Monday, January 28, 2013

So, Alaska is in the news again...

I'm still largely ignoring political stories but I haven't cancelled my email subs, and this story landed in my email inbox via truthout.
Bill Fulton, undercover FBI informant in the “Alaska Militia Trial,” gave a lengthy interview to The Mudflats about his role in the case, and his controversial life in Anchorage before it was revealed. In this article, he shares his candid opinion about local Anchorage media, national progressive media, Joe Miller, and what they got wrong. Yours truly didn’t even escape entirely unscathed. 
This was republished from The Mudflats with credit but no link. So read it here. Credit where it's due and I'm annoyed that I had to I had to google to find it. In a story like this, the real story is to be found in the comments and between the lines, if it's to be found at all.

You probably remember Jeanne Devon of The Mudflats. That - and the fact that Truthout picked up the story - told me that there would be amusements to be had. Indeed, The Huffington Post has been on the case.  Reporting with 30% less smug condensation than I would have expected:
The Huffington Post reported last week on Bill Fulton, the FBI informant who helped the feds bring down extremist militia leader Schaeffer Cox. At the time he was working as an informant, Fulton was also providing security for Miller's 2010 Senate campaign. During one high-profile incident, Fulton handcuffed a journalist trying to ask Miller questions.
In an interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times, Miller said the handcuffing incident was “absolutely” detrimental to his campaign and “utilized as a political weapon against us in the state.”
Miller told the L.A. Times he was troubled that Fulton, who told HuffPost that he is personally fiscally conservative but socially liberal, injected controversy into his campaign. He pointed out that a separate FBI investigation into the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) cost him reelection in 2008 even though charges were ultimately dropped by the Justice Department in 2009 when prosecutors failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence.
“This is the second U.S. Senate race in Alaska that the FBI has had some involvement in,” Miller told the L.A. Times. “I’m certainly not expressing any type of conspiracy theory about the FBI causing any kind of trouble to my campaign, but it’s conceptually troubling to me that you have a paid informant working on multiple campaigns answering to the FBI, being debriefed by the FBI, and I really think it’s incumbent on that agency to come clean about the scope of this individual’s employment and the level of involvement the FBI had in that.”
No, really. It's conceptually troubling that someone beholden to the conservative establishment under Ted Stevens might actually have been "debriefed" about "The Corrupt Bastards Club."

Then after that, having fallen into the political orbit of someone who was not at all shy about "talking smack" about being a "sovereign citizen." That's not the gubbment pickin' on you, son. That's a lack of situational awareness, although the most important question is unasked and unanswered. I would phrase it, myself, something like this: "Where do you FIND these people?"

His tortured statement lends support to accusations of paranoia others allege. Anyway, it is suddenly News, and we turn to local sources to see what sense, if any, can be made of it. Jeanne Devon of the Mudflats comes out as the star here - for doing something actual journalists do, go out and talk to the primary sources.

The Mudflats (and the other Alaskan blogs) provided invaluable context and background to the whole Sarah Palin story, back in the day. That is to say, the Sarah Palin Crowd still probably want to club Jeanne Devon like a seal. So it may or may not be helpful that Jeanne did this, as opposed to someone with a more neutral point of view.  Remember that She (and others) dug up dirt that the McCain Campaign really should have known about, and took a lot of crap for it. Even then, though, the whole connection between Palin, extremist religious militants and various armed nutcases was clearly a clusterfuck waiting to happen.  I was bemused why the Alaska left didn't hit this nail harder.

But now I understand better; it's in the service of not alarming the mostly-harmless crazy fellow-travelers that you have to do business with and cannot afford to offend too viscerally, lest they become not-at-all-harmless. And that is really what this story is all about. The parts in between the parts that seem like news.

I recall thinking that Alaskan politics reminded me of a Jr. High Student Body election crossed with a knife fight in a dark closet. Now, my approach to politics is not that of someone interested in it, but as one who considers it a disease that, while uncomfortable, provides an immunity against more deadly plagues. And of course, it gives me an harmless outlet for my insufferable tendency to over-share my entirely reasonable views.

