Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Self-Inflicted Smear (UPDATED 8/22)

(See the update at the bottom of this essay)

The Reich man for the job? J.T. Ready -- Arizona GOP precinct committeeman, unapologetic neo-Nazi, and prominent spokesman for the state's "immigration control" movement.

During my years in Appleton I became wearily familiar with a tactic that's come to be known as the "sandwich smear."

Here's how it works: Find two unsavory, disreputable organizations, persons, or movements and insert a reference to the John Birch Society between them. Now you don't have to trouble yourself to build an actual case against the JBS, or its positions and activities, since it will acquire the unpalatable flavor of its rhetorical surroundings.

The prototypical example of this tactic was delivered by Nelson Rockefeller in his address to the 1964 GOP Convention, in which he served up an open-faced variety of the sandwich smear, execrating what he called "extremists" such as "the Klan, the Communists, and the John Birch Society...."

Many variations on this tactic have been employed to traduce the organization. When called on to deal with them during my time on staff I would point out that the Society has consistently opposed all forms of collectivism, including -- and, when appropriate, especially -- that of the racial variety.

This is illustrated by the work of Delmar Dennis, who was nearly evicted from the JBS for joining the Klan until it was learned that he had been asked by the FBI to infiltrate a Klan organization that was carrying out what could only be called a campaign of criminal terrorism against black Christians.

Dennis's story isn't a tidy one, and his role as an informant and witness in the "Mississippi Burning" murders does raise some troubling constitutional questions. But any honest observer of that story would have to respect Dennis's lonely heroism, and the principled opposition to murderous bigotry both he and Robert Welch displayed by organizing a campaign against the Klan to compliment efforts being made to expose other ethnic grievance groups being used to foment violent conflicts during the late 1960s.

Given this, the vehemence with which the Society has fought efforts to tar it as racist are quite understandable. Like Ron Paul today, Robert Welch wasn't interested in tearing windows into men's souls; he didn't presume to police the personal beliefs and associations of members, but he wouldn't countenance efforts to promote bigotry as a matter of public policy. That's a good and worthwhile distinction, I think. But the credibility of that position is very fragile.

Which brings us, again, to the case of Arizona state legislator Russell Pearce and neo-Nazi agitator J.T. Ready.

Pearce is running for a state senate seat. Elements of the Arizona Republican Party who don't care for him and his views have put into circulation two fliers intended to drive up Pearce's negatives; the second of them features photographs of Pearce in comradely poses with Ready -- and a photo of Ready grinning like a drunken lemur at a Nazi gathering in Omaha, Nebraska.

In his element: Ready is second from the right.

This episode presents an interesting permutation of the sandwich smear, in that for once the JBS isn't in the middle. Nathan Sproul, the spokesman for the anti-Pearce faction, explains the campaign: "This is about whether or not the Republican Party in this state is going to be the party of Russell Pearce and White supremacists and the John Birch Society or whether we are going to be the party of John McCain and Jon Kyl."

Apparently, this campaign has been organized by a number of businessmen who oppose Arizona's employer-sanctions law, which was written by Pearce. That measure, which assumes that immigrants who have come here without government permission are "stealing" jobs, is intended to compel business owners to vet their hires through the federal "e-Verify" system. It is also intended to impose severe penalties on business whose owners "knowingly" hire such immigrants. Repeated violations would result in the economic "death penalty" -- permanent revocation of an entrepreneur's business license.

That law is stupid, cruel, and self-defeating. It is precisely the kind of business-killing bureaucratic intervention the JBS used to fight, before it became -- under its present purported leadership -- monomaniacal about the Brown Peril. How many times have JBS lecturers on speaking tours and at youth camps explained the evil of licensure, how it transforms a God-given right into a state-conferred privilege. The Arizona measure, written by a JBS darling and no doubt the beneficiary of Birch support, compounds that evil by compelling business owners to review their hiring decisions with the Feds via e-Verify.

Even before Pearce's measure was enacted, it was prompting business owners to relocate; in fact, it drove some manufacturers to relocate across the border in Mexico.

'Twas a famous victory ... for racially tinged populism masquerading as patriotism. And it's the handiwork of the state legislator to which the JBS attached itself, and through whom it is now linked to the malodorous Mr. Ready.

