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Profile: Mother Jones
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Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
An investigation by Mother Jones magazine identifies 44 organizations funded by ExxonMobil that are involved in, or associated with, efforts to discredit the scientific consensus view on global warming. Many of these organizations have been on the oil giant’s payroll since 1998 (see Between 1998 and 2005). The magazine’s investigation finds that the oil company has contributed a total of $8,678,450 to these organizations since 2000 with the single largest donation being given to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). That organization received $1,380,000, or 16 percent of the total funds donated by Exxon. CEI, along with another Exxon-support enterprise, the Cooler Heads Coalition, runs the website GlobalWarming.Org, which is part of an effort to “dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis.” Another large recipient of Exxon’s funds is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has received $960,000 from the company. AEI, known for its neoconservatism, has played host to a number of global warming skeptics. [Mother Jones, 5/2005; Mother Jones, 5/2005]
Private Lee Pray, a member of the Oath Keepers. His finger tattoo spells out ‘THOR.’ [Source: Mother Jones]The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. [Mother Jones, 3/2010]
Entity Tags: David Neiwert, Daniel Knight Hayden, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Steve King, Stewart Rhodes, Timothy James McVeigh, Chip Berlet, Alex Jones, Ralph Reed, Anti-Defamation League, Charles Alan Dyer, Barack Obama, Posse Comitatus, Southern Poverty Law Center, Paul Broun, Justine Sharrock, Glenn Beck, George W. Bush, FreedomWorks, Eagle Forum, Larry Pratt, Phil Gingrey, Patrick Buchanan, Lee Pray, Mother Jones, Oath Keepers, Constitution Party, Michele Bachmann, Lou Dobbs
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer publishes an article on one Washington, DC-area “study group” of the Constitution as sponsored by a local “tea party” organization. Such “study groups” have “mushroom[ed]” in number across the nation, according to Mencimer’s fellow Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum. The study group Mencimer examines was held in Woodbridge, Virginia, “a hotbed of tea partiers and anti-immigration Minutemen,” Mencimer writes. The group is led by Rick Dalton, a volunteer from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Dalton travels the country lecturing and leading “study groups” about the Constitution for tea party organizations around the country. Mencimer writes: “Many tea partiers believe the country’s economic and political woes are a direct result of Washington abandoning the Constitution, which they believe calls for an extremely limited federal government that does not concern itself with matters like bank failures or health care reform. They’ve turned to the founding document with the fervor of evangelicals seeking inspiration from the sacred texts of the past.” [Mother Jones, 5/2010; Mother Jones, 9/2010]
Connection to Radical Reinterpretation of Constitution, Fox's Beck - Many tea partiers, including Dalton, look to a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution as espoused by the late W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon who told people he was an aide to then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. In 1981, Skousen published a controversial book, The 5000 Year Leap, a controversial reinterpretation of the Constitution that in recent months has been promoted by Fox News talk show host and tea party icon Glenn Beck; Beck wrote the foreward to the new edition of the book, which has achieved bestselling status. Skousen is the original founder of NCCS. Dalton is a graduate of George Wythe University, an unaccredited institution founded by Skousen protege Oliver DeMille, and a teacher at the unaccredited Heritage Academy charter school in Mesa, Arizona, a school largely attended by formerly homeschooled children. Dalton’s instructional presentation at the Woodbridge seminar is largely derived from Skousen’s teachings; some of the participants are clearly conversant in Skousen’s works and can recite from his workbook The Making of America, which Dalton uses in the presentation.
Constitution a Divine Instrument - According to Skousen, the material in the Constitution stems directly from information given by God to Moses. That, according to Skousen, makes the Constitution something of a divine work. Skousen taught that Northern Europe was settled by one of the “lost tribes of Israel,” and that the Anglo-Saxons, the descendants of this “lost tribe,” kept the teachings of Moses alive for thousands of years until their descendants emigrated to America and incorporated Moses’s wisdom into the Constitution. Mencimer calls Skousen’s “lost tribes” teaching “a piece of historical poppycock that has long held traction in the white supremacist movement.”
