The Last Word: Hatewatch’s 5th Annual Smackdown Awards

Another year, another horror. As we close out another 12 months of mayhem, criminal violence and just plain stupidity on the radical right, it’s time, once again, to compile our annual year-end roster of winners of Hatewatch’s Smackdown Awards. And this year’s been a doozy — from neo-Nazis trying to hide their past to irrepressible birthers and on to all manner of other hypocrites of the extreme right. So, without further ado and with apologies to Keith Olbermann, here are the awards as picked out by Hatewatch’s 5th Annual Smackdown Awards Committee.

10. Least Successful Name Change Award

Neo-Nazis always seem to be telling us about how proud of their views they are, how no amount of “political correctness” would cause them to cringe or hide. They’ve got the truth on their side! Well, yes, except when the truth seems to be really, really uncomfortable. Hatewatch found once-famous Idaho neo-Nazi Vincent Bertollini hiding in plain sight in New Mexico this year, not long after he emerged from prison after serving almost four years on weapons charges. He was using the name Vince Bert, emitting occasional Internet howls for the “shedding of blood,” and trying to rid himself, as he told us, of “the burden of Bertollini.” But this year’s award goes to Kevin Alfred Strom, who also tried to adopt a new identity after serving federal time for possession of child pornography. We found Strom, the dapper former leader of the neo-Nazi National Vanguard, posting about the travails of “love” on Facebook as “Julian Dene,” and the poor man sure sounded lonely. The field’s open, ladies. And word has it that Strom, who says he works for the “Society for the Propagation of False Doctrine,” is just terrific with the kids!

9. We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Evidence Award

For a while, you could almost forgive the “birthers.” After all, here was this dude, this black guy, with his black wife and his black children, strolling around the White House like, well, like he belonged there! He must be Kenyan, a secret Muslim, a foreigner with “a deep-seated hatred for white people.” But then, in what The New York Times called “a profoundly low and debasing moment,” Obama released his “long form” birth certificate in a bid to muzzle the “carnival barkers” of the right. The birthers reacted predictably: Orly Taitz shouted that she had draft records to prove Obama is a fraud. Joseph Farah, the WorldNetDaily creep who was just about to publish Jerome Corsi’s unfortunately titled Where’s the Birth Certificate?, whined that the certificate was a forgery. Not Donald Trump, our hands-down winner for this year’s award. After bravely saddling up as a birther for his brief foray into the presidential race, the megalomaniacal Trump first congratulated himself at a press conference for having forced Obama’s hand. Then the man who says he gets along with “the blacks” just fine offered this up: Obama was a “terrible” student, one who couldn’t possibly have gotten into Columbia University and Harvard Law School, then edited the Harvard Law Review, graduating magna cum laude, all on his own — accomplishments Trump hasn’t come close to. Good thinking, Donald! Let’s investigate how this black man managed to actually make it on his own merits.

8. Unlikeliest LGBT Activist Award

Not many people are fond of the unpleasant congregants of Topeka’s gay-bashing Westboro Baptist Church, people who spend their days picketing the funerals of soldiers with signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for AIDS.” A range of Americans from conservative bikers to progressive activists have leveled withering criticism at the church led by Fred Phelps and helped organize their own pickets in order to screen funeral-goers from their Kansan tormenters. But this May, a counter-protest against the Phelps congregation, which is almost entirely made up of Phelps’ extended family, drew an unlikely human rights campaigner: Dennis LaBonte, imperial wizard of the tiny Powhatan, Va.-based Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan. LaBonte piously told reporters that it was soldiers who protected free speech in this country and, darn it, the Phelpses should quit hassling them. Retorted Abigail Phelps, in perhaps the only Phelpsian statement Hatewatch has ever agreed with: “They have no moral authority on anything.”

7. Dumbest Apparently Lucrative Scam Award

Last May, we came across a little outfit, apparently based in Courtland, Va., that calls itself Silver Bullet Gun Oil and sells a line of gun oils that supposedly contain 13% liquefied pig fat. The idea, coming a year after anti-Muslim hate crimes went up 50% in this country, was to allow U.S. soldiers abroad to kill Muslims and deny them a “place in paradise,” because, after all, consumption of pork is forbidden in Islam. The courageous proprietor of Silver Bullet refused to make his name public, but he went by Midnite Rider and claimed to have sold large amounts of his oil to soldiers and Marines deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Many, many of allah’s [sic] misfits, murderers and morons have been turned away from his gates of ‘Paradise’ due to their stench of swine,” he gloated. Online gun forums and right-wing websites of various descriptions also plugged the idea, reveling in the thought that Muslim “martyrs” would be denied their “72 virgins.” Just one problem: In Islam, if a believer unknowingly ingests pork, he is completely forgiven. Foiled again!

6. Most Disingenuous Anti-Racist Award

It’s true that David Duke, the neo-Nazi and former Klan chieftain, has a bit of a reputation. He’s famous for chasing skirts, and former allies have warned their friends to lock up their sisters, wives and daughters when the Dukester is in town. It’s also true that he’s known for ripping off his allies, taking donations to save the “Aryan” race and then spending them on gambling and home improvements. And it’s undeniable that he’s made statements like this one: “White people don’t need a law against rape, but if you fill this room up with your normal black bucks, you would, because niggers are basically primitive animals.” But don’t let any of that mislead you. Don’t listen to the Jews! In an “Open Letter to the World” written from a German jail where he was detained before being expelled earlier this month, Duke shrugged off his “controversial long ago past,” said “I represent the very opposite of racism,” and insisted that he opposed “any form of racial supremacism.” We thought his letter was a little glib, however, and suggested that Duke might want to redraft it, perhaps taking a few ideas from a letter written from a Birmingham, Ala., jail in 1963 by another famous activist. He was against racism, too.

