The hearing was part Coen brothers, part Tarantino, a comedy of grotesque threats, in which half the participants were pretending they were tough guys and half were pretending they were quaking in fear. Berg brought up one witness after another who was afraid of Ed Hale and his radio friends. “Don’t laugh. When I get in my car, I put my key in the ignition, I turn it and run. I’m afraid it’s going to blow up,” testified Lisa Liberi, Berg’s assistant, a petite blonde.
The judge seemed to find Berg’s accusations implausible. “So far, you’re a little bit off course, Mr. Berg. You’re not making a lot of inroads.”
“They’ve threatened to kill us,” Berg ally Lisa Ostella testified about Taitz’s followers. She was so afraid that she had brought her children to the courthouse that day. “They’ve threatened to put us down, they’ve called us poisonous snakes and rabid dogs and Satan’s followers.”
The judge said he would take the issues under advisement. Outside in the hallway later, Ostella got back on message. She said the birth-certificate issue has made Obama the laughingstock of the world.
“We have Russian subs right off the East Coast right now. This undermines his authority. The Politburo is going to say, ‘Who are you? You’re not a legitimate president.’ ”
Hale’s threats were directed not only at his birther colleagues. Barry of Alaska, an Obot who’s a 747 pilot, showed me this e-mail from Hale:
“hey Barry, my group just reported to me that they know who you are, where you live at and even have your phone number. They are asking me to let them visit you, but I told them to hold their horses. Now if you and I cam come to a understanding, you leave me alone and I will leave you alone. Now you fuck with me and they will fuck you up. Got it sonny boy. BTW, I would be very cautious when I answer the door, can never tell who it will be and if it is my friends they will have company with them, maybe Remington, glock, or even old Winchester will be with them. . . Ok your choice buddy, leave me alone or it’s fucking bye bye to Barry baby.”
I asked Hale about the e-mail to Barry. “I have never threatened anyone with physical harm,” he said.
This was the real concern raised by the haters. Violent fantasies, even cartoonish ones, as these seemed to be, have a way of turning real. Nancy Pelosi has likened the hateful rhetoric boiling up during the health-care debate to the anti-gay reaction that formed against the gay-rights movement in San Francisco in the seventies, culminating of course in the murder of mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. Before John Kennedy was assassinated, right-wingers in Texas accused him of “treason.” Today’s Obama haters throw that word around more often than the left had thrown around Fascism. At an Obama town hall in New Hampshire, a man carried a gun along with a poster of a DON’T TREAD ON ME snake with the legend IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY, referring to the Thomas Jefferson quote about renewing the republic with blood.
Ed Hale was obviously a bullshitter, but he took it way too far. A minute after he said he’d never ever threaten anyone’s life, he said, “My biggest villain right now is Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Those jackasses should be found guilty of treason, stood up against a wall, and shot.”
At the height of the tea-party moment in late August, 250 people jammed into a steamy VFW hall in Queens, and Phil Orenstein, a Beckstepper, said, “This is starting a tremendous movement … This awakening, what we call an awakening in America … It is the beginning of a great new movement in America.”
The mood of the hall was angry and sour. With one or two exceptions, the folks were white. Several carried don’t tread on me flags, a man in a black suit shouted that the government regarded him as a terrorist because of his love of the Second Amendment, and a featured speaker, a young birther, jounced her fourth child against her hip as she said, nearly shrieking, that government social workers had asked her about whether she was a homosexual when she was getting government-paid medical treatment. Outside on Braddock Avenue, a woman with a sign cried out to another, “Send them back to Mecca!” Maybe referring to all the Asians in the neighborhood.
All kinds of hate was playing through the anti-Obama movement. Rush Limbaugh made anal jokes about Barney Frank. Confederate-flag stuff showed up in the crowds, and Ed Hale regularly called Michelle Obama a “gorilla.” In his book The Obama Nation, Jerome Corsi characterizes Obama’s family as “strangers,” saying that the president’s mother “chose another Third World prospect for her second husband, a second man of color to be her mate.” Slimy. But not shocking.