Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Mikey Weinstein is threatening to sue a conservative Christian website for libel over an allegedly anti-Semitic article that called him, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” because he convinced the Dover Air Force Base to stop promoting an evangelical charity.
This raises two obvious questions.
First, what is so wrong with military brass urging airmen to support the charity, which provides Christmas toys to poor kids overseas? And how is expressing the opinion that he ruined Christmas libelous, let alone anti-Semitic?
Unlike WaPo media blogger and alleged human pooper scooper husband Erik Wemple, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, special rights activist Al Sharpton and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, Weinstein was man enough not to hang up or run away in the face of pointed and potentially embarrassing inquiries from this reporter.
Instead, Weinstein, a veteran of both the Air Force and the Reagan White House, responded in considerable and, uh, colorful detail.
“What is libelous is the innuendo and false light that I took Christmas away — that we stopped little kids from getting their toys,” he contended. “They are defecating on the truth and twisting it. Let them prove it is just opinion not libel. Let them tell it to a judge. We didn’t cancel the program. That is a vicious disgusting fucking goddamn lie.”
Weinstein said it was impossible to tell from the Christian Examiner article by Liberty University assistant professor Gregory Tomlin that after he objected, the Dover Air Force Base did not prohibit airmen from working for the program, Operation Christmas Child. The only change is that any information base personnel receive about OCC shall be disseminated by military chaplains only.
Why does the difference even matter?
Chaplains, unlike commanders, don’t exercise any control over military personnel, so their communications are not coercive, he explained. Military rules explicitly prohibit any kind of endorsement or promotion of religion by commanders.
True enough. But is Grinch really a slur? Isn’t the Grinch simply a harmless character from the famous Dr. Seuss story?
In the course of a lengthy phone conversation and multiple emails, Wenstein insisted that to religious Christians the Grinch is actually the “Judas Iscariot of Christmas mythology.”
Calling him the Grinch, combined with a gratuitous reference to his being Jewish, like Judas who betrayed Christ, is an obvious attempt to incite violent anti-Semites, he contends. “When you write shit like, ‘Weinstein who is Jewish pounced’ we get the alchemy.”
Weinstein, who he said is accompanied to public appearance by armed guards because of all the anti-Semitic emails and death threats he regularly receives, accused author Gregory Tomlin of “trolling for assassins.”
He notes that most MRFF staffers and members are Christian and that one of the Navy SEALs killed in the Benghazi attacks, Glen Doherty, served on his board. So the notion that he is some kind of perfidious Jew is preposterous, argues Weinstein, a registered Republican.
The fracas started last month when 14 members of the 436th Force Support Squadron at Dover complained to the MRFF about an email from their commander’s secretary.
It urged to all base civilian and military personnel to “fill 5,000+ shoe boxes [for Operation Christmas Child] to be sent around the world as a way to show children in desperate situations that God loves and values them.”
“Many of these children have never received a gift before. Many have never heard of God’s incredible Gift of Salvation though His Son,” the Oct. 14 email said.
Four days later Weinstein fired off a letter to squadron commander Lt. Colonel Donald Tasker, his superiors and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter demanding that Tasker disassociate himself from his secretary’s email.
“You, sir, are her Squadron Commander and IMMEDIATE boss/supervisor and, thus, bear the ultimate responsibility for her illicit, unconstitutional actions. She is YOUR personal Command Secretary/chief administrative assistant, for crying out loud, sir! There is a Constitutionally permissible time, place and manner for any military or civilian member of the United States military to effusively express and proudly and peacefully practice their religious faith (or no faith). However, the deliberate and defiant actions of your personal head administrative aid, Ms. [Valencia] Branch, violate all three of these religious practice constraint conditions.”
(The bold type and capitalization are his.)
Weinstein said the email violated the Air Force requirement that its leaders “must ensure that their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief.”
NEXT PAGE: Tomlin Takes On Weinstein In Op-Ed
Apart from that, government officials cannot use their position to endorse private programs for personal gain, he contended.
The next day Tasker emailed civilians and military personnel under his command that his secretary’s communication was “not sent at my direction and is not endorsed in any way by me or any level of command.”
Weinstein declared victory.
But Tomlin savaged him with his Oct. 28 commentary for the Christian Examiner, a publication of the powerhouse Christian Media Corporation International, titled, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas — at Dover Air Force Base.”
“Apparently, the offer to volunteer in a program that sends soap, socks, school supplies and Life Savers in shoeboxes to underprivileged children overseas is now as dangerous as the Islamic State in the eyes of Weinstein and the other hostiles at the foundation,” he wrote.
In the sixth paragraph of his article Tomlin said that after the email solicitation was distributed, “Weinstein, who is Jewish, pounced. He wrote that the email, because it spread religious belief, was a violation of military protocol.”
“Talk about trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. Weinstein’s literary acumen is as sharp as his predilection for hyperbole.”
Tomlin contended that Weinstein selectively quoted air force regulations and misinterpreted the First Amendment when he demanded that Tasker disavow his secretary’s solicitation.
“I have no doubt that such words as those in the Operation Christmas Child email offended some military personnel, but the First Amendment does not guarantee anyone — atheist, Jew or even any Christian — freedom from offense, Mr. Weinstein, even in the military.”
“It does protect from compulsion, coercion, confinement, confiscation and actual violations of conscience (such as claims of conscientious objection). None of those are in play here,” he concluded.
On Nov. 9, Military Religious Freedom Foundation trial lawyer Randal Mathis sent Tomlin a two-page letter that essentially made the same arguments Weinstein did to this reporter—minus the curse words.
The letter did not object to the October 24 news story Tomlin about the controversy headlined “Atheists object to Christmas toy drive on Air Force base—and win.”
That headline of the news story has since been altered to “Activists object to Christmas Toy Drive on Air Force base — and win.” But Tomlin’s opinion piece remains, as of Monday, unchanged.
Reached for comment at his Fort Worth, Texas home, Tomlin offered up a series of denials, evasions and contradictory statements reminiscent of Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter earlier this year insisting he was not scheduled to testify at the trial of Ed Schultz, even though his name appeared on the witness list and he was the subject of multiple court motions.
NEXT PAGE: Tomlin Offers To Sit Down With Weinstein. Weinstein Responds
Tomlin denied being anti-Semitic and said he only mentioned Weinstein’s religion “because so many people interpret the MRFF as atheist.”
Right, except that Tomlin himself called the MRRF a group of atheists in the news article. So first he says they are godless, then he hastens to explain Weinstein is a Jew so nobody will think they are godless?
“If you can’t understand my answer, you have a problem,” he huffed.
But after being read his article that deemed them just that, he said, “this [the terminology] is something I could have done better.” But many MRRF endeavors are “atheist-like.”
Uh, isn’t that like saying Tomlin is not a liar but many of his statements are lies?
Regardless, Tomlin stood by his assertion that Weinstein stole Christmas, but expressed confidence that the First Amendment “would protect me as a journalist.”
He called Weinstein’s charges of anti-Semitism a “red herring” to detract attention from his misinterpretation of Department of Defense regulations.
Tomlin then volunteered to “sit down with Mr. Weinstein and discuss his views of military on separation of church and state. I have no ill will towards him. We just have different views on what separation of church and state means.”
The olive branch did not impress Weinstein, who was livid and said that Tomlin basically accused him of “playing the Jew card.”
“I want an apology, and I want an admission that the program is alive and well. Hey, my door is always open. I find it amazing that after he gets caught by a noted journalist in a fucking lie now suddenly he is saying I want to sit and talk?”
Ah, it is still 10 days until Thanksgiving, but the holiday cheer is already among us.