Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Alleged Waffle House Terror Plotters Inspired By Former Militia Author

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 2:30 PM EDT
Mike Vanderboegh, speaking at a 2010 "open carry" rally in Ft. Hunt, Virginia

It's not unusual for people cooking up a terrorist plot to take their inspiration from a novel. Timothy McVeigh was reportedly inspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building by the book The Turner Diaries. The Georgia seniors meeting at Waffle House who were recently apprehended by the FBI for allegedly plotting to kill millions of Americans to save the Constitution also seem to have had a literary influence: Mike Vanderboegh, and his novel, Absolved.

Vanderboegh is a longtime militia activist, often associated with the Oath Keepers (thought he says he's not a member), and he's been active in the Minutemen group that "patrols" the US border to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. His book is about small groups of underground miliita groups who plot to assassinate key law enforcement and judicial officials as a way of fighting back against gun control and gay marriage. Vanderboegh has called it "a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry."

I wasn’t too surprised to see Vanderboegh's name pop up in the Georgia case. That's because I saw him in action last year when he spoke at an "open carry" gun rally in Ft. Hunt, Virginia, where a handful of gun nuts and Oath Keeper-types had assembled as close as they could to the District line with a loaded weapon to press for looser gun laws.

Vanderbough claimed to be just "a fat, old scribbler with congestive heart failure and diabetic feet." But he gave a fiery speech at the event that was an invitation to violence. Vanderboegh proclaimed that he was trying to "get the attention of people who are pushing the country towards civil war and that they should back off before someone gets hurt." He led the crowd in cheers of "Oh HELL no!" and warned that "there are going to be consequences for pushing people like us back."

At the time, Vanderboegh was reveling in a spate of media attention he'd gotten thanks to his online calls for followers to throw bricks through the windows of congressional Democrats for passing health care reform. On his blog, the Sipsey Street Irregulars, he had written:

If you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM."

Vanderboegh expressed surprise when some people actually took him seriously and did throw bricks through the windows of congressional offices. But he wasn't sorry. He told the Washington Post that there were a lot of Americans who "are not only willing to resist this law to the very end of their lives, but are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war."

Today again, though, he seems a bit shocked to hear that his book, which isn't even published except for a few chapters online, may have inspired some old people in Georgia to allegedly plot a bioterror attack. He has written some angry blog posts arguing that his book is in no way connected to the Waffle House Four:

Absolved is fiction. I hope it is a "useful dire warning." However, I am as much to blame for the Georgia Geriatric Terrorist Gang as Tom Clancy is for Nine Eleven.

Vanderboegh, though, seems to be enjoying the attention. He kindly linked to the Mother Jones story on the Georgia indictments in a roundup of all of his media coverage. He's even posted some stock quotes for lazy journalists seeking comment. Here's a good one:

I congratulate the FBI on their ability to sniff out and entrap old, feeble minded Georgia morons with dreams of terrorist grandeur. Now if they could just apply some of that industry to telling us the truth about the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, we'll all be better off.

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In God We Trust. In Congress, Not So Much.

| Tue Nov. 1, 2011 10:15 AM EDT

The US House of Representatives will work only 109 days next year, so you'd think members might want to cram as much work as they into what's left of 2011 to deal with many critical national issues, like addressing massive unemployment. Instead, Republican lawmakers are thinking more about "Job's Creator." Today, House members will vote on a non-binding resolution reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto.

In January, prayer caucus member Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), introduced a resolution to reaffirm the motto after President Obama made the serious faux pas of saying in a speech in Indonesia that the national motto was "e pluribus unum," or "out of many, one." The prayer caucus members were outraged and demanded that Obama issue a correction to the speech, but the White House ignored them. Hence today's vote on Forbes' resolution. Forbes and his colleagues believe that "In God We Trust" is under assault by godless atheists who want the phrase scrubbed from everything from US currency to national monuments to public schools. They are bent on defending the motto from "rogue court challenges" and lefties like Obama.

The Senate passed its own resolution in 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the phrase's official dedication as the nation's motto. The House resolution, which will have absolutely no effect on anything whatsoever, declares that "if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured."

House Democrats aren't especially fond of the measure, which they consider a pretty big waste of time. In March, Democrats on the Judiciary committee wrote in a committee report:

Instead of addressing any of these critical issues, and instead of working to help American families keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables, we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and that is not imperiled in any respect... Without question, the Judiciary Committee has many important and time-sensitive matters within its purview. The majority, however, seems intent on diverting the committee's time, resources and attention to a measure that has no force of law, only reaffirms existing law and further injects the hand of government into the private religious lives of the American people.

There's also some irony in the Republicans taking up this resolution: When Republicans assumed the majority this year, they banned most of these sort of worthless commemorative resolutions because they considered them a waste of time. As the Washington Post reports, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor even refused to move forward any resolution honoring the military and intelligence folks who killed Osama bin Laden. When the Post asked Cantor this week whether the "In God We Trust" resolution might be one of those waste-of-time symbolic gestures the GOP was trying to get rid of, his office declined to comment.

 

Is Herman Cain Hiding Behind a Settlement Agreement?

