Tom Reed devoted a page of his website to claims that his campaign staff was
threatened, harassed and insulted following this weekend’s Tracy Mitrano Rally in Olean which was hosted by a coalition of liberal activist groups including Citizens for a Better Southern Tier, the group whose leader was recently arrested for stealing Tom Reed campaign signs.
Reed tried to tie the harassment to Congresswoman Maxine Waters who he claimed encouraged harassment of "public servants" by telling a crowd of her supporters
Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from [President Trump’s] Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.
Reed neglected to mention that Waters clarified her comments the next day when she told Chris Hayes,
I did not call for harm for anybody . . .As a matter of fact I believe in peaceful protest. . . . I believe that protest is at the centerpiece of our democracy. I believe that the constitution guarantees us freedom of speech. And I think that protest is civil.
Finally, Reed ended his attack on Mitrano's supporters by stating,
Citizens for a Better Southern Tier is the protest group that controversially held up a Nazi flag and compared Republicans that support Donald Trump to Germans who supported Adolf Hitler.
Let there be no mistake about why Tom Reed posted this attack on his website. He is trying to make it appear like Mitrano's supporters are extremists who are conducting an intimidation campaign against Donald Trump, Tom Reed, and those who support Trump and Reed. And since he posted this on his "Tom Reed for Congress" website, he is undoubtedly hoping the taint of his smear will rub off on Tracy Mitrano herself. He may not say it explicitly, but he is undoubtedly hoping that voters will subliminally associate Mitrano with brutishness and vote for Reed instead. After all, you are known by the company you keep. Birds of a feather flock together. You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. These are the clichés that Reed hopes you will use to draw what I call the Reed Corollary:
If the candidate is supported by scumbags, then the candidate must be a scumbag. If the candidate can't keep her supporters under control, the candidate is not suited for office.
I want to address the claims that Reed has made on his website and explore the implications of the Reed Corollary. But first, I want to say a few words to my fellow Mitrano supporters.
Tracy Mitrano responded to Reed's accusation by asking her supporters "to treat those associated with our campaign, or with the opposition campaign, with civility and respect." I agree with her and want to amplify what she has said.
First, don't go stealing signs that support Tom Reed, Donald Trump, or anyone else for that matter. Not only is stealing signs wrong, it is a profoundly stupid thing to do. If you get caught then not only will you get in trouble, you will give Reed an opening he will use to attack Mitrano. And attack he will. After all, he is more concerned about defending his signs than he is about defending our democracy by protecting the Mueller investigation into how Russia attacked our elections. So there is a large potential downside to stealing signs. And what is the potential upside? There is none--or if there is any, it doesn't come close to compensating for the potential downside. I have yet to meet someone who said, "I was going to vote for candidate X, but candidate Y had such a neat yard sign that I'm going to vote for Y instead."
Second, I know I don't need to tell 99.99% of you this, but don't be louts. Don't act like thugs. Don't act like rabid hyenas in heat. Trump supporters do this so well that you can never match their expertise in this endeavor. We just cannot compete here. I mean, look at this video. How can we compete with THAT? Let's cede this field to them.
Having given my advice to my fellow Mitrano supporters (the vast, vast majority of whom don't need to be reminded to act with civility), let's look at the claims Reed made on his website.
A Closer Look At Reed's Smears
First, he claimed that members of his staff were threatened, harassed, and insulted. And he did indeed post evidence that they were insulted and possibly harassed. But his evidence of a threat was somewhat thin. The closest thing I saw to a threat was a message sent by a MichaelMeghan who wrote, "Your (sic) a piece if (sic) shit! Can't wait to see you in public!!!" I suppose you could interpret that as a threat, but it is somewhat vague. It is a stretch to say that the only way to interpret this is as a threat of violence. It looks more like a threat of a tongue lashing to me. Sadly, it is the type of threat that is seen on the internet all the time but does not rise to the level of specificity necessary to trigger a police investigation. Can Congressman Reed provide us examples of specific threats of violence directed towards him and his staff? If he can, he certainly hasn't provided it on his website. And I'd be willing to bet Reed's staff would have recorded it if someone had made a threatening call to his office. After all, a staff that goes to the trouble of placing a GPS device on their yard sign to detect theft is likely to tape incoming phone calls to record possible threats.
