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2008-10-13

Max Blumenthal on Sarah Palin’s Radical Right-Wing Pals and Her Ties to the Pro-Secessionist Alaskan Independence Party

Guests

Max Blumenthal, investigative reporter. He was in Alaska last month investigating Governor Palin’s ties to the Alaska Independence Party. He is a fellow at the Nation Institute and his latest article, 'Meet Sarah Palin's Radical Right-Wing Pals’. His website is maxblumenthal.com

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As the McCain campaign continues to focus on Senator Obama’s alleged ties to former Weather Underground member William Ayers, a new investigation in Salon.com sheds light on how Governor Palin’s ties to the radical right are far deeper than previously thought. Journalists Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert detail how Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla over a decade ago with the help of activists from the Alaska Independence Party and the John Birch Society. They allege that she tried to return the favor later by attempting to appoint one of them to an empty city council seat. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report from the Alaska legislature has concluded Republican vice-presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin abused her power and violated state ethics law by trying to get her former brother-in-law Mike Wooten fired from the state police. The report by former Anchorage prosecutor Stephen Branchflower states, “Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda.”

Palin, on the other hand, is claiming the report completely exonerates her in the so-called “Troopergate” controversy. She told reporters Saturday, “Well, I’m very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity.”

Meanwhile, as the McCain campaign continues to focus on Senator Obama’s alleged ties to former Weather Underground member William Ayers, now a professor at the University of Illinois, a new investigation at <a href=http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/10/10/palin_chryson/print.html >Salon.com sheds light on how Governor Palin’s ties to the radical right are far deeper than previously thought. Journalists Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert detail how Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla over a decade ago with the help of activists from the Alaska Independence Party and the John Birch Society. They allege she tried to return the favor later by attempting to appoint one of them to an empty city council seat.

Governor Palin is not a member of the Alaska Independence Party, but she has attended party conventions and even addressed this year’s convention.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: I’m Governor Sarah Palin, and I am delighted to welcome you to the 2008 Alaskan Independence Party convention in the Golden Heart City, Fairbanks. Your party plays an important role in our state’s politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal was in Alaska last month investigating Palin’s ties to the Alaska Independence Party. He’s a fellow at the Nation Institute. His latest article is "Meet Sarah Palin’s Radical Right-Wing Pals." It’s online at <a href=http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/10/10/palin_chryson/print.html >Salon.com. He joins us now from Arizona.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Max Blumenthal.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Max, let’s just start out with the Troopergate report. I was just listening to her conversation with Alaska reporters on Saturday — Governor Palin’s — where she said she has been completely vindicated, legally as well as any other way, in terms of any pressure brought to bear on the firing of the commissioner, the public safety commissioner of Alaska. Can you summarize for us what the report found?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, what the report found, everything Sarah Palin had said in terms of her motives for firing trooper Mike Wooten, who had divorced her sister, was completely false, that she felt threatened by Trooper Wooten, for example, was completely contradicted by the fact that as soon as she came into office, she demanded that her security detail be significantly reduced. And so, just across the board, everything she had said about Trooper Wooten being a threat to her was contradicted by this report, and that Todd Palin, the self-described “first dude” of Alaska, spent 50 percent of his personal time, you know, in the governor’s office seeking ways to fire Trooper Wooten and to fire Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, who happens to be sort of a local hero in Alaska.

So, the report itself is pretty devastating, and what Sarah Palin is saying is that she hasn’t — that the report finds that she hasn’t broken any laws. And technically, while that’s true, she also stands to be censured by the legislature and/or fined, which would completely erode her image as a reformer who’s above party politics and personal corruption, something that, you know, the McCain campaign had sought her out for.

Beyond that, there’s more trouble ahead for Sarah Palin. She had followed a terrible McCain campaign strategy — and this is a little bit complicated — by which she would file an ethics report against herself before the State Personnel Board. And the logic behind this was that because the governor controls the State Personnel Board, you know, reports directly to the governor, she could get a favorable report on her handling of the trooper controversy, and this would have a lot of public relations value and would sort of at least exonerate her before the public. But what wound up happening was the State Personnel Board appointed another tough prosecutor, someone named Timothy Petumenos, an Anchorage — an Anchorage lawyer, who also happens to be a Democrat. And they’re going to release their report in a few weeks, and I expect that this report could be equally, if not more, devastating for Governor Palin.

