Paul’s Supporters Clash With Media


By: Wall Street Journal

By AMY SCHATZ

Early Halloween morning, “Taco John” posted a message-board call to arms: “Baltimore Sun Hit Piece…TAKE ACTION NOW!”

The paper’s political blog had an item marveling at how Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul had raised more money than “better-known Mike Huckabee, who is taken more seriously.” Taco John took to an Internet forum frequented by Paul supporters, providing a link to the offending item, as well as phone and email information for the newspaper’s public editor and advertising department. “They’re trying to pigeonhole us,” he wrote. “If we don’t fight back, they’ll keep doing it.”

Taco John, the online moniker of Isaac Lopez, a 32-year-old technology marketer in Vancouver, Wash., is one of many cyber-soldiers for Dr. Paul, the Texas congressman, gynecologist and vociferous opponent of the Iraq war. The Paul brigade has largely drawn attention for its fund-raising prowess, raising a record $4.2 million online in a single day in November and leaving the 72-year-old politician with more cash on hand than several rivals and a $1 million TV ad budget for New Hampshire. But some Paul supporters are displaying an aggressive side that seems to spill beyond advocacy into harassment of those who disagree or fail to show Dr. Paul sufficient respect.

Taco John, for example, posted contact information for a university professor who called Dr. Paul “unqualified to be president.” He also provided information on how to reach several reporters with whom he quibbled, as well as the Iowa Republican Party after it helped set rules for a debate — later canceled — that could have excluded the low-polling Dr. Paul.

Taco John — the handle comes from Mr. Lopez’s appreciation of former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway and tacos — is a neophyte activist, who says he was inspired by Dr. Paul’s libertarian platform.

Some blogs have booted Paul supporters for leaving incendiary comments. They have also been frozen out of Internet surveys and accused of electronic ballot stuffing; Dr. Paul rarely loses online straw polls even though he barely registers in national telephone polls. His supporters argue that they win online polls because there are more Paul supporters and they’re better organized.

Many of Dr. Paul’s supporters say they’re simply fighting a media and political establishment that won’t give him a fair shake. The big Nov. 5 “moneybomb” fund raiser was timed to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day and inspired by the 1980s comic-book series “V for Vendetta,” in which a vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask wages war against a totalitarian British state.

The Paul campaign has also drawn support from antigovernment fringe groups and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Since mid-September, a large “Ron Paul for President” banner has flashed at the bottom of white-supremacist Internet forum Stormfront.org. “Really, we haven’t seen a candidate like Ron Paul in some time. The closest would have been Pat Buchanan” in 2000, says Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., the group’s founder and a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, who donated $500 to Mr. Paul’s campaign.

The Paul campaign has a hands-off approach when it comes to supporters’ activities and political backgrounds. While grateful for the money, aides insist they aren’t responsible for what supporters do online. “We don’t know who a lot of these people are,” says Jesse Benton, a campaign spokesman.

Mr. Benton declined to make Dr. Paul available to comment. “Sometimes, Ron Paul supporters get a little overpassionate and maybe a little more shrill than what some might like,” Mr. Benton says. “For the most part, our supporters are polite and mannerly.” He has his own conspiracy theory: Some other candidates’ supporters may be masquerading as Ron Paul supporters to hurt his campaign.

The impassioned campaigning threatens Dr. Paul’s efforts to convince undecided Republicans that he appeals to more than antiwar libertarians and fringes of the Republican Party.

“Basically, it got to the point where someone could put up a post saying they were going to the bathroom, and a dozen Paultards would comment, ‘Vote for Ron Paul while you’re there,’ along with another dozen warnings of the Zionist conspiracy in the toilet,” says Erick Erickson, founder of popular conservative blog Redstate. A month ago, the site banned posts from some Paul supporters, branding them “MoRons.”

Afterward, the site was “deluged” with comments and “swarms and swarms” of hate mail, Mr. Erickson says. He changed the site’s phone number, and says other blog owners have contacted him seeking advice on discouraging Paul supporters from posting.

Cris Vanricma of Ludington, Mich., removed Dr. Paul from his bipartisan presidential poll, StrawPoll08.com, after receiving nasty emails from some Paul supporters, contending some polls that Dr. Paul wasn’t winning were rigged. The 31-year-old Web designer made a blanket offer: If the messages stop, the congressman goes back on. So far, Dr. Paul remains off the poll.

With issues like the Iraq war and civil liberties at stake, some supporters argue that now isn’t the time for half-measures. David Chesley, 33, of Van Nuys, Calif., put his law practice on hold so he could support Dr. Paul. Mr. Chesley says he was attracted by the congressman’s views on protecting the Constitution after what he considers President Bush’s assault on civil liberties since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “I have an obligation to make this my full-time job,” says the former Democrat. “All I do every day is go on the Internet or make phone calls or email the media.”

When he felt the media paid too little attention to the Nov. 5 fund raiser, Mr. Chesley, who posts as “RP2008″ on a Ron Paul message board, was furious. On Nov. 9, he urged others to “ceaselessly bombard” media outlets. “You need to organize, call, boycott, protest and sue the media that is lying to us, and if you don’t, it is your own d- fault if Ron Paul loses,” he wrote.

Some Paul supporters preach restraint. “I cannot stand to read another reporter/blogger complain about how they have received profane/threatening/intimidating responses from Ron Paul supporters,” wrote “Hestia,” a frequent poster on the Daily Paul, a popular pro-Paul site. “Sending hostile and abusive emails will not win supporters or encourage bloggers or reporters to write positive articles,” Hestia adds.

Write to Amy Schatz at Amy.Schatz@wsj.com

* Content From the Wall Street Journal supplied by Elva Ramirez:

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