Michael Moore: I was the most hated man in America
'I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it … No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out [of him]. Is this wrong? I stopped wearing my 'What Would Jesus Do?' band, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, 'Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore', and then I'd see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I'd realise, 'Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death.' And you know, well, I'm not sure."
Glenn Beck, live on the Glenn Beck show, 17 May 2005
Wishes for my early demise seemed to be everywhere. They were certainly on the mind of CNN's Bill Hemmer one sunny July morning in 2004. Holding a microphone in front of my face on the floor of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, live on CNN, he asked me what I thought about how the American people were feeling about Michael Moore: "I've heard people say they wish Michael Moore were dead." Hemmer said it like he was simply stating the obvious, like, "of course they want to kill you!" He just assumed his audience already understood this truism, as surely as they accept that the sun rises in the east and corn comes on a cob.
To be fair to Hemmer, I was not unaware that my movies had made a lot of people mad. It was not unusual for fans to randomly come up and hug me and say, "I'm so happy you're still here!" They didn't mean in the building.
Why was I still alive? For more than a year there had been threats, intimidation, harassment and even assaults in broad daylight. It was the first year of the Iraq war, and I was told by a top security expert (who is often used by the federal government for assassination prevention) that "there is no one in America other than President Bush who is in more danger than you".
How on earth did this happen? Had I brought this on myself? Of course I had. And I remember the moment it all began.
It was the night of 23 March 2003. Four nights earlier, George Bush had invaded Iraq. This was an illegal, immoral, stupid invasion – but that was not how Americans saw it. More than 70% of the public backed the war. And on the fourth night of this very popular war, my film Bowling for Columbine was up for an Academy Award...
The actress Diane Lane came on to the stage...and she announced with unbridled glee that I had won the Oscar.The main floor, filled with the Oscar-nominated actors, directors and writers, leapt to its feet and gave me a very long standing ovation. I had asked the nominees from the other documentary films to join me on the stage in case I won, and they did. The ovation finally ended, and then I spoke: "I've invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us. They are here in solidarity with me because we like non-fiction. We like non-fiction, yet we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts: we are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you, Mr Bush. Shame on you! And anytime you've got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up! Thank you very much."
About halfway through these remarks, all hell broke loose. ..
Bombarded with hatred
When we got back to our home in northern Michigan, the local beautification committee had dumped three truckloads of horse manure waist-high in our driveway so that we wouldn't be able to enter our property – a property which, by the way, was freshly decorated with a dozen or so signs nailed to our trees: GET OUT! MOVE TO CUBA! COMMIE SCUM! TRAITOR! LEAVE NOW OR ELSE!
I had no intention of leaving.
The hate mail after the Oscar speech was so voluminous, it almost seemed as if Hallmark had opened a new division where greeting card writers were assigned the task of penning odes to my passing. ("For a Special Motherfucker …" "Get Well Soon from Your Mysterious Car Accident!" "Here's to a Happy Stroke!")
The phone calls to my house were actually creepier....
But the worst moments were when people came on to our property...Few were actual haters; most were just crazy. We kept the sheriff's deputies busy until they finally suggested we might want to get our own security, or perhaps our own police force. Which we did.
We met with the head of the top security agency in the country, an elite outfit that did not hire ex-cops, nor any "tough guys" or bouncer-types. They preferred to use only Navy Seals and other ex–Special Forces. Guys who had a cool head and who could take you out with a piece of dental floss in a matter of nanoseconds. By the end of the year, due to the alarming increase of threats and attempts on me, I had nine ex-Seals surrounding me, round-the-clock...
[after Karl Rove discovered that Farenheit 9/11 was having an effect:]
There was a residual damage from all the hate speech generated toward me by the Republican pundits. It had the sad and tragic side-effect of unhinging the already slightly unglued. And so my life went from receiving scribbly little hate notes to fullout attempted physical assaults – and worse.
Living with bodyguards
The ex–Navy Seals moved in with us. When I walked down a public sidewalk they would have to form a circle around me. At night they wore night-vision goggles and other special equipment that I'm convinced few people outside CIA headquarters have ever seen.
