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Published January 30, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.
Updated November 14, 2017 at 12:54 p.m.

That was the word chosen by “Vermont This Week” host Christopher Graff last weekend to describe the contents of e-mails from three very angry viewers of the previous week’s show. They were incensed by yours truly’s use of the word “Taliban” to describe the activist group of religious fundamentalist conservatives who have taken over the Chittenden County Republican Committee.

Hey, if the shoe fits…

In addition, there was a similarly outraged, twisted op-ed piece by Deborah Bucknam in the Caledonian Record last week condemning yours truly for the same offense, and Vermont Public Television for allowing yours truly to say it on the air.

What all four “outraged” screeches had in common was the fact that they all chose to completely ignore just who and what the Taliban really is.

The Taliban is a Muslim fundamentalist sect made up of devout, scripture-quoting, super-religious folks who believe in a literal interpretation of their holy book, the Koran. In their view, the Koran contains the divine revelation of the Almighty.

In the mid-1990s, the Taliban, trained in the madrassus, or ultra-conservative religious schools of Pakistan, ended the gulf between church and state in Afghanistan. Church law became state law.

The effect of this religious fundamentalist rule on Afghan society was documented in countless media reports well before the September 11 terrorist strike on America.

Following their faith and the dictates of their scripture, the totalitarian Taliban banned TV and radio and other forms of communication. Music was considered sinful. And women were subjugated to the status of chattel. They couldn’t work or attend school, or even be seen in public unless accompanied by a male relative, and covered from head to toe in a burka.

Hey, the Taliban were just carrying out God’s will and saving society from the sins of secularism and modernism, right?

For Americans, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional right. Religious fundamentalism, however, when mixed with politics is a cancer that afflicts all of the world’s major groups, including Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

The term “fundamentalism” arose in America in the early 20th century. Preacher Bob Jones, for whom the controversial South Carolina university is named, was one of the leaders of the movement. As is written on the Bob Jones University Web site, “We believe that whatever the Bible says is so.”

That probably explains the school’s infamous ban on interracial dating.

The fundamentalist political regime known as the Taliban provided cover and sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network. After all, Osama portrayed himself as a devout, religious man committed to Islamic fundamentalism.

Similarly, in our country, religious fundamentalism has provided cover and sanctuary for terrorists who’ve bombed women’s health centers, gay nightclubs and assassinated doctors who performed abortions. Abortion is a legal medical procedure in America. To Christian fundamentalists, however, it is the equivalent of “murdering babies.”

Check out the FBI’s current “Ten Most Wanted List,” and you’ll find Osama bin Laden and a gentleman named Eric Rudolph. Remember him?

Mr. Rudolph is wanted for a series of terrorist bombings. One, at a women’s health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killed a police officer and critically wounded a nurse. Another wounded 150 patrons of a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Another was the fatal bombing at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics.

The following year, Rudolph set two bombs at a women’s health clinic in Atlanta. According to federal authorities, the second device was deliberately set to kill police, firefighters and paramedics who responded to the first explosion.

Despite the promise of then-Attorney General Janet Reno “to keep searching until we find him,” Rudolph, like Osama, remains at large.

In Vermont, women’s health centers have been threatened with anthrax and bombs. And a former St. Albans resident, James Kopp, is being held in France pending extradition for the assassination of a Buffalo gynecologist who performed abortions. Terrorism, clearly, is not a practice limited to fanatical Muslims on the other side of the world.

On Vermont’s political stage, especially in Chittenden County, religious fundamentalists have become increasingly muscular in the political arena. Led by Rev. David Stertzbach, pastor of Williston’s Trinity Baptist Church, the local wing mounted a slate of Republican state senate candidates in 2000. All opposed abortion rights for women and civil rights for gays and lesbians.

Rev. Stertzbach’s political action committee distributed nasty mass mailings that attacked Barbara Snelling and State Sen. Peter Brownell. In the Williston holy man’s view, both candidates were a “threat” to children and families.

Recently, when Sen. Snelling, the only Republican senator elected from Chittenden County, was forced to step down for health reasons, the local “Taliban” turned out in force to blackball Diane Snelling, her daughter, at the county committee meeting called to recommend a replacement to the governor.

As Gov. Howard Dean noted on Tuesday morning’s “Charlie & Ernie Show” on WVMT, “Barbara Snelling was practically drummed out of the Republican Party.” In the primary, he recalled, the conservatives of the Religious Right “went after her, and nobody said a word in her defense.”

Mrs. Snelling, a minister’s daughter, hung on to finish sixth in the GOP primary. But Sen. Brownell, a former Air Force pilot and mayor of Burlington, was sent packing. His crime, like Mrs. Snelling’s, was support for abortion rights and civil unions.

In the general election, however, the majority backed Babs. But make no mistake, Stertzbach and his fundamentalist followers are not giving up. Their goal is obvious — the takeover of the Vermont Republican Party first, and then the takeover of Vermont state government.

As you may recall, U.S. Sen. John McCain defeated George W. Bush in Vermont’s 2000 presidential primary. And it was Sen. McCain who boldly stood up to the Religious Right, our homeland “Taliban,” and declared, “The Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.”

If Rev. Stertzbach has his way, that will change. You see, the pastor is himself a graduate of Bob Jones University.

Surprise, surprise!

