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Freedom to Backstab

Strossen agrees. “This is a tiny number of incidents that are raised over and over and over again,” she says. “Even assuming, completely for the sake of argument, that every allegation made by this group is true, I would say, ‘So what!’ ”

The central question is this: Is Romero’s admittedly troubled track record evidence of mistakes or misconduct? As one board member says, “It’s a Rashomon moment, because people looking at the same things are clearly seeing things differently.” Romero’s opponents are convinced he has intentionally undermined the board, though they are not sure to what end. Glasser thinks something in Romero’s character compels him to mislead, while Kaminer says it could be something more simple. “Let’s say he lied to shield his mother from the pain of seeing him publicly embarrassed,” she says. “We would still be obliged to acknowledge his misconduct and hold him accountable for it, in order to protect the ACLU.”

A harder thing for them to explain is why a majority of Romero’s directors are squarely behind him. Rick Johnson, a board member of the Florida affiliate, calls it the curse of Midas: Romero has flooded so much money into the ACLU system that committed civil libertarians are loath to sideline him for any reason. “What I’m troubled by is, if you take any cluster of people, no matter how fine their character may start out to be, and you give them something close to unlimited money, unlimited power, secrecy, the ability to take that money and use it to perpetuate themselves in power, the ability to silence critics, to keep documents secret or shred those documents, the ability to erase tapes so your version of history cannot be challenged, and if you mix that with an attitude that is vindictive and maybe a little paranoid, what you’ve got is a potential train wreck,” he says.

It is interesting watching Romero as I repeat this litany of negative remarks to him. His eyes darken, but for the most part he declines to reply for the record. Instead, he says he struggles to keep marching forward. “Yeah, the swords can make you ache,” he says. “But I think about the picadors, the first ones who come out in a bullfight. The key is not to kill the bull but to make the bull a little bit more energetic. A little bit more ready for the big bullfight. That’s what they mostly feel like.”