The political process tends to distract the distractable and give opportunities for people to discredit themselves before they are in a position to do anything terribly dangerous. They spend money on elections instead of inssurections - and this is a GOOD thing. Even when it's Citizens United amounts.

Compare how politics works in a place like Syria or Egypt and you may begin to understand why Churchill referred to it as the worst possible system - except for all the others. Politicians in the United States are not commonly assassinated and don't find it prudent to retire to places lacking extradition treaties in the normal course of events.

But it's not a perfect system. As they say in The Tubes of The Interwebs, Hilarity Commenced.

This hairball seems to have all started when Bill Fulton, surplus dealer and alaskan Version of Dog The Bounty Hunter encountered some folks who seemed just a little crazy by his standards. And you know, when your entire business plan revolves around selling camo gear and and "survival equipment" to people who have come to Alaska because - well, because it's prudent - he probably has a broad tolerance for crazy talk. Being a swinging dick is just .... part of life, places like that. And if you do the stuff he does, it's not a good thing to be mild-mannered and nonconfrontational. Nope, Bill is a Charactor, in a tragicomic story with a Cast of Thousands.

Just to get along in a small town on the cold and lonely edge of America you might tend to charitably overlook the fine line between talking smack and the people who believe the smack they talk. Hell, there's no way to know and no good reason to really want to be sure about it. Most people prefer to think that such talk is just that - talk. Most times they are right, too. In a really small town, you really have to think about the implications of Doing Something - because who the hell is going to unlock the gas pump tomorrow?

Anchorage isn't exactly a small town - but it's not exactly cosmopolitan, either. And the people involved command influences that make the analogy valid. And remember, Fulton's lilihood relied on such folks being comfortable doing business with him.  When gun culture and testosterone is the sum of your business plan, you will hear a lot more "smack" than most folks and probably take it even less seriously on the whole.

And that's how the story started to unfold, in the very small and diffuse town that Alaska seems to be in a political sense. Because someone talked some smack that Bill Fulton felt he had to take seriously.

Bill Fulton, a guy who's life revolved around being the go-to swinging dick; did security work, he did fugitive and bail bond work, and he sold guns and things to people who needed them, or thought they did. And then sometimes he took his crew out into the woods and rounded up a few of the fugitives that make owning a weapon or seven seem prudent. And it seems that he was of a prominence that involved him in local conservative politics regardless of his own libertarian/Independant views. There, as everywhere, you can't untangle gun-culture and tea-party politics and as my father used to say, "you gotta go along to get along." Personally, I prefer "Don't FUCK with the money!" When your business is at the mercy of ten thousand laws and regulations, it makes sense to get to know the people who think themselves qualified to write them.

When then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was plotting a move against the Republican Party chief at the state convention in 2008, Fulton was there strategizing over whiskey and cigars with Palin staffer Frank Bailey and Joe Miller, who later made a well-publicized run for the U.S. Senate as a tea party conservative.
 That was the meeting where Fulton was introduced to Schaeffer Cox, an up-and-coming young firebrand of the far right who was running for the state Legislature and had, as it turned out, plans that went well beyond upending the Republican Party in Alaska.

But let's just say that at this remove, there wasn't a hell of a lot of percentage in pissing off the larger portion of his likely client base... unless they started talking in truly alarming ways.  There doesn't seem to be an explanation of what that was, exactly; the scary stuff he does speak of is mentioned as occurring after he became an informant.

Well, I'm sure that nugget will be in his upcoming book. I'll bet money someone is going to turn it into a movie. I'm hoping it's Quentin Tarantino.  Because we got us a badass here! And I mean that affectionately.

Some talk about upholding the Constitution and taking oaths, whatever you might care to say about Fulton, he seems to take his oath seriously. You know, that, "All enemies, foreign and domestic?" That part. And he did pay a price for his sense of duty.