Racist, 'Capitalist' Teachings of NCCS - NCCS has gotten into trouble in the past over imparting pro-slavery and other racist ideology in its works; Skousen’s The Making of America incorporates material from a 1934 essay by slavery apologist Fred Albert Shannon, who wrote in part, “If the pickaninnies [a racial slur referring to African-Americans] ran naked, it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school, they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.” In his Woodbridge seminar, Dalton criticizes slavery, but skips the Constitutional amendments referring to slavery and civil rights for minorities. Instead, he teaches that the Constitution protects the capitalist “free market,” and “proves” his contention by saying that the early Jamestown settlers starved because they were “Communists” until a new “HDIC—head dude in charge” took over and saved the settlement by using Biblical and free-market capitalism to provide a new and distinctly American direction. Dalton tells the participants that Karl Marx invented the income tax (Mencimer notes that it was actually first proposed by William Pitt the Younger, a conservative British lawmaker). According to Dalton, the federal government is subverting the Constitution by spending federal monies to buy or build any structures outside of forts, magazines and arsenals, dockyards, and post offices. “What about national parks?” he asks. “Think of all that land that could be put on the rolls and generating taxes!”
Interviews - Mencimer interviews a number of participants during the lunch break. Construction inspector Robert Jeffery tells Mencimer that he does not believe in gun law restrictions, saying that the Second Amendment is all the “concealed carry permit” he needs. He says Dalton’s teachings prove to him that the nation must return to “the founding principles to understand where the country had gone off track.” Ken Vaughn, who leads the Northern Virginia branch of the 9/12 Movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), says he became interested in the Constitution study groups after the Obama administration began “bailing out firms that had no right to be bailed out. I think that made people wake up and look at our debt and think, ‘Maybe we need to make changes.’” Ann Hardt, a Mormon, has three of her homeschooled children in tow, and tells Mencimer that she uses Skousen’s educational materials to teach her six children history. She is a veteran of the NCCS seminars and a tea party member. [Mother Jones, 5/2010]
Entity Tags: Kevin Drum, Fred Albert Shannon, Ann Hardt, Ken Vaughn, W. Cleon Skousen, Stephanie Mencimer, National Center for Constitutional Studies, Rick Dalton, Robert Jeffery, Mother Jones, Glenn Beck
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The progressive magazine Mother Jones reports on Congressional Democrats’ plans to curb the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allows unlimited contributions to campaign organizations by corporate and union donors (see January 21, 2010). Last year, Senate Republicans refused to allow a campaign finance reform bill, the DISCLOSE Act, to come to the floor for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Now Democratic leaders say they are considering filing challenges to the nonprofit tax statuses of many of the groups that were so influential in the 2010 elections. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) tells a Mother Jones reporter about the plan. According to Van Hollen, two of the groups they plan to target are Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), headed by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). Together, the two groups spent over $43 million supporting conservative candidates and targeting Democrats, accounting for some 23 percent of all outside conservative spending between them. According to Van Hollen, “People are looking at different legal strategies through the courts because there’s emerging evidence that these groups have abused the rules.” Representative David Price (D-NC) agrees. “I think there are ample goals for challenging the way those groups have acted,” he says. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says in return, “Van Hollen is irresponsibly making claims on zero evidence whatsoever and this is extremely irresponsible for an elected official holding high office.” No one from AAN is willing to respond to the Mother Jones reporting. Both Crossroads GPS and AAN, like many other such groups, are organized under the IRS’s 501(c)4 tax status—tax-exempt, not-for-profit groups whose purpose under the IRS code is “primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” (see 2000 - 2005). The law allows such groups to engage in political advocacy, such as running ads for or against candidates, but such “electioneering” activities must not be those groups’ “primary activity.” As far as is known, Crossroads GPS and AAN have no other purpose except electioneering. 501(c) groups do not have to register as political action committees (PACs) and are allowed to conduct their business with very little outside scrutiny. However, if the Federal Election Commission or the IRS determine a group has violated the rules, that group would be forced to register as a PAC and disclose the sources of its funding. If the Democrats challenge the status of these groups, they would be following in the footsteps of private organizations. A coalition of public advocacy groups has filed complaints against Crossroads GPS and another 501(c)4 group, American Future Fund (AFF—see October 12, 2010), claiming that their primary functions are, according to the Crossroads GPS complaint, to “influence the 2010 federal elections and to elect Republicans to office.” The complaints are still pending. In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) asked the IRS to examine several 501(c) groups to “ensure that political campaign activity” wasn’t their primary activity (see September 28, 2010). [Mother Jones, 1/28/2011]
