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Wednesday, 28 January 2015 14:43

Haywood GOP members draw the line over inflammatory emails

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coverMonroe Miller is no stranger to the inbox.

Hundreds of emails from Miller have peppered the email accounts of people in Haywood County over the past five years, targeting those he believes have misstepped.

SEE ALSO:
GOP insider charged with cyberstalking party volunteer
To snag a cyberstalker

His targets are accused of being inept or under-handed — and sometimes both. Miller summons large audiences to the email chain, roping in spectators through the cc line to witness the latest attack.

Some have been bombarded with critical emails from Miller for years. Others may land in the crosshairs for a few weeks or months before he moves on to a new target. County workers — from the election office to the community college to the finance department — are among the most common targets, accused of incompetence at best and outright fraud at worst.

Miller’s other main email arena is the Haywood County Republican Party, where a struggle has been playing out for two years between long-time mainstream party members and a faction of Miller supporters trying to take control of the party.

The issues that invoke the ire of Miller’s mass email are varied, ranging from petty paperwork mistakes to allegations of widespread government cover-up.

They are too numerous and too varied to highlight in this article — since doing so would require long explanations of how Miller arrived at his allegation and equally long explanations by those being targeted deflecting the allegations. But five years’ worth can be found on Miller’s website, www.haywoodtp.net.

Miller’s supporters portray him as a crusader for truth and righteousness, but Miller’s critics say the allegations and criticisms are meritless, intended only to humiliate and embarrass people.

“In my opinion Mr. Miller is a bully who tries to intimidate and harass people — primarily females — by filling their inboxes with a voluminous number of emails, addressing them in derogatory and condescending language and generally making a pest of himself,” said Haywood GOP Chair Pat Carr, who has been the subject of more than critical emails from Miller and his faction over the past two years. “This is Mr. Miller’s standard modus operandi. “

Carr is among many who have spoken up about their own experience on the receiving end of Miller’s emails following misdemeanor cyber stalking charges filed against him last week.

Savannah Tedesco, a 24-year-old volunteer for the local Republican party, claims Miller would not stop sending her intimidating and embarrassing emails after she asked him to quit. 

“Apparently Ms. Tedesco has no patience or sympathy for his tactics,” Carr said.

Miller maintains that he is innocent. He declined to participate in an interview for this article, which is his long-standing practice when it comes to interview requests from the The Smoky Mountain News.

 

Enough already

The cyber stalking charges are playing out against the larger backdrop of a rift in the Haywood GOP that has been brewing for nearly three years. A wedge has been driven through the party, with Miller’s faction on one side and mainline Republicans on the other.

Despite being lambasted often by fellow party members in Miller’s faction, Carr said it goes against her grain to speak out publicly.

“It is not my habit to publicly criticize fellow Republicans who are all striving for common goals, even when we disagree on strategies. However some principles are more important than party loyalty,” Carr said.

Several mainline party members have joined Carr in support of Tedesco since she filed the charges. 

K.G. Watson, who became active with the local GOP about a year ago after retiring to Maggie Valley, said he hopes Miller’s negative email dialogues will diminish now.

“Anyone that does that needs to be reined in,” said Watson, who’s on the mainline side of the party and serves as the Haywood GOP finance chair. “If they are a little irritating that is one thing, but if you start calling people names and saying things that aren’t true, they would be open to legal action. If they do that to me, I can assure you that is what I would do.”

Others in Miller’s faction occasionally join in the email criticism of mainline party members, cheering Miller on and chiming in with criticism of their own.

Matthew Hebb, a long-time friend of Tedesco, sent a parting email before he and Tedesco moved away this month, urging the party to unite and root out the animosity that is pulling it down.

“I will add that it is a sad state of affairs when people who volunteer their time to help the party are treated in such a manner,” Matthew Hebb wrote in an email to Miller this month. “I sincerely hope that those in Haywood county that are reasonable reject the behavior of a misguided man such as Monroe Miller and realize that harassment is no way to help Republicans get elected in either Haywood County or North Carolina as a whole.”

Tedesco is not the first person to ask Miller to stop emailing her.

Brian Strum, secretary of the local party, is routinely chastised by Miller in emails — dozens and dozens of them over the last year. Strum said he asked Miller to stop more than once, but to no avail.

“I have repeatedly asked that you do not address me like you do. Do not email me ever again. We are done. This is the only notice I will give you,” Strum wrote in an email to Miller on Nov. 15 at 7:40 p.m.

Eight minutes later Miller replied and told Strum he would not stop.

Miller followed up with another email that simply said: 

“Brian Strum Meltdown #2?”