It never seems to have occurred to anyone that he was anything other than a gun-totin', Palin-votin', Second-Amendment quotin' professional hippie-puncher. Rachael Maddow even called him a Nazi on MSNBC! That's some street cred right there! At the time, it gladdened his heart, for there's nothing that gets you into the good graces of the lunatic fringe than being Disapproved of by the First Feminazi of the Liberal Establishment.

And so, secure in the bosom of the terrorists, the sausage-making that is both politics and practical law enforcement ground on. I do want to remind you of the outcome:
Cox, 28, was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison for heading a militia that plotted to kill judges and other government employees and conspired to accumulate the firepower needed to do it from Fulton. And Fulton, who became one of two key informants the FBI used to gather evidence against Cox and his cohorts, went from being the Alaska Peacemakers Militia's "supply sergeant" to its most celebrated snitch.
Now, say what you like about the history of the FBI and it's distressing record of concentrating on political threats at the expense of what an external observer such as myself would think of as an actual threat. There isn't actually as sharp a line between the two as one might hope - and the FBI really does have to consider the problems that might ensue if a corrupt, violent fringe movement actually took over a state, county or local government.

There ARE people who speak of that As A Good Thing, and there have been cases where it's happened, more or less. I'm thinking of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and I'm thinking of Huey Long; there was of course the whole infiltration of the KKK during the whole civil rights movement; and I'm sure I could think of others. Some would be on the left, some would be on the right, all  are about knocking over established apple carts. That's what the FBI concerns itself with - people who wish to destabilize the government.

So it's hard to argue with a straight face that this is something that the FBI should not take an interest in. Particularly when they say things like this:

Cox had been accused of assaulting his wife, and worried that state authorities were trying to take his son away. He talked about Fulton serving what he called common-law warrants on the officials he thought were out to get him.
"He said these guys need to be arrested and brought to trial," Fulton recalled. "I said, 'What are you going to do with them?' He said, 'We'll either fine them, or we'll hang them.'"
Cox and company discussed how they were going to go to the homes of selected enemies, cut the electricity to the house, and make enough noise to lure their main target onto the front porch, where he could be shot. Then the windows and doors would be boarded up, and the house, with the rest of the family inside, would be set on fire. "Collateral damage" is the way Fulton said they described it. 
Cox, was seriously part of Alaskan politics; not some nobody on a remote mountaintop.

It's as if they find it rude or indelicate to mention that a rising star in the Conservative firmament is now a convicted domestic terrorist. But it can be awkward to have remind people of the difference between Colourful and Certifiable. Everybody knows everybody - and there are people who think that fucknuts is a perfectly defensible political philosophy.

So, the issue of the day is "The Hopfinger Incident."

Fulton was doing security for a Joe Miller event and ended up arresting a local blogger. The story degenerates at that point, but it appears that there was some jerk-on-jerk action, with each side saying with some justification that being a jerk was part of their respective jobs.

We also learn that the arrest (for assault and trespassing) was (a) a clean bust in a purely legal sense and (b) too damn trivial to pursue past the actual "sit in a corner and be GOOD for 20 minutes" outcome.

It seems that Hopfinger may well have pushed someone - or at least  said he did until he started saying he didn't. Others are claiming it all a plot. Some allege he was drunk. Me, I think he went in strong, hoping to nail a good quote by sheer surprise and so did Fulton, on the principle of crowd control; Stop the loud and aggressive, and there won't be a damn stampede.

It's being spun by the right wing blog, Alaska Pride as having been an FBI plot to derail the Miller campaign.

Now, I'm not sure of the slant on the Alaska Dispatch because they are taking the whole thing so damn personally. A Serious Journalist Was Manhandled! While in the course of his duty! Goodness! That hardly ever happens.

