In late August, a man named Mike Stark posted a plea on the popular Democratic website DailyKos.com. He was a political prankster, Stark explained, and he’d been pulling pranks on conservatives for quite a while. He had had some success slipping past Rush Limbaugh’s call screeners. He managed to slip onto a radio program to ask Newt Gingrich about his first marriage.* And once, during an episode of Hannity & Colmes, he held a sign up behind Sean Hannity that said HANNITY SUCKS ASS. Stark proudly recounted his work on the DailyKos and on his website, Callingallwingnuts.com.
#ad#But now, Stark explained, he wanted to do more. A big election was approaching, and the time for pranks was over. More direct action was needed, and Stark asked his fellow Kossacks for help. “I’m about to ask y’all to trust me. A lot,” he wrote on August 31.
“As you know, I’ve been involved in a coupla incidents that resulted in Republicans and their cronies being a little bit embarrassed.”
“Recently I’ve been thinking about how to put these ‘guerrilla tactics’ to use where it matters: winning elections,” Stark continued. “After a lot of thinking, I’ve developed a plan that will impact one election in a big way. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to do it by myself. It will require hundreds of donations. I need, at a minimum, $3,000.”
Stark, who had just moved from New York State to Charlottesville, Virginia, would not say what he had in mind. “I wish I could tell you exactly what it is I’m looking to do, but if I were to do that, the project would lose some of its effectiveness,” he wrote. Still, he gave a hint. “Do you enjoy guerrilla media as applied to close elections? If you do, I ask you to contribute today.”
In a matter of hours, Stark reported, he had reached his $3,000 goal. Later, as the total hit $4,000, he said he wanted to spend the money to make anti-Allen video ads.
But now, Mike Stark has made a much bigger splash than his mostly unseen ads. In Charlottesville Tuesday, Stark approached George Allen again, yelling “Why did you spit on your first wife?” Allen’s staffers grabbed Stark around the neck and hustled him away, at one point pulling him down to the ground while television cameras rolled.
The question might not make much sense to anyone who hasn’t kept up with both the race between Allen and Democrat James Webb and the commentary of the left-wing blogosphere. If you have kept up, you know that left-wing bloggers have been agitating for the release of the records from Allen’s divorce from his first wife, Anne. There is a rumor among those bloggers that the records will reveal an allegation that Allen spit on Anne Allen, and the bloggers have been angry that press outlets have not reported the story.
Last week, when the Allen campaign pointed to sexually exotic passages in Webb’s novels, some of those bloggers saw an opportunity. On Thursday, Josh Marshall, of TalkingPointsMemo, wrote that Allen had crossed some sort of line by “mining Jim Webb’s novels for sex scenes.”
“If Allen really wants to play rough,” Marshall wrote, “maybe it’s time for some Democrats to start going on the shows and asking about that sealed divorce records of Allen’s. All those reporters have a pretty good idea of what’s in there. But Sen. Allen (R-VA) just won’t agree to let them see it.”
Just to make his point perfectly clear to anyone plugged in to the story, Marshall added: “It’s almost like [Allen] is spitting in their face.”
That’s where Mike Stark came in. His bit of theater with Allen in Charlottesville got wide coverage. And in today’s Washington Post, sure enough, Stark succeeded in getting the spitting rumor into print. “W. Michael Stark, who identified himself in an e-mail after the incident as a University of Virginia law student, yelled a question at Allen about whether he had ever spit on his first wife, an unsubstantiated charge that has been circulating on liberal blogs on the Internet,” the paper reported.
“On the video, Stark was heckling Allen about rumors that embarrassing material is contained in records from the senator’s divorce,” the paper continued. “Those records have been sealed by a judge and are not accessible. Allen’s current wife, Susan, is his second and the mother of his children.”
“Allen aides accused Democrats and the Webb campaign of orchestrating the event as a way of getting news organizations to write about the Internet rumor.”
Mission accomplished. The spitting story is now officially in circulation. The incident shows what a dedicated activist — no longer a prankster — can do, with a little brazenness and a willing press. Stark is delighted, as are his supporters at the DailyKos. No doubt they’ll give him more money, if he asks for it. And why not? With a good plan, and his friends at the DailyKos, there’s no telling what he can accomplish.
Author’s Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I have had an encounter of my own with Mike Stark. He approached me at an event at the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas last June and asked whether I would do an interview about politics for his website. I had never met him or heard of him, but I could figure that a site named Callingallwingnuts.com indicated that he was a true Kossack. (In his view, I was the wingnut.) I agreed. Then he told me that what he really wanted to do was debate me on the question of abortion. I declined. After that, even though our encounter hardly rose to the level of harassing Rush Limbaugh or a U.S. senator, Stark wrote about it and called a number of conservative radio programs to describe it. That was the last I had heard of him before yesterday.– B.Y.
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.
*An earlier error in this story has been corrected.