ADL, Denver Post Defame Bob Glass
by Ari Armstrong, May 29, 2001
Trent Seibert has taken yellow journalism to a new level in Colorado with his May 28 story which defames Bob Glass and the civil rights group for which Glass serves as president -- the Tyranny Response Team.
The Oxford dictionary describes yellow journalism as referring to "newspapers (or writers of newspaper articles) of a recklessly or unscrupulously sensational character." Seibert fits the definition precisely with his article, "ADL looks into gun group's tactics: Tyranny team 'in your face'." Seibert writes,
The Anti-Defamation League has begun looking into the tactics of a gun-rights group that started in Colorado and has spread to 17 other states. The ADL, which has exposed hate groups and militias throughout the United States, stopped short of placing the Tyranny Response Team in that category. But one ADL official said the civil-rights group is concerned about the kinds of people who may be drawn to the gun organization. "That's what it's about: keeping an eye on these groups," said Bobbie Towbin, associate director of the ADL's Denver branch.... "As far as I'm concerned, I don't think they are white supremacists or have an ideology that we'd be concerned about," Towbin said. "It's the type of people they may attract."
The Tyranny Response Team is certainly a "gun-rights group," but it is much more than that. Glass, who is legally the president of the group, advocates an agenda for the complete restoration of the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment. For instance, members of the TRT protested Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter for issuing a warrant to allow police to search records of the Tattered Cover bookstore -- a free-speech issue. Glass and other TRT members protested in Denver on tax day in defense of property rights.
Seibert is irresponsible for discussing the TRT as if it had some relevance to "hate groups and militias." If the TRT is not one of those things, then why write an article talking about it? The clear insinuation by Seibert and Towbin is that the TRT is the type of group that "MAY" attract haters, white supremacists, and militia members. Seibert's remark that the ADL "stopped short" of calling the TRT a "hate group" implies such a characterization was almost made.
(Besides, Seibert is unjustified in conflating "hate groups and militias." Obviously some independent militia groups contain racist members, but others do not. Article 17 of the Colorado Constitution states, "The militia of the state shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years." If Seibert is between these ages, then he is a militia member by law.)
Seibert writes his article as if it were about the TRT, but then he quotes "ADL official" Bobbie Towbin talking about "these groups," plural. WHICH groups? The clear implication of the article is that the TRT may appropriately be lumped together with "hate groups and militias" and "white supremacists."
Seibert and Towbin commit a very crude form of the logical fallacy commonly known as "poisoning the well," a type of ad hominem or personal attack. One logic textbook lists as an example of a "poisoning the well" fallacy: "Don't listen to him; he's a scoundrel!" (S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1990, p. 195)
Seibert does quote Glass refuting the "poisoning the well" fallacy: "'When their arguments are philosophically, historically and morally bankrupt, the only card they have to play is character assassination,' Glass said." The fact that Seibert magnanimously allows Glass to respond does not excuse Seibert from publishing the unsubstantiated accusations in the first place. A serious newspaper has no business adopting the tactics of the National Enquirer.
Neither Seibert nor Towbin ever directly accuse Bob Glass or the TRT of wrong-doing. Instead, they make multiple, unsubstantiated allegations concerning what MAY be the case. For Towbin -- an officer of a self-purported "civil-rights group" opposed to "defamation" -- to talk about "the type of people [the TRT] MAY attract" (emphasis added) is chilling.
Elsewhere, Seibert writes, "An ADL researcher... talked to some members of Denver's gun-control movement who believe that rogue members of the Tyranny Response Team may have been responsible for sending hate mail and death threats last year to Tom Mauser."
Again, notice the term, "may." Where's the evidence?
Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff writes,
"Arbitrary" means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort... [I]ts basis is neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument. [An arbitrary idea is] a sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality. If a man [or woman] asserts such an idea, whether he does so by error or ignorance or corruption, his idea is thereby epistemologically invalidated. It has no relation to reality or to human cognition. (The Ayn Rand Lexicon, NY: Meridian 1998, p. 30, second brackets in original)
Seibert's use of the phrase "rogue member of the [TRT]" is unjustifiable. A better term would be, "non-member." Until recently, the TRT was a disorganized group with informal leaders; now it is a legal corporation with a president and board of directors. However, the leaders of the TRT have always denounced acts of violence, calling instead for peaceful protest. As he has stated publicly on numerous occasions, the only contest Glass wants to initiate with Mauser is one of public debate.
The crucial point is that not one shred, not one iota of evidence links a TRT member to any wrongdoing. Seibert doesn't even try to offer up such evidence. It is conceivable, however, that a member (or self-proclaimed member) of the TRT, or the ADL, or the Denver Post, might on some occasion do something foolish, illegal, and/or dangerous. The appropriate response from the group leadership is to denounce the individual and the action. Once the group does this, the appropriate response from the media is to treat the group distinctly from the errant individual, not refer to the individual as a "rogue member" of the group.
For instance, the ADL ought to dismiss Towbin and denounce her bigoted defamation of the TRT. If and when the ADL does that, the group as a whole may properly be regarded as blameless. (Until such time, Towbin's superiors share in her culpability.) Similarly, the Denver Post should denounce Seibert's yellow journalism and print an apology.
Seibert again magnanimously allows Glass to respond to the unsubstantiated allegations: "Glass has denied his group had anything to do with those letters" to Mauser. Unfortunately, to date Seibert has failed to "deny that he had anything to do with those letters." (My point: he shouldn't have to.)