Guv’s Schedule Update — The legal battle over Howard Dean’s weekly schedule is progressing less than quickly, shall we say. The Rutland Herald/Times Argus and Seven Days filed suit almost a month ago. Judge Alan Cheever’s been trying to get the lawyers representing the newspapers and those from the AG’s office representing the Guv to agree on a schedule. But so far, no luck.

According to the state public records statute, appeals of a state agency’s refusal to release requested documents should be “expedited in every way.”

Stay tuned.

La Food Fight — They say an army runs on its stomach. So does a city, especially if that city is Burlington, Vermont, the “most livable” city in America… without a supermarket in its central core.

After prior missed deadlines and countless assurances that City Market would positively, definitely open on January 30, City Market will not open on January 30.

Holy granola, Batman!

The food fight has sharply divided Burlap citizens along political lines, and the Progressive machine has taken some well-deserved hits. And beware: A new, younger, smarter band of Republicans has emerged in the Queen City to challenge the powers that be at the polls on Tuesday, March 5.

The activists of the Sanderista Revolution of 1981 are today’s fat-cat government bureaucrats. And the still-zunopened City Market is a giant billboard that screams to passersby — “Throw Da Bums Out!”

Tuesday, Don Schramm, board chair at the Onion River Co-op, told Seven Days the shelving has arrived and they’ll start stocking shelves on February 11. Things are in the “final stages,” he said.

Heard that before.

“Don’t lose faith,” said Schramm. “I know the realities. We will be opening in February, most likely the 20th. People are scared we’re going to succeed,” he told us. “We’re going to succeed famously.”

If City Market blows this latest rescheduled grand opening in February, it will “succeed famously” in throwing a couple Progres-sive city council seats into the hands of the rising opposition parties in March.

Food for thought!

Judicial Temperament — Recently yours truly had the privilege of going behind the “curtain” with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they visited District Court in Burlington. After catching the courtroom action, everyone — press included — went backstage to visit with the judge, who shall remain nameless, in his chambers.

Actually, “chambers” is a much too fancy way to describe the plain, cramped little office where the veteran judge works when not in the courtroom. The desk was piled about six inches high with files and paperwork. We couldn’t help but notice that amidst what looked like a judicial landfill was a small printed object standing upright, titled “An Irish Blessing.” It read like this:

May those that love us, love us
May those that don’t love us —
May God turn their hearts
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles
So we may know them by their limping.

Media Notes — Thursday, the day after this week’s Seven Days hit the street, Ruth Dwyer hits the WVNY-TV airwaves. Please send us your reviews at the e-mail address below.

Our view has been, let’s let bygones be bygones. If George Stephanopoulos can do it, why not Ruth Dwyer?

Last Thursday we had our first Ruth the Reporter sighting at the Statehouse. She was spotted in the lobby chatting up a lobbyist. Long time no see!

But when yours truly approached to say “hello” to a freshly minted fellow journalist, Investigative Reporter Dwyer gave us the ol’ cold shoulder and darted off, her heels clicking on the marble floor just like in the old days. Hmmm.

Fact is, WVNY hired a public relations firm — Gillen Tabor Communications Inc. in Waitsfield — to promote Ruth’s new career on the box. And despite the fact we’ve never received one press release or phone call from Tabor Communications, we’ve dutifully covered this media news story. Talk about free publicity!

Just as well we weren’t on the contact list. You see, the PR firm was pretty pushy about getting coverage. According to a series of e-mail exchanges obtained by Seven Days, Jim Tabor came on pretty heavy to the Rutland Herald for what he mistakenly thought was poor coverage.

Last week Mr. Tabor e-mailed the head honchos at the distinguished Rutterdam Daily expressing how “disappointed” he was “when after having received our initial press release last week, you chose not to inform your readers about ABC22’s new in-depth news feature, ‘A Hard Look With Ruth Dwyer,… We hope you’ll see fit to alert your readers to the value of this broadcast.”

Herald Editor Steve Baumann pointed out they had run not just one, but two stories on Ruth’s new gig. One was a news story, the other Jack Hoffman’s well-read weekly column.

Mr. Baumann noted that Vermont media outlets normally don’t expect the competition to publicize their special investigative series. Good point.

Mr. Tabor thought so, too.

“Wow — thanks for the information,” Tabor replied. “I will sheepishly admit that I missed your article on Ruth… Please accept my apologies for taking the paper to task. I was in error and should have done more research.”

New Blood — The face of the state Republican Party organization is certainly changing. Last fall, Joe Acinapura replaced veteran political warrior Patrick Garahan as state chair.

Sir Joe of Brandon is a retired U.S. Army colonel, a Vietnam vet, a former political science professor at the College of St. Joseph and a recipient of an honorary knighthood from the Italian government. He’s also a pretty sharp guy with a genuine respect for and love of politics. And that’s no bologna!

With the changing of the guard, it’s not surprising to learn that a new executive director is coming on board, too. Susan Hudson is returning to her native Green Mountains from Foggy Bottom’s Republican National Committee to replace Neale Lunderville. Welcome home, Susie!

Mr. Lunderville started as executive director last May, just two weeks before U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords bolted the party. (Honest, it wasn’t his fault!) Neale is taking over the reins as campaign manager for Jim Douglas. And, yes, he does know how to spell “Montpelier.”

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