AMY GOODMAN: And is that report expected to be released before the election, before November 4th?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I think it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Max Blumenthal, let’s talk about your piece, "Meet Sarah Palin’s Radical Right-Wing Pals." You’re just recently back from Alaska. What did you find?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I took a trip to Alaska about two weeks ago and interviewed the former chair of the Alaskan Independence Party. And then a reporter named David Neiwert, who’s been covering the anti-government militia movement since the early ’90s, took his own trip there, and in addition to interviewing, you know, the former AIP chair, Mark Chryson, we talked to people who served on the city council in Wasilla with Sarah Palin; we talked to her predecessor as mayor, John Stein; and we combed through city council records, investigating the extent of her ties to the Alaskan Independence Party, because we didn’t think that this has been sufficiently covered.

And what we found was that she was more closely associated with this party and with fringe right-wing elements than the media had previously discovered or than Palin was willing to acknowledge. And not only did she, you know, associate with them in order to advance her political ambitions, she advanced their agenda on a local and state level. Beginning with Mark Chryson and a character named Steve Stoll, who’s known around Wasilla as “Black Helicopter Steve,” because he’s rumored to have buried several high-powered automatic weapons in his front yard in expectation of the federal government ushering in the new world order, these characters are very paranoid, conspiratorial people who loathe the federal government and believe that the federal government is responsible for all the ills that have befallen their state. That’s why they — you know, that the Alaskan Independence Party was founded. It was founded to find a means, some remedy, so that Alaska could secede from the union. Its founder, Joe Vogler, said, “I’m an Alaskan, I’m not an American. And I hate America and all her damned institutions.” So this is what the party is about.

And these characters were — you know, befriended Sarah Palin in the early ’90s, when she first started her political career. Mark Chryson sort of claimed partial credit for her conversion from sort of middle-of-the-road bipartisanship to hardcore conservative ideology. And he worked hand-in-glove with Sarah Palin when she was in the city council on reducing property taxes and legislation like that. At the same time, they encouraged her to run for mayor against John Stein. And the mayor in Wasilla was at the time considered a nonpartisan position, but she ran an extremely partisan campaign with the help of her church, the Wasilla Assembly of God. And, by the way, I have an exclusive video report about her church at a website called thedailybeast.com. And while her church put out fliers calling her the Christian candidate, which sort of subtly, in a subtle way, may have suggested that John Stein, whose name is Jewish but was actually a Lutheran, was a Jew, Mark Chryson and Black Helicopter Steve Stoll created a lot of the negative backscatter around the campaign, for example, demanding that John Stein produce a marriage certificate proving that he and his wife were legally married. They claimed that they were not actually married, which is a devastating charge in a culturally conservative environment like Wasilla. This eventually led to Sarah Palin’s election.

So, as soon as Sarah Palin was elected, what did she do? She wanted to reward her supporters, for example, Black Helicopter Steve. So the city council seat she had just vacated, she nominated Steve Stoll for this seat. His nomination was blocked by a city councilmember named Nick Carney, who we interviewed, and Nick Carney told us he blocked the nomination because Steve Stoll was a violent influence on a local level. And John Stein told us this is the kind of character who, if you had a disagreement with him, he’d take you out in the parking lot and try to beat you up. And these are the people Sarah Palin was working with. Beyond that, they claim that they always had an open door into her office as mayor, and that continued as governor.

