Is Breitbart Trying For "Stupidest Conspiracy Theory" Award With Pigford Allegations?

Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

We've documented that Andrew Breitbart's admitted months-long obsession with the settlement of the Pigford black farmer discrimination is intimately wrapped up with his quest for vindication over his smear of Shirley Sherrod.

In that quest for vindication Breitbart has dreamed up an intricate conspiracy theory that involves Sherrod, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former Vice President Al Gore, Paul Friedman (the federal judge overseeing the Pigford case), and the plaintiffs' lawyers who filed the Pigford case. The apparent goal of the conspiracy, in Breitbart's mind, was to give reparations to African Americans, give Sherrod $13.3 million, "screw over" all "real" African American farmers other than Sherrod, and ultimately elect Obama as president.

In a nutshell, Breitbart says that the Pigford settlement is not about helping black farmers who were the subject of discrimination, but was about giving reparations. It was a vehicle for Democrats to win black votes in 2000 and beyond: Obama agreed to support legislation helping Pigford claimants because all of a sudden he needed to get a leg up in his successful run for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

In Breitbart's world, Sherrod, who has been awarded more money than any other Pigford claimant to date, was fired from her job because the deceptively-edited video Breitbart posted that falsely portrayed Sherrod as racist threatened to shine a spotlight on Sherrod and therefore on the Pigford fraud supported by Obama.

Even at first glance, not much about Breitbart's theory makes sense. For instance, Obama first co-sponsored a Pigford bill in February 2007, well before any primaries had taken place. Furthermore, why would firing Sherrod make it less likely that the media would focus on her?

In addition, in order for his theory that Pigford was about reparations and getting Obama elected to work, others would also have to be involved, or else be dupes. Other conspirators include Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, President Bush's Agriculture Department, President Bush's Department of Justice, and the following Republicans in Congress: Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), the rest of the Republican caucus in the Senate in 2010, and Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and James Sensenbrenner (WI). Others who may be involved include the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office.

That's one crazy conspiracy.

Here are Breitbart's comments on the members of the supposed conspiracy that he has identified:

Shirley Sherrod. Breitbart has made several claims about how Sherrod fits into this conspiracy:

  • Breitbart recently claimed that through her participation in the Pigford case, Sherrod "screwed over the black farmer."
  • Breitbart has suggested that there is something fishy about the $13.3 million Pigford award received by Sherrod, her husband, and her company, New Communities, Inc. In a 29-page report entitled The Pigford Shakedown, Breitbart stated: "On July 22, 2009, they received approval of their settlement. Three days the USDA later hired Shirley Sherrod. This was a remarkable turn of events. When was the last time you heard of a litigant hiring a plaintiff after the case was resolved?"
  • Breitbart also recently said "the person that you would go to if you were a black farmer pissed off that you lost your land in a class action lawsuit that was supposed to bring you justice was Shirley Sherrod. That's why they paid her $13.3 million. Because she now is at the Pigford monitor working for the judge. If you are a black farmer ... Shirley Sherrod is the person that they go to. And they say, 'you know Shirley, I've got a problem. I lost my farm, and my neighbors got all their $50,000 checks, and they're not farmers.' Why isn't Shirley Sherrod out there on Capitol Hill advocating on behalf of black farmers when she represented the two organizations that you would go to if you were a black farmer in trouble?"

President Obama. Breitbart's Pigford report states:

Coincidentally, then Senator Obama, who had been in Congress since January 2005, waited 6 months after he announced his presidential run to introduce S.1989: the Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007. It had no co-sponsors when introduced on August 3, 2007. The issue had little application in his state. Illinois had a grand total of 171 black farmers in 2007, it seems like an interesting choice of issues to champion.

Breitbart has also said that class action attorneys used Pigford to "create back-door reparations in order to get Barack Obama elected president of the United States."

Eric Holder and Tom Vilsack. Breitbart's report states:

When President Obama came into office, one of his first acts was to advocate a settlement for Pigford II. Along with Secretary of the Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the new administration announced in February 2010 that a settlement had been reached on Pigford II. Attorney General Eric Holder was also involved in this decision. Vilsack said, "I'm going to focus all my time and resources to making [Pigford] happen." Holder declared, "The plaintiffs can move forward and have their claims heard--with the federal government standing not as an adversary, but as a partner."

