A secretive right-wing group, Veterans For A Strong America, is attempting to do to President Obama what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did to Sen. John Kerry in 2004. And they aren’t shy about it. The group’s leader and sole employee, Joel Arends, told Mother Jones, “Yes, it’s the swift boating of the president.”
Arends said his goal is to take “what’s perceived to be [Obama’s] greatest strength” — the successful raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound — and make it “his greatest weakness.” The effort started this week with a web video attacking Obama for taking too much credit.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Arends refused to discuss any information regarding how the group was financed or its leadership. Arends also declined to provide legal forms he claims to have filed with the IRS. A representative from the IRS told ThinkProgress that the agency does not have any forms from Arends’ group on file.
Here’s what we do know about Arends and Veterans For A Strong America:
1. In four days, the first ad by Veterans For A Strong America garnered almost 1 million views on Youtube. It has also been played frequently on TV news shows. [YouTube, 5/1/12]
2. Veterans For A Strong America is seeking to recruit Navy SEALS to attack Obama. “In the wake of a warm conservative reception for a web video trashing the president for ‘spiking the football’ on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the conservative group Veterans for a Strong America plans to gather Navy SEALs and Special Forces operators to criticize the White House during the 2012 campaign.” [BuzzFeed, 5/3/12]
3. Arends also tried to Swift Boat Obama in 2008. Arends, under the auspices of a similar group called “Vets for Freedom,” ran an ad accusing Obama of refusing to meet with wounded soldiers from Illinois. [NPR, 7/5/08]
4. Arends worked as a consultant for the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. “Though he doesn’t list it on his public resume, around 2006 Arends went to work for Craig Dewey, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy outfit that’s Astroturfed everything from the tea party and the Wisconsin union fight to public-school segregation.” The Koch Brothers and their allies have pledged to spend $100 million to defeat Obama. [Mother Jones, 5/4/12; HuffingtonPost, 2/3/12]
5. In 2008, Arends — posing as a “journalist” — organized and participated in a taxpayer-subsidized propaganda trip to Iraq.“American taxpayers are paying for politically slanted, pro-McCain, anti-Obama ‘reporters’ embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. Vets for Freedom – a pro-war organization that buys attack ads against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – assembled a team of eight military veterans with dubious journalistic credentials to report ‘objectively’ on what is occurring in Iraq…Joel Arends, another “reporter,” is VFF’s executive director and was on McCain’s campaign payroll between March 2007 and February 2008.” [Charleston Gazette, 8/28/08]
6. Arends is coordinating with key Islamophobic figures on the far right. He regularly appears at events with anti-Islam conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, who has been condemned by mainstream conservatives for his intolerant views. He is also alligned with William “Jerry” Boykin, who was found to have violated Pentagon rules by expressing his anti-Muslim views in an official capacity. [ThinkProgress, 2/12/12; For The Common Defense; New York Times, 3/4/05]
7. Arends helped promote a documentary advocating war with Iran.Arends appeared on a panel in March 2011 in South Dakota promoting the documentary Iranium, which strongly suggests beginning a war with Iran. [Flier; ThinkProgress, 11/3/11]
8. Veterans for A Strong America is fully endorsed by Karl Rove. The man known as “Bush’s Brain” tweeted his support of their first web ad. [Twitter, 5/3/12]
Veterans For A Strong America is already succeeding in influencing the political discussion. Its web ad was aired nationally, for free, on ABC’s This Week. Many members of the political round-table then echoed Arends talking points on Obama and Bin Laden.