Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hate Groups and the Importance of Local School Board Elections in Rural Communities

I live in an incomparably beautiful, seemingly peaceful, and very rural region of Northeast Central Pennsylvania. It's the sort of place that makes it easy to imagine neighborliness at its best. Indeed, on the surface of the Summer Township carnivals, baseball games, AYSO soccer, community dinners, swimming holes, and fire hall Bingo nights, it's hard to imagine anything but a kind of pastoral scene from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. But what I have gradually come to learn over the fifteen years I have lived and worked here is that just beneath this idyllic surface breathes a monstrous bigotry whose poisonous tentacles are distinguished only by the targets of its hatred, particularly gays, ethnic minorities, and anyone who sports an education.

How do I know this? Because the establishment of a hate group is made possible only by a soil conducive to its growth. The hate group in this case is the Patriot's Voice (The Patriot-s who, thinly disguised as a tax advocacy group, espouses a number of positions which are (a) wholly consistent with the bigoted rhetoric of the far right's Christian Identity Movement, (b) directly and explicitly connected to Stop the ACLU--a group recently censored for their harassment of a Jewish family who had secured ACLU representation to combat the violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a public school, (c) directly and explicitly connected to the Minutemen--whose own roots trace back to the Klu Klux Klan, and (d) consistent with and celebratory of Joseph McCarthy--including his witch-hunt tactics, penchant for fabrication, name-calling, ridicule, and rhetoric of personal assault.

Little of this would really matter--other, of course, than any sensible person's moral revulsion--were the group’s members, including its founders Evy Lysk and Robert Runyon, just yammering to each other. But, sadly, such is not the case. With the stealth which has come to characterize the Christian identity Movement in places like Kansas and, more recently, Missouri, the Patriot's Voice seeks to infiltrate school boards. Masquerading as tax advocates--heroes of the working poor and the elderly--they have sought and won school board seats in at least two of the region's districts, Benton and Berwick. It's hard, moreover, to overemphasize the significance of winning school board seats in rural communities. Let's put it this way: the only other meaningful loci of power are the town counsels. That's it. Evy Lysk's tenure on the Benton School Board has included not only a sincere (if however failed) attempt to ban books from the high school library, but the exploitation of high school students attending Model United Nations at Bloomsburg University to advance her staggeringly ignorant assault on the U.N. as an organization for a globalized communist dictatorship. No less paranoid, Robert Runyon, the Patriot's Voice "CEO," claims that he will not allow personal attack on the laughably misnamed "open forum" page of the Patriot's Voice website--but in fact allows the most vicious battering I have read anywhere--so long as it's targets are the critics of Patriot's Voice positions.

As recently as yesterday evening, however, the citizens of this beautiful region took a gigantic step back from the abyss of ignorance and bigotry the Patriot's Voice epitomizes, and when I saw the local newspaper (the Press Enterprise) headline this morning I could have wept for hope. All five of the Patriot's Voice candidates for the Berwick School Board were soundly defeated--not by wide margins, mind you, but wide enough. All five, including Robert Runyon. A victory for education made all the sweeter by the sheer work and time many of us, including myself, put into exposing their real motives, and making public the viciousness of their rhetoric. It's doubly ironic, then, that as the school board election approached the most significant obstacle to a Patriot's Voice defeat was not the Patriot's Voice members, but their long-standing support by the editor of the local paper, Jim Sachetti. While Sachetti's bias against teachers is as well-established as the orbits of the Earth around the Sun, and while the disproportionately liberal newspaper space he routinely gives to Patriot's Voice members is well-known, that he would try to manipulate the elections themselves through the selective, strategically located, late, and censored printing of comments critical of Patriot's Voice positions in the Press Enterprise's call-in comment page, "Thirty Seconds," surprised even the most cynical among us. And yet this is precisely what he's done. At first I thought Mr. Sachetti might simply be inept with a computer (most of the "calls" are now posted by email). But this seems quite doubtful in that it is not consistent with his handling of "Thirty Seconds" in the past. Please consider the posts below. Each is listed in order of submission to "Thirty Seconds," and each includes the date of submission. Allowing a five day lapse time between submission and printing (Sachetti claims to refuse to print only direct threats), it doesn't take the proverbial rocket scientist to see what Sachetti has in fact done; all it takes is a cursory sifting through “Thirty Seconds”--paying perhaps special attention to the location of the comments when they do finally get printed, say directly above or below Evy Lysk's:

