Story about petition-drive to charge Bush, Cheney with war crimes generates flame war
By Susan Smallheer
Herald Staff | January 29,2008
BRATTLEBORO — Kurt Daims was a little taken aback Monday at the fierce response outside Brattleboro and Vermont to the successful petition drive he worked on that will let the town vote at Town Meeting on whether President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be charged with war crimes.
The Brattleboro town office was swamped with calls, e-mails and faxes on Monday, according to town officials, practically all of it negative, said Town Clerk Annette Cappy, who fielded some of the calls.
Cappy said most of the calls went to Town Manager Barbara Sondag, and that the sheer "nastiness" of the calls prompted the town office to stop answering the telephone Monday afternoon and let the calls go to voice mail instead.
"We're getting e-mails and phone calls, nasty, nasty e-mails. I've only a gotten a few," said Cappy said. "You couldn't repeat most of those calls. They are nasty and nasty."
Daims, who has an unlisted telephone number, was immune to most of the outpouring of political vitriol that was largely prompted by a posting on the Internet site, www.drudgereport.com — a conservative-leaning Web site based in Washington, D.C., which is most famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
"I don't think I'm a hero and I'm not a slime bag, either. It is largely symbolic," said Daims, 54, who moved to Brattleboro several years ago from San Francisco. Daims has been working with other people on the petition drive, including other activists who have been pushing for a Vermont resolution in favor of the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.
Daims said he had received about a half dozen "hate e-mails" about the issue that the Brattleboro Select Board voted 3-2 to put on the town meeting warning. The issue will be voted on during all-day secret balloting on March 4.
"I know most people out there are tired of Mr. Bush. The people who are scared are more noisy about it," said Daims, who described himself as an independent, and not affiliated with any political party.
The Brattleboro story prompted the Republican National Committee press office to issue a statement in defense of Bush, despite the advisory or symbolic nature of the vote.
"Any time there's an attack on the president, we send a response," said spokeswoman Blair Latoff.
"It appears that the left wing knows no bounds in their willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to make a futile counterproductive partisan political point. Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them," she added.
A story about the controvery, published on the Herald's Web site, quadrupled normal traffic, according to New Media Director Russell Glitman.
Glitman said that the story produced the most hits in the paper's Web site history, outdistancing the story about the "Nor'icane" storm in April 2007, which devastated the city of Rutland.
He said normally there are 10 comments at most posted after a story; in the case of the Brattleboro Bush/Cheney vote, there were more than 475 comments.
And the Web traffic came from all over the country, with Texas and California leading the way, and shrinking the normal Vermont share of Web traffic to a fraction, he said.
The hundreds of e-mails sent to the paper ranged from the obscene and vulgar to the curious and supportive. But the majority of the e-mails questioned the sanity of the residents of Brattleboro and Daims in particular and the legality of the proposal.
More than one e-mailer proposed that Brattleboro, not Bush and Cheney, be tried for treason, and that the state secede — or be kicked out — of the country.
And many promised they would never step foot on Vermont soil again, canceling vacations or deciding not to buy Vermont maple syrup, Vermont cheddar cheese or Vermont ice cream ever again.
And the epithets: jackasses, moonbeams, looney tunes, stupid and "moonbats."
"I'll make note not to visit Vermont … too many moonbats!" wrote Bob Bogart of Chattanooga, Tenn.
"I LOVE your story and HOPE it gets more and more and MORE press!!! If I didn't live in Texas, owned by the Republicans and Bush........I get one started here also!!!!!! They SHOULD be indicted. Counting the reasons why, takes too much time to type," wrote "Renee."
"You're an (blank) for write this asinine article any ways YOU ARE A DUMB (blank)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! wrote someone named Mark Praus, address unknown.
"Any state that elects a socialist to congress and then a town plans a vote to impeach the President will never get any support from me. For the past several years, I have not knowingly bought anything the was made in of distributed through Vermont. I will continue this small protest until your state comes to it senses," wrote John D. Dooley of Henderson, Nev.
Jason Gibbs, spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, said that the controversy was nothing compared to the firestorm surrounding Judge Edward Cashman, whose decision in a child sex abuse case two years ago created an enormous response of condemnation.
Gibbs said that the governor's hotline Monday produced about a half-dozen out of state calls, while "thousands and thousands" of calls were received after conservative television commentator Bill O'Reilly sharply criticized Cashman and the state for what they viewed was being soft on pedophiles.
"It ranks very low on the interest meter," Gibbs said of the Brattleboro town meeting item.
Cindy Maguire, chief of the criminal division at the Vermont Attorney General's office, said she doubted that the vote was anything but a political protest, Vermont-style.
Towns do not have the right to file affidavits charging people with crimes, unless they violate some local ordinance, she pointed out.
Maguire, who said she hadn't really researched the matter, said it was unusual, to say the least.
"I've never seen, in my 20 years of practicing criminal law, a town get an arrest warrant for felonious conduct and I'm not even sure what state laws would be at play here," Maguire said. "I don't have enough information."
Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.