At 7:21 p.m. on the last night of the government shutdown, as the House was set to pass a Senate-struck deal to open the government and raise the debt ceiling, dozens of members of Congress received a threatening e-mail from someone whose name they did not know.
Accompanied with a link to a list of filing deadlines for candidates launching primary challenges against incumbent Republicans, the e-mail read: “Now let us dine on RINO flesh” — RINO being an acronym for Republican In Name Only.
Rumors flew on the House floor as lawmakers wondered who had penetrated their inboxes with such a colorful metaphor. Many members of Congress keep their e-mail addresses secret from all but a few trusted aides and colleagues. One person who received the e-mail said he had never previously received an unsolicited e-mail at his address, which he had used for years.
Who was the sender, Steven Baer?
Conversations with a number of conservatives reveal that Baer has been sending combative and colorful e-mail missives in past months to a who’s-who list of power brokers in the conservative world including David and Charles Koch, Foster Friess, Matt Kibbe, Tony Perkins, Grover Norquist, Erick Erickson, Rick Santorum, and a host of Republican congressmen.
Baer has mocked those who try to unsubscribe and seemingly has no bounds to the language he will employ in exhorting conservative and Republican officials to take a harder stance against President Obama, particularly over the matter of abortion.
In an interview, Baer described himself as a conservative activist and major, if secretive, donor to the conservative movement. He ran for governor in Illinois in 1990 and helped former Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign in 2012. However, Baer says he now deeply regrets backing Santorum because, he alleges, Santorum is tied to international abortion subsidies via his ties to the Global Fund.
In the long e-mail threads, Baer offers to donate $500,000 to anyone willing to fund the kind of hard-hitting television ads targeted at the “wimpy,” “squish,” “RINOs” Republicans he is disgusted with. A response from Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint included in the thread says as DeMint has discussed with Baer, he appreciates his “passion and zeal for freedom and the future of our country” and would love to accept a “no strings attached” donation, after which “your country will be in your debt. . . . And I will too.”
Baer also refers to GOP mega-donor Friess as “mi amigo and gracious Tetons ski host” and refers to conversations they’ve had over how Republicans can maximize their leverage during the shutdown and debt ceiling fights that just ended.
More than anything, it’s Baer’s colorful language that draws notice from a host of recipients who express their revulsion. The subject of one Baer thread is “Values Voters Vaginitis” — a reference to accusing social conservatives of being prostitutes to the GOP. He urges Wall Street Journal Editorial Page editor Paul Gigot, whose e-mail is included in the list of recipients, to “demonstrate NOW that Rupert Murdoch does NOT have electrodes tied to your testes to keep you from telling the truth.” House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan is a “handsome devil.” Speaker John Boehner’s decision to pass the Senate deal to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling is his “child-sacrificing, Baal-worshiping bow-down to Obama.”
“I don’t have a comment on efficacy,” Baer says when I ask him whether his tone is the most effective method to communicate to his audience. “I’m just interested in the truth. The truth is that House Republicans are actively financing abortion subsidies. John Boehner’s House Republicans have become the world’s biggest abortion financiers. Efficacy is another question. I think truth comes first.”
Sources say Baer has a remarkable ability to gather e-mail addresses from unwitting collaborators who don’t immediately realize who they are dealing with. But a remaining mystery is who helped him access e-mails to dozens of members who have begun receiving the e-mail missives. Unlike his normal practice of putting a huge list of recipients in the “to” field for every recipient to see, Baer listed at least some of the members under the blind-carbon-copy field, making their addresses invisible. But dozens of them received the “dine on RINO flesh” e-mail, several congressional sources say.
Anyone with access to the Capitol Hill e-mail system could have painstakingly compiled a list of members’ emails and provided it to Baer, but he’s not saying who it was.
“I have people who do things for me,” he says, but “I can’t comment.”