Even though MichaelMeghan's message is somewhat ambiguous, let's give Reed the benefit of the doubt and assume it is a legitimate threat. Do you know what he hasn't proved? A) That the threat was in any way connected to Mitrano's rally in Olean. And B) That it was posted by a Mitrano supporter. There was no date stamp included in the snapshot of this threat. We don't even know if the threat was directed to one of Reed's assistants or if it was directed to Reed himself since there is no name included in the threat. If it was directed at Reed it could have easily come from outside his district since Reed has defended the Trump Administration at least several times on national news shows. I've seen many negative comments from around the country posted to Facebook and Twitter in response to his TV appearances. Like it or not, Reed's appearances have made him a minor national figure, and this threat could have come from someone who has never even heard of Mitrano.
Second, Reed noted that Mitrano's Olean rally "was hosted by a coalition of liberal activist groups including Citizens for a Better Southern Tier, the group whose leader was recently arrested for stealing Tom Reed campaign signs." Reed was referring to Gary McCaslin's APPARENT theft of an "Extreme Ithaca Liberal" lawn sign that his assistant, Nick Weinstein, tracked down by following the signals from a GPS tracker he had implanted in the sign. (You can read about McCaslin's arrest and see a video of Weinstein confronting McCaslin over the sign he took here.) There are two points that must be noted here. First, McCaslin has pled "not guilty" and it is unclear if he has violated any law. He claims that he had picked up the sign along with several other campaign signs that had been abandoned on public property after the primary election. According to McCaslin, he was performing a public service by picking up trash (You can see a video of his lawyer presenting his side of the story here.) I am a little skeptical of McCaslin's defense, but we should wait for a jury to weigh the facts and the rule of law and provide their verdict before deciding whether he is innocent or guilty of theft. After all, Tom Reed would not want us to jump to the conclusion that Donald Trump is guilty of treason by colluding with Russia to steal the election--even though there is a lot more circumstantial evidence that he did just that than there is that McCaslin intended to steal the yard sign. (Actually, I am being too generous here. Reed doesn't just want us to avoid jumping to a conclusion--a conclusion that would imply that not only is Trump's Presidency is illegitimate, but every judge and Supreme Court Justice that Trump has appointed is illegitimate as well. Reed wants to shut down the investigation that could prove Trump's illegitimacy and collusion with the Russians.) The second point is that the Mitrano For Congress campaign issued a statement saying, "Mitrano for Congress will never condone any of its volunteers taking other candidates’ yard signs. The individuals involved are no longer associated with the campaign."
Third, Reed further smeared Citizens for a Better Southern Tier by stating, "Citizens for a Better Southern Tier is the protest group that controversially held up a Nazi flag and compared Republicans that support Donald Trump to Germans who supported Adolf Hitler."
What Reed neglected to mention was that this Nazi flag incident occurred at an event hosted by Citizens for a Better Southern Tier in which three military veterans talked about how the Trump Administration was adversely affecting them and the country. One veteran, Wayne Wells, who served as the U.S. was transitioning from an advisory role to a warfighting role in South Vietnam, held up a picture of a Nazi flag--not a Nazi flag itself--as he talked about the power of symbols and how what they stand for can change over time. I encourage you to watch a video of the event and draw your own conclusions as to whether this incident is as nefarious as Reed would have you believe. Wells' talk starts about 22 minutes into the video and he holds up a picture of a Nazi flag around 26 minutes into the video. The sound quality of this video is poor and some of what Wells says is barely audible, so here is my transcription of the most relevant parts.
