A one-on-one interview with Mike Stark
By now you’ve certainly seen the video of a liberal blogger being tackled to the ground by a supporter of Republican Sen. George Allen at a campaign stop in Charlottesville from earlier this week.
And most likely, you have also heard that the Allen campaign has tried to characterize the blogger, Mike Stark, a 38-year-old University of Virginia law student, as having instigated the incident – and intimate that Stark appears to have coordinated his actions at the event with the campaign of Democratic Party rival Jim Webb.
And you’ve seen news accounts from the Associated Press and other mainstream-media outlets relate these details and others in a striking almost-mirror image to a news release put out by the Allen camp.
What you probably haven’t seen is Stark given much of an opportunity to tell his side of what happened at the Omni Hotel on Tuesday.
“The whole story isn’t reflected on that videotape or in the news accounts. That’s the first thing that people need to understand,” Stark told The Augusta Free Press today.
Stark was at the Omni for the event featuring Allen and North Carolina Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole to use the opportunity to ask Allen afterward about a controversy over arrest records from his time at UVa. as a student in the 1970s that has swirled in the liberal blogosphere with rumors that the arrests had something to do with the breakup of his first marriage.
He almost didn’t get the chance to ask his questions.
“When the senator got there, he did some mingling. And he came down and sat down at the table right in front of me. I was all the way over on the side of the room, and he was within arm’s reach of me where he ended up sitting down. So I was really afraid that he was going to recognize me from the Staunton event,” said Stark, who confronted Allen at an August event in Staunton over allegations that the senator had frequently used the word “nigger” in the past.
He apparently didn’t recognize Stark – who made his way across the meeting room after the speech toward a hallway where the senator was to hold a post-speech press gaggle.
“I was probably 10 feet from the door, the senator was probably about 13 feet away from the door, 14 feet away from the door, when I said to him, Senator, the Democrats have tried to make this election about accountability. You can shut them up by telling us why you were arrested in Charlottesville back in the 1970s,” Stark said.
“He put his head down, and muttered something and shook his head – and immediately, I was being pushed and shoved and told I was out of line, and I couldn’t be there, and I couldn’t ask the senator these questions,” Stark said.
“A little scrum started,” Stark said, and he struggled to keep his balance.
“I was being pulled in all different directions. They were pulling me as we all made our way out the door,” Stark said.
Stark then got tangled up with Allen staffer Dan Allen.
“It was to the point where he’s crushing me against the doorjamb with his girth,” Stark said. “I’ve got my hand on his chest. He’s crushing me against the doorjamb, I put my hand on his chest, and took restrained measures to defend myself. I pushed him off of me.
“They’re making a big deal out of that – that I became violent when I pushed Dan Allen, and I instigated all of these contacts. All of that is absolutely untrue,” Stark said. “The contact was instigated after I initially asked the question about the arrest records – then there was probably about 30 seconds of jockeying for position as we tried to get through this door. And the push that we’re talking about was purely self-defense.”
Dan Allen, who is no relation to the senator, denied that he had done anything untoward in the incident in an interview with The Hook, a Charlottesville-based weekly.
“I think that the young man was pretty menacing and aggressive screaming out inappropriate questions,” Allen told the paper. “I was quite surprised when the young man slammed me against the door when we were getting Senator Allen out of the ballroom, so I was really concerned.”
Stark, for his part, was still trying to get Sen. Allen’s attention.
“I say, Is it true, senator, that you spit on or otherwise assaulted your wife from your first marriage? But he continued to ignore the questions. And people continued to push me,” Stark said.
“There’s a gap in the video – there’s a spatial gap in the video from the time everything happened in the room. Because I ended up walking up to Dan Allen and saying, Listen, I’m his constituent, he’s my senator, I’m allowed to ask him questions. This time, again, everybody’s trying to block me out and all the rest – and that’s when you see this guy Darden (John Darden, the former head of the Albemarle County GOP) spin around and tell me, You have to leave. Get out the door right now.
“I tried to ask him if he was with the hotel – because I wanted to see if he had any authority to ask me to leave, just like in Staunton. And I wasn’t able to complete the question. He said, No, I’m not, no, I’m not at all. That’s when all the violence escalated – and they decided to put their hands on me again and tackled me.”
Stark estimates that the incident took place over the period of a minute to a minute and 15 seconds.
“It’s appalling that Sen. Allen had that much time to stop this from happening – and did nothing,” Stark said. “At any time, while we were still in the ballroom, Sen. Allen could have said, Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t the way my campaign operates, don’t do that, take your hands off him. He asked a question, I’m not going to answer his question – I think it was impertinent and impolite. But this isn’t the type of country – instead, he says, These things happen in campaigns.
