The supposedly community-focused Steering Committee of the Coalition for Permanent Protection of the National Forest in the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock Area has been eerily quiet since submitting the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument proposal for designation to office of the president on Jan. 4.
On Jan. 6, I summarized a list of the main reasons Sedona residents objected to this proposal.
Of the alleged “hundreds” of local supporters the SCCPPNFSVVRRA erroneously claims stand behind this maneuver, only two — Dick Ellis and Birgit Loewenstein — have been brave enough to be publicly vocal about their support.
I applaud their courage to stand up for what they advocate, as should everyone in Sedona, whether you fully support or adamantly oppose the national monument.
Among his comments to me, Ellis objected to referring to the SCCPPNFSVVRRA as a “secret cabal,” calling it “very close to being ... libelous.”
Libel has a very specific definition in media law: “A published false statement of fact that is intentionally damaging to a living person’s reputation.” We take such allegations very seriously.
Cabal is by definition a secret group [so my adjective “secret” is redundant and for that I apologize to you, dear readers] but because the SCCPPNFSVVRRA has not provided the names of any of its committee members nor leaders, it is still technically a secret group.
Additionally, no living person’s reputation has been harmed because, well, the SCCPPNFSVVRRA refuses to provide the names of its leaders when asked nor does it list any on its website. I asked Ellis to send me a list of the leaders and committee members, but he declined, saying he was not authorized to do so.
Only Peggy Chaikin has identified herself as a member of the SCCPPNFSVVRRA in an email to the Sedona City Council on Jan. 4. Contact her at (928) 821-1529 to ask for the names of the other members of this group.*
Thus, I renew my call for these individuals to step forward and identify themselves otherwise they remain, by definition, a cabal. And, according to state and federal libel laws, “truth is an absolute defense to libel.”
Loewenstein has corresponded with me on several points, including providing a list of comments from alleged supporters. However, in this list, “Full names have been eliminated for publication here, only initials are given, to protect the individuals from threats and harassment by monument opponents, as has been the case in the past.”
Firstly, we do not have the right to publish private comments that were not sent to us directly, or spoken to our reporters, or delivered in a public space like a council meeting, forum or shouted on a soapbox from a public street corner. I would be more than happy to speak or correspond with supporters at length.
Secondly, harassment is a crime under Arizona Revised Statute §13-2921, so no proponent nor opponent of a political issue should ever feel the need to hide their identity regarding an issue.
Thirdly, no angry phone calls nor emails should ever dissuade Americans from exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.
Again, I sincerely commend and applaud Ellis and Loewenstein for being the only backers of this proposal who contacted me to debate this issue.
Too bad the anonymous SCCPPNFSVVRRA leadership is too cowardly to speak to the public whose lands they want to drastically change.
Christopher Fox Graham
* Editor's Note:
Weeks after this editorial was posted online, we were contacted and asked to remove Chaikin's phone number, which we did as a courtesy, but with the clear caveat that other members of the SCCPPNFSVVRRA would soon provide their names and contact information. After more than a month without these names or numbers materializing, and no further contact, we have provided our readers with the one and only name and phone number connected to this organization.
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