By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Ever since the day before the election, when he was fingered as the author of an obscure and scabrous satiric website about 5th District US House candidate Tammy Lee, Chris Stewart has been listening to people call for his head. Call it a perfect storm of special circumstances: Stewart was not just any blogger, but part of a slate of candidates that won election to the Minneapolis School Board on the same day that Tammy Lee lost her race. And though the writing at "his" site, American Hot Sausage, was done by a small (and mostly white) collective, he was nonetheless a black man called out in public for some extremely nasty comments that made a popular and pretty white woman out to be a racist.
Stewart apologized for the website, even writing an entire op-ed column to that effect in the Star Tribune last weekend. But his contrition scarcely seemed to put a dent in the juggernaut. Two weeks later, he is still regular fodder for local right-wing blogs, and he is still beset by callers and emailers who want him to go and ones who want him to stay. Numerous organizations, ranging from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to the Strib editorial board, have called for him to resign. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was still weighing the possibility.
Meanwhile, though, one of the more striking aspects of the whole spectacle has been how little anyone has had to say about Chris Stewart beyond the matter of his much-flogged blogging sins. The 38-year-old New Orleans native—a self-described evangelical Christian and classical conservative who sounds nothing like the popular 2006 images of evangelicals or conservatives—came down to the City Pages office on Tuesday morning, November 21, for an interview.
City Pages: Were you surprised by the magnitude of the response the Tammy Lee spoof web page elicited when it came to light?
Chris Stewart: Yes. I was surprised for more than one reason. I was surprised it reached the number of people that it reached. Before it was email-blasted by Tammy Lee, I bet it had reached about 70 people tops. That email blast went out to five or six thousand people and became a big deal really quickly. That was Monday the 6th, the day before the election. And I was part of the get-out-the-vote effort, so I was out working around the city when I heard that this was being sent to a lot of people. Somebody else in the get-out-the-vote effort said to me, have you seen this Tammy Lee thing that's going around? It's really funny. I was like, uh, no—what does it look like, exactly? Talk about terror. I never expected such a wide group of people to see it and discuss it. And here we are two weeks later still discussing it. Never in a million years would I have thought that would happen.
CP: You've faced attacks from a lot of different quarters. Where do things stand now between you and your critics—the Teachers Federation, for instance?
Stewart: They've asked me to step down. I have the support of some teachers who have supported me all along, but those are individuals. The union wants me to step down. The attacks are coming from the Anti-Strib [blog], which is a small collective that's really mad at me because I went after their blog and I kind of shut 'em down a couple of times. So now that they have a face to put with American Hot Sausage, I'm their biggest nemesis. Now they have a place to channel their energy. So they're shopping around a little package on me. Tonight they intend to be at the school board meeting with friends and family and signs, and they're going to pass out selected quotes from my blog. And I don't think the public knows the extent to which their site could be considered a hate site. I don't think the public knows that they have an ongoing thing with the Muslims and Keith Ellison.
The thing that latched me onto them in the first place was the Katrina stuff. They were writing stuff about Katrina people, and my family had just gotten here from Katrina, from New Orleans. The Anti-Strib was writing about what big whiners those people were, and how blaming Bush was dumb. And how you don't hear anybody anywhere else whining, and basically it was because they were black and poor and they want to blame their lot in life on somebody else.
So I went after them particularly hard. But I did with them what I do with a lot of right-wing blogs—and again, I see a difference between conservatives and this new right wing, the new-fangled Hannity and Bill O'Reilly types who are all ideology and no good sense. They don't understand historically what it means to be a conservative. They've probably never read a single thing by Barry Goldwater, for instance. They're into this young punk Republican thing that they think is conservative. They want a sense of identity; they want to reaffirm their sort of truck-driving suburban identity and make it okay without having to do a lot of thinking. Their type of conservatism is a shortcut past thinking. So I go after that on a regular basis—their positions on the war and so forth. The libertarians have it more right than they do. I'd put myself more in the category of libertarian than with those types of guys. "Pre-emptive war" is not a conservative concept. It's a ridiculous concept that flies in the face of everything about traditional US conservative politics. But these guys just suck it down: It's Bush, it's got to be good. Anybody who's against it has to be a "liberal."