Thursday, May 10, 2012

Romney's Attack on Fellow Student Not "Hijinks" or "Prank" But Assault

Earlier today the Washington Post reported upon an incident that occurred after spring break in 1965 involving Mitt Romney and John Lauber, a fellow student at Cranbrook School. Romney - who turned 18 on March 12 of that year - organized and led an attack on the other student. This event was burned into the memory of those who witnessed it. Romney claims that he doesn't remember it, but has apologized for any "hijinks" or "pranks" that "may have gone too far."

The lead story is by Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post, Mitt Romney's prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents (May 10, 2012). Horowitz describes how Lauber was "perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality." Lauber dyed his hair blond and wore it long over one eye. Matthew Friedemann, a close friend of Romney's, remembered Romney saying, "He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" Horowitz reports:
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Horowitz's sources for this incident are five fellow students - four of whom spoke on the record - who independently recounted the incident. Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor, admitted his involvement:
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”
Philip Maxwell, another witness who is now a lawyer, described the assault as "vicious." Friedemann, "guilt ridden," expressed his remorse and said that he apologized to Lauber for not having stopped the attack.

According to an article posted by Michael D. Shear of the New York Times, Romney's first response to the story was to announce through a spokesperson that the Post's report was "exaggerated and off-base":
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, told The Post that “anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body. The stories of 50 years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”
Later this morning in an interview with Fox Radio's Brian Kilmeade (available here from Ed Morrissey, Romney apologizes for high school pranks (May 10, 2012)), Romney said that he was "not too concerned" about the story:
I played a lot of pranks in high school, and they describe some that you just say to yourself that back in high school I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended why obviously I apologize but overall high school years were a long time ago and  I'm glad I've got some good friends in those years. (1:15)
Kilmeade asked, "Do your remember any of this?" Romney started to laugh and responded:
You know I don't, I don't remember that incident. (2:00)
But Romney was able to remember that he did not think that Lauber was gay:
I'll tell you, I certainly don’t believe ... that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. (2:05)
In the course of the interview Romney offered two more apologies:
As for pranks that were played back then, I don't remember them all but again, you know high school days and I did stupid things like, I'm afraid I gotta say sorry for it. (2:20)
As the article points out, I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize. (6:45)
Kilmeade brought up another incident recounted in the Post story. A student named Gary Hummell, a closeted gay student, remembered that whenever he spoke in English class Mitt Romney would say "atta girl." In response to this recollection Romney again broke out laughing and said:
Well, I really can't remember that. (3:03)

Romney denied that he knew Hummell was gay. He offered the excuse that students in a boys' school would often say "atta girl" after somebody did something. He observed that "as for the teasing or the taunts that go on in high school, that's a long time ago, for me about 48 years ago." He laughingly added:
If there was anything I said that was offensive to someone I am sorry about that, very deeply sorry about that, but (inaudible) no harm intended. (3:30)
The attack on Lauber was not "hijinks" or a "prank." It was not "dumb" or "stupid." It was a vicious physical assault.

Nor was it the act of a child. Romney was a young man, almost or already18 years old. Not only did his action merit expulsion, it was a criminal offense.

It is simply not credible that Romney does not remember the incident. It was etched in the memory of several others who participated and witnessed the attack, as well as that of his victim. Years later Lauber told one of the Post's sources, "It was horrible. I've thought about it a lot since then." A person does not "forget" this type of incident.

Finally, it is not true that homosexuality was "the furthest thing from our minds in the 1960s." Gay bashing was common. According to the Post story one witness described the atmosphere at Cranbrook as "homophobic." In this Cranbrook was no different than most other high schools. The Post story also states that Lauber was "perpetually teased" on account of his perceived sexual orientation. Does it seem likely that Romney, the ringleader of the attack on Lauber, was unaware of this? Finally, the comments that Romney lobbed at Hummell, while minor in themselves, indicate that Romney not only was aware of but embraced this homophobic attitude.

Many states and school districts now recognize the harm that bullying causes and are cracking down on the type of verbal abuse that Lauber was subjected to before the attack. But Romney's action far transcends  bullying. Judy Shepard - Matthew Shepard's mother - describes Romney's conduct as "an act of torment." Thank God Congress enacted the Matthew Shepard Act punishing this type of hate crime!

Two postscripts. Although Cranbrook had a notoriously strict code of conduct, Romney (son of the Michigan governor) was not punished for his assault on Lauber. However, Lauber was later expelled for smoking a cigarette on school grounds.

And this morning in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd Romney's spokesperson Ed Gillespie announced that Romney would campaign on the issue of "gay marriage." Todd asked, "So he will actively push for a constitutional amendment?" Gillespie responded:
His view is that given the nature of states sanctioning gay marriage and the full faith and credit clause in the Constitution that a federal gay marriage amendment should be enacted.
There is indeed a sharp contrast between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the issue of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

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