Sunday, November 28, 2010

Island of Misfit Toys

In what was a horrific midterm election for Democrats, one of the party’s few bright spots came in Nevada, where Senate majority leader Harry Reid won re-election. The result was perhaps the biggest upset of the year: Reid’s favorability ratings were terrible, and Nevada’s economy was worse. Reid won because first, the Republicans nominated an extremist, Sharon Angle; and second, Angle eschewed guidance from national GOP operatives, instead listening to a handful of long-time associates, many of whom had either dubious backgrounds or bizarre beliefs. Knowledgeable Republicans lamented that Angle’s advisors belonged on the “island of misfit toys.”

In today’s N&O, Jesse James Deconto profiles Durham’s own version of the island of misfit toys—those who populate the interlocking committees devoted to defending disgraced rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong and serial false accuser Crystal Mangum.

Most of the committee members are the sort of cranks you’d expect to champion disreputable figures like Mangum and Nifong. Even the Group of 88, after all, has essentially abandoned Mangum, even though each and every member of the Group has never repudiated their guilt-presuming public assertion that something “happened” to Mangum at the lacrosse party.

Deconto tells the story of such activists as Douglas Register, who says he joined the pro-Mangum committee because he, like Mangum, suffers from mental illness. This problem perhaps explains Register’s bizarre analysis of the criminal case against Mangum, which he suggests is a conspiracy to improve the city’s position in the civil case filed by the falsely accused players. (If anything, Mangum’s alleged criminal activity would harm the city’s position, since it would further undermine the credibility of the figure to which the leadership of the Durham Police Department chose to attach their fate.)

And then there’s Durham’s resident race-baiting homophobe, Victoria Peterson, who Deconto observes has repeatedly interrupted the judge in Mangum’s pre-trial hearings. But speaking out of turn is nothing new from Peterson, who was ejected from the Nifong disciplinary hearing and then hijacked a WRAL live shot after her expulsion from the courtroom.

The Nifong and Mangum committees, however, don’t consist solely of cranks. Ideologues also were attracted to the dual causes. Some members, like Myra Kinderknecht, were virtual caricatures. Describing a case in which Mangum’s accuser and the chief prosecutor are black, Kinderknecht hypothesized: “It’s almost like a form of lynching, what’s happened to her. Everything that has happened to her screams white power, black oppression.”

Other committee members, however, represent more mainstream perspectives. Take, for instance, Steven Matherly, a member of the pro-Mangum committee who also belongs to the People’s Alliance, the most left-wing of Durham’s three major political committees.

The Durham political left’s consistent support for Mike Nifong’s crusade—and its turning of a blind eye to the type of police and prosecutorial misconduct left-wing activists usually denounce—is one of the darkest aspects of the entire lacrosse case. The People’s Alliance endorsed Nifong’s 2006 re-election, even though it was clear at that point Nifong had, at the least, charged one innocent person (Reade Seligmann) and violated ethics guidelines regarding pre-trial publicity. In a statement from the time, the Alliance noted, “Our general feeling was that [Nifong] is a person of high integrity and great skill. He’s a tough but fair and honest prosecutor. When you have the State’s power concentrated in one person, you want that person to be thoughtful and sober.” (Thoughtful and sober are two adjectives few objective observers would apply to Mike Nifong.)

Then there was the curious case of city council member Diane Catotti, the PA’s favorite Durham politician. Catotti strongly backed Nifong in 2006, and then did everything in her power first to block and then to undermine an investigation of the Police Department’s handling of the lacrosse case.

And, courtesy of today’s article, now there’s PA spokesman and political action committee co-chair Milo Pyne. Pyne said that he had declined to join either the Mangum or Nifong committees, but added, “I have sympathy for Ms. Mangum and Mr. Nifong.” I e-mailed the People’s Alliance spokesman to ask if he’d care to explain his sympathy for Nifong. As regular DIW readers know, I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I've never considered multi-faceted prosecutorial misconduct compatible with liberal political principles, nor have I ever believed that the perpetrators of such misconduct are deserving of sympathy.