Entity Tags: David E. Price, American Crossroads GPS, American Action Network, American Future Fund, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Max Baucus, Norm Coleman, Jonathan Collegio, Karl C. Rove, Chris Van Hollen, Mother Jones, US Congress
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Tea party activist Mark Williams, who resigned from the Tea Party Express for racially inflammatory comments (see July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 17-18, 2010, and July 19-23, 2010) and who now heads a tea party-affiliated political action committee (see August 6, 2010), declares on his blog, “MarkTalk,” that he intends to “infiltrate” the ranks of protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, and Sacramento, California, and “expose” them as “goons.” He calls for volunteers to join him. Williams writes that he wants to infiltrate the ranks of Wisconsin protesters who have taken to the streets of Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) and his attempts to cripple the ability of unions to organize among public sector workers. Williams says he and his prospective fellows will dress up like members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU): “[W]e are going to target the many TV cameras and reporters looking for comments from the members there… we will approach the cameras to make good pictures… signs under our shirts that say things like ‘screw the taxpayer!’ and ‘you OWE me!’ to be pulled out for the camera (timing is important because the signs will be taken away from us)… we will echo those slogans in angry sounding tones to the cameras and the reporters.” Williams later updates his blog post to report that tea partiers in several other states have called him to share “their own creative ruses” for embarrasing the union demonstrators. “Several have also reminded me that we have a distinct advantage in that the SEIU primarily represents non-English speaking illegal aliens so we will be the ones whose comments will make air!!!!” he writes, and continues: “Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media, and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines. Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.” The progressive magazine Mother Jones, reporting on the blog post, writes: “Thus far, demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, have been peaceful.… Anti-union protesters, led by media mogul Andrew Breitbart, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, and ‘Joe the Plumber,’ largely fizzled after a rally on Saturday. And the image of union workers that Williams seeks to portray seems to run uphill against the images of the employees’ leaders seen thus far. But as labor disputes spread to other states, it remains to be seen whether tactics like those proposed by Williams will be effective in embarassing the public employees… or embarrasing the tea party ‘plants’ themselves.” [Mother Jones, 2/20/2011] Sometime after the press begins reporting on Williams’s blog post, the post disappears from the blog.
The progressive news and opinion magazine Mother Jones examines what columnist Adam Weinstein calls an attempt by Fox News and conservative bloggers to besmirch President Obama by attacking his father, Barack Obama Sr. Since the “birther” controversy has been conclusively proven to be groundless, he writes (see April 27, 2011), “the anger stage has kicked in: Birtherism has given way to fear-of-a-virile-black-man-ism.” Weinstein cites a lead story on Fox Nation, the blog of Fox News, titled “‘A Slippery Character’: New Details Emerge About Obama’s Father” (see April 28, 2011). The story is a “hatchet job” based on a British tabloid report that uses a newly released Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) file to slander and besmirch Obama Sr. The article “confirm[s] what President Obama had already stated in his memoir: His dad wasn’t the greatest of guys,” Weinstein writes. “But it’s all in how the article conveys that message: ‘With a father like this, it is little wonder President Obama did not want to release his full birth certificate.’” Weinstein says the way the Fox Nation article paints Obama Sr. “has it all: polygamy, the suggestion of illicit interracial sex, and the predatory sexual appetites of a dark-skinned African man. In fact, this theme’s got a name, or a couple of names, in popular Western culture: ‘Black beast,’ ‘black buck,’ ‘Mandingo.’ It’s the theory that black males are more animal than human, with an insatiable predilection for defiling white (read: virtuous) women.” Weinstein quotes Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint as writing in 1972: “There is little doubt that our white countrymen have been in a chronic state of paranoid fear over black male sexual power. ‘N***er’ jokes and pornographic literature abound with stories testifying to the black male’s sexual appetites and attributes. The preoccupation is evident in much white folklore.” Fox and conservative bloggers piggybacking on the story (see April 29, 2011) are attempting to say that “we, the people, elected the offspring of an unholy union between a bestial sexual predator and an innocent Kansas girl… a union that’s proven by the existence of the birth certificate!” [Mother Jones, 4/29/2011]