And they worked with her, and she supported them on efforts to, for example, amend the state constitution’s language to make it impossible for municipalities to enact their own gun control laws. And the reason that the Alaskan Independence Party wanted to do this was to make it easier to form anti-government militias. This is a party that’s been intimately connected to the militia movement on a national level, including figures like Bo Gritz. So, Sarah Palin knew the views of these groups. That’s according to Mark Chryson. She knew his views, but she was willing to work with them to advance her ambition. And she was willing to enact their agenda. So it didn’t matter whether or not she was a member of this group; she was at least a member in spirit.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, we’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’re going to hear a clip of the interview you did with the former chair of the Alaska Independence Party, Mark Chryson, and we’ll also play the piece that you did on her church. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal interviewed the former chair of the Alaska Independence Party, Mark Chryson, about how well he knew Governor Palin.

    MARK CHRYSON: There were a number of times I had to do stuff over inside the city where I just showed myself up over at City Hall and said, “Hey, Sarah, we need to talk to you.” And I think there was only one time where I was not able to talk to her, and that was because she was over in some other meetings on there. But any other time, she made — the door was open. I do; I consider her a friend.

    All — she knew mine. The entire — the entire state knew mine. I wasn’t afraid of being on camera in front of the news speaking my views.

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, you’ve got to be proud of it

    MARK CHRYSON: And I was not afraid of saying my views. However, that doesn’t mean that just because you say, hey, you’re a friend to somebody who’s got those views, it means you — it doesn’t mean that you share those views.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Chryson, the former chair of the Alaska Independence Party. And again, Max Blumenthal, for people just joining us, explain what the Alaska Independence Party is. And wasn’t Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd, a member of it?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: The Alaskan Independence Party is a neo-secessionist political party in Alaska that has links to thirty other neo-secessionist groups, including neo-Confederate groups and white — and parties that have served as havens for white nationalists and theocrats across the country. It’s essentially a fringe right party that’s gained a political foothold in Alaska because of anti-government sentiment in that state. And a lot of people have joined that party, because they were sympathetic to parts of its party platform. Todd Palin was among those people; however, he was not an active member. But that’s besides the point.

In 2007, Alaskan Independence Party Vice Chair Dexter [Clark] unveiled the party’s new strategy at a neo-secessionist convention in Tennessee, which was attended by all the neo-Confederate groups that the Alaskan Independence Party affiliates with. And his new strategy was called the infiltration strategy, that because these fringe parties can’t get anyone elected running under their own party banner, he urged them to infiltrate the other two, the two major political parties, the Republican and Democratic parties. And he pointed to Sarah Palin as the most successful example of this strategy, that she was essentially — this is in his words, and I’m paraphrasing his words —- she was essentially an Alaskan Independence Party cadre, boring from within the Republican Party’s infrastructure.

And while the McCain campaign was able to discredit his claim that she was an AIP member, they weren’t able to discredit the fact, and they haven’t even addressed the fact, that she worked hand-in-glove with the Alaskan Independence Party during the early ’90s and throughout her governorship. And when she spoke before the Alaskan Independence Party in 2008, she pointedly refused to or just did not address the Democratic Party. So that raises questions in itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I wanted to play the report you referred to earlier about Governor Palin’s former church, the Wasilla Assembly of God. It begins with a clip from a 2005 sermon by the visiting Kenyan Pentecostal preacher Thomas Muthee. He is praying over Sarah Palin.

    BISHOP THOMAS MUTHEE: In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, every form of witchcraft is what we’re revoking in the name of Jesus. Father, make our way now, in Jesus’ name, amen.

    REV. HOWARD BESS: I probably have paid a real price for my speaking out. The name of the book is Pastor, I Am Gay. I describe myself as a born-again evangelical Christian in the tradition of American Baptist. The book was published, and the religious right in the community decided to pursue the book, and they were successful in keeping it out of all of the bookstores here in the valley, including Walden Books. And it was in that context then that we know that Sarah Palin came and put pressure on the librarian to get rid of certain books, and one of them was Pastor, I Am Gay. If she is elected vice president, it is going to be a rough four or eight years for all of my gay friends.

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: Why is that?

    REV. HOWARD BESS: Because she believes they’re evil.