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 4.21.07

In what can only be described as the perfect response to my letter of 4.20.07, PV-Hooter Girl writes with all the maturity of a five year old “I don't like lesbians and I don't like atheists. That's my final answer and I'm sticking to it!” (PV Forum). Could I have asked for a better affirmation of my letter’s point that these aren’t the people we want making decisions on our school boards? I don’t see how. Hooter Girl provides an excellent snapshot of the complete PV-reasoning process: “I don’t like “x,” so “x” is bad.” Pretty sophisticated stuff, that PV-thinking. With critical thinking skills like these, no wonder Lysk and Heller insist they don’t need college educations to make decisions for YOUR kids!

30 Seconds, Response to PV candidates, 4.25.07

Funny thing about Robert Ridall and Kathleen Wells; both are running along with Evy Lysk for Benton School Director. Both are Patriot’s Voice members. But they’re either too embarrassed by their PV affiliation to tell you OR they don’t want you to know until after the election—when it’s too late to prevent them from trying to enact the PV agenda I laid out in my 4.13 letter (Well’s mention of the PV does not clarify her membership). How completely dishonest—and right out of the playbook of the Christian Identity Movement for taking over school boards. They must think we’re stupid! Vote for your kids. Vote for your elderly parents. Vote against the potential for cosly lawsuits. Reject the dishonest stealth tactics of the Patriot’s Voice.

30 Seconds, Response Lysk Letter, 4.27.07

Isn’t it just too coincidental that—just as we approach school board elections—PV-Evy Lysk alleges a scandal with respect to teacher’s children who are not entitled to attend Benton schools? Why is she making these allegations now when she claims she’s known for some time? To curry favor? Votes? Why does she think she’s above normal avenues of reporting where there has not yet been offered proof of these allegations? Why is this a story for the PE when no investigation has been completed? When did hurling accusations come to count as providing evidence? As mercenary as her childish name-calling rhetoric of her recent letter, our real question should be “What positive contribution to education has been promised by any PV-candidate?” Answer: none.

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 4.30.07

Patriot’s Voice members respond to criticism by resorting to direct threats. Here’s PV-Rose Pursel (un-edited): “patriots prevail---- wendy fails!!!
Extra, Extra---read all about it.
Wendy's flipped out and we're gonna shout it!
Losing her marbles day by day,
Wendy Lee is well on her way.
Where is she going? No one knows.
As long as we don't have to listen
to any more of her prose!
Face up to your fears and rejection.
If pills don't help, we'll try an injection.”
What is THIS if not the words of a hate group, Mr. Editor? What does “If pills don’t help, we’ll try an injection” mean to you? Yet these are the people you think qualified to be on the school boards? Open your EYES.

30 Seconds, Response to Robert Runyon, 5.1.07

Although Patriot’s Voice conspiracy entrepreneur Robert Runyon claims—sans evidence—that there’s a “nest of far left ideologues” at BU busily indoctrinating students (myself especially, “From the Desk” PV-website), he fails to acknowledge that his explicit promotion of education dominated by religious dogma is just that. What worries Runyon isn’t indoctrination; it’s that it won’t be HIS. He seems to believe that education that’s anti-science (evolution’s false) and anti-literacy (book banning) will prepare students for the world. Sure—IF education’s nothing more than the programming of soldiers to fight in some holy war of good against evil; but it’s not, and we know better. Your kids are no more soldiers than there are UFOs in the Nevada Desert—and we all know better than THIS.

30 Seconds, Response to Evy Lysk, 5.2.07

In her most recent diatribe—the usual fear-mongering paranoia about homosexual indoctrination, adolescent name-calling (I’m “silly-looking,”), and malicious (not to mention false) accusation (I “hate” Christians)—PV-Evy Lysk makes a stunning admission, apparently not realizing what this reveals about her: She uses SPIES. Her words, not mine (PV-Forum,” Hypocrisy”). She SPIES on people—especially teachers (no surprise there!)—to get dirt that she can use against them. NO KIDDING. What a superb lesson for our young adults. Why do the hard work of researching evidence when you can just SPY? Make up what you want to see? Then call it truth? Who wouldn’t want this sterling example of moral fortitude on their school board? For Pete’s sake, how on Earth can THIS be good enough for your kids?

