On Saturday, Rep. John Lewis responded to the wave of violent rhetoric sweeping through McCain/Palin rallies:
“As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
“During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
“As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.”
Indeed we do, and John McCain knows it. You wouldn’t know it from McCain’s response to Lewis’s statement, which decries it as “a character attack,” “shocking and beyond the pale,“unacceptable,” “sadden[ing],” “brazen and baseless,” and “outrageous and divisive.” He alleged that it was “a brazen and baseless attack on … the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events.”
In fact it is pretty clearly an attack on the brazenly racist and slanderous statements made by supporters at McCain/Palin events, and slanderous statements made by the candidates.
In response to McCain’s demand that Obama “immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments,” the Obama campaign shot back with this:
Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies. But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’ As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead,” said Obama-Biden spokesman Bill Burton.
The rebuke from McCain (video) consisted of a push back, acknowledging the “energy” of the crowds, but asking them to be respectful, and “you don’t have to be scared to have him be President of the United States.” When a questioner began to suggest that Obama was an Arab terrorist, McCain grabbed the mic from her and insisted “No, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”
This is a start, but not a conclusion. The McCain camp later dismissed questions about the dangerous behavior of their supporters by claiming it was just the words of “some nut,” rather than a systematic and predictable result of the campaign’s strategy. McCain inadvertently wandered into racially charged rhetoric when he said he’s going to “whip” Senator Obama in the next debate, and he declined to condemn attempts by the Virginia GOP to link Obama to the leadership of al Qaeda. McCain told a local station that “I have to look at the context of his remarks. I have always repudiated any comments that have been made that were inappropriate about Senator Obama.” An honorable man would acknowledge that the remarks in question, remarks read to the Senator in full, were inappropriate, and would condemn them.
That McCain didn’t do so says a lot about his honor.
That Barack Obama didn’t throw John Lewis under the bus says a lot about his honor, too. It would’ve been easy to just go along, denounce the Congressman and his comparison of McCain to George Wallace, and get back to campaigning and fixing the economy. But he didn’t. John Lewis, who endorsed Hillary and then switched to Obama’s camp, was basically right. He used some fiery rhetoric, but the substance of his remark was important. The substance was that a leader must be wary of the danger that his words will inspire others to violence. And it’s true.
Palin is aware, because she’s been using these techniques since she ran for mayor. Dave Neiwert documents the way she worked with three particularly egregious examples. One of them, known as “Black Helicopter Steve” — “was involved in militia organizing in Wasilla the 1990s, and subscribed to most of the movement’s paranoid conspiracy theories.” John Stein, Palin’s predecessor as mayor, told Neiwert that: “The rumor was that he had wrapped his guns in plastic and buried them in his yard so he could get them after the New World Order took over.”
Chryson was the chairman of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party from 1997–2003. Palin’s husband was a member of the party, he took Sarah to their convention one year, and she addressed their convention as governor. Speaking with Neiwert and his colleague Max Blumenthal, Chryson explained:
So long as Alaska remained under the boot of the federal government, said Chryson, the AIP had to stand on guard to stymie a New World Order. He invited a Salon reporter to see a few items inside his pickup truck that were intended for his personal protection. “This here is my attack dog,” he said with a chuckle, handing the reporter an exuberant 8‑pound papillon from his passenger seat. “Her name is Suzy.” Then he pulled a 9‑millimeter Makarov PM pistol — once the standard-issue sidearm for Soviet cops — out of his glove compartment. “I’ve got enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement,” he said, clutching the gun in his palm. “Then again, so do most Alaskans.” But Chryson added a message of reassurance to residents of that faraway place some Alaskans call “the 48.” “We want to go our separate ways,” he said, “but we are not going to kill you.”
Chryson posted on the internet: “Sarah Palin who McCain just picked as the next vice president is one of the most honest people I have known. I have known her for over 15 years, been in her house and have had numerous conversations with her, in person, on the phone both for personal issues as well as political issues.” He told Neiwert: “Every time I showed up her door was open. And that policy continued when she became governor.”
Palin used these men and their allies as political muscle:
“They would demonstrate in front of the Wasilla Council,” recalled Stein, saying that the causes varied but invariably involved an animus to “socialist” government, such as planning and public education. “This same group [Stoll, Christ, and Chryson] also challenged me on whether my wife and I were married because she had kept her maiden name. So we literally had to produce a marriage certificate. And as I recall, they said, ‘Well, you could have forged that.’ ”
And they were a vocal part of Sarah Palin’s base of support. “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 also played an important role in his defeat after three terms as Wasilla’s mayor: “They worked behind the scenes. I think they had a lot of influence in terms of helping with the backscatter negative campaigning.
Having fought dirty and won, they got their rewards:
When Palin won the election, the men who had once shouted anti-government slogans outside City Hall now had a foothold inside the mayor’s office. Palin attempted to pay back her newfound pals during her first City Council meeting as mayor. In that meeting, on Oct. 14, 1996, she appointed Stoll to one of the City Council’s two newly vacant seats. But Palin was blocked by the single vote of then-Councilman Nick Carney, who had endured countless rancorous confrontations with Stoll and considered him a “violent” influence on local politics. Though Palin considered consulting attorneys about finding another means of placing Stoll on the council, she was ultimately forced to back down and accept a compromise candidate.
Emboldened by his nomination by Mayor Palin, Stoll later demanded she fire Wasilla’s museum director, John Cooper, a personal enemy he longed to sabotage. Palin obliged, eliminating Cooper’s position in short order. “Gotcha, Cooper!” Stoll told the deposed museum director after his termination, as Cooper told a reporter for the New York Times.
And they used their finely honed good-citizen, bad-citizen act once she was in power:
when [Wasilla councilman] Carney proposed a local gun-control measure, Palin organized with Chryson to smother the nascent plan in its cradle. Carney’s proposed ordinance would have prohibited residents from carrying guns into schools, bars, hospitals, government offices and playgrounds. Infuriated by the proposal that Carney viewed as a common-sense public-safety measure, Chryson and seven allies stormed a July 1997 council meeting.
…Palin — in plain violation of council rules and norms — insisted that Chryson testify, stating, according to the minutes, that “she invites the public to speak on any issue at any time.”
…His proposal died that night, thanks to Palin and her extremist allies.
“A lot of it was the ultra-conservative far right that is against everything in government, including taxes,” recalled Carney. “A lot of it was a personal attack on me as being anti-gun, and a personal attack on anybody who deigned to threaten their authority to carry a loaded firearm wherever they pleased. That was the tenor of it. And it was being choreographed by Steve Stoll and the mayor.”
Asked if he thought it was Palin who had instigated the turnout, he replied: “I know it was.” …
“With Sarah as a mayor,” said Chryson, “there were a number of times when I just showed up at City Hall and said, ‘Hey, Sarah, we need help.’ I think there was only one time when I wasn’t able to talk to her and that was because she was in a meeting.”
This is a deeply disturbing pattern. Sarah Palin actually was palling around with secessionist gun nuts, and using their violence and their willingness to personally destroy other people as political tools.
And now she’s using the same tricks on the national stage.