This article appears in the November issue of Bazooka Magazine.
The morning after the final Conway/Paul debate on KET (the one where they both acted like snide middle school kids in the principal’s office), the first thing to pop up in my news feed was the video of moveon.org employee Lauren Valle being tackled and having her head stomped by Rand Paul supporters before the debate. The video was on a blog I haven’t been reading for very long (so I haven’t really gotten a feel for their reliability when it comes to fact-checking) and didn’t list a source, so I was initially skeptical about the video’s authenticity. Within a couple of hours, the story broke in the more mainstream media. I assumed that everyone could agree that stomping on a woman’s head while she’s down is a bad thing, but in doing so I underestimated the Tea Party’s capacity for rationalization and conspiracy theory.
The teabaggers started, predictably enough, with conspiracy theory: everyone involved in the altercation was a Conway supporter and it was all a stunt to make Paul look bad. Coming from a party that’s made James O’Keefe (the ACORN “pimp” and would-be Abbie Boudreau seducer) sort of a folk hero, I guess this makes sense--kind of like a company that engages in shady business practices assuming that everyone they do business with is trying to rip them off. Once the stomper was identified as Timothy Profitt, Paul’s Bourbon County coordinator who had been associated with the campaign for months, contributed $2500 to Rand Paul, and been thanked for his support in a Lexington Herald-Leader ad, only those who believe in Ringo Star’s New World Order mind control lasers stuck with the conspiracy theory angle.
With the conspiracy theory debunked, the teabaggers moved on to the character assassination of Lauren Valle, asserting that the fact that she had been engaged in numerous non-violent acts of civil disobedience and protest justified the beat-down. They were very happy to discover she had been arrested for trespassing during one of these instances, which led to the most ironic (definitely in the Alanis sense, and possibly even literally) comment of the whole discussion, from a commenter on the WPSD Facebook page: "She is a risk-taker and puts both her life and her liberty on the line, along with those she associates with, and poses a risk to whomever may happen along. Illegally boarding a ship,,, they could have been shot, they could have caused a major disaster just with that one stunt.” If you’re not laughing so hard you’re shooting milk from your nose (even if you’re not drinking milk), keep in mind that she was sneaking onto the ship to commit an act of vandalism as a form of political protest--kind of like a group of Bostonians (who later gave their name to a dangerous but hilarious political movement) did in 1773.
Another rationalization, tied closely to the character assassination game, is that Paul’s thugs believed that Valle posed a physical threat to Rand Paul. One video does show her waving her Republicorp sign in Rand Paul’s face as he drives by, but proving the teabagger assertion that she hit him (or nearly hit him) with it would require the kind of video enhancement technology that only exists in police procedural TV shows. To me, it looks more like she’s trying to turn the sign around so that her accomplice can get a picture of it next to Paul. The same video shows her coming around the front of the car after it has stopped (right before the smack-down), and to me she looks more scared than threatening (according to her story, several of the Paulbots were chasing her at this point, so I can’t say I blame her). There are so many holes in the “clear and present danger” scenario that it can’t be easily sorted while maintaining any narrative flow, so I’m going to have to break out a bullet list:
* To the teabaggers, the fact that Valle was wearing a wig (which according to her was part of the costume for her Republicorp “character”) is apparently probable cause to assume that she’s an assassin--some even pointed out that Squeaky Fromme wore a wig when she tried to kill Gerald Ford. While this may be true, if wearing a wig makes you an assassin, I can only assume that strip clubs are crawling with ninjas and William Shatner is the most dangerous man alive. This fear of wigs on the part of the Paulbots probably has some sort of creepy sexual component, but I’d rather not think about it.
* Valle claims that Paul’s supporters recognized her and were keeping a close eye on her before Paul ever got there. This does not fit with the “unknown attacker” idea, but does fit with the teabagger “she was a troublemaker” rationalization. If the Paulbots did, as Valle asserts and the character assassination defense suggests, know who Valle was, they should have also known that none her previous protest activities had ever presented a danger to anyone (except possibly herself). This also kills the “wig as assassin disguise” argument.
* If Valle were planning to harm Paul in some way, she had ample opportunity when she was a foot away from his car window. When the teabaggers took Valle down, Paul was long gone according to the video and eyewitnesses.