From around 26 minutes in:
Flags can be powerful symbols of collective human endeavors. What feelings arise when viewing the Nazi flag? [holds up a picture of a Nazi flag]. What does the swastika mean to you? The word "swastika" is derived from the Sanskrit meaning "well, good, or prosperity". So flags and their symbols acquire meaning commensurate to the conduct of the societies that fly them. We must never forget that the Germans who saluted this flag and obeyed the Fuhrer were called "patriots". Those who opposed were called "traitors". Any nation of power defines its own morality and virtues, often irrespective of its actions. All nations are prone to perpetrate acts of evil, and our nation has not been exempt, in spite of the lofty rhetoric and claims to divine guidance. The testament to our nation's virtue lies not in past deeds of good or bad, but in the progress we make toward a better union in practicing the ideals of justice, equality, and liberty so eloquently versed in our Constitution.
From around 30 minutes in:
Before the election, I confronted Congressman Reed, and I was particularly disturbed by the fact that Trump was trumpeting the use of torture, which is an anathema to me as a veteran. It threatens our soldiers who serve willingly and risk their lives, so I asked him about this and he supports waterboarding and torture. He said that. To me, this is an example of the traitor in our nation. This is an enabler of tyranny. Hitler could never get where he got without enablers and we have one in our district which must be dealt with through the peaceable vote to get him out.
Tom Reed linked to a very small PORTION of a carefully selected copy of this video to prove that someone from Citizens for a Better Southern Tier "compared Republicans who support Donald Trump to Germans who supported Adolf Hitler." He did not mention the speaker was a Vietnam veteran who was undoubtedly alarmed by the threat Trump and Reed posed to his access to medical insurance because he needed to take a $130,000/year drug to fight his terminal leukemia. ($130,000 is also known as one Stormy Daniels Unit) Nor did he link to the original video so that we could see the clip in context. The clip he used to back up his claim featured Wells speaking the unemphasized sentences in the preceding paragraph. Reed edited out the part that I emphasized in bold. He obviously did not want us to know that Wells was upset about Reed's support of torture.
Note also that Wells's point was about the role of enablers in allowing evil people to enact evil policies. If Tom Reed had been honest he would simply have said, "I endorse waterboarding torture in certain instances, and my endorsement has upset a veteran so much that he accused me of being an enabler of evil--and enablers are bad. Just look at the enablers of Hitler." That is how an honest person would have framed it. He would not have tried to make it appear that a member of Citizens for a Better Southern Tier either sympathized with Nazis so much that he carried a Nazi flag or that he was accusing Republicans of being nearly as bad as Hitler. But I guess we should be used to Tom Reed's slippery framing. Just look at how he slanted his 2015 "poll" to justify his position against the Iran Nuclear deal.
Wells never said that Trump supporters, or even Trump himself, was as bad as Hitler. If he had said that then it would have been over the top. And it is a good thing he didn't because doing so would have trivialized the horrors of the Holocaust and cheapened the memory of the millions of people Hitler murdered. But it is important to remember that Hitler wasn't always the nearly all-powerful monster hell bent to kill as many Jews as he could in his concentration camps. That Hitler didn't emerge until the 1940's. Hitler during the early 1930's did not have the power to bring about the Holocaust, nor did he have a detailed plan for how to implement it. He started out as a lesser evil and evolved into the ubermonster that we remember today. And it is not over-the-top to point out that Trump is using two tricks that Hitler used to muscle his way to get and maintain power. Trump's constant attacks on the credibility of the free press--a necessary pillar of any democracy to keep the excesses of a bad government in check--is reminiscent of Hitler's attacks on what he referred to as the lugenpresse (lying press). And Trump's constant demonization of illegal immigrants and Muslims, is reminiscent of the way Hitler rallied support by demonizing the Jews. An article from early 2017 in the British online newspaper, The Independent, makes this point in its very title: Donald Trump just published a list of alleged crimes committed by immigrants. Hitler did the same.
