Yesterday on American Morning, John Avlon of The Daily Beast presented his "Wingnuts of the Week," in which he identified two groups that apparently represent the political extremes of the left and right. His selections? Jodie Evans of the anti-war group Code Pink on the left, and David Stone of the Hutaree militia on the right. He singled out Evans for interrupting a speech by Karl Rove in Beverly Hills and attempting a citizen's arrest, and Stone for, well, plotting to kill police officers.
Here's the video:
Anybody see a problem with this? Avlon juxtaposed Code Pink -- whose "crime" was disrupting a speech given by Karl Rove, loudly protesting the Iraq War and the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, and expressing their wish to attempt a citizen's arrest of Rove, with one of its members saying that they would be comforted by the thought of Rove "rotting in hell" -- with the Hutaree militia, whose members have been arrested and are being investigated by the FBI for conspiracy to commit murder and wage war against the U.S. government.
As it turns out, nobody was arrested at the event in which Rove was speaking, not even Code Pink. Evans and the rest of the protesters were escorted out of the event by security, and there were no reports of violence. Evans herself published an op-ed in the Huffington Post today in which she took pride in interrupting Rove, and offered readers the chance to support their citizen's arrest efforts and to check where Rove would be speaking in the coming days. Members of the Hutaree militia, on the other hand, were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy not only to kill law enforcement officials, but then set off bombs at their funerals.
By naming these two groups his "wingnuts of the week," Avlon is framing the debate over "wingnuts" using a false equivalence test. The California penal code states that people may not be prosecuted for attempting a citizen's arrest under the following circumstances (emphasis mine):
- For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence.
- When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in his presence.
- When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
Does Code Pink have "reasonable cause for believing" that Karl Rove committed a felony? Well, Rove had reportedly admitted to circulating information in an attempt to discredit Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, but he was ultimately never indicted for obstructing justice in the case. Rove was also allegedly involved in the corrupt and politically-motivated firings of U.S. attorneys, and allegedly involved in the arrest of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman -- a case that also appeared to have been politically motivated -- though Rove's role in it has not been made fully clear.
But even if the charges leveled by Evans against Rove were completely erroneous, how does that justify comparing her actions at the Beverly Hills event to what the Hutaree militia has been charged of? She did not physically assault Rove, nor did she plot to kill Karl Rove or other Bush Administration officials and then set bombs at their funeral. She wasn't even arrested at all for what she did. What was CNN's goal in allowing Avlon to make such a comparison? Was it to achieve some sense of political "balance" by picking two different groups, one from the left and one from the right? How is the comparison between Code Pink and the Hutaree militia at all appropriate, other than the fact that members of both groups presumably have strong political beliefs?
Now, you might argue that Avlon was not making an editorial statement about the degree of the particular "wingnut" offenses and the extent to which they were equivalent. For all we know, he might believe that the charges of sedition and conspiracy to commit murder by the Hutaree militia were worse than the attempt of citizen's arrest by Code Pink. It's also true that Avlon and the CNN anchors had a longer discussion over the Hutaree militia and their relevance to "wingnuttery" when compared to Code Pink. But that still doesn't explain how the comparison made any sense. There are civil and criminal penalties for making an erroneous citizen's arrest, but unless the penalties are equivalent to those associated with conspiracy to commit murder and sedition, then the offenses are not equivalent.
It's one thing to quibble over the tactics of Code Pink. It's another thing to even imply that their actions are on par with those of the Hutaree militia. They're not even close. Avlon and CNN would do well to remember that.
Update #1: Avlon -- a former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani -- is also the author of a new book, entitled Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, which describes extreme rhetoric and action taken by citizens on both the left and the right. Here's an excerpt in which he details the "Bush Derangement Syndrome" on the left:
The prevalence of Bush Derangement Syndrome on the left gave the right the green light to escalate. Coinage credit goes to conservative columnist and trained psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer, who in 2003 had diagnosed Bush Derangement Syndrome as "the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush."
The left-Wingnut netroots paraded their Bush hate, such as this post at the leading left-wing political Web site Daily Kos: "I know hate is a strong word. But I do hate the man. I hate him." Groups like Code Pink staged "die-ins," screamed during congressional hearings, protested military recruitment stations and attempted citizen's arrests of administration officials.
That particular post on the "left-wingnut" site known as Daily Kos actually described multiple policies taken by the Bush Administration over a period of several years during George W. Bush's presidency. Code Pink staged those protests in opposition to another pretty well known policy of the Bush Administration -- that little escapade known as the Iraq War. If Avlon really believes that Bush Derangement Syndrome has any validity, then perhaps he forgot that widespread opposition to George Bush had nothing to do with his "mere existence" as Charles Krauthammer believes, and everything to do with his failed policies. In addition, that opposition was not confined merely to "the left." Isn't that why the Republicans got trounced in the 2006 and 2008 elections, and why Bush left office with an approval rating in the upper 20's? I guess Bush Derangement Syndrome must have been more widespread than I thought!