First They Ignore You. Then They Mock You. Then They Attack You. Then…
posted at 12:01 pm on February 4, 2010 by Mitch Berg
Last April 15, I was walking around the Minnesota State Capitol grounds during the first Tax Day Tea Party. There were thousands of people there. The imponderably vast majority were just plain workadaddy, huggamommy Minnesotans who were upset about the Administration’s gargantuan mortgaging of our great-grandchildrens’ futures – people like me and, I suspect, most of you.
But as I wandered about, pondering what I was going to write about the event, I noticed a few people who I’d charitably call “fringe”. Including a few people with some anti-immigration signs that I could accurately call “groaningly racist”.
And I thought…:
- “Great; a dozen people out of 5,000 look like racist buffoons; you know who will get all the news coverage, don’t you?”
- “I’ll write about the Tea Party, and some leftyblogging wannabee moral watchdog will post one of those pictures, with post that says “Mitch Berg supports anti-hispanic racism”.
Declaring guilt by association – often the faintest, most tendentious assocation possible – is an oldie but goodie among those who’ve been 86ed from the marketplace of ideas. We saw this in the Twin Cities last year when local leftyblogger Jeff Fecke smeared Kevin Ecker and, by extension, all True North writers, for writing approvingly about a story about an anti-immigration activist who, it turned out much later, was also a neo-nazi.
The point? Guilt by very tenuous, context-free association is stupid.
And after a year of eating their lunch, it’s perhaps inevitable that James O’Keefe, of the classic ACORN “Pimp” stings, is on the receiving end, this time in a hit piece by Max Blumenthal at Salon.
The first part; set it up so that everyone you disagree with is in the same boat as your victim:
Many of the conservatives who gleefully promoted James O’Keefe’s past political stunts are feigning shock at his arrest on charges that he and three associates planned to tamper with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s phone lines. Once upon a time, right-wing pundits hailed the 25-year-old O’Keefe as a creative genius and model of journalistic ethics. Andrew Breitbart, who has paid O’Keefe, called him one of the all-time “great journalists” and said he deserved a Pulitzer for his undercover ACORN video. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly declared he should have earned a “congressional medal.”
Now, the whamma-jamma charge:
His right-wing admirers don’t seem to mind that O’Keefe’s short but storied career has been defined by a series of political stunts shot through with racial resentment. Now an activist organization that monitors hate groups has produced a photo of O’Keefe at a 2006 conference on “Race and Conservatism” that featured leading white nationalists. The photo, first published Jan. 30 on the Web site of the anti-racism group One People’s Project, shows O’Keefe at the gathering, which was so controversial even the ultra-right Leadership Institute, which employed O’Keefe at the time, withdrew its backing. But O’Keefe and fellow young conservative provocateur Marcus Epstein soldiered on to give anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism an opportunity to share their grievances and plans to make inroads in the GOP.
That’s a pretty serious charge, if it’s true.
Of course, it’s not.
How do we know? Onward:
According to One People’s Project founder Daryle Jenkins, O’Keefe was manning the literature table at the gathering that brought together anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism. OPP covered the event at the time, sending a freelance photographer to document the gathering. Jenkins told me the table was filled with tracts from the white supremacist right, including two pseudo-academic publications that have called blacks and Latinos genetically inferior to whites: American Renaissance and the Occidental Quarterly. The leading speaker was Jared Taylor, founder of the white nationalist group American Renaissance. “We can say for certain that James O’Keefe was at the 2006 meeting with Jared Taylor. He has absolutely no way of denying that,” Jenkins said. O’Keefe’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment on his client’s role in the conference.
We would think that Mr. Blumenthal at Salon or Stephen Thrasher at the Village Voice, as responsible reporters, might have called Mr. O’Keefe to get his response to the allegations made in an obscure blog. But no. Instead they ran the story and (in the case of the Voice) actually added new and juicy lies to the myth.
Well, here at Big Journalism we think it’s a good idea to actually seek the truth.
So we spoke with James O’Keefe today. This is what he tells us:
- He was not “manning a table” at the event
- He was not involved with the organization or operations of the event.
- He attended the event with many of his Leadership Institute co-workers since it was right across the street from their building in Arlington, Va., and it was organized by other LI associates.
- The organizer who is being called a “White Supremacist” is half Jewish and half Korean.
- One of the panelist was an African-American named Kevin Martin.
- The event was forced to move to a Georgetown University building in Arlington, not at a cross-burning.
We know all this because we called Mr. O’Keefe and asked him. Which is more than other media outlets have done.
And, to be fair, more than any lefty does when “reporting” on this sort of defamatory character assassination.
We also spoke with Daryle Jenkins of One People’s Project, the man who started this entire legend. We asked if he had a photograph that actually showed O’Keefe “manning the table” as has been reported, and he said that this cropped photo was all they had. His claim that Mr. O’Keefe “manned” the table of literature is based on eye-witnesses who were at the event…
…Mr. Jenkins only produced the name of one witness: David Weigel who, at the time was a reporter with Reason Magazine.
