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High schooler savors becoming a conservative

by Rone Tempest Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 at 7:15 PM
letters@latimes.com

"Liberals welcome every Muhammad, Jamul and Jose who wishes to leave his Third World state and come to America - mostly illegally - to rip off our health-care system, balkanize our language and destroy our political system."

LA Times, January 26, 2004

ROHNERT PARK - Just before the final bell at Rancho Cotate High School on a recent afternoon, a campus supervisor reported to Principal Mitchell Carter on his walkie-talkie: "I'm in position. Subject in view."

The focus of the extra security was a lanky, blue-eyed, 17-year-old high school junior, Tim Bueler, whose claims of political harassment by "liberal" students and faculty have made him into something of a youth hero among conservative online bloggers and radio talk show hosts across the country.

Since the beginning of January, Bueler has been escorted by a school official to and from every class and to his father's car at the end of the day. The precaution was ordered by the Sonoma County school district's superintendent after several confrontations between Bueler and fellow members of the school Conservative Club, and other students who object to what they claim are "racist" writings in the club's political tracts.

The resulting free-speech divide has ruffled feathers and formed fault lines in the 1,900-student, predominantly white, middle-class school nicknamed by students "The Ranch."

According to a timeline issued by the Cotati-Rohnert Park City School District, the controversy started Dec. 3 when the Conservative Club, which Bueler organized last fall, posted an inflammatory flier at the high school announcing the creation of a "Conservative Hotline," where students could report examples of "un-American" comments by their teachers.

"Let's take a stand against the liberal traitors who call themselves teachers," proclaimed the flier, which had not been approved by the club's faculty adviser as required under school rules.

In response, an anonymous faculty member proposed a "Liberal Hotline" to counter the Conservative Club. "Have you heard any un-American comments expressed by your reactionary students lately?" the flier asked, parodying the original. "Let's take a stand against the neoconservative wing nuts who call themselves Americans." The liberal flier concluded: "P.S. Flush Rush," referring to right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

On Dec. 12, Bueler inflamed matters by distributing a Conservative Club newsletter in which he wrote, "Liberals welcome every Muhammad, Jamul and Jose who wishes to leave his Third World state and come to America - mostly illegally - to rip off our health-care system, balkanize our language and destroy our political system."

The statement was borrowed directly from the sayings and writings of nationally syndicated San Francisco radio host Michael Savage, whom Bueler credits for inspiration.

The club's motto, "Protecting our Borders, Language and Culture," is a Savage slogan.

The resulting political turmoil, which angered some of the school's Latino students and provoked a letter of protest from 40 school officials, including the nurse and Principal Carter, has tested the First Amendment tethers of this bedroom community.

The school district's beleaguered superintendent, Michael Watenpaugh, has accused the Conservative Club and the high school staff of "missteps" since the issue erupted. High school administrators and faculty contend that they have been unfairly targeted.

"Outside conservative groups are using this as an opportunity to advance their agenda and to criticize public education," said Rancho Cotate athletic director and science teacher Mark Alton.

Lost in the shuffle, said Alton and others, is that the Conservative Club was allowed in the first place, joining the ranks of other more typical student groups such as the Model United Nations Club, Christian Club, SAVE (Environmental) Club, Stop Hate Club and the Gay-Straight Alliance.

"From the beginning," said Alton, who played on local softball teams with Bueler's father, "most of us have defended the right of the club to exist. No one has denied Tim Bueler's right to his opinions."

As a result of the national attention, Carter, a 51-year-old Boston native, said he has received "thousands" of e-mails, including some that have compared him to Osama bin Laden and other villains. Most of the criticism centers on Carter's suggestion in December that Bueler go home for a several-day "cooling-off period" after some students confronted Bueler, calling him a "Nazi" and inviting him outside for a fight. Bueler declined the offer to leave, a stand that has won him praise in conservative circles.

Bueler is delighted by all of the attention. In an interview at his family home while his father, Dennis, a phone-company technician, looked on proudly, Bueler ticked off the dozen or so radio and TV talk shows that have featured his case, including those hosted by Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Bueler was particularly pleased by a Dec. 30 Washington Times article detailing his claims of harassment by staff and students.

On Feb. 7, he is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the annual state convention of the Eagle Forum, a national organization founded by conservative Phyllis Schlafly that crusades against "liberal bias" in public schools.

One of the few downsides, said Bueler, whose upstairs room/office is a typical teenage boy's collection of sports posters and "Star Wars" memorabilia, is that celebrity has cut into his three-hour evening ritual of listening to the Savage show "Savage Nation." He said he keeps the AM radio in his room permanently tuned to the local Savage station.

"I'm missing it right now. I'm getting depressed," Bueler said, breaking into a broad smile. "It's almost like a drug to me. I have to listen to him." Bueler does not agree with everything Savage says. He does not condone, for example, Savage calling a gay caller a "sodomite" and telling him to "get AIDS and die," a statement that caused the cancellation of his short-lived Saturday afternoon talk show on MSNBC. It's just that for Bueler, a news junkie who reads the online versions of the Washington Times and New York Times every morning as well as several conservative-view Web sites, Savage is "the voice of reason. He's my hero."

Learning that a reporter had met Savage, a former homeopathic medicine and folk-remedy expert whose real name is Michael A. Weiner, Bueler asked excitedly: "Is he the most intelligent man you've ever met?"

Bueler's hometown is not particularly liberal by Northern California standards. But voting records show that the 42,000-population Rohnert Park, home of Sonoma State University, is solidly Democratic. In the 2000 presidential race, for example, Al Gore got 9,179 votes compared with 5,113 for George W. Bush.

For 44-year-old Watenpaugh, who has been superintendent for six months, it is mostly by chance that his district ended up at the center of the storm.

"It's just coincidence that our particular school is being labeled," Watenpaugh said. "I believe it could have happened anywhere."

Indeed, one of the results of the Rohnert Park case is that conservatives are calling for the creation of conservative clubs in other schools.

"These are all clean-cut, courteous, well-informed students," said Santa Rosa schoolteacher Orlean Koehle, 60, a mother of six who heads the California chapter of Eagle Forum. "I hope every school gets a conservative club. Then maybe we would get some true American history and civics being discussed."

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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
"Outside conservative groups are using this as an opportunity... ;lkkjhkljg Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 at 7:24 PM
Good for him Barney Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 at 7:25 PM
The Hitler Youth and alive and kicking nazi hunter Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004 at 9:17 PM
liberal teachers? more rational Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004 at 1:52 AM
young conservative Meyer London Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004 at 1:33 PM
I failed to see... 20-20 Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004 at 2:01 PM
Neo Nazis nazi hunter Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004 at 3:02 PM
Have you ever been to any third world nations? fiddler on the roof Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 5:48 AM
Hey, Fiddler Meyer London Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 9:15 AM
Well, to answer your absurd question Meyer London: fiddler on the roof Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 9:46 AM
he's got a point mimi Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 1:58 PM
one more thing... mimi Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 2:00 PM
Oh gee that makes sense... fiddler on the roof Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 at 2:09 PM
l believers of the philosophy of Hitler please join. Feel free to fight/argue/etc. The jew HITLER Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2004 at 10:20 AM

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