The Daily Beast

Armed Revolt in the Obama Era? Right-Wing Gun Nuts Share Their Paranoid Worldview

On April 18 and 19, I attended gun shows in Antioch, Calif., and Reno, Nev., to probe the culture of gun enthusiasts at the onset of the Barack Obama era.

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Why Susan Boyle Has Captured Hearts Around the World

Will Susan Boyle's epic moment last week on Britain's Got Talent (not a BBC show) turn out to be a choreographed piece of TV manipulation? Probably. But that'll just mean that something false gave rise to something true.

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Sarah Palin Suffers Massive Political Fallout from Her Latest Nutcase Nominee

While priming her political machine for a likely 2012 presidential primary run, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has fomented a scandal that threatens to further erode her reputation in the Last Frontier.

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Republicans in Desperation Over Obama Releasing More Bush Torture Memos

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

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Is the Twice-Divorced Newt Gingrich Converting to Catholicism for a 2012 Run?

When Catholic University announced in January 2005 that Newt Gingrich would deliver a speech on campus, a group of students rose up in protest, accusing the twice-divorced, admitted philanderer of violating the Catholic values that their school was founded upon. Four years later, just last week, on March 24, Gingrich blasted another hallowed institution of Catholic higher learning: “It is sad to see Notre Dame invite President Obama to give the commencement address since his policies are so anti-Catholic values,” Gingrich wrote on Twitter of the president’s scheduled May address. What happened?

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Is This the Worst Year to Graduate College Ever?

As a recent graduate from a university rated "Most Selective" by US News & World Report, Tyler was understandably disappointed when he landed in a cubicle-drone job that barely pays minimum wage -- that is, until he was laid off and ended up substitute teaching for even less.

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How I Went from Prep School to Prison

Editor's Note: Forté was granted a commutation by President George W. Bush on November 24, 2008 after having served more than seven years of a 14-year federal prison sentence for a drug offense.

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New GOP Standard Bearer Rush Limbaugh Is Less Popular Than Jeremiah Wright

Congressional Republicans have turned to Rush Limbaugh to lead the battle against Obama. One problem: A poll says he's less popular than Jeremiah Wright.

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Is a GED More Valuable Than a PhD?

For six years, Rebekah slaved at Boston University for her PhD in American Studies. Her plan: work in New York as a museum curator. She pictured chatty, engrossing interviews with like-minded creative types. “Everyone would be so pleased” with her PhD, she thought. Yet eight months after graduating, Rebekah is unemployed and considering a gig at a public library that requires only a GED.

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How Colleges Are Using a Cynical Ploy to Appear More Exclusive

The charade in which schools solicit more applications than they need -- just to improve their selectivity ratings -- isn’t just underhanded, it’s cruel.

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My War Against Food Nazi Moms

I was at a parents' meeting at my boys’ school one recent morning, talking to one of the new moms, an attractive, petite, divorced woman in her 40s. She was discussing her relationship with her ex-husband and how challenging it has been. There was a distinct sound of bitterness in her voice, not surprising when she mentioned that he left her for a 24-year-old.

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The Iraq War Is Now Illegal

The Bush administration's infatuation with presidential power has finally pushed the country over a constitutional precipice. As of New Year's Day, ongoing combat in Iraq is illegal under US law.

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Karl Rove Destroyed My Life

Last week, Al Gore sent an email message urging supporters to give money to Don Siegelman's legal defense fund. Gore is the latest in a string of high profile supporters to suggest Siegelman, the former Governor of Alabama, was the victim of a Republican plot when he was found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and fraud in 2006, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

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The Man Behind Proposition 8

Among the local ballot measures to be decided on Election Day, California’s Proposition 8 is perhaps the most fiercely contested. Backers of the proposition to ban same-sex marriage in the state cast their campaign in apocalyptic terms. “This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,� born-again Watergate felon and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson told the New York Times. Tony Perkins, the president of the Christian right’s most powerful Beltway lobbying outfit, Family Research Council, echoed Colson’s language. “It’s more important than the presidential election,� Perkins said of Prop 8. “We will not survive [as a nation] if we lose the institution of marriage.�

The campaign for Prop 8 has reaped massive funding from conservative backers across the country. Much of it comes from prominent donors like the Utah-based Church of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic conservative group, Knights of Columbus. Prop 8 has also received a boost from Elsa Broekhuizen, the widow of Michigan-based Christian backer Edgard Prince and the mother of Erik Prince, founder of the controversial mercenary firm, Blackwater.

While the Church of Latter Day Saints’ public role in Prop 8 has engendered a growing backlash from its more liberal members, and Broekhuizen’s involvement attracted some media attention, the extreme politics of Prop 8’s third largest private donor, Howard F. Ahmanson, reclusive heir to a banking fortune, have passed almost completely below the media’s radar. Ahmanson has donated $900,000 to the passage of Prop 8 so far.

I first met Ahmanson in 2004, when he and his wife, Roberta, agreed to an interview request for an article I was writing for Salon. Their exchanges with me marked the first time since 1984 that Howard had agreed to make contact with a journalist, and the first time since 1992 for Roberta. Howard agreed to answer questions only by email because, according to Roberta, his Tourette’s Syndrome made chatting on the phone with a stranger nearly impossible. He functions “like a slow modem,� she said. Her dual role as her husband’s spokesperson and nurse quickly became apparent.

White Supremacists Fantasize That Obama Will Help Them Recruit

On October 27, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms announced the arrest of two young neo-Nazis, Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, who allegedly plotted to assassinate Barack Obama. The strange event suggests that a criminal element within the white supremacist movement is hell-bent on racial violence if Obama becomes president.

