June 24, 2005,
Some officials at the internet activist group MoveOn are denying charges made by top White House aide Karl Rove, who said in a speech to a conservative group in New York Wednesday that "In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11 liberals believed it was time to submit a petition." Rove continued: "I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what MoveOn.org did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be to 'use moderation and restraint in responding to the terrorist attacks against the United States.' "
After Rove's comments, MoveOn released a statement saying flatly, "MoveOn did not oppose the U.S. military action in Afghanistan." And in an interview with the Washington Post, reporter Dan Balz wrote that MoveOn political chief Eli Pariser "disputed Rove's characterization of the petition calling for moderation and restraint, saying that the petition was a personal project before he was affiliated with MoveOn and that it was not on the group's Web site at the time of the Afghanistan war."
Despite Pariser's contention, there is solid evidence that MoveOn did in fact oppose the war in Afghanistan, and that MoveOn founders Joan Blades and Wes Boyd hired Pariser in significant part because of his activism against the war.
The story began with a man who has received little attention in the controversy, a young film student named David Pickering. Visiting his parents' home in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001, Pickering immediately began to worry about the consequences of U.S. retaliation for the terrorist attacks. "It was this incredible moment in which all doors were opened and the world was seeming to come together," Pickering told me in an interview for my book, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. "I had this feeling that it would be a shame if that were spoiled by a spirit of vengeance."
The next day, September 12, Pickering wrote a petition calling on President Bush to use "moderation and restraint" in responding to 9/11 and "to use, wherever possible, international judicial institutions and international human rights law to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks, rather than the instruments of war, violence or destruction."
At the same time, Pariser, who had graduated from college the year before and was working at a liberal nonprofit organization in Massachusetts, was writing a similar petition, which he put on a website he created called 9-11peace.org. Pariser noticed Pickering's work and e-mailed him to suggest that they merge their sites. Pickering agreed, and 9-11peace.org featured a petition which read:
We implore the powers that be to use, wherever possible, international judicial institutions and international human rights law to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks, rather than the instruments of war, violence or destruction. Furthermore, we assert that the government of a nation must be presumed separate and distinct from any terrorist group that may operate within its borders, and therefore cannot be held unduly accountable for the latter's crimes. . .Meanwhile, across the country in Berkeley, California, MoveOn founders Wes Boyd and Joan Blades were writing an anti-war petition of their own. Entitled "Justice, not Terror," it read, in full: "Our leaders are under tremendous pressure to act in the aftermath of the terrible events of Sept. 11th. We the undersigned support justice, not escalating violence, which would only play into the terrorists' hands."
As they staked out their own anti-war position, Blades and Boyd were also following the progress of 9-11peace.org. In a September 2004 interview for The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, I asked Blades how she had come to know Pariser. "It was after 9/11," she told me. "He put out a message similar in results to the one we had, basically an e-mail petition asking for restraint. It went viral on an international scale. . . . Eli's petition grew to half a million in half a week. Peter [Schurman, the executive director of MoveOn] contacted him because he figured he probably needed some help. We did provide him with some assistance, and we started working together on other issues and eventually merged." In the end, their shared opposition to U.S.-military retaliation for the September 11 attacks brought Pariser and MoveOn together. (For his part, David Pickering moved to Paris to attend film school.)
Critics have suggested that at the very least, Rove's "liberals" charge was overbroad. That's a fair criticism. But as far as MoveOn is concerned, Rove's words were accurate and fair.
Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of the new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.