Weigel is a noted lefty alt-journalist and, as noted in this blog, among the better among the species.
We called Mr. Weigel and he denied ever telling Mr. Jenkins that Mr. O’Keefe was “manning the table.” Indeed, he has already gone on record denying he said that.
So let’s reset:
Here is the story they actually have:
James O’Keefe attended a forum years ago that dealt with race and politics. The forum was located at a Georgetown University building (that’s right, a 21-year-old man attended an event on a college campus). The forum had as one of its three speakers a controversial figure, Jared Taylor, with a track record of making racist statements. He was being debated by two other people including Mr. Martin (taking issue with the racist figure). Mr. Taylor has also appeared with Phil Donohue, Queen Latifa and Paula Zahn on their TV shows to debate race. Are the audience members of the Donohue show racist for sitting and watching that debate?
Honestly, that isn’t much of a story. But… you put Mr. O’Keefe at a table full of racist literature and you say that he was manning the table. And you say you have a picture proving it. And you make it sound like he was one of the organizers of this event. And you call the event a “White Supremacist Conference”. Well… now you’ve got a story.
Only problem: It’s all a lie.
And when it comes to lefty character assassination – the only weapon they have against an activist who’s spent the last year eating their lunch in front of them – that’s the best they can do.
Let’s go back to Blumenthal’s piece, and see if we can pick out the code words and manglings of context:
O’Keefe’s racial issues can be seen in many of his prior stunts, of course. The notorious ACORN videos highlighted images of himself dressed as a pimp, deceptively edited through hidden camera footage as he baited African-American office workers into making statements that could be perceived as incriminating.
“Baited African-American office workers”. So is Blumenthal suggesting O’Keefe avoided baiting white ACORN sleazeballs? Or is he just trying to create a sense of phony victimhood?
There were also lesser-known but equally inflammatory spectacles like the “affirmative action bake sale” O’Keefe and his conservative comrades held when they were students at Rutgers University.
During the event, O’Keefe stood at a table in the center of campus offering baked goods at reduced prices to Latinos and African-Americans while whites were forced to pay exorbitant amounts. (Native Americans, he announced, would eat free.)
In other words, it satirized the insulting, demeaning aspects of affirmative action – the sort of thing that, if done by politically-correct “performance artists” to conservatives would get an NEA grant.
Next, Blumenthal digs back age…18?
By O’Keefe’s own account, his racial troubles became acute when he entered the multicultural atmosphere of Rutgers University’s dormitory system. In an online diary that has since been scrubbed from the Web (but not before being captured on Daily Kos), he wrote that he was forced to live on an all-black dormitory floor after refusing to live with the gay roommate he was initially assigned. O’Keefe claimed his next roommate was “an Indian midget … who smelled like shit.” The roommate left, however, and was replaced by “a greek kid.”
Stop the presses; a teenager saying something stupid.
Or, should I say, maybe saying somethign stupid, since even Blumenthal’s carefully-cropped context gives itself reasonable doubt:
The new roommate complained to a residential administrator that O’Keefe had called his neighbors “niggers,” prompting the school to expel him from the dorm. He rejected the accusation as a “complete lie,” writing, “I was lead out of the room crying and screaming at him and my situation, no friends, no one one [sic] to talk to, forced to go in front of a black man, Dean Tolbert, to defend myself and help explain that I did not call anyone any names.”
So – was O’Keefe a hardened 18 year old racist, or a wet-behind-the-ears teenager caught up in a bigoted setup, or something in between?
We can’t answer the question – but Blumenthal did, anyway.
The following year, despite this record, O’Keefe secured a dream job in the conservative movement, employed by the Leadership Institute, a Northern Virginia-based outfit that serves as the movement’s most prolific youth training operation. There, O’Keefe met Marcus Epstein, a fellow ideologue who as editor of a conservative publication at the College of William and Mary assailed Martin Luther King Jr. for “philandering and plagiarism” and challenged his patriotism and Christianity.
Catch that? Martin Luther King must not be questioned in any way. In other words, in Max Blumenthal’s special little world, Political Incorrectness equals racism.
Together, O’Keefe and Epstein planned an event in August 2006 that would wed their extreme views on race with their ambitions. Epstein invited white nationalist Jared Taylor [see above] and homophobic white-grievance peddler John Derbyshire of the National Review
Again – asking politically-incorrect questions is racism?
According to a post on the white supremacist Web site Stormfront, Taylor and Derbyshire debate “the role of race in policy decisions and the racial future of the Republican party.”
And here Blumenthal has descended into pure fantasy. Republicans are constantly discussing, debating and arguing about racial issues; “how do we get blacks, hispanics and asians, who all should be Republicans due to their interest in, respectively, eduation reform, social conservatism and free markets.
So what was said at the debate? Blumenthal doesn’t trouble himself to tell the reader. Indeed, the only “racist” act in the story seems to be the fact that the story was reported in Stormfront, which is certainly a racist site. But what did they say?
Cross-posted at Shot In The Dark.