I'm supposed to be off this week, using vacation time I don't normally use. But to quote Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part III, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
See, I happened to spot an item on Tucson Weekly's website by writer David Safier titled, "Is There A Huppenthal/Stormfront Connection?"
I have some information relevant to that question, which is why I feel the need to break radio silence.
Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal, as nearly everyone knows, recently admitted to posting comments to various blogs under such sock puppets as "Thucydides" and "Falcon9."
Former Congressional candidate Bob Lord was the first to out Huppenthal as a serial sock-puppet-user on the influential, lefty site Blog for Arizona. All credit is due Lord and his compatriots.
The local media simply has been following the Lord. Me included.
The superintendent even broke down in tears during a press conference on the subject, and there have been calls from all sides for his resignation. Huppenthal, who is running for re-election, refuses to do so.
On Stormfront, there are several posts under the handle "Thucydides" from February of this year.
Safier concludes that Huppenthal probably visited the site, at the very least.
Huppenthal is mentioned eight times on the Stormfront site in connection with the Mexican American Studies controversy. Bob Lord linked to the comments in his post. Most likely, Huppenthal had no part in those comments, but we know he is obsessive about tracking down places where his name is mentioned, since many of his comments on Arizona websites are answers to posts which mention him. He probably has a Google Alert for his name, which would mean he would get an email with a link every time "John Huppenthal" is mentioned on the web. There's nothing wrong with that. Google Alerts are an efficient method of keeping track of topics of interest which many people use, myself included. But the point is, it's very likely Huppenthal visited the Stormfront website to read what was being said about him. Did that lead him to leave comments of his own using the handle Thucydides? I don't know. None of the Thucydides comments are on the same thread with the comments about Huppenthal, which would have been a strong indication it was him. But the Thucydides comments are definitely on the website. That's a fact.
Huppenthal lost the right to the benefit of the doubt when his hundreds of anonymous comments were discovered. If he hopes to preserve any shred of integrity, he needs to be thorough and honest about listing any anonymous commenting activity which hasn't yet been uncovered.
There are a lot of assumptions being made here. But, hey, that's the blogosphere, right? On it, the nature of reality is bent, and denials are shady at best.
But I reckon I'm old-fashioned in that I want to give someone the chance to make a denial, which is what I did when, a little over a week ago, I looked into the possibility that the Thucydides posting on Stormfront.org was Huppenthal.
So I called Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, asked her about it, and sent her some of the comments in question on Stormfront.
"The Superintendent has told me this is absolutely NOT him," she replied. "He said that he would never visit a site like that. He said that his postings were limited to policy debates."
Huppenthal had already owned the non-Stormfront comments alleged of him, and has not denied the most appalling of these.
But posting on Stormfront and expressing sympathy with white nationalism would be a knockout blow to the Republican politician, and likely force his resignation.
(The fact that the bar is so low in Arizona tells you more about Arizona than Huppenthal.)
Thus, one would anticipate a denial in this case.
I was not the only person looking into this. Other outlets were also investigating it, as well as several online sleuths.
Which neither proves nor disproves anything.
Doing due diligence, I called and e-mailed Don Black. It's not difficult to find his contact info online. I explained the situation and asked him if he would share the IP address of the commenter, or at least tell me if it was located in Arizona.
It's easy enough to hide one's IP address using a proxy server. But Huppenthal apparently never did this. One of the ways Lord outed him involved Huppenthal's use of a readily identifiable IP address for the ADE server with the same sock-puppet handles he used while on other computers.
I received the following reply from Black:
From: Don Black
Date: Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 1:34 PM Subject: Re: Comments by Thucydides To: Stephen Lemons
We do not disclose any information about any of our 280,000 registered user accounts not made public by the users themselves. I'm surprised you would even ask.
I would have been surprised, though, if out of all those usernames, someone hadn't chosen that of the Athenian historian.
As a courtesy, considering I may comment about this story on our board, I will say you're not even close. Our Athenian used a normal home Internet connection and wasn't even located in the same country as Arizona.
Black's past and present aside, what reason would he have to lie in this instance?
Given this information, I did not feel I could write anything about it. What would be the header, "Huppenthal denies posting to white nationalist site"?
Obviously, other outlets felt the same way.
I'm not willing to assume that Huppenthal even visited the site, just because he is mentioned by other posters on separate threads.
Regarding "Google alerts," it is a useful tool, used by many in and out of public life. But it is not omniscient.
What we know about what Huppenthal has done is damaging enough.
Granted, as Safier points out, Huppenthal created this situation for himself. The questions he raised about the Stormfront Thucydides were inevitable.
If Huppenthal had not adopted the sock puppet name "Thucydides," people would not be speculating about every post made by a Thucydides on the blogosphere.
Does it matter if Huppenthal didn't visit Stormfront or post those comments?
I think so. I've spent a lot of time in my life establishing links between mainstream politicians and right-wing extremists. When we simply assume or speculate, it lessens the moral impact of the real thing when exposed.
Gresham's law is that bad money drives out good money, and so it often is with information.
That only makes me want to hold more tightly to the good money, the rarer it becomes.
Postscript: I spoke to David Safier shortly after this blog was published, and it sounds like his heart is in the right place. He said he did not contact ADE for a comment because he's just a blogger. Just a blogger? Man, these days, that's everyone.
Got a tip for The Bastard? Send it to: Stephen Lemons.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.