The Log Cabin Republicans are accusing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of bullying their pal Sheriff Paul Babeu, and they want it to stop, like, right now.
Yep, the nation's pre-eminent gay GOP organization is seriously peeved that, the day after Babeu emerged victorious from the August 30 Republican primary for Arizona's First Congressional District, the blue meanies at the DCCC spent more than $300,000 to air a TV commercial reminding voters in that competitive district of Babeu's icky past. Denouncing the spot as homophobic, "thoroughly despicable," and a "sick smear ad," they're demanding that the DCCC take it down.
The 30-second spot is lifted from a January ABC 15 report that broadcast portions of a damning 1999 home video of Babeu as he recounts and defends some of the abusive disciplinary methods used against students at the infamous DeSisto School for troubled teens in Massachusetts, where Babeu worked from 1999 to 2001 as headmaster and executive director.
Previously, Babeu had denied knowing anything of these abuses, which included group showers, strip searches, forced labor, the inappropriate restraining of students, and a practice called "cornering," wherein isolation was imposed on recalcitrant students, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. This is why the 1999 video is so significant: It eviscerates Babeu's claims of ignorance about the school's dark practices.
But the Log Cabin Republicans pitched a fit in a recent press release, calling the accusation that Babeu oversaw a private school that mistreated minors "thoroughly debunked." They also object to the fact that the ad highlights terms like "sexual abuse" and "strip" and says of Babeu, “We can’t trust him with our kids."
The press release quotes LCR president Gregory Angelo saying the commercial slanders Babeu because he is gay, and that it uses false stereotypes about members of the LGBT community:
"Not only is this commercial factually inaccurate, but it shows just how low the DCCC is willing to go to stop a gay Republican from being elected to Congress. Democrats love to say they support the LGBT community — unless you're a gay Republican, in which case floating the specter of gays as child predators and deviants is fair game. Log Cabin Republicans demands that the DCCC apologize to Sheriff Babeu, apologize to the LGBT community, and cancel all pending airtime reserved for this thoroughly despicable advertisement."
Angelo might have a point if the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services had not filed a 2001 complaint in state court, detailing practices that the office said resulted in "sexual abuse" taking place at the school. And that's not difficult to buy, given allegations in the complaint such as, "Students are also used to strip search other students who are new to the school."
After a long battle with the state, the DeSisto School voluntarily closed its doors in 2004.
Then there's the plain evidence of the 1999 video itself and Babeu's own words, which belie his claims that he was unaware of the widespread abuse at DeSisto.
I contacted the Log Cabin Republicans, which is based in Washington, D.C., to ask for an explanation of what, exactly, was inaccurate about the DCCC ad. In response, I received a statement via e-mail from the LCR, attributed to Angelo. In it, the LCR president insists that Babeu "did not oversee the school; he was exclusively in charge of operations, and was not involved in student life."
Angelo contends that being a headmaster and executive director is not the same as presiding over the entire school. And he notes that "[Babeu] was never charged with any wrongdoing." To suggest otherwise, he writes, would be "erroneous and irresponsible."
Angelo's defense of Babeu entirely ignores the 1999 family video, in which Babeu can be seen describing the practices at DeSisto in detail and rationalizing them, stating at one point that the DeSisto students "need to feel hopeless and feel depression and complete failure."
Reached by phone, Angelo told me the video revealed nothing new.
"All that you see in that video is Babeu acknowledging that disciplinary actions are taken in the school. That's it," Angelo told me. "He wasn't aware to the extent they were taken. He wasn't aware of the degree that they were taken. There is no indication that he was aware of any impropriety."
In other words: Believe the Log Cabin Republicans, not your own eyes and ears.
The full video, along with a transcript, is on ABC 15's website. In it, Babeu talks about how DeSisto students are physically restrained, how some are sent to do forced manual labor on a place called "the farm." He discusses the process of "cornering" students, how a student can be cornered "for weeks," so that "you don’t get interaction...you’re closed off from everything else."
Asked about the practice, Angelo shrugged off concern.
"Putting a kid in a corner goes back decades," he replied, calling it a "clichéd practice."
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts took a dimmer view, noting in its 2001 legal filing that during the period when someone was "cornered" at DeSisto, the person was not allowed to speak unless given permission and was not allowed to make eye contact with anyone, nor to receive messages from loved ones.
The filing also recounted a particularly egregious instance in which a student with bipolar disorder was cornered for weeks on end, to the point where he began defecating and urinating on himself. When the student came down with pneumonia, he was taken to a hospital for treatment; upon returning to the school, he was made to resume his position in the corner.
Angelo denied that his organization is defending Babeu just because he's a gay Republican, saying the LCR is "calling out hypocrisy and homophobic ads."
Playing the homophobia card doesn't fly in Babeu's case. Are the former DeSisto students who have alleged that Babeu knew about the abuses homophobic? What about Babeu's GOP primary rival, retired Air Force Colonel Wendy Rogers, who repeatedly criticized Babeu's record at DeSisto? Is Rogers homophobic? Or the pro-Rogers PAC that hit Republican voters in CD1 with $140,000 worth of mailers and online ads attacking Babeu for his various sex scandals, as well as his days at DeSisto — was that all homophobic as well?
Babeu's record is fair game for the DCCC. Babeu has listed his tenure at the boarding school on his website and on his résumé. When he ran for mayor in his hometown of North Adams, Massachusetts, long before moving to Arizona, he cited his stint as DeSisto's headmaster and executive director as evidence of his expertise in education. Indeed, as I've previously reported, Michael DeSisto himself endorsed Babeu for mayor, even doing a radio commentary to support him.
Add to this the allegations made by Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who in 2001 was an assistant attorney general assigned to the DeSisto case, to the effect that Babeu helped stonewall investigators and left DeSisto (to run for mayor) before he could be deposed.
Perhaps Angelo thinks Clark is homophobic for making such statements to news media.
Angelo told me his organization had not yet endorsed Babeu, but he admitted that he had donated money to Babeu's congressional campaign. (Babeu's campaign-finance filings with the Federal Election Commission show that Angelo donated $520 to Babeu in the current cycle.)
By all means, support the candidate of your choice. But by labeling legitimate inquiry and criticism of Babeu's time at DeSisto "homophobia," LCR engages in a form of reverse McCarthyism normally used by the left, and, ironically, perpetuates some of the very nefarious and untrue stereotypes that LCR allegedly despises.
Read the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' 2001 court filing regarding the DeSisto School:
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.