Nearly a year ago, I warned that this would happen -- if the Society didn't avail itself of an opportunity to confront Pearce about his relationship with Ready and have him clear the air. The debut of the Phoenix-area radio program Freedom's Voice offered a perfect forum to accomplish this: Imagine how the organization would have benefited had they been the ones to challenge Pearce about this matter in public.

The people running the outfit from Appleton (to borrow a phrase) never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

This could have been done so easily. It would have taken maybe three minutes of air time, at most. I don't blame the local hosts of that program (which was promoted on the JBS website) for this omission. The blame belongs with the people at the top, whose primary occupation by now must be finding creative new ways to avoid blame.

Yes, broaching this issue in public would have been nasty, since J.T. Ready -- who comes off as a hybrid of Goering and Chris Farley's Tommy Boy -- was a Birch Society member for a while.

The former Mesa City Councilman, convicted thief, and Marine Corps cast-off claims to have been praised in the Bulletin for his success in recruitment and that he resigned his membership, rather than being kicked out. I've not been able to verify either claim, and I'd trust Ready about as far as I could throw him. (Actually, since fecal matter has very low specific gravity, I could probably throw him much farther than he can be trusted, his trans-Falstaffian girth notwithstanding.) JBS staffers insist that Ready, like others of his ilk, lied his way into Society membership. If that's the case, why didn't they take the opportunity to say so, even as they got Pearce on record about the matter?

One final aspect of this mess needs to be addressed.

In the June 22, 2006 Birch Blog entry that eventually got me fired ("Phony Immigration Debate vs. Real Police State Threat"), I offered the following observation near the end of the essay:

"For a long time our would-be rulers have been looking for an issue that could entice people into surrendering their freedoms: The threat of Communism, the scourge of narcotics, the menace of international terrorism.... They seem to identified the threat of illegal immigration as
just the thing they've been searching for. Right now, tens of millions of conservatives, including many who have been suspicious about the Patriot (sic) Act and similar measures, appear willing to submit to invasive, militarized enforcement measures in order to curb illegal immigration."

With that in mind, watch and listen to this brief clip in which J.T. Ready -- addressing an immigration control rally in Arizona -- not only throws a bouquet at Russell Pearce, but explicitly calls for the militarization not only of the national borders, but of domestic law enforcement, in order to turn back the Brown Scourge:


"Three Arizona Republican congressmen are calling for the removal of a low-level party official from Mesa, accusing him of being a neo-Nazi and sullying the party's image," reported the August 21 Arizona Republic. "J.T. Ready, who ran for Mesa City Council in 2006 and was elected a precinct committeeman in west Mesa's legislative District 18 later that year, is not fit to represent the party, the congressmen said. Jeff Flake, John Shadegg and Trent Franks made their appeal in a letter to Tom Husband, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party, in a letter dated Tuesday.

Actually, it's not clear that Ready is the proverbial card-carrying member of the National Socialist Movement, the organization that sponsored the rally above, even though he is unabashedly an exponent of National Socialism. This explains the reflex with which he accused his Republican critics of selling out "to the Zionists and the international bankers."

If Ready's account of his time on the JBS membership rolls is to be believed (see my caveat in that regard above), it appears that the Arizona GOP has somewhat more stringent standards than the present JBS management: Ready, as he tells it, resigned from the Society of his own accord, but the Arizona GOP is at least making an effort to throw him out.

One interesting point in the Republic story deals with what appears to be a very tight relationship between Ready and Pearce: "Although Ready ran against Pearce in the 2004 legislative primary, Pearce endorsed Ready when the latter ran for City Council in the spring of 2006." Of course, Pearce now claims that he hardly knew Ready, and had no idea of his neo-Nazi convictions and activism.

What brought Pearce and Ready together was their shared obsession with the subject of immigration from Mexico. And that's what brought both of them together with the JBS.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or improper about being very concerned over the problem of illegal immigration, of course. But for the past two and a half years the JBS had become practically monomaniacal on that subject (and probably would be so today, were it not for what Appleton, taking its cues from the neo-cons, is treating as a sudden revival of the Cold War). It's really not surprising that this obsessive focus on immigration led to the Society finding itself in the same pigpen occupied by the likes of Ready and Pearce.

It was surprising, and disappointing, that the current management didn't avail themselves on an opportunity to confront Pearce about his involvement with Ready, thereby putting some appropriate distance between principled immigration activism and unfiltered totalitarian bigotry.

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