The agency protecting me had a threat assessment division. Their job was to investigate anyone who had made a credible threat against me. One day, I asked to see the file. The man in charge began reading me the list of names and the threats they had made and the level of threat that the agency believed each one posed. After he went through the first dozen, he stopped and asked: "Do you really want to keep going? There are 429 more."
I could no longer go out in public without an incident happening. It started with small stuff, such as people in a restaurant asking to be moved to a different table when I was seated next to them, or a taxi driver who would stop his cab in mid-traffic to scream at me. The verbal abuse soon turned physical, and the Seals were now on high alert. For security reasons, I will not go into too much detail here...
For the next two and a half years, I didn't leave the house much. From January 2005 to May 2007, I did not appear on a single TV show. I stopped going on college tours. I just took myself off the map. The previous year I had spoken at more than 50 campuses. For the two years following that, I spoke at only one. I stayed close to home and worked on some local town projects in Michigan where I lived. And then to my rescue rode President Bush. He said something that helped snap me out of it. I had heard him say it before, but this time when I heard him, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. He said: "If we give in to the terrorists, the terrorists win." And he was right. His terrorists were winning! Against me! What was I doing sitting inside the house? I opened up the blinds, folded up my pity party, and went back to work. I made three films in three years, threw myself into getting Barack Obama elected, and helped toss two Republican congressmen from Michigan out of office. I set up a popular website, and I was elected to the board of governors of the same Academy Awards that had booed me.
I chose not to give up. I wanted to give up, badly. Instead I got fit. If you take a punch at me now, I can assure you three things will happen: 1) You will break your hand. That's the beauty of spending just a half hour a day on your muscular-skeletal structure – it turns into kryptonite; 2) I will fall on you. I'm still working on my core and balance issues, so after you slug me I will tip over and crush you; 3) My Seals will spray mace or their own homemade concoction of jalapeño spider spray directly into your eye sockets while you are on the ground. As a pacifist, please accept my apologies in advance – and never, ever use violence against me or anyone else again...
I spent the better part of this past year writing what I knew were a bunch of intense, wild, goofy and great stories -- and when I was done, I thought, "People will like this!" I can't wait til you read it.
If you want to read a sample chapter, here's one that the publisher has posted, a story about an incident that happened when I was in 8th grade.
There's also an excerpt (a condensed version of the first story in the book) that the Guardian ran.
And last night, the publisher posted a story for free from the audio book. It's called "A Blessing." One day my priest wanted me to hear HIS confession -- and that is the story I tell. If you have 14 minutes, give it a listen -- and I hope it has the same impact on you as it did on me when I finished writing it.
Just a reminder of how you can get HERE COMES TROUBLE:
1. Shop at your indie bookstore or order from them online.
2. Get a 40% discount by going to Amazon or 34% off at Barnes & Noble.
3. Get a signed first edition and help out my home state's economy.
4. eReaders: Kindle and Nook.
5. Audiobook is available on iTunes and Audible.
6. And finally, it's at your local library. Support your library -- it's one of our last bastions against the forces of ignorance gripping the country.
Also, please check out my website each day during the book tour where I'll be blogging and saying things best left unsaid.
We forget, more or less, just how horrible it was (even for those of us without a soapbox for those death threats to be aimed at). How it felt, that first realization that the Presidency had been stolen, that our dissenting voices were dangerous, that our nation wasn't at all what we'd believed it was. When it seemed that the whole rest of the country had become some strange bizarro-world mirror of its own ideals. And especially the isolation. ..
As I read that excerpt, I found myself expecting something like, "And I went online and vented, and got links and support from people all over the world (and a sympathy quilt from DailyKos)..." Except of course, this online world barely existed then. Our modern lefty underground was just coming together, helped along by the commonsense bravery of Moore, the Dixie Chicks, and a very few others who were willing and able to stand up and express their dissent....
Well, you were all there. Though maybe not you young'uns -- it was 8,9,10 years ago now. Sigh.
And that's why I wanted to write something up for Michael Moore's interview tonight, even though I'm cutting back on that part of blogging. Because I doubt I'll ever meet him in person -- and can't go back in time to when he really needed to hear it --but I want to say: thank you.