Note: Sen. Benning has weighed in with a comment. It’s in the Comments, but I’ve also added it to the end of this post.
So there’s this right-wing fringe organization called Vermont Stands Up which you’ve probably never heard of, and neither did I until a couple days ago. It’s a freedom-lovin’, vaccine-hatin’, government-shrinkin’, gang o’ rascals who say the most pressing issues facing Vermont are “the COVID crisis of the past two years, the ensuing mandates, sanctioned discrimination against the unvaccinated, and threats to informed consent and bodily autonomy.” I’m sure we all agree.
VSU also promises “to provide authoritative resources, guidance, and outlets of support for community action.” We’ll get to their idea of “authoritative resources” shortly, and you won’t want to miss it, but first…
The organization’s website has a page called Freedom Champions. It’s a long list of approved candidates. Many of these Champions have appeared in my “stealth conservative” list and others await their time in the spotlight. John Klar is on the list, naturally. Stephen Bellows, 9/11 truther and graphene eradicator. Lynn and Lloyd Dike, two of the rabid clan of Republican candidates in Addison County. Rebecca Pitre, who sees Drag Queen Story Hour as “an atrocity.” Rob North, who says we could end Lake Champlain pollution by unleashing the farmers. Nichole Loati, who believes the housing crisis could be solved by unleashing the landlords. To name just a few.
And there, right in the middle of this list of VSU-approved candidates, is Sen. Joe Benning, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor who’s often referred to in the press as a moderate. Not true; he’s very conservative, but he’s not a nut.
So how is it that he appears on this list of Vermont Stands Up-approved Freedom Champions? It can’t be just because he opposes mandatory motorcycle helmets.
Here’s another odd thing. VSU didn’t list any other candidate running for one of the six statewide offices. They did endorse candidates for Congress, but not for governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor or attorney general. You’d think people like H. Brooke Paige would be right up their alley, but no. Only Benning.
If you need more proof of the out-there-ness of Vermont Stands Up, take a gander at its list of favored “resources.” There’s America First, the Trump fundraising scam. There are a bunch of anti-vaccine Covid truther groups like America’s Frontline Doctors. There’s Freedom Cells, a group that not only claims Trump won in 2020, they insist he won overwhelmingly and the Democrats cheated their brains out to deny him a second term.
It’s like that. And then you get to trusted Vermont organizations. The Ethan Allen Institute. Vermont Grassroots, discussed previously. Two Lenore Broughton-funded orgs: Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing and the anti-abortion Vermonters for Good Government. Hey look, there’s Vermonters for a Clean Environment! Shoutout to Annette Smith!
There’s also a list of Trusted Media Sources, which includes both True North Reports and the Vermont Daily Chronicle as well as Common Sense Radio and the formerly reputable Chelsea Green Publishing.
This is not the company you want to be in if you seek to preserve your mainstream credibility. Joe Benning’s place in this gallery of rogues doesn’t necessarily mean his approval; they probably listed him without telling him.
But it would behoove him to disavow Vermont Stands Up, and ask that his name be removed.
I bet he won’t.
Because he needs their votes.
If that’s the implicit deal he’s made, is he really any better than Marco Rubio or Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz? Not really. As with Phil Scott, political principles are fine and all, but winning is the most important thing.
Update. Comment from Sen. Benning:
Re: “So there’s this right-wing fringe organization called Vermont Stands Up which you’ve probably never heard of, and neither did I until a couple days ago.”
Funny, neither did I until I saw this post.
John, we’ve known each other for what, ten years or so? You know I can’t prevent anybody from liking me, for whatever reason they choose. Since I’m fully vaxxed and boosted, and have several times explicitly denounced both election deniers and January 6th insurrectionists, I’ll chalk this one up to one of the ways various folks appreciate my efforts to bring people together with reason and civility.
Chelsea Green makes me sad, used to so love and admire them.
Any COVID denying individual or organization is immediately considered worthless and to be ignored. Those of us living in major metropolitan areas when COVID emerged and saw those refrigerated trailers aren’t buying the bullshit. Vermont did a very good job stopping COVID in the early days but there is a world beyond the state’s borders.
“If that’s the implicit deal he’s made, is he really any better than Marco Rubio or Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz? Not really”
You’re right. Benning is the same as these rogues listed above. There’s no such thing as a compassionate conservative.
Walter: On a few occasions I’ve been called names, from both the right and the left. When that happens, it’s mostly by people who simply don’t know me. I like to respond by inviting them out to coffee…on me. I can’t think of a better way to combat the tribal warfare so prevalent these days, a symptom of strife we adults need to turn around for the benefit of the next generation. I can’t recall we’ve ever met, but I’ve read enough of your comments through the years to know you must be an interesting fellow. Offer is open. You game for coffee? Heck, you can even bring John with you!
Respectfully, Senator, it’s not the one-on-one. One could presumably sit at a table with any Conservative and have a reasonable conversation. The issue in this instance is the company you choose to keep. Unless ‘compassionate conservatives’ start loudly condemning the ultra-right foundation of their base, there will be precious little to agree about.