Strum finally decided to change his email address, which he has thus far kept a secret from Miller. 

“I have told him I do not appreciate the politics of personal destruction and have repeatedly asked him to stop,” Strum said. “I feel like he has sent me emails that are abusive, annoying, threatening, harassing and embarrassing.”

Miller said since he is a precinct chair, he is entitled to email Strum, who is an officer in the party. Strum told Miller he was welcome to call him or write him, just not to email him.

“I am not saying you cannot communicate with me. I am saying you can’t email me,” Strum said.

But Miller hasn’t called or written since Strum changed his email address two months ago. Strum said it seems like Miller was more interested in attacking Strum in front of an audience than actually communicating with him.

“He is using email to grandstand. He plays on the email popularity chain. He wants to look big,” Strum said.

Miller’s email criticisms of Strum were routinely copied to about 20 people on the Haywood GOP governing committee — comprised of precinct chairs and the officers.

But some of the email chains eventually end up on Miller’s website, Haywood County Toe Prints, with accompanying commentary. His website is a repository of years of his email dialogues, which remain open to public viewing indefinitely.

Sometimes active party members who are not on the official GOP governing committee get roped in to email conversation as well, and likewise have mixed results when they ask to be left off the chain.

“This is my second or third request to be left off the emails,” Lynda Bennett, a party volunteer, wrote in 2013. “And when bantering back and forth there is no need to ‘REPLY ALL’ since most of us are not involved in these personal conversations between only a few people.”

“I will make sure your e-mail address is removed if and when this current dialogue continues,” Miller replied.

A few who have asked Miller to stop emailing them have been successful. But those who have any sort of official capacity in the party — like precinct chairs and vice chairs — have had less luck, as Miller believes he has a right to email them about anything he thinks relevant to party affairs.

Miller sent out an email Monday putting them on notice he would no longer comply with requests from party committee members to be removed from his emails.

“I will make no attempt to redact anyone’s name or email address as I have done in the past. Exec committee members can thank Savannah Tedesco for that,” Miller wrote.

Susan Brown, the treasurer for the local GOP, asked Miller last fall to stop emailing her, but to no avail.

“This is the only notice you will receive from me. Do not ever send an email to either of my accounts again. If I receive emails from you I will consider it to be harassment and act appropriately,” Brown wrote in a reply email to Miller on Oct. 12 at 5:03 p.m.

Brown said she was tired of being “bombarded by trash emails” from Miller and the handful in his faction.

Miller promptly replied that he wouldn’t stop emailing her.

Brown said Miller and his faction defend their copious emails laced with criticisms as merely asking questions to get the bottom of things. But from her perspective, the intent is to “belittle” people, she said.

“They aren’t exactly emailing you a question, they are emailing each other a question and sending it to God and everybody,” Brown said.

When responding to Tedesco’s demand that he stop sending her unsolicited mass emails, Miller replied, 

“I don’t do unsolicited mass emails.”

In the same email, however, Miller added a litany of people to the cc line, including the Waynesville police chief and Haywood sheriff.

It is unclear what Miller’s interpretation of “unsolicited mass emails” is.

But here’s what the record shows: a review of more than 300 emails sent by Miller over the past four years shows a pattern of emails being sent to six or more people at a time who had not initiated or invited contact from him.

He also encourages those in his faction to further disseminate the emails to an even wider audience. 

“Jonnie, please e-blast,” Miller tags on to the bottom of emails.

The phrase also puts those on notice who were criticized in the email that it is being broadcast to a larger audience in the digital sphere.

 

Friends of Miller

Miller is not without supporters.

Windy McKinney, a Libertarian who ran for Haywood County commissioner, was championed by Miller. Miller promoted her candidacy and publicly supported her run for office, including distributing criticism of her political opponents on the ballot.

McKinney said she appreciated Miller’s support, and said he has been a friend to her. However, she said she understands why people find him abrasive.

“I don’t prefer that method of getting your point across,” McKinney said.

McKinney said despite his tactics, Miller is able to bring issues to the forefront that would otherwise slide under the radar.

“He is effective and he does make things happen. He really does,” McKinney said.

Denny King, an active member of the Republican Party and a three-time candidate for county commissioner, said Miller stands up against the powers that be to defend those who otherwise don’t have the wherewithal or know-how to speak up — whether it is an individual or all county taxpayers as a whole.

“What I have noticed with Monroe is the things he gets involved in are instances when other people are being abused,” King said. “I think he does a good service to the county and he thinks he makes a difference.”

King said it was not his place to judge how Miller goes about it.

