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As if making a last-ditch attempt to sneak away and avoid being seen in this company, the American flag flops off the chalkboard behind the raven-haired beauty, breaking free from some duct tape securing it. It half-dangles below where " Welcome Michelle Malkin" has been scrawled in chalk by the University of California, Berkeley College Republicans.
Malkin scrunches her face, determined not to be silenced – not by the contingent of gigglers in the audience, nor the protesters outside with their rhyming chants and not entirely relevant ("We Need a Worker's Party") signs. In the little time we have together, she is here to warn us of a "radical alliance," of Japanese-American civil libertarians teaming up with Arab-Americans to betray America. They're doing it by incessantly comparing the barbed-wire internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II with the treatment of Arab citizens today: racial profiling, due process suspensions for "enemy combatants."
"In a post-Sept. 11 world," Malkin says, "we can no longer afford the indulgent abuse of history as multicultural group therapy." And now the two groups "have declared solidarity with each other," she says.
The audience is pumped. Damn those indulgent Japanese – maybe we should intern them again! Or, to use Malkin's term, "evacuate," like the people fleeing Hurricane Ivan. Usher them far, far away from the Arabs and their insidious group therapy craze.
You know, for their own protection.
But not for protection from racist hysteria, the internment excuse revived last year by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), to widespread disgust. Malkin's book, "In Defense of Internment," sidesteps Coble's rationale, dismissing racism as a factor completely. (Here in California, however, locking up the Japanese and forcing them to sell their land cheap was welcomed by whites as the long-awaited follow-up to the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924. That law followed warnings by the Michelle Malkins of the time that the Mikado's "brown hordes" were poised to subjugate the Bay Area.)
The spell breaks, however, as the duct tape plastering up Old Glory succumbs to the vibrations of the walls. Protesters are stomping in the halls outside. They're trying to edge past a few brave College Republicans, arms akimbo, who have appointed themselves "security," the last line of defense between the protesters and Ms. Malkin. Later they tell tales of the liberals getting in their face, of their opponents' lack of Right Guard and the capacity for abstract thought required to grapple with the works of Malkin, the Fox News Channel historian. For Malkin, having feverishly pored over declassified documents, claims to have reversed over 50 years of standing historical thought in only 16 months, by the calculation of University of North Carolina professor Eric Muller, a vocal Malkin critic.
Now and then the doors blow open to underscore, by the roar of the crowd outside, the Malkin speech, which is taking on "one of the most critical national security issues facing our country" (according to the red-headed girl who introduces Malkin). The protesters are indulging the Berkeley tradition of drowning out speeches by right-wingers they disagree with. It's a custom that the likes of David Horowitz have counted on for headlines as free speech heroes. As Malkin says of the rabble: "What are they afraid of?" For the innocent would have nothing to fear in a Malkin Administration.
But the sexy revisionist will have to wait until that Sunday for her headline. That's when the Washington Post reports that another campus has canceled her stop, leaving the helpless youth of American University in Washington abandoned behind the Iron Curtain of left-wing orthodoxy. "Staff members for the Bush campaign have frowned on us for having an event centered on the internment of Japanese Americans," Mike Inganamort, president of the club, writes in an e-mail to her. This hot campus cause is "an issue we frankly cannot defend at our heart of hearts," he says.
Tonight, however, the night is all Malkin's. She's on a roll because her honor has just been defended on television by U.S. senator Zell Miller (D-GA), who tells Chris Matthews he saw what the Hardball host had done to "that young lady," and said it would be good for the two men to duel. Tonight, in the tone of a school board member who has grown tired of explaining the policy that expelled your kid, she says of the internment, with an intimidating head tilt: "It was a tough call!"
And tonight Malkin, as Whitney Houston sang, believes the children are our future. "These are the students who are going to be making our Homeland Security issues in the future," she says, with yearning in her voice, of the audience.
She dreams of a time when children won't just be taught to relate to Japanese kids behind barbed wire at camps, but to the officials who put them there. To teach otherwise, she says, is "educational malpractice."
Apparently American University's Republicans are not quite so stoked for the future Malkin envisions – in which a wiser generation of teachers will allow fourth-graders to role-play being internment decision-makers. Who gets to be Chase Clark, the Idaho governor who brainstormed at the time, "Japs live like rats, breed like rats, and act like rats?"
Berkeley's College Republicans, however, pride themselves on being at the bleeding edge. Besides the now-standard "bake sales" that mock affirmative action by charging whites extra for muffins, they've printed trading cards of Berkeley's homeless, taking a stand against the poor and the weird. Such gestures, like inviting Malkin, foster debate, they say.
The night after the Malkin appearance, a campus meeting for the group is packed. Conventional wisdom is that Cal's rise in conservatism stems from a greater proportion of Asian kids at the school. But this crowd, at least, doesn't bear out the theory. Inviting Malkin can't have helped.
