By Dana Milbank [June 9, 2020]
Police in Buffalo shove a 75-year-old man to the ground and blood pours from his ear. Police in Brooklyn knock down a young woman and call her a “bitch” because she asked why she had to leave the street. Federal authorities in Washington fire tear gas at peaceful demonstrators, then lie about it.
Get the feeling law enforcement in this country is being run by a middle-school bully?
If so, you are not wrong.
Childhood bullies have a predisposition to become adult bullies, research shows, and, sure enough, it seems Attorney General William Barr was a teenage bully more than 50 years ago.
Back in 1991, during Barr’s confirmation to be George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, lawyer Jimmy Lohman, who overlapped with Barr at New York’s Horace Mann School and later Columbia University, wrote a piece for the little-known Florida Flambeau newspaper about Barr being “my very own high-school tormentor” — a “classic bully” and “power abuser” in the 1960s who “put the crunch on me every chance [he] got.”
Nobody noticed the Flambeau piece at the time, but Lohman posted it on Facebook when President Trump nominated Barr in 2018, and it took on “a life of its own,” Lohman told me Tuesday from Austin, where Post researcher Alice Crites tracked him down. The article resurfaces in social media each time Barr does something unconscionable — which is often.
The 1991 description of 1963 Barr’s harassment sounds eerily like the 2020 Barr. He “lived to make me miserable,” with a “vicious fixation on my little Jewish ‘commie’ ass,” Lohman alleged, because he wore peace and racial-equality pins. He said the four Barr brothers picketed the school’s “Junior Carnival” because proceeds went to the NAACP, and he alleged that Billy Barr, the “most fanatic rightist” of the four, later “teamed with the New York City riot police to attack anti-war protesters and ‘long hairs.’ ”
The 1991 article says Barr, a “sadistic kid,” has “come a long way from terrorizing seventh graders just because they wore racial equality buttons.” The Justice Department didn’t respond to my request for comment.
Lohman’s account is consistent with Marie Brenner’s reporting for Vanity Fair: “A few who knew the Barr boys came to call them ‘the bully Barrs’; the siblings, these former classmates claimed, could be intimidating.” A petition from Horace Mann alumni asks the school to “rethink” an award for Barr, who “violated our school’s Core Values of Mutual Respect and Mature Behavior.”
Historian Paul Cronin, in Politico this week, says Barr was part of the “Majority Coalition” at Columbia that fought antiwar demonstrators. Barr had told the New York Times Magazine he was part of a “fistfight” in which “over a dozen people went to the hospital.” Cronin noted: “There appears to be no record of any trip to the hospital.”
Now Barr exaggerates violence on a grand scale. After he directed the forceful eviction of peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square, he claimed to Fox News on Monday that the image of peaceful demonstrators was “miscreated” to ignore “all the violence that was happening preceding that.” He alleged that there were two “bottles thrown at me” when he surveyed the scene; footage showed him at a safe distance. He charged that previously “things were so bad that the Secret Service recommended that the president go down to the bunker”; Trump claimed it was merely a bunker “inspection.”
Barr has also championed the president’s authority to use the military against protesters, even as Pentagon leaders recoiled. He assembled a militia-like force of often-unidentified federal police in Washington. He blamed antifa for recent “domestic terrorism,” but no new criminal complaint mentions antifa. He claims there is no systemic racism in law enforcement.
That’s consistent with his earlier management of the Justice Department as a thugocracy: mischaracterizing the Mueller report; alleging the Obama administration “spied” on the Trump campaign; naming a special prosecutor to investigate — and deliver an election-season report on — the Russia-probe Barr already declared a “travesty”; attempting to indict the official who approved the probe; overruling prosecutors to seek leniency for Trump friend Roger Stone; getting mentioned by Trump as participating in the attempt to get political dirt on Democrats from Ukraine; lending credibility to Rudy Giuliani’s allegations about the Bidens; dropping an investigation into campaign finance allegations against Trump; dropping the election-interference prosecution of a Russian firm; trying to drop the prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn; asserting his sole authority to approve election-related probes; and has just assigned another special prosecutor to fulfill Trump’s wish to probe the Obama administration’s “unmasking” practices.
Now Barr is undermining mail-in ballots, threatening the credibility of November’s elections.
If only people had listened to Jimmy Lohman and the Florida Flambeau. “There was something prescient, if I say so myself, about calling him a fascist 30 years ago,” Lohman said Tuesday. “I believe he’s shown his real colors, especially in the last few weeks.”
Be Best? Not Barr. Lohman had better guard his lunch money.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.