The Steven Hatfill Case: Government And Press Combine To Smear A Citizen As A Terrorist—Is VDARE.com Next? Are You?

[See also Government And The Left Combine In Anthrax Lynching, By Sam Francis, August 15, 2002]

VDARE.COM contributor Nicholas Stix deserves recognition for his early investigative work uncovering one of the most scandalous smear campaigns in recent memory: the sliming of bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill.  

Unfortunately, similar smear campaigns rage on, orchestrated against immigration reformers and patriots by left wing groups in alliance with government bureaucrats and a corrupt media.

The just-published May issue of The Atlantic magazine contains The Wrong Man, David Freed's powerful 8,600-word account of Hatfill, whose life was turned upside down by federal authorities, journalists, a Vassar professor, and a left-wing scientist after five anthrax-laced letters were mailed in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, eventually causing five deaths.  

But Stix had sorted this smear out back when the campaign to convict Hatfill was in full swing. He called me one morning while I was working as managing editor at Human Events and asked if the D.C. conservative weekly would be interested in his lengthy article.

I thought Stix's article was well researched and broke important new ground when others in the Main Stream Media seemed absolutely convinced of Hatfill's guilt. So I approached Tom Winter, the newspaper's editor and former co-owner (Human Events had recently been bought out by Phillips Publishing) and forwarded it along to him.

Winter had reservations about publishing long pieces that required fact checking to verify the author's claims. Plus, in this instance, he lacked the nerve to publish what he deemed a "very risky" story because he feared there was some chance that the MSM consensus was right.

So Human Events never published Stix's scoop—which would have been a tremendous coup for the small publication.

What we now know about the Hatfill case and its coverage, thanks to the hard work of Stix, Freed, and other independent writers, is devastating. It exposes not only flimsy MSM standards of "proof" and "verification" but also how MSM reporters and columnists were complicit in spreading government leaks that caused an innocent individual tremendous personal turmoil, the loss of a lucrative career, friendships, and almost his sanity.

During this same period, I was also working part-time for Newsweek, my former employer, usually on weekends substituting for a vacationing colleague on the support staff in the Washington Bureau. I was there one Friday and Saturday stretch when Newsweek's reporters were pursuing critical leaks (or "breaking developments" in journalistic jargon) from federal investigators working on the Hatfill case.

Out of curiosity, I asked Newsweek's investigative reporter Michael Isikoff why he seemed so convinced of the evidence against Hatfill.

Isikoff cited, among other things, what supposedly was Hatfill's "far right" background, most notably during his time in Rhodesia.

In other words, I was witnessing firsthand what Freed accurately describes —guilt by innuendo, assumptions, and associations. He writes:

"Much of what authorities discovered, they leaked anonymously to journalists. The result was an unrelenting stream of inflammatory innuendo that dominated front pages and television news. Hatfill found himself trapped, the powerless central player in what [his lawyer] describes as 'a story about the two most powerful institutions in the United States, the government and the press, ganging up on an innocent man. It's Kafka."

No one pursued Hatfill more aggressively than New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  Freed describes how Kristof urged the FBI to act against Hatfill by investigating "loose threads":

"One of those threads, Kristof reported, pointed to the possibility that Mr. Z [Hatfill] was a genocidal racist who had carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent black Africans. Kristof addressed his column directly to the FBI:

'Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978–80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army's much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?'[Anthrax? The F.B.I. Yawns, By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, July 2, 2002]

But, as Freed points out:

"Kristof didn't mention that the majority of soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill's unit, were black; or that many well-respected scientists who examined the evidence concluded that the Rhodesian anthrax outbreak emerged naturally when cattle herds went unvaccinated during a turbulent civil war. Kristof also failed to mention that Mr. Z had served in that war as a lowly private. To have been involved in some sort of top-secret Rhodesian germ-weapons program 'would've been like a Pakistani army private being brought in to work on a project at Los Alamos,' Hatfill says today."

Hatfill now finds himself in the same situation as Ray Donovan, former Labor Secretary in the Reagan administration, when a jury acquitted Donovan of fraud and grand larceny charges in May 1987. As Donovan put it memorably: ''Which office do I go to get my reputation back?''

Nevertheless, the lessons of the Hatfill case seem utterly lost on the media elite. Parallels abound in the latest wave of hysteria over the rise of "militias", hype over "extremist" political rhetoric, and the unsettling notion that many independent-minded Americans are organizing at the grassroots level ("community activists" but apparently of an undesirable sort) to oppose our bipartisan political establishment.

