August 2009

The 9-12 Project: Who are they and why are they controversial?

By David Grant Long

There's a new political group in town, and its members are passionate, outspoken and, at least according to some accounts, downright intimidating.

But whether supporters are seen as belligerent or simply ardent, the Four Corners 9-12 Project is drawing a lot of interest. A meeting July 20 at the Cortez Elks Club drew more than 100 people for a discussion of health-care reform, which those who spoke at the gathering stridently opposed.

And Bud Garner, a de facto leader of the loosely organized Montezuma County group until permanent officers are chosen, said a turnout of 50 or 60 has been typical for other meetings.

The 9-12 groups were sparked by talk-show host Glenn Beck, a Fox News Network star who recently gained the national spotlight by declaring President Obama “a racist” with “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”

“The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001,” states the mission statement on the group’s web site, “The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans . . .

“That same feeling – that commitment to country is what we are hoping to foster with this idea. We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.”

The group’s philosophy is based on nine principles and 12 values reflecting conservative and Libertarian beliefs. The nine principles include declarations that “America is good,” “I believe in God and He is the center of my life,” and, “The family is sacred — My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.”

Garner said the local group was formed after a Bayfield woman organized the first 9-12 group on Colorado’s Western Slope. Groups have also sprouted in Farmington and Aztec, N.M.

Although the nine principles and 12 values don’t mention specific current events, the groups have not hesitated to take stances on these issues.

Among the other topics broached at the July 20 health-care meeting in Cortez were a pending hate-crime bill, which one member said would protect sexual predators and punish people who try to stop child molestations, and anticipated Democratic attempts to pass a comprehensive reform of immigration laws.

9-12 Project member Roger Hazlewood, well-known locally for his advocacy of unfettered gun rights, stated that defeating immigration reform was crucial. “If they get it passed, then there it not going to be a two-party system in this country,” he said, “because if you are an illegal who comes into this country and you're offered freebies by the Democrats, who are you going to vote for?”

Many of the comments echoed the sentiments of such right-wing media luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingram, and the packed house was advised to visit the conservative Internet sites News Max and World Net Daily for accurate, objective reporting.

“What we do is study [pending] legislative actions at the national, state or local level," Garner, who chaired the meeting, told the crowd. “We try to find out as much as we can in a timely manner and instruct each other so that we might take action with our elected representatives.

“What we don't do is gripe,” Garner. added. “This is not the place to vent your spleen.” He added the 9-12 Project does not involve itself in conspiracy theories. “If that's your hot-button issue, fine. There may be some but we don't know about them.”

At the meeting, Trudy Chittick, CEO of Southwest Memorial Hospital, addressed some of the proposals being considered in Congress and their possible impacts on health-care facilities.

She said efforts to contain costs in other countries such as Canada have led to long waits for non-emergency care and to scheduling procedures such as MRIs in the middle of the night. And efforts to expand coverage in Colorado through Medicaid are straining already-tight budgets. Out of more than $26 million in annual revenues, Southwest operates on a margin of $100,000 to $200,000, she said.

Although there are differences, she said, a national plan could resemble the plan in Massachusetts, which requires its citizens to have health care. She said that while it has shortcomings it also has some positive features.

But the sentiments voiced at the meeting were vigorously opposed to any national health-care plan.

One woman urged the crowd to petition their state legislators to pass a “Right of Sovereignty” referendum that would allow Colorado residents to vote on whether to participate in any national health-care plan.

Illegal immigration is seriously affecting health-care costs, she asserted. “These darned illegals are swooping up Medicaid,” she said, recounting that her insurance carrier had invited her to come to Grand Junction to observe the large number of undocumented workers signing up for it there.

“Keep in mind that [Colorado] senators [Michael] Bennet and [Mark] Udall along with Representative [John] Salazar endorsed comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “This is a sneak way to describe amnesty, followed by U.S. citizenship, automatic membership in labor unions and retroactive Social Security for all illegals in the U.S.”

She said liberal forces in Congress “see amnesty as a great way to bring new voters to the Obama administration.” Her remarks drew loud applause.

But while much of the views of the 9-12ers are not new, the group is sparking some controversy because of its tactics toward politicians.

Hazlewood invited the Elks Club gathering to attend an upcoming seminar put on by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners head Dudley Brown to teach ways “to make politicians do what you want them to do, or, failing that how to make them feel a lot of political heat when they don't do it.

“It's not going to be about playing fair — it's about winning,” he said.

The Four Corners group has already been engaging in what some people see as over-the-top strong-arm tactics during public meetings with Congressional aides.

A June meeting with representatives of Senator Bennett's Southwest Colorado staff prompted charges from both sides of high-handed and intimidating behavior, including, according to one witness, an avowal by one 9-12 member that four of the group was armed with handguns.