Announcements include some talk of rival frat parties, then laughter at an e-mail from a Mass Communications professor, Dr. Jonathan Gray, who has hilariously suggested that the Washington Post is more reliable than Fox News, a source Gray brands "pathetic." The word brings gasps. The crowd howls when the student reading the letter comes to the part about how Fox viewers are more likely to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
"Do we have Students for Academic Freedom on campus?" someone asks, referring to the group that watchdogs professors for signs of liberalism. The answer is yes.
"Does anyone not know what the Drudge Report is?" asks host Andrea of the group, as if making sure everyone has the syllabus.
Now the floor is opened up to what Andrea calls "the Malkin discussion." But there isn't so much a debate as a feeling of epiphany. Rhianna, the treasurer, responds to one of Malkin's more misleading assertions: "I didn't know that like 50 percent of the people in camps were white! It's not in our textbook at all!"
And Andrea tells of confronting protesters, only to realize they were woefully underinformed. They'd only heard the title, In Defense of Internment, and assumed it was something else. And when told what it was really about, she says, they realized of Malkin's thesis, "Oh well, it wasn't as bad as we thought," in her words.
Beyond that, everyone seems to think it was pretty cool. They're much more interested in sharing war stories from the front – fighting off the "nasty liberals outside" with their sweat stains. "A thousand pansy guys with excessive facial hair," describes a guy named Jeb, to laughter. "Two people tried to get in my face!" says Josiah, a handsome boy in a polo shirt, pantomiming how it happened. There's talk of a protester with a sign reading, "Berkeley Coward Republicans." ("Why?" "Because none of us were willing to go to war," says one of the leaders. An awkward pause follows.)
These are the apple-cheeked athletes who form the central clique of the group, along with a scattering of Republican Geeks who fidget on their periphery, wonks with the vibes of potential Grover Norquists.
Fringes of the Fringe
Gathering further towards the fringes, as we leave to head for the campus bar to watch the Packers game, is an even shyer group, the Michael Savage fans. They're sharing their favorite moments when Savage reportedly stuck it to someone or other. They agree that he might be "a little too-right wing" sometimes (like when he mocked homeless ladies with shopping carts), but admire him because "he speaks his mind."
There are also unassuming new recruits like John, a quiet young freshman from Los Angeles. Why'd he join? "The whole atmosphere," he says. "You just want a normal school atmosphere..."
The lack of normalcy here at Berkeley is well-documented. On the other hand... well, surely someone has to disagree with Michelle Malkin, right? Such was the spell cast by her visit that you'd think Ronald Reagan had never called internment "a grave injustice."
Down at the pub, I talk to Nick, a Ben Affleck type hitting on a Democratic chick friend of his. He says he normally wouldn't talk to a media guy like me, except that he's wavering from a few drinks. Anyway, he has no real objections to Malkin. So, I move deeper into the crowd at the Bear's Lair, and the Republicans I find mostly just repeat Malkin's lines.
Curious. I pull aside political science major Jeff Bauer (no relation to Gary), who seems to have given it more thought than the others. It pains him, but he'd have to say the government made the right call – the tough call. What would he say to someone humiliated by having being herded into a camp? "I would say, in the most sincere way, 'You took one for the country,'" he says. I thank him and he returns to watching the Packers game.
Finally I sit down with the executive director of the group, third-year student Amaury Gallais, who admires Malkin as "loving mother" to her own offspring. I run past him the possibility that Malkin, who is Filipina-American (since we're in Malkin's 1940s groove of analyzing behavior by race) just resents the Japanese for savaging the Philippines.
He doesn't think so. Internment, he says, "prevented Japanese-American citizens from helping our enemies." He cites Malkin's studies, which describe intercepted "MAGIC" telegrams supposedly proving a military need to round up American citizens. Usually characterized as the last resort of cranks less ravishing than Michelle Malkin, the MAGIC defense has been consistently rejected by such P.C. handwringers as Lt. Col. James C. McNaughton, the Command Historian in charge of the U.S. Army's official history of the Pacific.
So why not lock up all Arab citizens, I ask, since a few people resembling them have actually gone to the trouble of forming terror cells, as opposed to the scattered incidents of "disloyalty" Malkin cites among the Japanese. Would it bother him if we did?
"The overwhelming majority of Arabs are not enemies," he says. "They love peace. They love the freedom that we provide."
Will they love it if we provide a lot less of it? Because that's what syndicated columnist John Leo seems to be floating, now that Malkin has tested the waters of revisionism. Finding the water is just fine, Leo wades right on in, opining in a September 19 column that internment has been a "taboo" for far too long. It's "reasonable and important," he concludes, "to open an honest discussion of internment, past and present."