30 Seconds, Response to Robert Runyon, 5.4.07

Among the disturbing aspects of PV-Robert Runyon’s tirade—other than his failure to distinguish high school from college, and his paranoid ramblings about “Leftists”—(PV-website, “From the Desk”) is his claim that “the views of a simple housewife are just as viable as that of a…professor.” So does that mean UFO-ology is the equivalent of physics? Astrology of Astronomy? Alchemy of chemistry? Would Runyon be as willing to consult a palm-reader as an oncologist if he thought he had cancer? I doubt it; and there’s the rub—or rather the hypocrisy. If every opinion is “viable,” why bother with education at all? OH! I forgot, opposing education in favor of Christian Identity indoctrination IS the PV goal! Unconvinced? See Evy Lysk’s promotion of Christian-only teachers (PV-website).

30 Seconds, Response to Becky Heller, 5.5.07 (censored by Mr. Sachetti)

Applause to PV-Becky Heller for her support of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s findings that the Michigan State Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom is a hate group. Applause to her for recognizing that sporting famous names (Tom Tancredo—no surprise there!) is irrelevant to whether a group sponsors hatred and bigotry. One question: Will Heller now resign from the Patriot’s Voice? Contrary to the PE-editor’s na├»ve claim that there are no hate groups in PA—citing the Law Center for support even though this organization only tracks large, well-known groups like the Klan, the Minutemen (among Runyon’s favs), and the Young Americans—the PV is a hate group. Thanks to Heller for clarifying this, and let me be the first to welcome her to humanity!

30 Seconds, Robert Runyon and the Minutemen, 5.6.07 (not printed as of 5.16)

Speaking of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list, check out Robert Runyon’s advertising for the Patriot’s Voice on the Minutemen Message Board, “Yea, check out our web site, we've got a lot of documentation on the subject (the “communist” U.N.)” (Dec. 20, 2006). The SPLC regards the Minutemen as more dangerous than the Klan because they are perceived as less overtly bigoted. But, SPLC makes clear, their anti-Hispanic rhetoric is just as vile as the Klan’s. Along with anti-Semitic Stop the ACLU (PV-Lysk, regional representative) and vicious far-right “commentator” Debra Smith (PV website), the Minutemen are directly affiliated with the fascist Renew America Forum—whose symbol is the Cross OVER the American flag. Your kids deserve so much better. Vote against the Un-American Voice.

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 5.8.07 (not printed as of 5.16)

Could it be made ANY clearer that PV-members are required to walk in ideological lockstep to the PV-tune than pretend pole-dancer Hooter Girl’s response to a PV member who dared to criticize Evy Lysk: “he needs to be read the riot act for publically defaming a fellow member” (note spelling) (PV-Forum, PV Hallowed Messenger). Disagree with the PV, and get “read the riot act”—even if you’re a member! So much for their claims to respect diversity of opinion. Can you imagine how this will translate into school board meetings—when they BLOCK VOTE? Fortunately, many in this venue are beginning to see what the PV really represent—it’s not education. Vote for your kids—and against the Un-American Voice.

30 Seconds, Response to Becky Heller, 5.9.07 (printed 5.16)

Responding to Maryann Kovalewski (PV-Forum), PV-Becky Heller demonstrates how little she knows about education. She claims that in the use of computers for instruction future teachers will allow students to write in “text-message,” a failure to “teach the basics.” She’s right, it would be. NO teacher, however, would allow this, and Heller knows it. Perhaps she’s afraid of what kids might learn on-line about the world outside Berwick. Learning to use a computer IS teaching the basics; there are no meaningful career opportunities that don’t demand these skills. But just like art and music, that’s not part of the PV-educational vision: “Teach them just enough to get them working, and they’ll never make enough money to leave.” Vote against the Anti-education Voice.

The good news, of course, is that the Patriot's Voice lost this primary election; the bad news is that we have even more convincing evidence that, in the hands of its current editor, the local newspaper has all but dissolved into a mongrel cross between an opportunistic tabloid and a quasi-libertarian propaganda machine. I don't think that Sachetti actually shares any of the Christian Identity Movement's facist ideology with the Patriot's Voice, but no matter. His objectivity is spent, and the proof is publicly available.

Wendy Lynne Lee

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