The conservative news outlet Sunshine State News notes that the conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011) is paying tea party leaders to serve as “field coordinators” in Florida in preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary. Reportedly, AFP is paying the tea party leaders $30,000 each to help increase AFP’s membership, and $2 for every new AFP member the tea party volunteers sign up at Florida polling stations on Election Day. According to an email from the West Orlando Tea Party organizers: “Americans for Prosperity has offered many local tea party groups an opportunity to collect a few dollar$ for our cause and it revolves around the January 31st primary. Anyone who volunteers from our group will net our WOTP group $2 for every person they ‘sign up’ for AFP which involves getting the name, address, and email of local voters at local polling stations that day. They will provide us with T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other handouts to recruit like-minded conservatives.” AFP’s Florida director Slade O’Brien says, “It’s an opportunity for tea parties to raise dollars for their organizations by helping AFP with an awareness and membership drive on Tuesday.” But critics say AFP is using the same tactics conservatives have accused the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of using—“buying foot soldiers for election work.” Former AFP state director Apryl Marie Fogel says: “It’s reprehensible. Slade is doing things we would never have considered doing.… Incentivizing people with money is no different than what ACORN or other groups are doing.… This is the opposite of what AFP stands for.” AFP has already hired 10 coordinators, with plans to hire 10 more in the coming days. One coordinator in the Tampa area, Karen Jaroch, is a founding member of the Tampa 9/12 Project chapter (see March 13, 2009 and After), and she says that AFP’s involvement “might open some doors” to building a stronger movement. O’Brien denies that AFP is working on behalf of any particular Republican candidate, and both O’Brien and Jaroch deny that AFP is working on behalf of the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) campaign. “I don’t know any field coordinators for Newt,” Jaroch says. “One favors Mitt Romney and one supports Rick Santorum. I’m undecided.” The liberal news outlet Mother Jones notes that O’Brien is a veteran political consultant whose former firm, Florida Strategies Group, “specialized in Astroturf campaigns and ‘grass-tops lobbying.’” O’Brien worked for AFP’s predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, in the 1990s. Mother Jones also speculates that the AFP drive is part of a Koch Brothers effort to construct a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters called “Themis” (see April 2010 and After). [Sunshine State News, 1/30/2012; Mother Jones, 1/30/2012]
Entity Tags: Mother Jones, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Apryl Marie Fogel, Americans for Prosperity, Karen Jaroch, Willard Mitt Romney, Sunshine State News, Themis, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, West Orlando Tea Party, Slade O’Brien, Citizens for a Sound Economy
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
Graphic of Frank VanderSloot, appearing on Fox News. [Source: Fox News Insider]Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reports that Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. and a prominent donor for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), apparently objects to media reports about his financial and corporate practices, issuing threats against those who report on him and his company. VanderSloot is the national finance co-chair of the Romney campaign and a longtime Republican donor. Like Romney, he is a devout Mormon and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Accusations of Wrongdoing - VanderSloot and Melaleuca have donated at least $1 million to the “independent” super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011). Melaleuca, which manufactures and distributes dietary supplements and cleaning products, was described by Forbes magazine in 2004 as “a pyramid selling organization” comparable to Amway and Herbalife. Melaleuca has been sanctioned by Michigan regulatory agencies, and agreed to refrain from “engag[ing] in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid” in that state. It entered into a separate agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office after that office found that some Melaleuca executives had broken Idaho law. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accused Melaleuca of deceiving customers about its supplements.
Threats of Lawsuits - VanderSloot counters media reports of Melaleuca’s alleged wrongdoing with what Greenwald calls “chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics—magazines, journalists, and bloggers—that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention.” His threats have forced Forbes, Mother Jones, and a gay blogger in Idaho to remove material that was critical of his political and business practices, though Mother Jones reposted its article after revisions were made. Greenwald reports: “He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for ‘copyright infringement’ after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers, and demanded the public outing of some bloggers’ identities). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.” Greenwald reports that VanderSloot’s tactics have had a chilling effect on Idaho journalists and bloggers, who routinely refuse to write critically about VanderSloot’s fundraising for conservative causes. And now that VanderSloot is a senior official in the Romney campaign, Greenwald writes, he is expanding his tactics beyond Idaho. “To allow this scheme to continue—whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them—is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny,” he writes. “It’s almost impossible to imagine any more thuggish attempts to intimidate people from speaking out and criticizing VanderSloot,” he adds. “The effect, if not the intent, of these frivolous threats, pure and simple, is to intimidate those who cannot afford to defend themselves from criticizing the very public, politicized acts of Frank VanderSloot and his company. That’s why one no longer can even read most of the criticisms that prompted these warnings.”
