Monday, March 14, 2011 | The longtime leaders of Orange County's Republican Party were given a rude awakening in January when Villa Park Councilwoman, and self described "blended" Tea Partier, Deborah Pauly, bested establishment candidate Jon Fleischman in the election for first vice chair of the GOP Central Committee.
Just how rude this awakening could end up being for the party's establishment became apparent in mid February when Pauly stood outside of a Muslim charity event in Yorba Linda and said to cheering protestors: "Make no mistake my friends, these who are assembling are enemies of America."
She added: "I know quite a few Marines who would be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise."
Such vitriolic comments made by Pauly can be heard in a video put together by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), that, in a matter of days, went viral.
Pauly's actions touched a nerve in Orange County. Speakers at recent meeting of the Orange County Human Relations Commission claimed to have received death threats since the protest. And Pauly's colleagues on the Villa Park City Council are in the process of drafting a statement to address her actions.
At least one major Muslim advocacy group has demanded that Orange County's Republican party's condemn the protest and comments from elected officials who were present.
"Time and again Republican leaders have shown a lack of leadership and irresponsible behavior in upholding the oath that they took," said Munira Syeda, a local spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It's time for the Republican party to come out and say this is un-American."
The local controversy comes against the backdrop of last week's congressional hearing in Washington D.C. focusing on Islamic extremism. Supporters of the hearing say it is a courageous stand for national security. Critics compare it to McCarthyism and say it is the latest example of growing Islamophobia throughout the country.
The response by Orange County's party leadership to Pauly's comments has been muted, even a bit disjointed. In an interview with a reporter, OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh defended Pauly's right to speak out, but was clearly uncomfortable doing it.
"We don't referee the content of what people say out at rallies," Baugh said. He added later: "In Democracy -- in a country with free speech -- at rallies a lot of things are said. I wouldn't read too much into it."
Adam Probolsky, a Republican pollster, activist and central committee member said it's simply not the role of the party to be regulating what its members -- or even its leaders -- say at public events. "The news of the day is not what makes up the activity of the day of the Republican Party," Probolsky said.
However, even some Tea Party activists are acknowledging that outbursts like Pauly's could significantly damage efforts by the local GOP to broaden its base.
"You have a lot of people (in the GOP) that want to kill - it seems to me - they want to kill all Muslims," said Central Committee member and fellow Tea Partier Allan Bartlett. "I don't criticize her right to be there, but it has generated publicity that I don't think -- our party could do better as far as messaging right now."
Pauly was first elected to the central committee in 2006. She describes herself as a blended Tea Party and establishment Republican. January's election saw her win first vice chair of the party.
She has made it clear that one of her goals is to bring attention to the threat of Islamic terrorism and an ideology that some suspect is incompatible with American style democracy.
Pauly has said that her comments were directed at two keynote speakers at the event -- Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Amir Abdel Malik Ali.
Wahhaj was named along with 169 others as co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Wahhaj was never charged and has denied involvement. Malik Ali was reported to have made comments supporting Hezbollah, a Lebanese group that recently fought a war with Israel and is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
But Pauly never referenced the speakers in her speech and made a number of blanket statements about people whom she called "unwelcome invaders."
In a recent interview, an emotional Pauly acknowledged that her statements were too general, saying that she "takes ownership" of that mistake. Choking back tears, Pauly said she should have directed her comments at Wahhaj and Malik Ali, but didn't because she thought doing so could have endangered her life.
"I'll be honest about why I did that," Pauly said after a long pause. "Fear... I was afraid to speak out."
Despite voicing regrets about what she said, Pauly was angry with Bartlett's response. She said they were "incredibly irresponsible," "very inaccurate," and "a very dangerous thing to say."
Meanwhile, Probolsky said Pauly's behavior should not reflect on the party as a whole.
"I'm sure Deborah Pauly says things and people have construed it as some sort of Villa Park position -- and it never really was. It was just one person's opinion," Probolsky said. "I don't see it as any kind of relevant connection. It's just Deb Pauly. Same crazy stuff."
That kind of relaxed attitude doesn't sit well with Syeda, who says that enabling certain public activities of the members and leaders of the party could be dangerous.
"Do we really have to wait for violence to occur against American Muslims?" Syeda said. "Then maybe we'll hear a condemnation from the Republican party?"