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Mistaken Identity thinks an official's reference to "Christian Identity" refers generically to Christianity, even though context makes clear he's talking about the extremist group. Is CNS getting this wrong on purpose?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/27/2010

When a news outlet makes a factual error or misinterpretation, it can be forgiven most of the time -- reporters and editors, like everyone else, are susceptible to the occasional brain glitch.

But when that same outlet not only fails to correct the error even after having it pointed out but repeats it? One might start to suspect that it's being done deliberately.

Which brings us to, which published a Jan. 14 article by Matt Cover carrying the headline "Obama’s TSA Nominee Characterized Groups That Were Domestic Security Threats as ‘Anti-Abortion’ and Having ‘Christian Identity.’" Cover went on to write that "Erroll Southers, who President Barack Obama has nominated to head the Transportation Security Administration, described groups that were a domestic security threat as being 'anti-abortion' and 'Christian-identity oriented.'" Cover quoted from a video of Southers citing "groups that claim to be extremely anti-government and Christian-identity oriented.”

Note Cover's use of the lowercase I in "Christian identity." He's portraying Southers' use of the term as a generic description of Christianity -- as if Southers is describing all domestic terrorists as Christian.

But it's clear from the context of the entire video that Cover's portrayal is false. Southers is referring to a specific entity, the Christian Identity movement, well known as an extremist group. From the Anti-Defamation League:

One of the most remarkable developments in the extreme right in the United States in the past few decades has been the rise of an obscure religious ideology known as Christian Identity. Penetrating existing racist and anti-Semitic groups and movements, it has inflamed their bigotry with religious fervor and also sparked the creation of many new groups. Adherents have committed hate crimes, bombings and other acts of terrorism. Identity's current influence ranges from Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups to the anti-government militia and sovereign citizen movements-yet most Americans are unaware that it even exists.

Christian Identity's origins can be traced back to the nineteenth century in Great Britain, where a small circle of religious thinkers advanced the idea, known as British-Israelism or Anglo-Israelism, that modern Europeans were biologically descended from the ancient Israelites of the Old Testament-specifically, from the "Lost Tribes" scattered by invasions of Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians. The Lost Tribes had purportedly made their way to Europe, and from them descended the modern European nationalities.


Christian Identity penetrated most of the major extreme-right movements. Thanks to Aryan Nations, some neo-Nazis became believers. Klan leaders such as Thomas Robb and Louis Beam adopted the faith, as did some racist skinheads, such as the Hammerskins. Christian Identity also found a welcome home in extreme anti-government activism, notably the tax protest movement, the sovereign citizen movement (descended from Gale's Posse Comitatus) and the militia movement. The resurgence of right-wing extremism in the 1990s following the Ruby Ridge and Waco standoffs further spread Identity beliefs.


Christian Identity's racist and apocalyptic qualities helped lead to several well-known incidents of domestic terrorism during the past quarter century. In North Dakota in 1983, Gordon Kahl demonstrated how radical Identity adherents could be when he killed two U.S. Marshals who had come to arrest him for a parole violation (a mourner at one funeral was Assistant Attorney General Rudolph W. Giuliani, later to become all too familiar with such funerals). A four-month manhunt ended in another shootout in Arkansas, where Kahl killed a local sheriff before he himself was killed.

That same year, the white supremacist terrorist group known as The Order began its series of armed robberies (to which it would add additional crimes ranging from counterfeiting to assassination). Several members of the gang were Christian Identity, including David Tate, who in 1985 killed a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer attempting to reach an Identity survivalist compound called the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). An ensuing standoff resulted in the demise of the CSA and the arrest of its leadership. During the 1980s, several Identity groups attempted to follow in the footsteps of The Order, including The Order II and the Arizona Patriots, who committed bombings and an attempted armored car robbery, respectively.

In the 1990s, Identity criminal activity continued apace, including efforts by an Oklahoma Identity minister, Willie Ray Lampley, to commit a series of bombings in the summer of 1995 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh. The following year, the Montana Freemen, whose leaders were Identity, made headlines for their "paper terrorism" tactics and their 81-day standoff with the federal government. In 1998, Eric Rudolph, who had been associated with Identity ministers such as Nord Davis and Dan Gayman, became a fugitive after allegedly bombing gay bars, the Atlanta Summer Olympics, and an abortion clinic. The following year, Buford Furrow, a former Aryan Nations security guard, went on a shooting spree at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, wounding four children and an adult, and later killing a Filipino-American postal worker.

Given that Cover specifically quotes Southers referring to Buford Furrow's shooting spree, he should have known what Southers was talking about. But he did not portray it that way.