5. Most Ingenuous Nazi-Turned-Anti-Racist Award

There was a time when Lynx and Lamb Gaede were the Lolitas of the neo-Nazi world, blonde songstresses who as barely pubescent teens had the dirty old men of the white power scene salivating. (When the girls were 14, David Lane, a terrorist who died in prison in 2007, told their mother: “When the girls were little, they were like daughters… . Now that they are grown women, and being a natural male... Well, you know what I’m trying to say.”) They were on national television wearing Hitler T-shirts and singing “Aryan” folk music as Prussian Blue, a band named after the color of Zyklon-B in the Nazi gas chambers. But now, at 19, they’ve put all that behind them, for real. They told a newspaper that in recent years, they’ve abandoned the racism of their mother, April Gaede, and instead come to “a place of love and light.” After years of serious health problems, they’ve also both become crusaders for medical marijuana. But their mom, a charming woman who was once captured in a documentary calling one of her girls a “cunt,” doesn’t believe her daughters’ turn away from racism. In a bizarre Facebook post, she claimed that the girls were just “using the Jewsmedia” to make money. Exactly how, she did not explain.

4. Most Loathsome Friend of Cop-Killers Award

It was bad enough that her common-law husband and his son murdered two police officers and wounded two more — and that the 2010 execution-style killings in West Memphis, Ark., were captured on some of the more horrible dashboard camera footage ever seen. But Donna Lee Wray didn’t merely avoid any expression of sorrow or regret for the lives that Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son Joseph ended. Instead, she started issuing angry threats, hurling epithets at reporters, accusing police of a cover-up, and trying to charge millions of dollars for the use of her “copyrighted” name (to the author of this post, among many others). She hotly denied that the Kanes were members of the “sovereign citizens” movement, whose adherents say that the government has no authority over them — and then used the special language employed by sovereigns in her rants. This April, she went one further, suing the West Memphis Police Department for the “torture killings” of her friends. But the court didn’t seem too sympathetic, issuing two preliminary orders saying she had failed to give a factual basis for her claim. “Her complaint,” a judge in Florida wrote, “is nothing more than a nonsensical recitation” of state and federal laws, Constitutional articles and amendments, and international treaties.

3. Most Reeking of Hypocrisy Award

When Bishop Eddie Long was accused in 2010 of using his position as pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch to coerce four teens into sex, his attorney told reporters that Long “adamantly denies” the allegations. After all, Long had turned New Birth Missionary Baptist Church into one of the nation’s more homophobic ministries — he once told his congregation, among other things, that “[t]he problem today … is because men are being feminized and women are being masculine” — and his accusers were all men. Last May, Long confidentially settled the lawsuits, which alleged Long victimized enrollees in his New Birth Ministry for boys from 13 to 18, for what one local newspaper described as a multimillion-dollar figure. Then, in December, Long’s wife of 21 years filed for divorce — only to have church officials claim the same day that she had withdrawn the petition and only filed it because of “years of attacks in the media.” Well, that didn’t last long. Within six hours, her lawyers said Vanessa Long was proceeding with the divorce. At around the same time, it was reported that Eddie Long’s first wife had also divorced him, alleging “cruel treatment” by the pastor, who had a “vicious and violent temper.”

2. Most Delicious Requited Request Award

Back in November, Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the fellow who brags that he’s “America’s toughest sheriff” and clothes his jail inmates in pink underwear to prove it, was loudly whining that the media had imposed a “black out” on his “investigation” into the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate. Well, it wasn’t long before the publicity-hungry sheriff got the attention he was seeking. A week after making his complaint, The Associated Press published the results of a real investigation, this one showing Arpaio’s department had failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex crimes between 2005 and 2007. Many of the cases, including a large number of child molestations, involved undocumented immigrants — the same “illegal aliens” Arpaio has repeatedly belittled. Then, a little over a week later, the Department of Justice released the results of its own investigation, concluding that Arpaio’s department has a “pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos,” routinely flouts the Constitution and mistreats prisoners. And, by the way, Arpaio actually did get media attention for his Obama witch hunt — from The Globe, that pillar of supermarket checkout line journalism. In its “bombshell world exclusive,” the “news” organization reported that Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse was looking into the claim that Obama’s father was not who Obama says he was.

1. The Real Smackdown Award

There are smackdowns, and then there are smackdowns. A couple of our favorites — we probably really shouldn’t be admitting this! — are the cases of award winners Marlon L. Baker in Bayview, Idaho, and an unnamed woman in Bellingham, Wash. Baker is a black man who was minding his own business in a Bayview bar this July, when neo-Nazi skinhead Daren Christopher Abbey told him he’d better leave because of the color of his skin and poked Baker in the chest. Wanting to avoid a confrontation, Baker left the bar, only to be followed by Abbey, who kept taunting and harassing him. Finally, Abbey pushed Baker and Baker turned around and socked him once in the nose. The great Aryan warrior keeled over unconscious, waking up only to be immediately arrested and, ultimately, to plead guilty to a felony hate crime charge. In Bellingham five months later, another warrior of the radical right screamed epithets at two lesbians outside a bar, then smashed the rear window of their car. But that didn’t scare the women. One of them, in fact, grabbed William Adam Lane and held him until police arrived. And he wasn’t merely “detained,” said an amused police official. “He was thrown to the ground!”

And with that, dear readers, we bring this year’s parade of horribles (earlier years’ may be found here, here, here and here) to a close. Wishing our readers the best of the holiday season and a hate-free New Year, the committee bids you adieu until next December, when we’ll be back with the very worst of American hate.