A journalist who couldn't be bothered to carry credentials and was using a flip-cam instead of something an actual journalist might be expected to in order to let Security know they shouldn't casually bounce you off the floor. Apparently he expected to be Recognized without the usual tribal identifications - because everybody knows everybody. Well, apparently that's not always true.

My sense is that he was indeed recognized for what he was, if not for who, and that's why he got bounced and cuffed. Reporter failed to notice there was Security, Security did not consider that the shouty guy with a toy videocamera might be Legitimate Journalist from A Serious Publication. Once the mutual misunderstanding passed, well, there was already paperwork.

Looked at objectively, I think you could assume that both were padding their credentials a little in their respective roles, and that probably led to a situation that might have been entirely avoided in a place as sophisticated as, say Amarillo or Phoenix. But then, that's the sense I get about Alaska in general. It reminds me of a community theatre production of Shakespeare.

But at the end of the day, each did their jobs and it all worked out in the end. No harm, no foul, right? Well, here's Craig Medred, Esquire, Editor of the Very Serious News Source, The Alaska Dispatch on that!
Fulton's problem is that he is a guy with delusions of grandeur. But don't take my word for it, take his. Again as told to the LA Times:
"Fulton said it did cross his mind after the fact that the very public confrontation with the journalist 'was actually good for us operationally,' in terms of the FBI investigation."
Good for "us?" "Operationally." Can you say, "FBI wannabe?"
It's pretty clear now Fulton took Hopfinger down to attract publicity. Murphy has been good enough to help Fulton get it by providing a platform for him to spin it nationally as to how he was the good guy in the white hat pursuing dangerous miltiaman Schaeffer Cox, an Alaska blowhard if ever there was one. Cox talked about killing Alaska judges, law enforcement officers, and politicians. He'll spend a good part of the rest of his life in prison for it.
I wish the authorities were as thorough about prosecuting the people who said they'd like to kill me, including a state trooper or two if their coworkers were to have been believed back in the day. This state is full of people who talk smack. It's talk. But in that regard, you've got to say one thing for Drop Zone Bill.
He didn't just talk. He put people in prison, and he sunk a Senate campaign while the FBI stood on and watched. Miller, whom I've been trying to talk to about this incident for two years (He erroneously thinks I'm a lefty and doesn't realize I'm just some pain-in-the-ass, old-school journalist who gets fixated on trying to find the truth) seems to be finally, at last, figuring out what happened.

Don't be silly. I'll never claim publicly to be "an old school journalist" because my two-year degree in journalism and a stint at an advertising fishwrapper barely counts as school. I also learned along the way - the hard way that it's best to keep personal butthurt out of my editorials. If that's "old school journalism," then he must be referring to the era between the great wars, when every town with two horses had three newspapers - each one owned or directed by a political faction.

I also learned that I should never assume malice when stupidity is a sufficient explanation.

I can easily derive, that if my own reporter was an intimate part of the stupidity, that I should just shut up, because if the event WAS staged by the FBI, if it was not just chance and ill-luck, if you wanted it to actually WORK, all Mission Impossible style - Hopfinger would have to be part of it... and so would Medred.

That would not be something I would wish to have crossing the minds of my tea-tardy blogging colleagues.

I find myself disappointed in the conspiracy theorists who have overlooked that point - but straining at gnats and swallowing camels is part of the mindset.

If you stage an incident, you don't just hope someone is going to make a scene. You make sure of it, and you control the narrative about it for exactly the same reasons that would apply to Fulton being part of the "conspiracy" to "derail" Miller's campaign.

When you "run an operation" or plan an event, or go into court or diagram a football play - you do not leave large elements of chance at the very heart of the plot. Is Hopfinger really such a predictable idiot that you could just plan to be there, knowing there would be a scene? Even if that were actually true, isn't that the sort of thing a campaign is supposed to handle?

There were incidents like that all the time with both Bush campaigns and it never caused Bush the slightest problem with anyone likely to vote for Bush. That is because the professionals handled it professionally. If this "derailed" the campaign, I think it a stretch to claim it had rails to begin with.