Seibert claims the "Tyranny Response Team has used controversial tactics to disrupt gun-control marches..." This is true only if the term "disrupt" is taken to mean, "peacefully protest."
Seibert also writes,
The group's protest tactics are a key reason why the ADL has become interested in the group. Some examples: At a Boulder City Council meeting last year in which council members were discussing strengthening gun laws, members of the Tyranny Response Team protested at City Hall wearing black shirts with yellow, six-pointed stars, similar to the kind Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. They also distributed fliers containing photographs of Holocaust victims. At Million Mom Marches across the United States held in May over the past two years, Tyranny Response Team members disrupted proceedings by outnumbering and outshouting the marching moms. At many of these marches, they shouted down speakers by yelling "Sieg Heil," while raising their arms in a Nazi salute. These tactics have been blamed for the drop in participation in the marches.
Seibert misses a number of details. The TRT shirts are navy blue, not black. At the Boulder meeting, many TRT members wore clothing other than the TRT shirts. Most TRT members attended the meeting to speak publicly, not rally. The "Million Mom March" never reached anywhere near a million participants, and it consisted also of men and women who aren't "moms." At least in 2001, MMM members did not march anywhere. In Denver, the TRT did not outnumber the MMM, though in 2001 it came close. Mostly the MMM and the TRT have "blamed" the TRT for a "drop in participation" at the MMM rallies; nationwide the MMM suffered massive setbacks even in places where the TRT did not rally. But more disturbing than the details Seibert gets wrong are the facts he omits.
Why does Seibert fail to mention that the use of the "Star of David" was inspired by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership? Why does he fail to mention that the "Sieg Heil" quote, far from showing sympathy with neo-Nazis, was intended as an indictment of fascist victim disarmament laws? Why does he fail to note the Holocaust photos were intended to show what can happen when the populace is disarmed by the state?
Finally, why does Seibert fail to mention that Bob Glass is a Jew who lost family members to the Nazi Holocaust? Perhaps that would have interfered with Seibert's insinuation that the TRT somehow "may attract" white supremacists. The very first claim made at the top of the ADL's web page (http://www.adl.org/, as of May 29, 2001) is that the group is "Fighting Anti-Semitism." One would think that, in an article discussing ADL criticisms of Bob Glass, the fact that Glass is Jewish might be considered relevant.
It's not as if Glass is obscure on the issue. In his magazine The Partisan, which is readily accessible to journalists as well as to the general public, Glass strongly denounces all forms of racism:
Nazism and Communism are in essence the same thing. When one judges the morality of a political system by the rights possessed by the individual versus those held by the state, the thin line between the two all but disappears.... [Two] attacks leveled against The Partisan simply regurgitate the stale, cynical dogma of racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory-attacks so thoroughly devoid of legitimate intellectual discourse that they do not deserve to take up precious space in the magazine.... Our goal is to make The Partisan the preeminent voice of those rational, freedom-loving Americans who yearn to re-claim their birthright of liberty. (Issue 2, Vol. 1, Spring 1999, p. 4, "a letter from the publisher")
For Towbin and Seibert to make and relay (respectively) the vicious and libelous suggestion that the TRT -- of which Glass is president -- "MAY attract" white supremacists and other racists is morally reprehensible.
On July 24, 2000 Glass corresponded directly with Towbin (see http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/08/neveragain.html). In his letter, Glass writes,
It is specifically because the TRT wants to honor the memory of those Holocaust victims, by learning from the lessons of history, and taking specific actions to make sure that such a thing never happens here, that we wore the yellow Star of David. This is our obligation to ourselves, to our children and to all the victims of state-sponsored tyranny -- including the victims of the Holocaust.
It is possible to debate the appropriateness of some actions of Glass and the TRT (indeed, I have done so). But Seibert's article was not about discussing the appropriateness of the symbolism; rather it was about casting aspersions.
Seibert gives Glass the opportunity to say the purpose of TRT rallies is to "show them [disarmament activists] how fascist their agenda is... The real danger people face is state-sponsored genocide, like Stalin, like Hitler, like Pol Pot. We're serious about preventing genocide... They [TRT critics] never expected we'd be so "in your face.'"
However, including Glass' brief remarks does not excuse Seibert from reproducing libelous claims. As a thought experiment, imagine the following mini-article: "Trent Seibert is accused by Source X of being a person who may attract the type of people who rape small children and barbecue their hearts over an open flame. Seibert owns a barbecue pit in his back yard. However, Seibert said he really opposes raping small children and barbecuing their hearts." Would such an article be published by the Denver Post? One would hope not. Arbitrary, mean-spirited, ad hominem attacks simply have no place in a serious newspaper. It is shameful that the Post chose to publish an article similar in form about Bob Glass.
Towbin represents the "ANTI-DEFAMATION League" (emphasis added). Random House defines "defame" as "to attack the good name or reputation of; slander or libel." Either Towbin should apologize, or the ADL should expel her, or the group should change its name to the "Selective-Defamation League."
Seibert's article was picked up by the Associated Press on May 29. It ran in edited form in the Rocky Mountain News. So much for the separate newsrooms promised by the JOA. The fact that the Post ran Seibert's wildly prejudicial story, and the News duplicated much of that story, is a sad indictment of today's mass media.
Comments about this article are welcome and will be published.