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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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April 4, 2008 3:35 PM

Blogger uses Nazi "satire" to poke at builder's group

Posted by David Postman

David Goldstein has been pretty whipped up by the Building Industry Association of Washington official who claims environmentalists echo conservationist themes from Nazi Germany. As Goldstein wrote last week at horsesass.org:

As a Jew whose entire extended family in Eastern Europe was exterminated by the Nazis, along with most of the rest of European Jewry, I take personal offense at efforts to diminish Hitler’s historically unparalleled war crimes in the service of rank political partisanship.

He called the BIAW hateful and insane.

What then to make of Goldstein’s own rant this week? He called the builder’s lobby “a bunch of Nazis” and said he suspects the group of setting the fire in Snohomish County arson that burned down homes in the “Street of Dreams” development?

I am not trying to draw some direct parallel between the BIAW column, which I think misread Nazi history in an attack on environmentalists, and Goldstein’s comments. The BIAW is one of the state’s most powerful and well-funded political operations. The conservative group is aggressive, whether pushing its legislative agenda or campaigning on behalf of its chosen candidates.

Goldstein is a liberal blogger, hardly a political powerhouse. He is well-read among the liberalatti, though, and raises money for progressive Democratic candidates.

And I wrote the preceding two paragraphs before I received this from Goldstein in response to my questions:

I don't think my take on the BIAW is relevant to their offensive and historically perverse take on the environmental movement. There is no equivalency between some blogger and one of the most powerful and influential political organizations in the state. I don't have a couple million dollars a cycle to sink into campaigns, and I certainly don't have politicians pandering to my interests. Nothing I might say excuses what they say, and a barroom podcast is not an official newsletter.

And of course by writing about Goldstein I am in no way trying to excuse the BIAW.

Goldstein, though, sees himself as important enough to be a target for physical violence. He wrote on his blog that one day “somebody like me” is going to get beat up “by somebody like them” who will be “waiting for me late at night with baseball bats, or worse.”

Goldstein made his comments about the BIAW in a friendly crowd. It was Tuesday night at Drinking Liberally, a weekly get-together of Seattle liberals. Goldstein acts as host at a city tavern and records a panel discussion with fellow bloggers and other liberals.

He says I missed the intended humor of the podcast.

Um... I was being satirical, parodying the BIAW's excess via an escalation of the absurd, whereas the BIAW actually claims to believe environmentalism equates to Nazism. (My recollection is that I even prefaced my Reichstag comment by saying it was "outrageous.") I think you will find that the worst of my excesses are almost always satirical (however dry or in poor taste), and a direct response to some perceived outrage …

At the event, there was some general discussion about the BIAW article about the Nazi's environmental leanings and another column in the same issue which claimed mainstream environmentalists were applauding the Snohomish arson.

P-I columnist Joel Connelly, a guest at this week’s gathering, said the BIAW column about the arson was outrageous. Which prompted Goldstein to say:

I’ll tell you what, if you want to be outrageous about this, let's go back to Nazi Germany for a moment and … let’s talk about the fire bombing which supposedly was blamed on ELF, on the Earth Liberation Front, because there is a sign there that says E-L-F. I think it’s more likely -- more likely than mainstream environmentalists applauding this arson. I think it’s more likely that the BIAW, following in the pattern of the Nazis, firebombed those houses in the way the Nazi’s firebombed the Reichstag, because they’re certainly using it the same way. That’s exactly how they’re using it.

Goldstein asked his guests whether they agreed with his theory that the BIAW’s criticism of mainstream environmentalists was “projection” because the builders had done the arson themselves.

There was a yes, a “yeah, probably,” and a “yeah, a little.” Connelly was something of a moderating voice, answering, “Nein.”

He did say he thought the BIAW was “wacko.” But Goldstein said Connelly was “too kind” to the BIAW in not believing they had burned down the Street of Dreams and made it look like the work of radical environmentalists. Said Goldstein:

They are a bunch of Nazis. I want to tell you, people are afraid of them; they’re afraid of them, Joel. … I’ve written about them in the past and when I first started doing it over the ergonomics rules, I got e-mails, I got phone calls from people warning me, ‘You better not tread there. You don’t want to go after the BIAW, these are nasty bastards. They’ll go after you.’

I had somebody tell me that, ‘You might want to check your credit report, see who is checking on your, your credit rating.’ They hire private investigators to go after people. People are terrified of the BIAW and when they print stuff like this, when they print violent, hateful rhetoric like they’ve done, they know that they are attempting to intimidate people. It is an act of intimidation. They’re not dumb. They write this stuff on purpose, because they are a bunch of bullies.

Another panelist, and I couldn’t be sure who it was other than it wasn’t Connelly or Goldstein, pushed the Nazi analogy further in an effort to get Connelly to agree with the group.

Joel, let me put it this way here: If the government came to the BIAW and said, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re going to build concentration camps and we’re going to put all the Mexicans in concentration camps,’ you know the BIAW would be like, ‘Can we build the concentration camps?’

Goldstein added:

No, but only if they could use the slave labor to build their houses because they need the Mexicans for their cheap labor right now.

Goldstein says it was all satire. But maybe that was lost on Connelly, too. He urged the liberal bloggers that night to “turn back the hyperbole.” (He has used some Nazi-related hyperbole himself in the past. Last year he wrote, "Bluntly put, climate change deniers pose a greater danger than the lingering industry that denies the Holocaust.")

Yesterday, Goldstein asked in the comment thread if I thought candidates should turn back money to the BIAW since the group "insists on perpetuating such offensive, dangerous and, let's be honest, crazy lies." I responded that I was confident the BIAW would say it was not any official position that the Nazi's were in the vanguard of the conservation movement, but the thoughts of one man.

That prompted Goldstein and others to e-mail me today with this quote from BIAW Executive Vice President Tom McCabe. It is from a column he wrote in the September 2007 issue of the group's newsletter.

Yellow-booted thugs at DOE have shut down builders because some dirt ran off their job sites. […] These self-anointed priests of nature and the bureaucrats who encourage them are using tactics similar to those used 70 years ago in Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia.

The excerpting is a bit out of context and involved a little paragraph manipulating. The line about "Yellow-booted thugs" appears several paragraphs after the one that includes the reference to Nazi Germany. Here's the full paragraph that includes that line:

First, I’m regularly told by builders that they are being turned in to government agencies by their neighbors for perceived violations ranging from stormwater runoff to air pollution. Of course, government agencies such as the Department of Ecology (DOE) actively encourage neighbors to narc on neighbors. And Washington State seemingly has no shortage of anti-growth activists who are all too happy to turn in a builder. These self-anointed priests of nature and the bureaucrats who encourage them are using tactics similar to those used 70 years ago in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. Neighbor against neighbor. Citizens narcing on one another. And big brother government enforcing Kafkaesque rules against law abiding entrepreneurs.

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