Do You Believe In Monsters? Allow Will Bunch To Re-Introduce You To Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA)
Yesterday Will Bunch's new book, The Backlash: Right-wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama, was published. We'll call it "The Backlash" from now on and, as you can see, we put it right between Over the Cliff by John Amato and Dave Neiwert and American Taliban by Markos Moulitsas, this summer's 3 must-read political books. You might know Will as a HuffPo blogger or for his work at Media Matters, Attytood or at the Philadelphia Daily News or because of his provocative first book, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future. Will immediately caught my attention by publishing an excerpt at Salon yesterday, The Right-wing Congressman Made For The Obama Age. "Paul Broun," he started, "is the perfect embodiment of the right-wing backlash that has greeted Barack Obama's presidency." In early August Russell Edwards, the Democrat running for the seat Broun is occupying, did a guest post here at DWT explaining why Broun is "one of the most dangerous politicians in the nation."
Will has given me permission to use some excerpt from his new book but before you start reading it, take a look at this speech Paul Broun gave at a John Birch Society gala. This is the Republican Party of Paul Broun and his cronies in Congress:
Two months after the John Birch speech, Broun joined his Georgia congressional colleague Gingrey in attending a closed-door conference supported by some of the more extreme elements of this so-called “grassroots movement.” The National Liberty Unity Summit in Washington was co-sponsored by several groups that have been cited as right-wing extremist groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That would include the Oath Keepers, who were quite active in organizing and promoting the December 2009 event, which sought to organize the disparate “Patriot” groups that were either created or were gaining strength in the first year of Obama’s presidency.
A photo from the event shows a smiling Broun posing with a key organizer, Georgia conservative activist Nighta Davis and with Maryland pastor David Whitney, a leading activist in the Constitution Party and a senior instructor for the Institute on the Constitution. The Constitution Party-- which the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded “the most extreme right-wing political party in the United States,” citing its 2004 platform that called for undoing every amendment since 1913 (that includes woman voting and the income tax) and extreme views on immigration and abortion-- was also a major co-sponsor of the conference attended by Broun. One of the featured speakers was the leader of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a group founded by Glenn Beck’s favorite extremist author Cleon Skousen in 1971 as-- in the words of Salon’s Alexander Zaitchik-- “a research organization devoted to the study of the super-conspiracy directed by the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds.”
Others on the agenda included Walter Reddy of the Committees of Safety-- who produced a 1996 documentary calling the Oklahoma City bombing “an inside job”-- as well as Houston Tea Party activist Dale Robertson, later dogged by controversy when a picture surfaced of him bringing a sign comparing Congress to the (misspelled) N-word to a 2009 rally, and the Oath Keepers’ David Gillie.
These were the extreme fringes that echoed off the hillsides of Knob Creek and had animated the Oath Keepers and their paranoid fantasies about urban concentration camps and practice drills for the “Obama gun confiscation” and that rallied to the support of “Sheriff Joe” with their crude signs. Now these far-right groups that had always been way out there on the edge weren’t just growing in size since Obama’s inauguration but here were two members of the United States Congress bestowing a brand of legitimacy that was almost priceless. In return, Broun appeared as a leader, albeit not as the representative of the 10th Congressional District in Northeast Georgia but of an amorphous place that you could call Oath Keeper Nation. The risk going forward was that Tea Party anger within the gerrymandered far-right districts of Red America might lead in 2010 and beyond to a much larger political wing of Paul Brouns, and America’s paranoia-fueled political gridlock will only get worse.
Organizers of the right-wing summit understood and appreciated the gift that Broun bestowed upon them. “He is a statesman,” Nighta Davis, who planned the event and lives within his 10th Congressional District in Georgia. He recalls Broun spending time with the summit’s 2nd Amendment Committee, which included the abovementioned Walter Reddy as well as Larry Pratt, the executive director of the Gun Owners of America, a group frequently described as “the NRA on steroids”; Pratt himself has been called “a gun rights absolutist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which also criticized him for playing footsie, in essence, with militia groups during the 1990s. It’s not known what Broun and Pratt discussed but five months later Broun will be the only one of the 435 members of the House to address a much debated 2nd Amendment March on Washington that was spearheaded by Pratt.
“We had a nice talk, about how the 2nd Amendment is not really functioning the way the Founders intended it to,” recalls the militia enthusiast Reddy of his meeting with Broun, when contacted by phone. Apparently, Reddy didn’t get a chance to tell the congressman about his documentary purporting to expose the U.S. government’s involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing, but he did lobby for his current pet cause of establishing true state militias that would be independent from the National Guard or any federal authority.
If you don't think Paul Broun is a real danger to this country and to our way of life, you probably slept through history class. Russell Edwards has a game plan to send him into early retirement-- something every one of us should consider contributing to.
Arguably, no member of Congress has ridden anger and paranoia against Barack Obama from the back bench of the Capitol to the front of the headlines louder than Paul Broun Jr. Practically no one outside the winding tin-roof-rusted highways east of Athens had even heard of Broun, until the days that immediately followed the election of that first African-American commander-in-chief. In early November 2008, Broun -- who’d only been in office for about 18 months -- told a reporter for the Associated Press that he was worried that President-elect Obama had the potential to put America on the path to a dictatorship in the style of Marxist Russia or Nazi Germany.
