Joe Miller tests the First Amendment

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 7:39 PM

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

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

He sought protection with 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 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 a judge ordered him to do so.

"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 his alleged use of "government computers to conduct partisan political business." 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 explained that this only enhanced his appeal as a candidate. "I'm not a perfect person," he said. "Alaskans get to understand that, hey, they're electing somebody like them."

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

One of Miller's opponents, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost to him in the GOP primary, saw the matter differently. She said he displays a "lack of fitness for the office," and described him as somebody who "thought that the rules were meant for somebody else."

It's up to Alaskans to determine whether Miller is fit 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 she was only raising doubts about the First Amendment; Miller actually defied it.

That 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 handcuffed the journalist and put him under a "private person's arrest," detaining him until police came and freed him.

It's not clear why Miller thought he needed a paramilitary detail to protect him in the first place. He said the school that held 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 William Fulton, the head of Miller's security team, 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 that its murderous regime was "very, very able to reduce the flow," and adding that "if East Germany could, we could."

There also was a flap involving Miller's financial disclosure forms; he was required to file them with the Senate in April but didn't get around to it until this month.

Likewise, his confession at the debate Sunday night about his punishment for ethics violations came only after various news organizations brought a suit 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 an article 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.

When Miller finally faced the music at the debate, he 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 said.

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

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