The last time Andrew Breitbart got any significant notice in the media was when he publicized the Twitter sexting of former congressman Anthony Weiner. It was a particularly repulsive bit of gossipy sensationalism that furthered no public interest, but ruined a man’s career (and possibly his family), just to satisfy Breitbart’s craving for attention and his obsession with destroying what he calls “the institutional left.”
That was four months ago and Breitbart must be getting antsy about having been ignored by the press ever since. Now, on his BigGoverment web site, he has published an article asking his readers to comb through thousands of emails that he says are from OccupyWallStreet organizers. He claims to have acquired them from Thomas Ryan, a “private cyber security researcher.” Breitbart provides links to download these emails so that his minions can scour them for evidence of “links to socialist, anarchist, and possibly even jihadist organizations.”
This article also appears on Alternet.org.
It’s not bad enough that right-wing media have attempted to portray the Occupy Movement as dirty hippies, lazy freeloaders, ignorant dupes, leftist traitors, godless heathens, diabolical Marxists, violent revolutionaries, and White House plants, Breitbart is adding Al-Qaeda terrorists to this list. If it wasn’t so dangerously provocative it would be moderately humorous. But Breitbart’s accusations are irresponsible and his activities may be illegal. The first paragraph of the story says…
Breitbart: “In keeping with the new media notion of crowdsourcing–enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream media when trawling through Sarah Palin’s emails–Big Government will be providing readers later today with links to a document drop consisting of thousands of emails.”
The correlation Breitbart draws between these emails and those of Sarah Palin is entirely inapplicable. Palin’s emails as governor of Alaska were released through a lawful process that requires communications by government officials to be available to the public. Both the state of Alaska and Palin’s attorneys had an opportunity to examine the emails for any privacy concerns and neither expressed any objection to their release.
Breitbart, however, is publishing emails that were expressly created by individuals for their personal use. They were private communications amongst people who did not grant their publication and were not advised of it. The emails were literally stolen by a hacker who admits that he gained access to them through deception and misrepresentation (social engineering). And Breitbart is now complicit in the crime by publishing the ill-gotten goods with full knowledge of their origins.
[Update: Gawker has more on Thomas Ryan and his "Black Cell" campaign to infiltrate and discredit the movement. Ryan's activities include forwarding emails to the FBI, the NYPD, and companies targeted for protests.]
Anyone familiar with Breitbart’s Legacy of Sleaze will not be surprised by this latest atrocity. He previously was best known for unfairly smearing ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, and others, with videos that were deliberately edited to produce a false and negative impression.
It should be noted that, thus far, none of the emails that Breitbart or his lackeys have reviewed contain anything remotely embarrassing. That, however, hasn’t stopped him from lifting words like “destabalization” and “unrest” out of context to suggest something more devious than the public protesting that is protected by the Constitution. Breitbart will surely employ such tactics to demonize the movement, just as he did with his attacks on ACORN, etc. It’s hard-coded in his deviant nature.
Even if there are some unsavory comments sprinkled amongst the thousands of emails, they could not plausibly be attributed to the Occupy Movement as a whole because the movement has no leader or authoritative spokesperson. It would just be one person’s opinion. The possibility that someone in a group of passionate dissidents wrote something offensive is not inconceivable. But it is also not official doctrine and cannot honestly be represented as such. The key word there being “honestly.” If Breitbart finds something controversial he will no doubt try to tarnish the movement with the indiscreet remarks of a single, marginally associated individual.
In the telling of this story it must not be forgotten that the emails being reviewed by Breitbart & Co. were obtained in manner that is at least immoral. And this isn’t the only example of such despicable, and possibly unlawful, behavior on the part of right-wing activists.
Patrick Howley, an assistant editor for the uber-conservative American Spectator magazine, admitted to infiltrating OccupyDC for the purpose of undermining it. He then attempted to lead a group of protesters into storming the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The protesters, being much smarter than Howley, did not play along. Howley stormed the museum alone and was pepper-sprayed by security.
Mark Williams, former spokesman for Tea Party Express, told his radio listeners that he was planning to sabotage union rallies with the intention of making them look “greedy and goonish.” And he beseeched his listeners to do the same. Williams was the one-time spokesperson for the Tea Party Express, but was dismissed for publishing a virulently racist article on his blog.
Mike Vanderboegh, a militiaman from Alabama, encouraged his followers to break the windows of Democratic offices with rocks and baseball bats. More recently Vanderboegh published a Photoshopped picture of Attorney General Eric Holder in a Nazi uniform.
Rush Limbaugh delivered a radio sermon in which he called for riots at the Democratic National Convention. The rant was titled “Screw the World! Riot in Denver!” He was specific in describing his objective as “burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that.”
This illustrates just how afraid the right is of the 99% of Americans who are waking up to the injustice and corruption of the 1%. They are increasingly fearful that their free ride is over. When people like Rush Limbaugh call the Wall Street protesters “human debris;” when Glenn Beck asserts that they “will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you;” it is all too clear that they have lost control of their senses. They are so deranged by fear that there is no limit to the absurdity of their claims and actions.
It also illustrates the sort of desperation that leaves the likes of Breitbart clinging to the hope that he can find damning rhetoric that he can misrepresent in emails that were illicitly acquired. And it isn’t going to end any time soon. This is something that progressives and occupiers are going to have to be aware of as the struggle proceeds. Vigilance of the conservative whack jobs and their media accomplices must be an ongoing focus of the campaign for economic justice.