"It may sound a bit crazy and off base ..." Those are nine words that a congressman should never say to a journalist, but now Broun was rolling. He insisted he was alarmed by a suggestion that then-candidate Obama had uttered that summer for a national service corps, and that he was worried that such a corps could be used to take away guns from citizens. "You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany," he said. "I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road." The comments created a minor, brief firestorm with all the usual hallmarks -- liberal blog outrage, and Broun’s statement that he apologized "to anyone who has taken offense at that," quickly followed by his insistence that his apology wasn’t really an apology. In fact, Broun had achieved maybe the greatest accomplishment of his congressional career, which was shifting the so-called Overton window-- a political theory on how extreme statements can shift the boundaries of what become acceptable speech (adopted by Glenn Beck as the title of his 2010 novel)-- on what could be openly said about the new president.
Meanwhile, some people around the country-- joined by some voters in Broun’s own 10th District-- were starting to ask, just who is this guy, anyway? There was a time when Paul Broun Jr. asked the same question of himself. It happened in 1986, when the 40-year-old baby boomer was into booze and into his fourth marriage already-- and having problems with both. Broun was at an NFL football game and drinking heavily when he noticed the fan who was a quasi-celebrity back during the Reagan years, the guy with the crazy rainbow-haired wig who stood in the end zone seats with the sign, "John 3:16." Broun said in a speech on the floor of Congress after his election to Congress two decades later that he was captivated by this "gentleman with this big type hair wig on." A few weeks later, after another fight with his new wife, he took out a Bible, read the verse, and decided to dedicate his life to Christ. (Ironically, it was the exact same year and at the same age that George W. Bush quit drinking as well.) Broun now considers his odyssey to the corridors of power the result of Jesus’ calling. He fails to add the kicker to the story, that the wig-wearing fan, a fellow named Rollen Stewart, is currently serving three life sentences for kidnapping.
...A family doctor who treated Jimmy Carter’s relatives in South Georgia for a number of years, Broun declared bankruptcy in the early 1980s. A federal judge ruled-- according to news accounts in Athens-- that Broun "falsified financial documents in an effort to obtain a loan and misrepresented his assets and debts during bankruptcy proceedings" and ordered him to pay nearly $70,000 to an Americus bank. According to a bankruptcy complaint, the young family doctor "has a reputation of having an extravagant lifestyle evidenced by the acquisition of a number of expensive rare hunting books, expensive rare ceramic items related to hunting, safari to Africa, expensive gun collection and the acquisition of the very best in everything purchased." He had to pay more than $61,000 in back taxes to the IRS, and one of his ex-wives even took him to court for alimony and child support. There was a time when that kind of résumé would have sunk a would-be politician, but the 21st century has proven to be remarkably kind to past sinners who adopt the language of 12-step recovery-- just ask Glenn Beck how that works-- and even awards bonus points when Christianity is involved.
Broun joined the Baptist Church, sobered up, but failed dismally in his early efforts in GOP politics, losing two congressional primaries and receiving a dismal 3 percent in a 1996 bid for the U.S. Senate. Still, Broun entered a 10-candidate special election when that district’s longtime Republican congressman, Charlie Norwood, died of cancer in 2007. He gained the runoff with a surprising second-place finish, but was universally predicted to face crushing defeat by the Republicans’ handpicked candidate, a state senator named Jim Whitehead. In fact, Whitehead-- from Augusta at the other end of the district-- was so cocky that he didn’t campaign in Athens for the runoff, even after it was dredged up that he’d once joked he’d like to see all of the University of Georgia bombed, except for the football team. Broun won a stunning narrow upset thanks to 90 percent of the vote from Athens. The most liberal city in Georgia had just unwittingly elected the most conservative congressman in America. Conservative-watching journalist David Weigel, then with Reason magazine, called Broun "the accidental congressman."
Voters soon found out just how conservative Broun really was. He was one of only four member in Congress to vote against a $20 million program to help kids in drug-infested neighborhoods and even joined just two other colleagues on opposing money for a registry for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. Asked about that by Weigel, Broun whipped out his pocket Constitution and insisted there was nowhere that it was written that the federal government could do these things. "I’d say most of the things this Congress does, we don’t actually have the authority to do," the freshman insisted.
There was one thing, however, that the born-again congressman did think the government had the authority to do-- ban the sale of Playboy and other racy magazines on U.S. military bases. Broun’s Military Honor and Decency Act-- which an aide boosted by touting the congressman’s medical qualifications as an "addictionologist"-- was the only piece of legislation that he authored in that first term. What’s more, it turned out that Broun’s aversion to government spending applied to legislation but not to taxpayer dollars that could help him out politically. In 2008, during his tough reelection battle, Broun spent so much on taxpayer-funded mail to his constituents that his office nearly ran out of money to pay staff and maintain district offices.
Last night I got in touch with Russell Edwards. He had read the excerpt as well. He told me "Will's report uncovered important details, but the story goes on. Last Spring, Broun, Jr. received a one-man bailout after running GA's McIntosh Commercial Bank into the ground. The FDIC was forced to intervene to protect depositors, finding McIntosh to be the weakest bank in GA, with an estimated $246 million dollars in bad loans on the books." One more time: Russell Edwards; better safe than sorry. The damage Broun can do goes way beyond the borders of his Georgia congressional district.