“I don’t like to tell people what they should say or shouldn’t say,” King said. 

Jeremy Davis, a Republican who recently became active in the party, said, “I appreciate the fact people like Monroe are out there looking at things. He looks at things through a different lens and thinks to ask things I would never think to ask.”

“I am thankful to God we have people in this country who ask questions. Where would we be if everybody said, ‘Ah well, just business as usual?’” said Davis.

Eddie Cabe, a Republican precinct chair in Miller’s faction, said Miller’s critics are trying to silence him.

“Their goal is to keep people silent and stop people from sending emails and stop people from asking questions,” Cabe said.

Cabe said GOP officers at the regional level of the party have recently demanded that he stop sending them emails.

Cabe said Miller is a “true patriot.” Cabe also said he has never known Miller to use email as a tool to harass, intimidate or embarrass people.

“I have probably seen 1,000 of his emails and I have never seen that,” Cabe said.

In one recent email, Miller wrote to Carr, “Have you gone daft?”

Miller also called Carr a “piece of work,” in another email. Miller has also referred to Carr’s time as the party chair as her “reign of shame.”

Cabe added that it is not illegal to call people names.

“Those are all adjectives. We use those in the English language. I am pretty sure the First Amendment covers the use of adjectives,” Cabe said.

“Free speech is free speech,” he said.

Davis said Miller is not guilty of cyber stalking, citing an exemption for political expression.

“If you are doing this as a form of political expression, it is not cyber stalking,” Davis said.

 

To block or not to block

County Commissioner Kevin Ensley blocked incoming emails from Miller a few years ago after feeling like they had become abusive. County Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick followed suit.

Cabe said commissioners were violating the Constitution by blocking Miller’s emails.

“The Constitution says I have the right to redress my government for grievances,” Cabe said. “Have you ever read the Constitution? It is a beautiful document.”

But the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the right to email elected officials. There are other mediums, like the public comment period at meetings, snail mail and hand-delivered papers, Ensley said.

To Ensley, Miller’s emails aren’t really attempts to redress his government anyway, but are designed to browbeat and silence those who may disagree with him for fear of being blasted in mass emails.

“If they disagree with you, they want to hurt you,” Ensley said.

Ensley, a devout Christian, has said in the past that he was also offended by Miller’s use of the phrase “God-damned” in emails.

Miller has since taken to using the phrase “expletive deleted” as a substitute. It frequently appears as an adjective in his emails to denote a higher level of incredulity than normal over some perceived transgression by the person on the receiving end.

“Quit trying to [expletive deleted] this up,” Miller wrote to Haywood County Tax Administrator David Francis last month, after Francis refused to hold a sit-down meeting with him.

“What the [expletive deleted]!” Miller wrote in an email to GOP Chair Pat Carr asking about party finances.

“Commissioners [Expletive Deleted] up,” Miller wrote in the subject line of an email last month regarding the bond they set for the new tax collector.

“Someone must have kicked her in the [expletive deleted] to finally respond to me,” Miller wrote in an email last year to Buncombe County school officials over a contract bid he found questionable.

Occasionally, when someone blocks Miller’s emails, he attempts to circumvent their block by getting someone else to send it to them.

“P.S. Can someone on this copy list forward this link to Kirkpatrick and Ensley? They don’t accept my e-mails,” or “Please forward this e-mail to Kevin Ensley, as he deletes e-mail that I send to him,” Miller adds at the end of emails criticizing county officials.

He has also tried to get emails to Strum since Strum changed his email address.

“To Brian Strum’s Mother, Aunt Susan or wife Hannah…It would appear that Brian Strum has childishly attempted to block my e-mails (kind of like an ostrich sticking his head in a hole in the ground). Can I please prevail upon any of you three to forward this e-mail to him?” Miller wrote in an email last November, copied to around 20 people.

Miller habitually uses the self-designated nickname “Brian’s Aunt,” “Brian’s wife” and “Brian’s mother,” rather than their own name, whether addressing them directly in emails or at party meetings or referring to them in mass emails.

Strum said that was derogatory and intended as an insult. Susan Brown, known by Miller as “Brian Strum’s Aunt,” said she was proud to be Brian’s aunt, however, and took the nickname as a compliment.

Miller’s emails are known to include derogatory characterizations.

“The Carrs are a piece of work,” he wrote in one email.

In a recount of the January GOP meeting, Miller characterized Brown as having a melt-down. He wrote on his website that she “went postal” and “began shaking so badly, I expect that Cal Tech’s seismology equipment could have picked up the tremors. I thought we might have to call EMS. It was a classic melt-down. She gathered up her belongings and stormed out of the room, shaking.”