On the other hand, key leaders of the movement's organized front see a potential Obama administration as a rising tide that will lift their sagging boats. They hope to leverage white resentment against Obama's presidency to generate unprecedented funding, bolster membership rolls, and influence the political mainstream.

According to the ATF, Cowart and Schlesselman planned to suit up in white tuxedoes and top hats and then massacre 88 black people, 14 by decapitation, including Obama among their targets. The numbers 88 and 14 are signifiant in neo-Nazi culture: "H" is the 8th letter of the alphabet; "HH" stands for "Heil Hitler." Fourteen symbolizes the 14-word pledge of the neo-Nazi group, The Order.

Initially portrayed in media accounts as "lone wolves" without institutional affiliations, new information about the would-be assassins suggests deeper connections into the subculture of neo-Nazi thugs united by an adulation of Adolf Hitler and desire for vigilante violence. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the would-be assassins, Daniel Cowart, was a "probate member" of an incipient youth group of the neo-Nazi movement, Supreme White Alliance.

Cowart also maintained a friendship with the SWA's founder, Steven Edwards. Steven Edwards is the son of Ron Edwards, the founder of the Imperial Klans of America, a neo-Nazi outfit best known for the "Nordic Fest" white power concerts it holds at its 15-acre compound in Kentucky.

After the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed Cowart's connection to SWA, the group posted a defensive statement on its website denying his role in organizational activities. "Since [the SWA's annual election] none of the SWA members have had any contact with accused," the website declared. "So before you get your story wrong, [SPLC], get the facts." At the same time, the Supreme White Alliance acknowledged that Cowart was indeed a "probate member."

Even as it distances itself from the plot against Obama, the SWA openly advocates violence against minority groups. Its website currently posts a statement reading "Unless we have an unseen army of total Barbarians, devoid of pity, of compassion, of compunctions, of restraining moralisms, we are doomed. He who practices chivalry, when the enemy has none, fights with both hands tied behind his back. Our people must have commitment, courage, and honor fighting to free their land from the jewish scourge. Better one day as a lion, than years as a sheep."

In April 2008, Cowart and several SWA members celebrated Adolf Hitler's birthday at member's house. While there, Cowart rubbed shoulders with Joshua Steever, a 28-year-old with the word, "Racist," boldly tattooed on his forehead. In July 2006, Steever was arrested for threatening to kill two black high school students in Newark, California. A year earlier, Steever had been arrested for attacking a man with an axe handle. "He just roves around from state to state screwing with people," Daryle Jenkins, founder of the anti-racist group, One Peoples Project, told me.

Cowart's profile closely resembles that of his friend, Steever. A high school dropout who lived with his grandparents, Cowart described his mood as "bored" on a personal web page. This October, he struck out to fulfill his violent fantasies with Schlesselmann, a fellow Tennessee-based neo-Nazi he met online. Like Steever, who lashed out against students of a predominately black school, Cowart and Schlesselman planned to massacre students at an unspecified, mostly black high school. In the end, the destructive duo resorted to shooting out the front window of a black church in Brownsville, Arkansas in the dead of night before they were arrested.

The organized front of the white racist movement -- self-described "white nationalists" -- have reacted to Cowart and Schlesselman's Obama assassination plot with concern about their own exposure. White nationalists operate in the light of day seeking opportunities for mainstream influence, particularly in anti-immigration campaigning. Hapless as they may have been, Cowart and Schlesselman elevated white nationalist fears about heightened scrutiny from federal law enforcement, and threatened to sully the movement's image at a pivotal moment, when a potential African-American president offered them a chance to exploit unprecedented anti-black resentment.

On Stormfront, a white nationalist chat site with over 144,000 registered users, posters cast the plot against Obama as a mortal threat to their movement. "There are far worse things than having a black president -- for instance, killing one is far worse!" "Virginia Gentlewoman." "If anyone wants to see things get really bad for whites, then this is the way to go, folks! Might as well wrap up the whole movement and invite oppression."

"Virginia Gentlewoman," according to Daryle Jenkins, is a leading white nationalist activist named Wendy Murphy who participates in monthly discussions of white nationalist strategy at Sala Thai, a restaurant in Northern Virginia. Most activists who join her at these gatherings are members of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a racist group that evolved from the White Citizens Councils that opposed integration in the South -- known as the "Uptown Klan" because of the group's pretensions to mainstream political influence. With over 10,000 members, the CofCC is currently the country's most powerful white nationalist group.

Stormfront members who replied to Murphy's thread agreed with her almost unanimously. The plot by Cowart and Schlessman represented such a dire threat to the white movement, they reasoned it must have been a Jewish plot. "ADL [Anti-Defamation League] has already endorsed the story. One of the would-be perpetrators has a Jewish sounding name. Something like this was so predictable," a poster using the handle, Thunderhead, wrote. "It seems like a plot to defame [white nationalists] before the election," wrote another Stormfront member called "tasteofsnowflakes."

Many white nationalists who have longed for mainstream influence see unprecedented opportunity in an Obama presidency. In June, former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana Republican gubernatorial candidate David Duke presented Obama's ascendancy as an encouraging prospect for the white nationalist movement. "My bet is that whether Obama wins or loses in November, millions of European Americans will inevitably react with new awareness of their heritage and the need for them to defend and advance it," Duke wrote in an manifesto called "A Black Flag for White America."

Duke, who was once the face of the white nationalist movement, sees Obama as a chance to recover some of his credibility. Duke badly damaged his reputation within white movement circles in 2000 when he entered into a business partnership with rap producer Suge Knight. In 2003 he was sentenced to fifteen months in a Texas prison for tax and mail fraud -- bilking his supporters out of thousands of dollars.

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