he issued an apology on his Web site (see March 3, 2012), advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his show in increasingly large numbers (see March 2, 2012 and After) following a widespread outcry of anger against Limbaugh’s rhetoric. Now, large advertisers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Subway Restaurants have asked that their advertising be removed from Premiere’s right-wing talk shows. Industry insider Valerie Geller tells a reporter: “I have talked with several reps who report that they’re having conversations with their clients, who are asking not to be associated with specifically polarizing controversial hosts, particularly if those hosts are ‘mean-spirited.’ While most products and services offered on these shows have strong competitors, and enjoy purchasing the exposure that many of these shows and hosts can offer, they do not wish to be ‘tarred’ with the brush of anger, or endure customer anger, or, worse, product boycotts.” For nearly two decades, Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the movement that insisted conservative talk shows on radio and television must counterbalance what he and others have termed the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media (see Summer 1970, October 7, 1996, October 9, 2002, October 8, 2003, December 2004, December 14, 2005, December 19-20, 2005, December 21, 2005, May 2008, October 23-24, 2008, February 24, 2009, and August 11, 2009). After cable television and Internet access fragmented the market, “niche” audiences such as Limbaugh’s have provided the most reliable listenership and viewers, and the highest comparative ratings. However, the demographics are changing for right-wing talk. Limbaugh, Levin, Savage, Hannity, and others generally rate best among aging white males, a demographic that is less profitable than it used to be. Now, the prize advertising demographic is women aged 24 to 55, a demographic that has been leaving the right-wing talkers in steadily increasing numbers, and now makes up the forefront of the angry pushback against Limbaugh over his public savaging of a young female law student over a political disagreement. Some, including Limbaugh’s brother, right-wing talk show host David Limbaugh, have complained of a “left-wing jihad” against conservative radio hosts. However, as reporter John Avlon writes: “[T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.” Moreover, the advent of social media has made the response time for protesters and angry consumers almost immediate. Geller says: “In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute. But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.” Avlon concludes: “When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.” [Radio-Info.com, 3/9/2012; Daily Beast, 3/10/2012]

Entity Tags: Mark Levin, Valerie Geller, General Motors, Geico, Ford Motor Company, Allstate, John Avlon, Tom Leykis, Toyota Motor Corporation, State Farm, Premiere Radio Networks, Michael Savage, McDonald’s, Prudential, Subway Restaurants, Glenn Beck, Sandra Fluke, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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