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If Alaska's Senate seat doesn't work out for Joe Miller, there's always East Berlin

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By Dana Milbank
Monday, October 25, 2010; 6:05 PM

Sarah Palin may be able to see Russia from Alaska, but Joe Miller can see the Soviet Union.

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The Republican nominee for the Senate in the Last Frontier has established himself in recent weeks as an authority on the authoritarian.

He sought protection from a security firm run by a guy with ties to the militia movement. His security detail, which included active-duty members of the U.S. military, handcuffed and performed a citizen's arrest on a reporter who was attempting to question Miller. The candidate offered favorable thoughts about the former East Germany. And he fought disclosure of details about his work for local government until ordered by a judge to comply.

"For weeks," the moderator of a debate Sunday night in Alaska told Miller, "the Alaska media have been asking you about your job performance when you were an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough," particularly the alleged use of "government computers to conduct partisan political business." But rather than answer, the moderator continued, "you held a news conference to tell reporters that you weren't going to answer any questions about your past."

Miller, who by then was facing a court order to release the information, decided this would be a good time to 'fess up. "It is true," he said, that he used government computers for politicking. "I was suspended for three days, or received a dock of three days pay."

But Miller said this only enhanced his appeal as a candidate. "I'm not a perfect person," he explained. "Alaskans get to understand that, hey, they're electing somebody like them."

So the average Alaskan has been punished for ethical lapses on his or her government job? Are they running some sort of penal colony up there?

One of his opponents, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was ousted by Miller in the primary, saw it differently. She said he displayed a "lack of fitness for the office," and she described Miller as somebody who "thought that the rules were meant for somebody else."

It's up to Alaskans to determine Miller's fitness for office. But he has clearly exempted himself from certain rules, such as the First Amendment. Christine O'Donnell won national attention yet again last week when she ridiculed the notion that the Constitution protects the separation of church and state. But O'Donnell was only raising doubts about the First Amendment; Miller was actually defying it.

It happened just over a week ago, when Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger tried to follow Miller to get him to answer questions about his work in Fairbanks. That's when Miller's security detail decided to handcuff the journalist and put him under a "private person's arrest," detaining him until the police came and freed him.

It's not clear why Miller felt he needed a paramilitary detail defending him in the first place; he said the school that hosted the event required it, but the school said otherwise. Then came word that two of the security guards were active-duty soldiers, apparently moonlighting at the political event without the knowledge of their commanders.

This was followed by word that the head of Miller's security team, William Fulton, is associated with the "Alaska Citizens Militia." He supplies military gear to the group and participates in the militia's online forum. In that sense, he may have something to talk about with Terry Moffitt, a security consultant who describes himself as the "Christian Indiana Jones" -- and who is also doing work for Miller.

Compounding the problem for Miller is his respect for the repressive. At one recent event, he suggested East Germany as a model for dealing with immigration, saying the murderous regime was "very, very able to reduce the flow," and adding that "if East Germany could, we could."

This came after a lengthy flap involving Miller's filing of financial disclosure forms with the Senate; he was required to do so in April but didn't get around to it until earlier this month. Likewise, his confession at the debate Sunday night (early Monday ET) about his punishment for ethics violations on the job came about only after various news organizations brought a lawsuit to force the release.

This should all be alarming to the Tea Party, whose slogans about freedom are colliding with its support for Miller. The comedian and old-school conservative economist Ben Stein called Miller "a dangerous, stupid clown" in a commentary Sunday in the Alaska Dispatch, the outlet whose editor was "arrested" by Miller's guards. "Maybe Miller thinks he is boss of some kind of third world country and his mirrored sunglass-wearing Tontons Macoutes can just bully anyone who gets in his way," Stein wrote.

Miller, when he finally faced the music at Sunday night's debate, brushed off the question about his disclosure allergy by attributing it to his "naivete" and to the fact that he is "not a professional politician."

"Even though the primary election was about issues and we won that race, the general has become about personal issues," he complained.

But handcuffing a reporter for asking you questions and praising East Germany's immigration policies aren't personal matters. For Americans, there is nothing more substantive.

danamilbank@washpost.com


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