Media Matters documented the error, and it was pointed out by several writers in the comment thread at the end of Cover's article. But not only was it never corrected, CNS promoted the article for the next day or two as its top story (click on below screenshot to view full size):

Even more shockingly -- flying in the face of both readers and outside groups correcting him -- Cover repeated the falsehood in a Jan. 20 CNS article on Southers withdrawing his nomination:

Following Southers' union and ethics problems, video of a controversial 2008 interview surfaced on the Internet. As reported by, Southers made several troubling statements, including labeling the violent, anti-Christian racist group the World Church of the Creator as "Christian-identity oriented," and saying that the war on terror should be given "parity" with other issues such as global warming and education.


Southers comment that some white supremacist groups were "Christian-identity oriented" also attracted attention, due mainly to the fact that he claimed such groups were the nation's most important domestic terror threat.

Either Cover actually believes what he's writing, or he has deliberately chosen to perpetuate a lie. Given CNS' anti-Obama agenda and the fact that Cover's goal over the past several days has been to attack Southers, it's entirely likely that it's the latter.

After all, the original article was followed by two other articles by Cover taking Southers' statements out of context, and Cover implied a cause-and-effect by touting how Southers' withdrawal came after his statements were "reported by"

Then again, Cover had numerous issues with accuracy and questionable reporting throughout 2009:

  • A Jan. 29 article stated that a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the economic stimulus bill "found that only 52 percent of the money in the stimulus bill devoted to new government spending will actually be spent by 2010." But according to Media Matters, the CBO "concluded that 64 percent of the package would be spent by the end of the fiscal year 2010."
  • A Feb. 23 article took Obama's statement that "I want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts, out of context to suggest that he planned to institute "massive tax increases" on Americans. Cover deleted the statement Obama said immediately after that: "And what I have said is, I will institute a middle-class tax cut. "
  • Embracing the correlation-equals-causation fallacy, a March 5 article is based around the implication that Barack Obama is responsible for the tanking economy: "In fact, Obama’s rise has seemed to accompany the economy’s fall." But Cover offered no direct evidence that the two are related, nor did he acknowledge events outside of Obama's control that are much more likely factors.
  • A March 16 article claimed that "top advertising and public relations executives told" that "The Democratic Party is engaged in 'street theater' in its latest campaign against conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh." Cover failed to mention that those PR firms have conservative leanings and, thus, could be counted on to make such judgments.
  • A May 13 article by Cover purported to cite criticisms by "Big Labor" -- that is, SEIU -- who "accuses the group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) of 'swift-boating' President Obama’s health-care agenda in new ads which highlight what CPR says are the downsides of government involvement in health care." But Cover failed to explain the full nature of SEIU's criticisms. Cover gave, er, cover to CPR head Rick Scott to give parsed answers to the SEIU's claims. Cover also described Scott as a "former Columbia/HCA Healthcare Association CEO" but failed to note that Scott was ousted from the company in 1997 over actuations that it overbilled state and federal health programs, for which the company eventually paid a $1.7 billion fine.
  • A July 15 article hyped "a Democratic plan to increase income taxes by $540 billion to pay for their health-care reform proposal" without explaining that that proposed amount would be collected over 10 years. Cover then distorted reality by claiming that as of 2006, "nearly 68 percent of small business profits ($470 billion) were reported by people making over $200,000 a year, meaning that the majority of small business profits would be subject to the Democrats’ tax increases." That's false -- since the tax is marginal, only the amount over $280,000 (for an individual, $350,000 for a couple, under the proposed plan, as reported by Cover) would face the surcharge; income under that would not. Cover made this assertion despite quoting House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer earlier in the article explaining how the proposed tax is marginal.
  • An Oct. 20 article told the story of Mark Muller, a "major auto dealer" in Kansas City who has decided he will never attend another NFL game -- he claims to be "a Kansas City Chiefs season ticket holder since the 1980s" -- "because the league did not stand up for Limbaugh when Limbaugh's recent attempt to purchase part of the St. Louis Rams’ franchise came under fire from critics." But Muller is not quite the "major auto dealer" Cover depicts him as -- and he's not actually in Kansas City, either. Muller's dealership, Max Motors, is based in Butler, Missouri -- 60 miles away from Kansas City. He may be a "major auto dealer," but only compared to other dealers in and near Butler (population 4,209). Max Motors has an outlet in Harrisonville, Mo., which is a mere 30 miles away from KC.

So, who knows what the problem is? Cover may be getting things wrong on a regular basis, but CNS management seems unusually tolerant of such errors.

Then again, the tolerance may be tied to such errors making Obama look bad. Heck, for all we know Cover gets a bonus for peddling such distortions.

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