Brown is not the first to be characterized as having a “melt-down” by Miller. He has used the term against at least three other people, who at some point have had enough and display signs of irritation. He often coins them “The Great –so-and-so Melt Down” and alludes to them repeatedly in emails.

 

Political gamesmanship

Miller claimed on his website that emails to fellow members of the local GOP governing committee are immune from the cyberstalking charge because they are political in nature, which is expressly exempted.

Haywood GOP Pat Carr has asked Miller to stop lacing his emails with personal attacks, however.

“In the future it would be more helpful if your emails concerned only the topic referenced in the subject line and not personal attacks on other members,” Carr wrote to Miller last fall.

Others have also drawn a distinction between party business and hurtful personal attacks.

“Mr. Miller, I volunteered to be treasurer, not your whipping boy,” Brown replied.

Miller, however, replied that he was standing up to injustice and going after those who abuse their power. He specifically cited his mother’s treatment by the Haywood County GOP 25 years ago as a reason for his approach now.

“You see, my mom loved politics and was heavily involved. That was about the time when the GOP told my parents, ‘You are not from here. We don’t want you. Leave,’”  Miller replied when Carr asked him to back off. “Every time I think of that, it strengthens my resolve to do something about that here and now.”

But the mainstream of the party — those Miller is at odds with in his emails — are primarily from somewhere else originally, not born and raised in Haywood.

 

GOP division

The negativity and animosity brewing within the Haywood GOP has caused some once-active volunteers to abandon the Republican Party altogether and change their registration to unaffiliated, citing the unpleasant emails from Miller as a factor.

“They have beaten people out by personally embarrassing and harassing them,” Strum said.

Others have quit participating.

“There are at least 12 really, really good workers who were just fed up with it and don’t want anything to do with the party,” said Don Kelly, a precinct chair.

Kelly recalled the first party meeting Miller ever showed up to in 2010. Kelly was the Haywood GOP chair at the time, Miller wasn’t a registered Republican at the time — he was unaffiliated — and there was some debate whether Miller should be allowed in.

“Several people said ‘Let’s take the high road and let him sit in the corner with his recorder,’” Kelly said.

Miller soon changed his registration to Republican, however, automatically ensuring access to party meetings, and there has been trouble in the party ever since, Kelly said.

“He has been doing this for years and years and years,” Kelly said.

And each time someone from the mainstream of the party gets fed up and walks, the activist faction gains ground, getting closer to holding the majority sway on the governing board and gaining full control of the party.

The mainstream, of course, tries to recruit new members to step into precinct chair rolls, to fill the ones being run off with new ones who will stand with them. But Strum said it is difficult to find anyone willing to put up with the harassment.

But some in the party aren’t budging, and have been holding off a full takeover by the faction until a critical mass of mainline Republicans can be convinced to return to the table and regain control.

Hannah Strum, one of those who refused to be run off, said the past year has been trying. She was pregnant most it, expecting her first child with her husband Brian, the party secretary.

The barrage of email attacks they endured put an emotional damper on what should have been an exciting time for them as they started a new family. 

But Hannah said they couldn’t risk skipping meetings, even as her due date closed in. The mainstream barely had a majority to stave off maneuvers from the Miller faction, and every warm body counted, she said.

Just days before her baby was due last November, Hannah attended the monthly meeting of the governing committee along with her husband, Brian, and his aunt, Susan Brown, who are also on the governing committee.

The three of them stayed for nearly three hours, but Hannah eventually had to leave.

Miller portrayed their exit from the meeting as an attempt by Brown to dodge a discussion of financial records, one of many items yet to go on the night’s agenda — which was four pages long.

“Brian’s Aunt Susan, Hannah Strum and Brian Strum got up and left en masse, like a scattering flock of birds,” Miller wrote in his account of the meeting, which ended when they exited since there was no longer a quorum.

He repeated the line in his recount of the January meeting.

“We started where we last left off at the last meeting, when Brian’s Aunt Susan, Brian Strum and Hannah Strum scattered like a flock of birds at the last meeting,” Miller wrote on his website.

Hannah said Miller mischaracterized the situation in a hurtful way. He failed to mention the prevailing condition that prompted them to leave.

“I was nine months pregnant, hadn’t eaten, worked all day, and it was 9:30 at night. I was 2 centimeters dilated, and those were metal chairs, and they had no support whatsoever,” Hannah Strum said. “It got to the point where we had to leave. Then he sent out a horrible email saying we left like a flock of birds because we wanted to avoid something.”