Thus Newsweek magazine's recent coverage of the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing again shows the press complicit in projecting politically hyped and dubious assertions as facts.

"Antigovernment extremists are on the rise—and on the march" claim Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Eve Conant in the April 19, 2010 issue. What's one primary source behind this statement? None other than Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center ($PLC), quoted prominently as an authority on (sit down for this one!) "patriot" groups!

Yes, patriot groups, according to Newsweek (and Potok), are "roaring back". ["Meet The Patriots", SPLC website, April 2010]

So who exactly are these so-called "antigovernment patriot" groups? Well, upfront is "Oath Keepers", led by Yale Law School graduate and former congressional staffer Stewart Rhodes. The organization of 6,000 is composed of active and retired police officers and servicemen. Its primary aim is, horror of horrors, to "uphold the Constitution and defend the American people from dictatorship".

Someone notify Homeland Security! As Joe Sobran once quipped, "the Constitution poses no serious threat to our current form of government".

The Thomas-Conant piece ricochets a number of questionable assertions: Death threats to members of congress are on the rise; soldiers use the Internet ("a dark social network") to blog or "boast" "white supremacist" doctrine; "hate"-filled extremist groups on the "march"; Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh push a "steady stream of conspiracy theories" and "paranoia"; Sarah Palin tweets, "Don't Retreat, Instead—RELOAD".

Evan Thomas is an experienced editor and gifted author. I find it especially difficult to criticize him—as my former boss he gave me my first real raise and even went out of his way to attend my wedding). But why he could not see through Potok's self-serving fantasies?

Where's the hard evidence for what Potok claims is a "revival" of "patriot" groups, "from 149 in 2008 to 512 (127 of them militias) in 2009"?

What methods does Potok use to gather information and verify the accuracy of these numbers?  

Isn't the fact that the FBI intervened before a rag-tag group of nine Hutaree militia members could carry out an (alleged) violent conspiracy actually proof that the government has heavily infiltrated such groups?

What specific criteria does Potok use to classify and identify various individuals and groups along the spectrum of the political right?

Do Chuck Baldwin, Ron Paul, Joseph Farah, Cliff Kincaid, and Michelle Bachmann, classed as suspect "patriots" by the SPLC, constitute a threat to the U.S. government?

Should law enforcement agencies keep tabs on these "patriots"—just as the FBI tracked Steven Hatfill?

Whatever happened to the indignation with liberals notoriously greeted a prominent public figure who publicly claimed to have a list of "subversive" groups that threatened domestic tranquility and national security back in the 1950s?

But then again, maybe Newsweek will claim that the truth doesn't really matter—perceptions matter—which it did in 1983, when it excused itself for perpetuating a hoax by arguing "Hitler's diaries—genuine or not, it almost doesn't matter in the end."

As Steven Menzies concludes in the next Social Contract Magazine, which is entirely devoted to the $outhern Poverty Law Center:

"Were SPLC merely using its flimsily devised 'hate' list to bedevil obscure fringe groups in quest of further largesse from its long-suffering donors—in much the same way various private red-hunting enterprises did in the McCarthy years—its tactics would be an affront to scholarship, fair play, and civil liberties. But in fact the SPLC employs its shoddy research techniques to mislead the public, through a compliant media that has almost always served as its ventriloquist's dummy, and more alarmingly, to misinform and misinstruct police agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Last year SPLC's urging a blind eye to the terror threat from militant Islam, Latin American drug cartels, and the radical left found echo in reports from the Department of Homeland Security and a Missouri state agency that claimed that GI's returning from Iraq were a major terror threat and that bumper stickers for Texas Congressman Ron Paul could identify likely threats.

"And SPLC has let its own mask slip enough to show that it is American democracy that the Center fears most of all. Increasingly, mainstream America itself has come under SPLC's fire. In a chummy interview he gave to the communist Socialist Worker in 2006, Potok revealingly characterized the immigration control movement as: 'a rush of people identifying themselves with a nation-state and its borders, combined with immigration, and it can be a bad mix'—a description of what most Americans would see as ordinary patriotism.  Only last year, Potok admitted that 'every poll shows that three out of four Americans think the immigration system is broken and must be fixed immediately.' Indeed, in its recent report 'Rage on the Right,' SPLC was constrained to acknowledge that a large majority of Americans believe that their country is in decline and their government isn't to be trusted—though it is probably a little too early for the Center to brand the American people a 'hate' group."

Kevin Lamb (email him), managing editor of The Social Contract, is a former library assistant for Newsweek and managing editor of Human Events. He was also assistant editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.