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 2:24 PM EDT
2012 GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has emphatically denied that he ever sexually harassed anyone. He says that he was falsely accused by the women referred to in the blockbuster Politico story Sunday alleging that he had made inappropriate sexual advances and engaged in other unseemly behavior towards women while serving as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

Cain may think this line of attack is a sensible media defense strategy, given that the settlement agreements between the women who said he harassed them and the NRA are confidential. But according to at least one prominent employment lawyer, calling his accusers fabricators could open Cain up to a defamation lawsuit, especially if it turns out their allegations have substance. Debra Katz, a DC employment lawyer who frequently represents plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases, says that if she were advising those women, she might suggest a counter-offensive. "These women have potentially got a claim against him. That's potentially defamatory," she says of Cain's comments.

Katz notes that no one knows what the actual allegations are against Cain, so it's hard for the public to really know what happened. But Katz says Cain's media strategy has the potential to backfire on him. "Herman can continue talking," she says, but "he’s going to get himself in trouble in this."

If Cain was really falsely accused, Katz notes, there is one way that he could clear the air about the allegations: make the settlement agreements public. The NRA reportedly paid off at least two women who complained about Cain's behavior, and in exchange, the women signed confidentiality agreements promising not to talk about their allegations publicly and left the organization. The details of many of their charges, as well as the amounts they were paid, have not been made public. At the National Press Club Monday, Cain reiterated that his former employer has a policy against releasing personnel information, so it can't produce the documents that might back him up.

The settlement agreement makes it difficult for the women themselves to speak publicly or to instigate a change to the terms of the settlement agreement, which may carry serious financial penalties for breaching it. But Katz says that there's not much stopping the NRA from doing so, despite what Cain says. In fact, she says, NRA could also disclose many details about the allegations the women made, without revealing their names, without even violating the agreement. Cain probably just needs to ask them to do it.

"There are many way they can legally find ways to disclose the information without violating the agreement," she notes. Not releasing the details, she says, is simply "a convenient way to duck the allegations." 

Tea Party Leader to Herman Cain: Do Your Homework

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 11:45 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was in DC this morning, ostensibly to talk about his "9-9-9" tax plan at the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). While the Washington press corp was circling like vultures in the hopes of getting a crumb of a quote about the sexual harassment allegations now dogging Cain's campaign, tea party activists, who've been some of his strongest supporters, tuned in to actually listen to Cain talk about his policy proposals. And they weren't impressed by with they saw.

During the discussion, Cain was asked a specific question about whether or not his tax plan would lead to double taxation of certain types of income. Cain couldn't answer the question, and deferred to his new economic adviser, Rich Lowrie, an Ohio "wealth management adviser." The deflection outraged Kellen Guida, the founder of the NYC Tea Party who's been active in tea party politics since the movement's beginning. He tweeted angrily:

Later, he added:

Guida told me afterward that he was disappointed with Cain's ability to defend his own, bold tax plan.

Guida says he is not the only person in the tea party movement who wonders about Cain's depth of understanding of major policy issues. "I was on the phone with an organizer the other day who was ranting and raving about his inability to articulate a policy position on anything," he said, explaining that it's becoming a common sentiment among the tea party base, even as Cain is actively trying to engage tea partiers to shore up his ground operation.

Guida thinks that Cain's policy problems may be more damaging than the sexual harassment allegations that have surfaced, which he thinks, on their own, won't have much of an impact on Cain's support among tea partiers. What those allegations will do, he suspects, is exacerbate the problems Cain has in defending his own proposals, as was the case with the tax questions at AEI. "If you’re running for president, you have to be able to answer those questions," he said.

OWS Beats The Tea Party—In Google Searches

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 6:48 AM EDT

Tea party activists have been very adamant that their movement, which started with spontaneous public protests in 2009, has nothing at all in common with Occupy Wall Street. Tea partiers insist that OWS doesn't really speak for regular Americans—the way they say their movement does. But now comes data, albeit rather unscientific, that offers evidence that Americans are much more interested in OWS than they ever were in the tea party.

The Google Politics and Elections team has teased out some comparisons between tea party-related Google searches and OWS searches to see which group had more demand at their peaks. The results? "Occupy Wall Street" has been a far more popular search term than "tea party."

Google Politics and ElectionsGoogle Politics and Elections

 

The Google team also looked at the volume of media coverage for each movement. By that measure, OWS isn't quite keeping up.

They write:

Despite big leads in polls and search traffic for Occupy Wall Street, it is almost in a dead heat with the Tea Party for the volume of news coverage. Using Advanced Search in Google News we found that between October 7 and last week, Occupy Wall Street only barely bests the Tea Party when we examine the number of news pieces covering each movement: 29,000 to 22,000.

Other interesting takeaways from the Google search crunching: Searches for "tea party" peak each year around tax time and then peter out again. And while New York would seem like the obvious hot spot for people searching for OWS news, the state actually ranks third in OWS searches, behind Vermont and Oregon.

The Google search numbers dovetail with public opinion polls showing that OWS is twice as popular with regular Americans than the tea party. They may also reinforce what the tea partiers have been saying all along: the two groups have nothing in common.

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