* Many of the “she was dangerous” defenses presume that the men who attacked Valle were part of Rand Paul’s security detail. So far I haven’t heard the men themselves or anyone in the Paul campaign claim that this was the case. Even if these men were acting in some official capacity and Valle was presenting a threat, the head stomping was excessive. Those who acknowledge that these men were not security present them as brave bystanders who were protecting their candidate, which brings us to:
* Lauren Valle is a small woman who was completely unarmed (unless you count a sign as a weapon, in which case everyone there was dangerous). Kind of makes you wonder if these men would have been so “brave” if it was a 300-pound linebacker and not a 110-pound woman (especially if you’ve read Amanda Marcotte’s excellent Guardian article “The Women-Hating Rage of the Republican Right,” which explores the misogyny inherent in Tea Party rhetoric and policy).
Some White Male Liberty Patriots dispensed with trying to defend the curbstomper and went right for the straw man argument, claiming that people wouldn’t be making a big deal about this if Valle had “attacked” Conway or Obama. While I’ll be the first to admit that progressives do have a few sacred double standards, they don’t generally apply when it comes to basic civil and human rights. That’s why many of us detest Barack Obama’s failure to end the human rights violations of the Bush era and, why the Volvo-driving hippies at the ACLU regularly fight on behalf of Christians who have suffered religious discrimination and those whose Second Amendment rights have been violated, and, more generally, why the left has such a hard time holding power. While the right proudly stand behind their leaders in power as they accomplish nothing (and in some cases act in direct opposition to their state beliefs), those of us on the left are quick to vote against those who aren’t doing what they promised, usually throwing our votes away on third party candidates who can never win in our corporate-owned political system. That’s why our government will probably grind to a halt due to political gridlock before Thanksgiving.
While Matt Taibbi (in his October 15 Rolling Stone article: “How Corporate Interests and Republican Insiders Built the Tea Party Monster”) has done a much better job than I ever could of highlighting the double standards of teabaggers (specifically those in our state), I do feel like I should point out how it applies to the curbstomper himself, Timothy Profitt. According to campaign donation records, Profitt’s wife works for Bourbon County High School, which is of course partially funded by the Department of Education that Rand Paul wants to destroy. For his part, Tim, who is only 53, lists his occupation as “retired/unemployed.” Since his address doesn’t match any of the Paris horse farms I’m familiar with and his wife still works, it seems unlikely that his early retirement is because he’s independently wealthy. I’m speculating here, but that leaves two explanations I can think of: Either he worked for an EVIL union and retired early with a pension or he’s drawing disability (due to the “bad back” that he used as a rationalization for stomping on Valle’s head). In any case, I’d be interested to know how Profitt managed to retire so early--I seriously doubt his wife’s supporting them both on the salary she’s getting from Bourbon County High. At the very least, Profitt is working hard to vote his wife out of a job (or at least a raise in the foreseeable future).
In addition to the teabagger double standards, I would argue that Conway/Obama supporters wouldn’t stomp on a woman’s head when she’s already down because the left is not constantly being conditioned for violence by their party’s rhetoric. The Tea Party thrives on things like thinly-veiled calls for violent revolution and Bible verses recommending the assassination of President Obama. It’s hard to believe that this violent rhetoric has no effect on those who buy into it, or that it doesn’t appeal to a certain kind of person. Which brings us to the other major player in the altercation: Mike Pezzano, the man who knocked Valle down so Tim Profitt could step on her head. Pezzano has been showing up at Paul events for a while now, and his big issue is “open carry.” For those not familiar with the term, it basically means that Mike is not content with being able to carry a concealed firearm. He wants to, to paraphrase Townes Van Zandt, “wear his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to feel.” I’m not saying that Mike’s overcompensating for anything, but I’ll bet he drives a Hummer and his wife needs a magnifying glass and tweezers to give him one.
I realize that Rand Paul can’t be held accountable for the actions of his supporters (though it would have been nice if his weasely statement hadn’t tried to make Conway supporters share the blame), but I do believe that the rhetoric of the Tea Party contributes to and encourages this kind of incident. I’m writing this a few days before the election, but by the time you’re reading it there’s a good chance (at least based on the latest polls) that Rand Paul will be Kentucky's new Senator. Like all politicians (a victorious Conway included, I’d wager), his professed ideals will quickly be subverted to the special interests who control Washington, but like all politicians he’ll have to keep up the rhetoric necessary to make his constituents vote against their own interests again next time around. Since the Tea Party is so hell-bent against the system, he’ll need to be even more vocal than most to hide the fact that he’s just another politician. While rhetoric rarely changes the way government works (as those of us who really wanted to believe Obama during his campaign can bitterly attest), it does have an effect on the voters, and, if the case of Lauren Valle is any indication, it’s not a positive one.