Now, was the FBI concerned about Miller's involvement with "People who talk smack?" I would think that would be something a domestic counter-intelligence and counter-terrorist agency would discreetly look into, yes. If history is any guide and the examples of files on public figures are any example, yes, they would definitely want to know a lot about Miller. But I always thought their style was to dig dirt and use it for leverage. Not much point in that if he doesn't win the election.

I'd read this as him being tried and found wanting; neither a credible threat nor a useful tool.

But if there was an agenda on the part of the FBI, the one I would bet on would be hopes for a career making domestic terrorism bust that swept in a Senate Candidate. That's something that gets your boy scout ass out of the Anchorage office. Putting Miller in prison along with Schaeffer Cox would have made someone's year, for sure. So I'd be shocked if he wasn't investigated. Let us hearken back to where and when Fulton was introduced to real, actual, convicted domestic terrorists; at a meeting to support Millers ambitions. You'd kind of have to look into Miller.

We need not presume that Miller conspired to support terrorism. Let us just say that he was in the same room, heard the same things that Fulton did, and whatever that was, he did not see a problem. Make of that what you will. Nobody seems to be praising the man's intelligence, it's entirely possible it went right by him.

So, take a deep breath, and pay a little silent homage to the bullet y'all dodged there. Because I seem to recall that a Republican ended up with that seat. "Against all odds."
A conservative Republican who ran on a platform of restoring the nation's political system to one driven by a strict interpretation of the constitutional framework established by the founding fathers, Miller didn't take his loss to incumbent Lisa Murkowski easily. She'd run an unprecedented write-in campaign after losing the primary to Miller, and won.
I sure would not have called that outcome. In any ordinary reality, a write-in-spoiler candidate might cause the anointed Republican to lose to the anointed Democrat.

I am guessing that would be the FBI's presumed agenda here, right? Getting "Obama's Man" in?

No.. no, this was not the sort of thing that comes about because it was planned. I can tell, because everyone involved is some mixture of confused, embarrassed and upset.

In military terms, this is called "A Crossing Engagement" where two forces manage to stumble upon each other in the dark, achieving total mutual surprise.  Yes, it may have worked out to contribute to Fulton's undercover work - but a glorious day of routine would have achieved the same end. The mission here was to  cater to Miller's paranoia, not to risk triggering it.

One commenter at Alaska Dispatch picks the thread of this with a wry insight into what the actual plotting was.

What I read is that he [Fulton] is a political independent. If that's reflected in his registration status, then is he is in the majority of Alaska registered voters whose numbers in the independent parties combined is greater than the Republican or Democratic Party registered voters.
This is also why I believe that Joe Miller is such a whiner, and completely wrong in that he could have won the general over Murkowski. Either he knows and of course won't admit it, or he's clueless which is worse - so many of those votes for him in the primary where from "strategic voters" either displaying their unhappiness with Murkowski(thinking there would be a message sent but no real consequence), or votes for the lesser candidate (Miller) hoping that he would be more beatable by the Democratic candidate in the general election than Murkowski.
I worked this election. People not involved with lots of other voters can speculate all they want, but for people involved in the election with their eyes open, it was very clear that a whole lot of people used their voting rights to gamble. I was disappointed, but then began to find it humorous that this misfire of voting (as it is intended to be) just set Miller off & gave him false hopes. He's paranoid, and not very bright, so everything has just been one conspiracy after another against him - when it never was about him except as a shadow character. Who knew he would use this to launch himself out of the shadows and into a frying pan of his own making.
You just never know when you may contribute collectively to creating a monster of unknown proportions, which is why I am personally against using voting to gamble.

Like most of history and human life stuff happens and you try to make sense of it in retrospect. Being human, you try to portray your involvement as having at least made sense to you at the time, given what you knew then. But there are also times when it's best to walk away with whatever dignity remains and whatever you were able to pick up on the way out the door.


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