Tonia Gurnea, chair of the Montezuma County Democratic Central Committee, said she attended the June meeting and another previous local meeting put on by Bennet's regional representative, Ann Brown and was aghast at the behavior of the 9-12 group. Gurnea said the meetings were more directed toward addressing constituents' specific needs — issues involving Social Security and the Veterans Administrarion, for instance — rather than serving as town halls, but the 9-12 group members were given time to speak their piece.

“Ann literally gave them maybe two hours the first time,” Gurnea recalled, “and basically didn't get to talk to anyone else — maybe one or two people.“ However, relations were civil.

But at the next meeting June 24 at the county annex in Cortez, things got more heated.

While the group was gathering outside, Brown told Gurnea she needed to devote her time to other constituents and didn't want to be monopolized by the 9-12ers.

“I said, 'Well, it's going to be the same thing — if they were coming with something new it would be different, but they're not — it's the same old, same old’.”

When Brown went out and informed them she could give them only a half hour, “they became belligerent and informed her she couldn't stop them from coming in,” Gurnea said.

The group insisted providing individual constituent service was “unconstitutional” at any rate because it is not mentioned in the founding document.

“In this instance it was the hate crimes bill (they wanted to speak against),” Gurnea said. “Roger Hazlewood . . . stood up — they were all nodding their heads and agreeing totally — and said they opposed the hate-crimes bill because it is about gays.” She said Hazlewood said he'd done research that showed all gays are pedophiles and the bill would prevent people from defending children against sexual assaults and in fact would protect child molesters.

“Ann tried to explain to them that was't the way it was, but of course they knew more, she knew nothing and they went on and on — they were yelling and [another staff member] said at one point she felt threatened. She made it clear she felt very intimidated.”

At this point, one source reported, one of the 9-12ers assured the other staff member she didn't need to be afraid because four of them were armed and would protect her.

“Ann did not get mad, did not yell, did nothing but try to de-fuse [the situation],” Gurnea said. “Of course, they're calling us a bunch of communists, a bunch of socialists, anyone who believes in Obama because he's a Nazi and going to take over the world.”

But a letter from 9-12 member Thomas Butler published in the Cortez Journal gave a differing account of the dust-up, maintaining Brown “came out of the building and stated in a very belligerent manner that she would not meet with a group of people like the assemblage of which I was a part. She was there to speak with individuals. Several people stated that we were individuals and asked if she. . . was refusing to hear our concerns. Brown stated she would grant 30 minutes. . .” He wrote that 30 minutes for 30 or 40 people was inadequate, and concluded, “Come election time, I will remember.”

Garner said Butler's account of the meeting with Brown was a good synopsis; however, a subsequent meeting in Durango with three of Salazar's aides went better. “They were cordial and interested in our view [but] they did not have a clue about the issue we wanted to talk about [health care].”

Garner denied having personal knowledge of any of the 9-12ers carrying weapons at the June meeting.

“I didn’t frisk them,” he said, “and it doesn't matter anyway. That is a perfectly legitimate function of a citizen of the United States. If anyone there was carrying a weapon, they are constitutionally authorized to do so — that's no big deal.”

Garner, who said he was authorized to speak for the 9-12 group and thought his views would generally reflect those of its other members, said their opposition to national health care is, “It is unconstitutional just as Medicare and Medicaid and so many other things are unconstitutional.”

He said if the Constitution does not specifically authorize the federal government to do something, it cannot do it. “Nowhere in there is there authorization for the federal government to be involved in health-care issues.”

He said the reform proposals are “absolutely” unconstitutional, as is Social Security, which he called “a Ponzi scheme” that “makes Bernie Madoff look like a kindergartener.”

However, he said, the group knows that “Social Security is not going to go away. Medicare and Medicaid are not going to go away... When I say they're unconstitutional, that's theoretical. The reality is, they exist. We are making no effort to make them go away.”

But they do want to stop any move toward national health care. “You’ve got your health care issue, I've got mine, you take care of it. We are each personal free agents. Take care of yourself. It's not the government's job. Nor is it my job to tell you what you can and cannot do.”

He said the current proposed legislation “will scare you to death. Have you read it? Read HR 3200. You cannot possibly have an intelligent conversation with me or anyone else until you read it because you won't believe me when I tell you what's in it.”

Media stories of critically ill people being denied access to care are misleading, Garner said. In some cases, he said, people couldn't afford health insurance because they made “stupid choices” such as buying boats and expensive homes.

For genuinely poor people who contract serious illnesses, Garner recommended they “make arrangements with the hospitals and hospitals to make monthly payments.”

At any rate, they should not expect taxpayers to help them. “Where did that unfortunate situation gain the authority to steal from other people to pay for their health care? Where did the authority come from for you to steal from me to take care of you?

“That's what welfare is — you're stealing from one to give to another.

“And the vast majority don't need it if they would get off their butts and go to work. The few that remain that are tragic situations can be handled quite nicely at the local level. The federal government has no constitutional authority to do it.”