Pyne’s response? “I am not interested in having this discussion with you.”

Durham, it seems, remains the only place in the United States where “progressives” see themselves as defenders of prosecutorial misconduct—at least when the victims of that misconduct are white males.


Anonymous said...

Harry Reid, the Democratic bright spot! Thanks for the laugh. :P

Anonymous said...

Is Catotti a Communist?

Anonymous said...

As a diplomatic historian, what's your reaction to the Wikileaks expose?

KC Johnson said...

To the 5.26:

The degree of released documents is extraordinary--and from a historian's perspective, amazingly rich.

From the perspective of a citizen, I think the best reaction I saw was a question: Does the US keep its secrets in a shoebox? It's absolutely amazing that this many documents (and critical ones, at that) could have, it seems, been stolen by such a low-ranking figure as Manning.

Pierce Harlan said...

“I am not interested in having this discussion with you.”

That, aptly, sums up the reaction of far too many you've reached out to in the course of this awful affair. But let's give them credit: they appreciate that their politicized advocacy could never pass for reasoned discourse, so they wisely don't bother even speaking with you.

skwilli said...

I think a shoebox would be giving them too much credit. That would seem to imply there was a lid, which there obviously was not.

And reading about the continued idiocy that is Wonderland, I'm reminded that "you can't make this stuff up". Rich indeed.

William L. Anderson said...


More proof that you really got to those people and, more important, that they know they cannot match wits with you. As I have said before, you are the best academic street fighter I know, and you produce good academic material on top of that.

I happen to get a kick out of the Wikileaks stuff if for no other reason than so much of what is "classified" is bunk and the product of big egos and small brains!

Anonymous said...

KC, Sharon Angle wasn't the only popular candidate disparaged by the RNC that lost which caused the Republicans not to gain control of the Senate. Lack of unity in purpose and failure in communications was the result of RNC Chairman Steele's incompetence. The RNC will have a new chairman and the TEA Party will finish the job in 2012 .

Big Al

halides1 said...


I have sympathy for Ms. Mangum as well. She may be mentally ill, and she was ill-served by Mr. Nifong's ambitions. Why Mr. Pyne lumps them together is mysterious, but it may explain why he chose not to discuss Ms. Mangum.


Anonymous said...

"No one in the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has ever even been to a day of law school," said Jones, an assistant public defender. "They've watched a lot of TV - Law & Order, CSI - and think that that's how we practice law in the state of North Carolina."
Ya the silly folks. How dare they assume that prosecutors in North Carolina have actual evidence they bring to a grand jury before securing indictments.

Anonymous said...

KC, not that it's an example of prosecutorial misconduct, but the issue of progressives abandoning their principles when white victims need protection has reared its head at the United States Justice Department. The testimony of two career department attorneys, one who was an ACLU attorney for years, makes it pretty clear that a lack of concern for white victims of racism is not limited to Durham's "progressive" community. Anyway, I think there are some clear parallels and I'd be curious to hear your opinion.

KC Johnson said...

To Chris:

I asked him only about his statement of sympathy for Nifong. Mangum, I agree, is a more complicated case.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the anonymous comment about the extensiveness of lack of concern for whites when it comes to racial issues, I have been reading about racism, reverse racism, guilt by popular demand, feminist demands, ethenic demands, etc., and corresponding with a few others about what they perceive, and I am coming to the comclusion that white men will jump to Islam in a few years. Why? Because Islam gives white men the justification to strike back at their persecutors. Christianity decrees submission, but, as we see in Europe, after WWII that doesn't cut it anymore. Watch England, which has a large population of atheists and Christian go-alongs, for the jump when Sharia law is pronounced equal to English law.

Big Al

Q.A. said...

Re skwilli’s “lidless” extension of KC’s "shoe-box”comment as analogous to our government’s irresponsible exposure of what are supposed to be “confidential state-secrets”.

Is it part of the Wikileak plan to persuade our Government to stop employing dangerously irresponsible amateurs such as Manning, start acting responsibly, and not expose its state-secrets to such people?

Hopefully it will have that effect.