Campaign signs are a candidate’s private property. They are expensive. Retired Baptist minister Gary McCaslin has been charged with petit larceny for stealing Congressman Tom Reed’s signs decrying “Extreme Ithaca Liberals”, Reed’s shorthand for those with far-left views that are common in Ithaca and less common everywhere else.
McCaslin leads a group called Citizens for a Better Southern Tier (CBST). They bill themselves as “bipartisan” and “peaceful” and don’t endorse candidates, but they don’t like Tom Reed, because he’s not liberal enough. The CBST is home to the “Indivisible Guide,” a blueprint for disrupting Congressional town halls or any event to which an elected official they don’t like (read: conservative) shows up.
They claim they are using Tea Party tactics. This denigrates the Tea Party while giving CBST an excuse for their behavior, which is to shout, boo and hiss like rabid cats at any comments they don’t like. In stark contrast, Tea Party members read the Obamacare bill and then went to Congressional town halls and asked questions, sometimes reading directly from the bill. When congressmen (mostly Democrats) could not or would not answer their questions, the Tea Partiers challenged them in civil fashion. The Southern Tier Tea Party never had a manual for disrupting town hall meetings; I know because I was there.
CBST supports illegal immigration, sanctuary cities, repeal of the Trump tax cuts and Obamacare. In other words, they are, as described, extreme Ithaca liberals. So if you hold these views, why steal the signs? Why not be proud of it, and put “Extreme Ithaca Liberal” signs in your front yard or on the bumper of your Prius.
McCaslin claims he was being “bipartisan” and “peaceful” by gathering all campaign signs after the recent Democrat primary. Right. He is represented by Elmira attorney Christina Sonsire, who said McCaslin’s behavior “…shines a light into just how inappropriate the political climate has become.” Stealing the signs was certainly inappropriate; apparently McCaslin’s defense will be that he isn’t responsible – the prevailing political climate made him do it.
It appears the Reverend violated the 8th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
But he may also have damaged the democratic process. Stealing campaign signs is a political dirty trick but it’s more. It damages our republic by forcing lawlessness into a process that is by definition lawful and at the very heart of our system of government. Such is the bitter harvest of fanaticism.
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.