    BISHOP THOMAS MUTHEE: We come against that python spirit. We come against that spirit of witchcraft as the body of Christ right now in the name of Jesus. Oh-raba-saka-tala. Pray, pray. Raba-sandalala-bebebekalabebe. Shanda-la-bebebeka-lelebebe. That’s why we come against all forms of witchcraft. All the python spirits that are released against the body of Christ and bring this nation into the kingdom.

    UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN PASTOR: ...seriously, and right now we exercise our power. We go against the spirit, and we put our feet against the heads of the enemy in the name of Jesus.

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: I’ve been attending Sarah Palin’s church, that she attended since she was four, for the past few days, seeing a guy named Bishop Thomas Muthee speak. How did the theology of Sarah Palin’s church influence her decisions in dealing with people who she sees as her political enemies?

    ED O’CALAGHAN: That’s not a fair question. And -—

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: I think it’s a very fair question, and she wants her life to be an open book, and she wants to tell her story, and we have to go through you.

    ED O’CALAGHAN: If that question was posed in a —

    MEGHAN STAPLETON: And she’s waiting for the appropriate and nonpartisan manner in which to tell her story.

    ED O’CALAGHAN: Thank you. Thank you.

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: I think this would be an appropriate time to tell her story.

    REV. HOWARD BESS: During this same period of time, they also organized and took over the area politically. They took over the Wasilla City Council, the Palmer City Council, the borough assembly, the school board and the board of our local hospital. It was in that context in which Sarah Palin was fully active, was very involved in the political takeovers of all of the community organizations. In the case of the hospital, they were able to pack the board, and at their very first meeting passed a resolution banning all abortions.

AMY GOODMAN: Retired Baptist minister, Reverend Howard Bess, talking to journalist Max Blumenthal. Bess’s 1995 book Pastor, I Am Gay was among those Governor Palin tried to remove from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor. Max Blumenthal, how do you know this?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Howard Bess, you know, described to me three separate occasions when Sarah Palin went to the Wasilla Public Library to demand the removal of that book, and I went to the library myself, and they told me it wasn’t there for space reasons. But Howard Bess and people in the community know otherwise. Howard Bess estimates that he has lost, you know, $500,000 for his church, which was de-fellowshipped, because he allowed gay people to pray there. And Sarah Palin was, you know, working — was directly involved with the forces that have worked to destroy and demonize him simply for tolerating homosexuals in his church. And this is the context in which, you know, she was groomed and cultivated as a political leader.

The character you heard at the beginning and whose kind of garbled preaching you heard in the middle of that video, for your radio listeners, is a Kenyan pastor named — a Pentecostal pastor named Bishop Thomas Muthee, who claims that he cast a witch out of a town named Kiambu, Kenya, and then, you know, miraculously planted eighteen churches there. When the Wasilla Assembly of God, Sarah Palin’s church for over twenty years, found out about him through a popular video disseminated through Christian right channels, they flew him over there to bless Sarah Palin when she was running for governor. And he blessed her by saying that we need more Christian leaders in all of the seven spheres in society, and he complained that there are too many Israelites — that was his, you know, obvious codeword for Jews — in government and that Sarah Palin would be a remedy to that. She, after he said that, walked up and turned her hands up to the sky and closed her eyes and allowed him to lay hands on her and protect her from the spirit of witchcraft.

Now, this is the language of spiritual warfare that comes out of her church, the idea that behind reality is a secret spiritual world, a clash between Satan and God. And this is what they believe, and this is, you know, the Manichean worldview that informs Sarah Palin’s extreme conservatism. It’s why she treated someone like Howard Bess so harshly.

And I went to this McCain-Palin press conference, which you heard and saw there, about the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to ask how the theology of her church influenced her decisions in dealing with perceived political enemies like Walt Monegan. Of course, they treated it like an illegitimate question, but I think it really is an essential question to understanding how Sarah Palin thinks about the world. In a way, she’s more George W. Bush than George W. Bush was.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I want to thank you for being with us, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. His website, maxblumenthal.com. His latest article, "Meet Sarah Palin’s Radical Right-Wing Pals," online at Salon.com.

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