A direct-mail firm embarrassed earlier for selling lists of a dying woman's supporters employs some other questionable practices.
For eight years, a major direct-mail firm "specializing in the Christian and conservative markets" has been selling lists of the readers of America's leading anti-Semitic newspaper and, since about 2001, its successor publication.
Response Unlimited, based in Waynesboro, Va., and headed by Christian Right activist Philip Zodhiates, charges $100 for the rental of every 1,000 names of subscribers to the now-defunct Spotlight newspaper. Founded by veteran anti-Semite Willis Carto, The Spotlight carried anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and wildly conspiracist articles interspersed with ads for Klan, neo-Nazi and related hate groups.
Zodhiates also peddles lists of subscribers to the American Free Press, which replaced The Spotlight when that tabloid was shut down amid legal and financial troubles surrounding Carto. The Free Press began immediately after The Spotlight fizzled in 2001 and picked up many of its predecessor paper's propagandists. Today, the Free Press carries stories on Zionism, secret "New World Order" conspiracies, American Jews and Israel. Mixed in are advertisements for outfits like Pete Peter's Scriptures for America and Kingdom Identity Ministries -- practitioners of Christian Identity, a theology that claims that Jews are the literal descendants of Satan.
Zodhiates did not respond to E-mail and telephone requests for comment from the Intelligence Report. But it's clear that the lists have sold well, especially to political groups on the right. According to Response Unlimited's Web site, Spotlight list purchasers have included the Republican Governors Association; the National Right to Work Foundation; the Mountain States Legal Foundation; U.S. English, an English-only group; and the hard-right Washington Times newspaper.
Response Unlimited's sales of lists of extreme right-wingers is not the first time that Zodhiates' firm has engaged in controversial business practices.
In March 2005, The New York Times reported that Response Unlimited had cut a deal with Bob Schindler, the father of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state who was dying after a court authorized removal of her feeding tube. In return for the list of people who had donated money to Schindler, Zodhiates' firm agreed to send out an E-mail soliciting further donations for the Schindlers, who had battled Schiavo's husband over whether or not to retain the feeding tube.
Many found the list deal, made even before Schiavo finally died two days after the Times article appeared on March 29, ghoulish. One unpaid Schindler family spokesman, apparently unaware that Bob Schindler had authorized the deal, even told the paper it was "possibly the most distasteful thing I have ever seen."
According to the Times, Schindler cut his deal with Phil Sheldon, who is an officer of Response Unlimited. Sheldon is the son of the Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, a group that also sent out appeals for support for Schiavo, who many Christian Right groups mistakenly believed was semi-conscious. Phil Sheldon is also partner with Zodhiates in a Web-based firm called Conservative Petitions that specializes in creating electronic petitions for right-wing causes.
Schindler's list, which Response Unlimited had hawked as passionately pro-life, disappeared from its Web site within a day of the Times story's publication.
Response Unlimited describes itself as the "best and most comprehensive source of mailing lists for conservative and Christian mailers and telemarketers," and, indeed, it has hundreds of lists for sale. The lists are dominated by right-wing causes, but also include a handful of lists of donors to liberal groups.
Other lists offered by Response Unlimited include donors to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a group described by President Bush as "vigilantes" that has sent armed civilians to the border to guard against illegal immigration; Gun Owners of America, whose founder Larry Pratt has written for anti-Semitic publications and who was ejected from Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign for alleged ties to white supremacists; and American Border Patrol, led by Glenn Spencer, whose vitriolic Web site has long specialized in pillorying Latinos and especially Mexicans.
In the case of The Spotlight, Zodhiates acquired its lists in the spring of 1998, according to Todd Blodgett, a Washington operative who specializes in direct mail lists and once worked for Spotlight founder Willis Carto. Blodgett, who says he was in the business to make money and little else, said he approached Zodhiates with Carto's approval. Blodgett said Zodhiates was originally apprehensive because he'd heard that "some Spotlight readers had a reputation for being anti-Semitic."
But Blodgett managed to convince Zodhiates not to worry, he says now. He says he told Zodhiates that "anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism." He also noted that the attorney for Carto's main anti-Semitic organization, Liberty Lobby, was Mark Lane, who is Jewish. (Lane is also a prominent theorist of a conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy.) That was enough for Zodhiates.
The list, which Response Unlimited says "works phenomenally well for products of all types, subscription offers, hard-money and other investment offers," was successful right away, Blodgett said. He said the list immediately began earning Carto some $8,000 to $9,000 a month. According to Blodgett, Zodhiates got an additional 35% in broker and management fees, or some $3,000 a month.