 

Chilling effect

Several people interviewed for this article said they were afraid of speaking out against Miller and refused to talk. They include five people from the mainstream faction of the party who said they disagreed with Miller’s tactics, including the tone, tenor and volume of emails he sends out criticizing people and name calling.

But they said they were afraid of Miller turning his crosshairs on them if they were quoted in the newspaper. 

Miller frequently tells those he has disagreements with that he will be informing “city, county, state and federal law enforcement authorities” of whatever his issue is with them. Miller regularly includes Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, Haywood Sheriff Greg Christopher, and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper in his email chains.

He also visits the police and sheriff’s office in person to make complaints, and widely broadcasts it via email whenever he has paid law enforcement a visit.

“By the way, I spent the afternoon with the Waynesville Police Chief, and he indicated the DA’s office is already all over this GOP Donation/PayPal website fiasco,” Miller wrote in an email this month, directed to mainstream party members, later adding that he had given the police an audio recording of the January GOP meeting where website donations were discussed.

Miller has indeed met with the sheriff several times to air grievances against individuals he has had disputes with.

 “Mr. Miller has scheduled appointments to meet with me at the Sheriff’s Office on several occasions over the past two years,” Christopher said in a written response.

Those on the receiving end said they feel like Miller is trying to intimidate them by copying law enforcement and flaunting his meetings with them, insinuating that he has the ear of cops.

Christopher said while he agrees to sit down and hear what Miller has to say, he would do that for anyone who asks to share concerns with him. 

“Mr. Miller has never been afforded any special privileges, nor have I made any exceptions for Mr. Miller. I have always maintained an open door policy through scheduled appointments for citizens I serve,” Christopher said.

Only one of Miller’s complaints to the sheriff’s office has actually resulted in a formal report being taken.

Miller accused Haywood County Tax Administrator David Francis of intentionally bumping him in the elbow when passing him in the hall of the justice center.

While the sheriff’s office wrote up a report outlining Miller’s accusation of assault, charges were never filed against Francis. The sheriff’s office found the complaint to be unsubstantiated after reviewing video footage from justice center surveillance cameras of the two passing in the hallway.

“The only things we would take down are things that have a criminal aspect to them; if there is a criminal allegation, we take a report,” explained Heidi Warren, public information officer for the sheriff’s office. “We listen to them and make a determination whether there was a possible criminal act involved.”

Miller makes note of the “who’s-who” in the cc line of his emails. In an email to Buncombe School Superintendent last fall, Miller suggested he had the ear of the N.C. Attorney General simply by copying him on the email. 

“Have you taken a look at the copy distribution list, after you did what you just did?” Miller wrote in an email last fall, asking for public records from the Buncombe School system. “Don’t forget, our State Attorney General, Roy Cooper, is listening in on this party line.

On another occasion, Miller played the cc card by looping the mother of his opponent du’ jour into the email chain.

“By the way, there is a new person on this copy list — Debora Strum. This is Brian Strum’s mother…I am including her on this e-mail so that she is aware of what is going on and might be able to exert some positive influence on Brian’s behavior,” Miller said.

Another higher power Miller invokes in the cc line of emails is state Republican Party leaders in Raleigh.

But Miller also warns those in his email dialogues that he will subpoena them or swear out affidavits on them.

“Brian’s Aunt Susan, how many times will it be necessary to say you still don’t get it?” Monroe wrote in an email on Nov. 8 at 11:52 a.m., demanding for the umpteenth time she turn over the party’s bank account number.

“Brian’s Aunt Susan, maybe here is something you will understand. I will not have any qualms about adding your name to the subpoena,” Miller wrote eight minutes later, after not getting a response the first time.

Brown said she felt like Miller was trying to intimidate her.

“Especially when he says ‘I am adding you to the subpoena,’” Brown said. “Then he threatened to turn us over to the FBI over the PayPal account.”

Party Chair Pat Carr said the threats of subpoena are worthless, since subpoenas can only be issued by attorneys or law enforcement when there is an active court case or criminal investigation.

As for the affidavits Miller threatens to file, Carr was the subject of one but called it “worthless.” Anyone can take any statement they please to the courthouse and ask to file it, but it doesn’t actually do anything other than sit there in a deep-storage filing cabinet.

Carr said Miller includes these techniques in his repertoire to bully people. She said Tedesco is a “very brave young lady.”

Miller is unrelenting, but that’s what it takes to be successful, according to his supporters.

“How many times do I have to say ‘Don’t mess with Monroe!’ I have never seen anyone as persistent as he is,” said an email from Jonnie Cure, who is in Miller’s faction of the Republican Party.

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