Note how Trump conflates illegal immigrants with MS-13 in the following tweet--despite the fact that of 526,901 illegal immigrants detained by Customs and Border Patrol last year, only 228 were members of MS-13.
Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018
There is no denying that MS-13 is incredibly brutal, but as this Pro-Publica report by Hannah Dreier shows, Donald Trump has greatly exaggerated their threat to our country. Exaggerating the MS-13 threat to rally his base and pressure his opponents into building the Wall is one thing. But this tweet does more than just scare-mongering. It uses a few hundred bad apples to smear over half a million immigrants and dehumanizes them by associating them with MS-13 and by claiming they are infesting our country. Infesting is what insects do, not people, and calling any large group of people an infestation is a play taken directly from Hitler's playbook.
Wells did not say Trump or those who support Trump are as bad as Hitler. And I have no reason to believe Trump is anywhere nearly as bad as Hitler. I may be one of Trump's most ardent critics, but I do not see genocide in his heart. However, if Wells had said that Trump is starting down the path walked by Hitler, he would not have been off the mark.
As we can see, Reed has used slippery claims with little merit to try to smear Mitrano and her supporters because of the actions of a very few people. This is not an appropriate use of the rhetorical talents of a Congressman. On a positive note, at least we should be grateful that Reed never decided to moonlight as a PR agent for Osama Bin Laden. With his penchant for hiding the REAL truth behind deliberately vague but truthful statements we might have seen him issue a press release saying, "America, you are overreacting. What's the big deal? Why the war against us, just because you didn't like the flight paths of a few airplanes."
A Closer Look At The Reed Corollary
Let's take a closer look at the Reed Corollary: "If the candidate is supported by scumbags, then the candidate must be a scumbag. If the candidate can't keep her supporters under control, the candidate is not suited for office." Keep in mind that Reed applied his corollary using only his worst possible interpretation of the very few of the worst Mitrano-supporting offenders he could find. And he did have to do some twisting to portray what veteran Wayne Wells said as particularly sinister. Let's apply the Reed Corollary to Donald Trump--but I'm going to do this with one hand tied behind my back. Unlike Reed, I'm not going to purposefully try to make these selected Trump supporters look worse than they already are.
- If you haven't already done so, watch the first video embedded in this article. There is no need for me to comment further. These Trump supporters speak for themselves.
- Though he didn't formally endorse Donald Trump, former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard, David Duke told his audience that voting for anyone besides Donald Trump "is really treason to your heritage".
- Rocky Suhayda, the President of the American Nazi Party endorsed Trump, saying, "If Trump does win, it's going to be a real opportunity for people like white nationalists".
- The delightful FOX News commentator, Laura Ingraham, is also one of Trump's biggest fans. She mocked Parkland shooting survivor and anti-NRA activist, David Hogg over his college rejections and did not even try to disguise her racism in her recent rant against immigrants--both legal and illegal.
In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed,. Now much of this is related to both illegal, and in some cases legal immigration, that of course progressives love.”
- Trump supporter, Dan Bowman, said "I feel like Hillary needs to be taken out. If she gets in the government, I’ll do everything in my power to take her out of power . . . If I have to be a patriot, I will." (Watch the video here.)
- In August 2016, Al Baldasaro, co-chair of the Trump campaign's national veteran's coalition, was so angered by Hillary Clinton's role in the Benghazi Affair that he said she should "be put in the firing line and shot for treason." The Boston Globe gave Baldasaro a chance to backtrack on his comment, but this time he doubled down by saying Clinton should be shot for her mishandling of classified information on an unsecured sever. Baldasaro's remarks so upset Trump that he was invited to a White House bill signing ceremony a year later.
- Ted Nugent told a concert audience that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should "suck on my machine gun." Donald Trump was so upset by Nugent's uncouth behavior that he invited him into the Oval Office.
- Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones pushed the crackpot theory that the Sandy Hook School massacre was a hoax and that the parents of the Sandy Hook students were faking their children's death. The numerous statements allegedly made by Jones and his fellow InfoWars hosts are laid out in detail in this lawsuit by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of shooting victim Noah Pozner. Lucy Richards, a Sandy Hooks Hoax conspirator, left death threats on Leonard Pozner's voice mail. Whether Richards listened to Alex Jones and was inspired to hate Pozner because of him is uncertain, but the 48th paragraph of Pozner's complaint states, "As part of her sentence, Ms. Richards will not be permitted to access a list of conspiracy-based websites upon her release, including InfoWars."
Jones also spread the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory which claimed that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a pedophile ring out of the Planet Ping Pong restaurant. Edgar Maddison Welch, a believer in the Pizzagate conspiracy, decided to take matters into his own hands and repeatedly shot at the door of the restaurant while he conducted his own investigation into the conspiracy. Rolling Stone published an article suggesting that Welch's obsession with Pizzagate was at least partly due to Jones's broadcast. Even after reading the Rolling Stone article, I am still not certain that Alex Jones was responsible for convincing Welch that the Pizzagate story was true. But I do know this: Alex Jones apologized to Planet Ping Pong's owner on the same day that Welch pleaded guilty for assault with a dangerous weapon.
And if two vile conspiracy theories aren't enough, then try this one on for size. Jones incited hatred of Robert Mueller by claiming that Mueller was a monster who either ran or covered up a pedophile ring. He pantomimed shooting a gun at Mueller in a gesture that could easily be interpreted as a threat to shoot him. Jones later posted a video after he received tremendous backlash stating he was only speaking figuratively and telling his listeners not to physically attack Mueller. Needless to say, Jones is a big supporter of Donald Trump and he claims that Trump requests and receives transcripts from his show. Trump, likewise is a fan of Jones, having told Jones that his reputation was "amazing" when he was a guest on Jones's show.
If we believe in the Reed Corollary then these eight examples should tell us a lot about Donald Trump. And if these examples aren't enough, then Donald Trump himself has confirmed what we might conclude from the Reed Corollary. During an August 2016 rally, Trump made a statement that some could interpret as a call for assassinating Hillary Clinton or the Supreme Court Justices.
If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.
This wasn't an unambiguous assassination threat, but it was at least as threatening as the threat that Reed complained about on his website-- "Your (sic) a piece if (sic) shit! Can't wait to see you in public!!!" And this was not Trump's only thuggish remark. Snopes has documented several occasions where Donald Trump encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies, including one rally in February 2016 in which Trump said, "…If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, ok. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise." (Snopes included in its backstory the fact that someone had thrown a tomato at Trump at a rally a week earlier).
The Messing Maxim
While you can infer something about a candidate by the people who support her, you shouldn't make too much of your conclusion when it is based on a very small non-randomly selected sample of the worst of her supporters. Let me conclude with an observation, followed by the Messing Maxim.
Observation: Tom Reed is a big supporter of Donald Trump's. He was one of the first members of Congress to endorse candidate Trump back in March 2016. Trump rewarded Reed's early support by appointing him as one of several Vice Chairs of his Transition Team. And though Reed might not agree with everything Trump has done, he appears to be willing to aid and abet Trump's apparent obstruction of justice by calling for an end to the Mueller investigation.
The Messing Maxim: You can tell more about a politician by who they support than you can tell by looking at a small, non-randomly selected fraction of the population who support that politician.
I didn't know much about Citizens for a Better Southern Tier before I started doing research for this article. Tom Reed has portrayed them as an overzealous, extremist organization. I invite you to look at their Facebook page and watch the following video and judge the accuracy of Reed's portrayal for yourself.
Update 8/22/18: It probably means nothing, but Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins were the first two major politicians to endorse Donald Trump for President. Both have been indicted. Tom Reed is the fifth House member to endorse Trump and the eight major politician to do so. Update: Earlier today I had written Ree was the fourth House member to endorse Trump. I made a mistake. He was the fifth House member to endorse Trump.