Three days ago, a group called Massachusetts Liberty Preservation Association (MassLPA) held its second annual "Constitution Day" event at the Massachusetts state house. MassLPA grew out of the Ron Paul movement two years ago, and they've generally struck me as a pretty reasonable, serious representation of that conservative-libertarian perspective. The Constitution Day event is not meant to be overtly political -- cannot be, in fact, due to rules for such state house events.
But for this year's event, unlike last year's, MassLPA "joined forces with the JBS, Tea Party Groups, Oathkeepers, [and] 9-12ers," as the group put it on its web site. JBS is the John Birch Society.
Republican state senator Bob Hedlund reserved the room for the group, but a scheduling conflict prevented him from speaking. (Last year, he spoke briefly about the importance of the Constitution.) Jeff Perry, Republican nominee in the 10th congressional district, was scheduled to speak but cancelled -- a Perry spokesperson told me it was a scheduling conflict, and not any second thoughts about participating. Lew Evangielidis, state rep running for Worcester County sheriff, also had to cancel.
Two Republican nominees for US House seats did speak, according to MassLPA organizer Bob Dwyer: Bill Gunn, who is running against John Olver; and Gerry Dembrowski, running against Ed Markey. Brad Marston, state representative challenger to Marty Walz of Boston, led the national anthem.
Dwyer says that the MassLPA partnered with John Birch Society and the others this year because "they are basically similar groups [to us] -- we focus on promoting the Constitution, plain and simple... We don't all agree with each other [on everything]."
Dwyer says that there was some internal division about including the John Birch Society, from some libertarians who object to that group's rabid anti-gay agenda; nevertheless its national President, John McManus, was the event's keynote speaker. Gay-bashing is just the latest in the society's long, disgraceful history, that includes overt racism and anti-Semitism, in addition to rabid anti-government conspiracy-hawking. In recent years they have tried to become more respectable; there was a bit of controversy this year when CPAC allowed them to be a co-sponsor of that conservative conference.
As for the Oath Keepers, who held a 'Taking of the Oath' ceremony at Monday's event, read this Mother Jones feature story about them. Others featured at the event included "Patriot Pastor" Garrett Lear, and New Hampshire state representative Dan Itse -- who, as I wrote in this article, sponsored a bill literally calling (among other things) for the dissolution of the United States of America in the event that Congress passed the Serve America Act.
Hedlund told me he didn't know about the other groups' involvement when he signed the room out for MassLPA; Perry's spokesperson said he too did not know, and Marston told me the same thing, and added that he left immediately after his own role, to return to the campaign trail.
To me, this episode illustrates again how difficult it is, and will be, for mainstream Republican candidates and officials to avoid association with people and groups who are, arguably, rabid crackpots. You think you're dealing with pretty reasonable folks who organized for a fairly major Republican Presidential candidate, and if you're not paying very close attention you're standing on stage at an event co-sponsored by people who take vows to disobey the US government.
I've written about this theme a few times, perhaps most notably regarding Bill Hudak, who is now the GOP nominee for US Congress in John Tierney's district. A while back I reported that Charlie Baker appeared at a Hudak event -- and I can now, for the first time, point you to a video of that event. Baker enters at the 79 minute mark; at one point he puts his hand on Hudak's shoulder and says "Bill, it was great of you to bring everybody together tonight... This is a great event."
Baker -- and Hedlund, Perry, Marston, and others -- are in a tough position, because it's very hard to find the line to draw, to distance yourself from the really offensive people without alienating others who make up a large portion of the Republican vote.