“He had an opportunity to lead. He had an opportunity to step up and say something about this,” Stark said. “Instead, he let it all go on – and he actually walked away from it while it was going on, not knowing if they were going to throw me through that plate-glass window or kick my head in or what they were going to do. He was, I believe, so concerned about not being in the camera’s picture at the same time that he decided to walk away instead of stepping up and saying, Hey, don’t do that.”
That the Allen camp has taken to using the press to buttress its claims that Stark initiated the incident by asking “inappropriate questions” and that he is some kind of Democratic Party or Webb campaign plant isn’t a point of concern for Stark – who recalls only one contact that he has ever had with the Webb campaign.
“He was asked if he had any evidence of me coordinating with the Webb campaign, he said, Yeah, at the last event, he walked up to a guy that was taking pictures and told him to take out his video camera,” Stark said, referring to the Staunton incident from this summer.
“I’ve explained this – I went there on my own, and I didn’t have any idea that a Webb cameraman was going to be there. When I found out that a Webb cameraman was there, yeah, I said, Record this – because who knows, there might be another Macaca incident,” Stark said.
“Immediately after that event out in Staunton, I went to the downtown meet-and-greet that was supposed to happen next – because I wanted to follow up with the question. I mean, they had me removed from the hotel, so I didn’t get to follow up on the question. So I went downtown to where he was supposed to be – and while I was down there, I was excited, I knew that I had just done something useful,” Stark said. “And I called the Webb campaign headquarters – and I said, Hey, you’ve got to give me the cell-phone number of the guy with the video camera, because he’s got to meet up with me. I’m going to follow up with these questions at this downtown meet-and-greet, and you guys are going to want that videotape.
“The girl on the other end of the phone seemed hesitant – and I was pissed off. She was like, Oh, I don’t know, the candidate doesn’t like that type of politics. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to help you,” Stark said.
“Not only is there no coordination, there is actively a separation – they are trying to separate themselves from my efforts,” Stark said.
Stark feels that those efforts – aimed at getting Allen on the record on issues involving race and his arrest record – have been successful.
“The way I’ve put this to people is after the Macaca incident, and after seeing all of this history of him posing for white supremacists and the Confederate flag, it got into my head that geez, he’s got this context here of questionable race past, and now using a racial slur – I wonder what other racial slurs he’s used, and one that is particularly relevant in American history. I wonder why nobody in the press is asking him about this? So I took it upon myself to do it – hoping that it would launch into the press and make the press think, you know, well, we probably are dropping the ball on this,” Stark said.
“That’s why I combined the question – the Confederate flag and the noose – with the ‘have you ever used the n-word?’ I do feel like I got a little bit of success from that – because not six weeks later, there was the article in the Salon magazine saying yeah, he did use the n-word. I think that did kick the press in the ass a little bit – because they started asking questions and investigating it. And now I think it’s something like a dozen people who have come forward and said, Yeah, he used that word all the time. And I’m not sure that they would have done that investigation if he hadn’t on tape denied ever using the n-word,” Stark said.
“I think the media can be shown the error of their ways,” Stark said. “I mean, in this case, there is more than a rumor here. There are actual divorce records that are sealed. And there are arrest records that you can see down here at the court house in Charlottesville. And the media is not asking him about these things. So I felt like, yeah, the media should be asking about these things – and I didn’t understand why they weren’t.
“And hopefully, if I can pound the phones and TV cameras long enough, people will start to understand that these questions, especially the arrest records – you’re asking to be United States senator, for Christ’s sake, your arrest record is relevant. For whatever reason, the media, up to now, hasn’t decided that his arrest record is relevant. They are allowing him – day after day after day – to not have to answer any questions about that,” Stark said.
In line with the adage about politics making for strange bedfellows, Stark is now a member of the media – he was hired this week by the left-leaning Air America Radio to serve as a field reporter for its program “The Young Turks.”
“I don’t know how long this is going to last – because to be honest with you, when you ask the questions that I ask, and when you ask the questions that they hired me to ask, they’re going to piss people off. And that’s going to cut off access for me,” Stark said.
“I understand how the game is played – I understand that the media, to a large extent, needs access to the powerful, and if you get too aggressive with the powerful, they cut off your access. But the thing I think the media may have dropped the ball on is that the powerful need access to the media as well. So you, too, have a little bit of power,” Stark said.
“I think the powerful will find it fairly easy to marginalize and ignore me – but I think as we get more and more people asking the difficult questions that politicians should be asked, it will be more and more difficult for politicians to ignore the people,” Stark said.