Anti-Gay Activism - Greenwald writes that VanderSloot has a history of anti-gay activism, citing his funding of a billboard campaign that condemned Idaho Public Television for showing a documentary that reported on the effects of addressing lesbian and gay issues inside elementary classrooms. Though the documentary reported that working with such issues in an age-appropriate fashion was generally positive, VanderSloot accused IPT of promoting a threat to children, saying, “[I]f this isn’t stopped… little lives are going to be damaged permanently.” His wife Belinda donated $100,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in 2008. And when the Idaho Falls Post Register reported on a pedophile preying on local Boy Scouts, a Mormon bishop’s alleged complicity in the matter, and the network of pedophiles that was behind the original allegations, VanderSloot attacked the newspaper and the principal reporter, Peter Zuckerman. (The six-part series won the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.) VanderSloot bought full-page ads in the Post Register attacking the story and outing Zuckerman as “a homosexual,” a fact that Zuckerman had not advertised since moving to Idaho years before. VanderSloot’s ads asked if Zuckerman’s sexual orientation made him hostile to the Boy Scouts and the Mormon Church. The damage to Zuckerman’s professional and personal life was severe, including physical threats and his longtime partner being fired from his job. [Salon, 2/17/2012]
Response - VanderSloot responds in a subsequent interview with local Idaho reporter Marissa Bodnar. After the Greenwald report, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow devotes a segment to VanderSloot based largely on Greenwald’s article. According to VanderSloot, Greenwald “quotes what others have wrongfully said about us and then taunts us to do something about the fact that he repeats it.” Idaho independent journalist and blogger Jody May-Chang, who has also been threatened with lawsuits by VanderSloot’s lawyers, says in response: “Mr. VanderSloot is a public political figure. They’re fair game… especially when you’re talking about behaviors and actions and things done in public light that are well known.” VanderSloot denies harboring an anti-gay agenda, saying, “I have never spoken out against gays or against gay rights,” though Bodnar notes, “[S]ome said money speaks louder than words.” VanderSloot admitted to contributing money to a group that challenged a pro-gay marriage documentary aired on Idaho public television in 1999; May-Chang says, “I’m not sure how anyone else could not characterize those as anti-gay.” For his part, VanderSloot says, “I believe that gay people should have the same freedoms and rights as any other individual.” His main objection to the Idaho Public Television program about addressing gay issues in schools, he says, was that it was being aired during prime time, “when it would attract the most children,” and the use of tax dollars to fund the program. He contends that his status as a “billionaire” is “greatly exaggerated,” and though he owns a controlling interest in Melaleuca, he is not “cash-rich.” He defends his attacks on the Idaho Falls Post Register, saying that he deplores the pedophiles who were preying on children but found the story to be “unfair” in its coverage. He was merely defending people who had been unfairly portrayed as being involved in the affair, he says, and notes that he “would use a much different approach were this to happen again.” He denies outing Zuckerman as a gay man, claiming that Zuckerman’s sexual orientation was public knowledge, and saying that contrary to Greenwald’s reporting, he defended Zuckerman in the Post Register advertisements. He denies that Melaleuca’s business model is anything like those used by Amway or Herbalife, and says Melaleuca does not employ a “pyramid scheme” to make its profits. VanderSloot says Melaleuca “will continue to use whatever legal means are available to us to defend the truth and to request corrections where false allegations have been made.” He is strongly critical of Greenwald’s article, and accuses Greenwald of deliberately repeating “the original false allegations” against him and Melaleuca. He concludes: “We can disagree on issues and argue those issues in honest and open debate. You can count on us to not smear or attack the messenger. We will defend their right to disagree. But we do ask even those who disagree with us to tell the truth about who we are and what we do. We will continue to ask that of people. That is not going to change.” [KIFI Local News 8, 3/1/2012]
Entity Tags: Idaho Public Television, Idaho Falls Post Register, Frank VanderSloot, Forbes magazine, Food and Drug Administration, Willard Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, Rachel Maddow, Peter Zuckerman, Melaleuca, Inc., Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Marissa Bodnar, Jody May-Chang, Mother Jones, Glenn Greenwald
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Data analysis by the liberal news magazine Mother Jones for campaign fundraising in the presidential campaigns has the Republicans and their supporters outraising and outspending Democrats almost across the board. Super PACs continue to lead in money raised and spent; Republicans outraised Democrats by a 7.7:1 ratio. These third-party “independent” groups (see March 26, 2010) have raised $218 million between them. President Obama has outraised challenger Mitt Romney (R-MA) by over two to one, $217.1 million to $97.9 million. But super PACs operating on Romney’s behalf have more than closed that gap. Two ads released almost simultaneously by the Romney campaign and the super PAC American Crossroads in recent days criticize Obama on the same grounds, both criticizing federal investments in energy companies like Solyndra. A similar pattern has recently been observed when the Obama campaign and his super PAC Priorities USA recently released television ads during the same time period. Mother Jones observes, “It’s illegal for candidates and super PACs to coordinate their messages, but even if they did, the fines would likely be negligible, and the Federal Election Commission can’t even agree on what exactly defines ‘coordination.’” [Center for Responsive Politics, 2012; Mother Jones, 6/1/2012]
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