Al Gore. Breitbart's report says:

[I]t is unlikely that such racial politics could have succeeded were it not for the alliance they were able to strike with members of congress and presidential candidates who joined the Pigford bandwagon. Some of them possibly joined out of a sincere belief that they were simply redressing a historical wrong. But others clearly saw this as an opportunity to expand their own political fortunes. It is curious to note that the three big pushes for Pigford have occurred right before three national elections: 1999, 2007, and now 2010. An the alarming theory has been put forth by USDA whistleblower Thomas Kalil: he maintains that Pigford was designed to buy the rural vote for Al Gore and the Democratic party in the 2000 election.

Judge Paul Friedman. Breitbart's report says:

[Pigford] is a saga of fraud and financial manipulation, which has been incubated by an activist judge, and exploited, by trial attorneys, activists, and politicians.

[...]

In the opinion accompanying the Consent Decree, Judge Paul Friedman, a judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, hinted at what might lie ahead, arguing that the case was in his mind an opportunity to deal with more than the alleged discrimination at USDA and serve a larger purpose. His opinion began with an unequivocal reference to reparations, "Forty acres and a mule. As the Civil War drew to a close, the United States Government created the Freedmen's Bureau to provide assistance to former slaves..." He went on: "These events were the culmination of a strong of broken promises that had been made to African American farmers for well over a century. It is difficult to resist the impulse to try to undo all the broken promises and years of discrimination that have led to the precipitous decline in the number of African American famers in the United States. The Court has before it a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit that will not undo all that has been done. Despite that fact, however, the Court finds that the settlement is a fair resolution of the claims brought in this case and a good first step towards assuring that the kind of discrimination that has been visited on African American farmers since Reconstruction will not continue into the next century. The Court therefore will approve the settlement." The consent decree was about more than the USDA.

Breitbart has also said that "Shirley Sherrod was one of the only people paid that amount of money. And she was basically put in charge of the Pigford monitor to work with federal judge Paul Friedman to act as the fox guarding the hen house."

The Pigford plaintiffs' attorneys. From Breitbart's press event at CPAC:

BREITBART: What we were able to find out from Pigford is that it's majority fraud. What we were able to find out with Pigford is that the class action attorney, the lead class counsel, Al Pires used the black farmers in order to create this lawsuit. They were basically a Trojan Horse. And at the last second, without consulting with the black farmers, he created a two-track system. Track A was for attempted-to-farmers. Track B, if you dared take that, if you were an actual black farmer, the chances were that you would lose.

And here are some of the other people who must be involved in the conspiracy (or have been duped into unwittingly furthering the conspiracy):

The Unanimous Republican Caucus In The Senate. Breitbart repeatedly includes as part of his conspiracy theory that money for the Pigford settlement was taken out of a supplemental appropriations bill less than a week after Sherrod was fired. But Democrats did not take it out because they were in a sudden rush to disappear the Pigford money. In fact, two days after Sherrod was forced out of her job, Senate Democrats forced a vote on a version of the bill containing $1.15 billion for Pigford claims. Republicans unanimously voted to kill that version of the bill (except for two Republicans who were absent). It was only after the Senate failed to pass that version of the bill that Democrats stripped the Pigford provisions out of the bill. Thus, Senate Republicans were the ones who caused the Pigford money to be stripped out. So they must be in on the conspiracy.

The Bush Justice And Agriculture Departments. Breitbart accuses the Justice and Agriculture Departments of ignoring the supposed massive fraud that has occurred in the Pigford settlement. But that would mean that the Bush Justice Department would have to have been on the conspiracy theory. Friedman approved the Pigford settlement on April 14, 1999. About 21 months later, the Bush administration came into office. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was paid out to Pigford claimants after Bush took over. Yet, according to Breitbart, the Justice and Agriculture Departments did not act in the face of this obvious fraud.

Sen. Chuck Grassley. Breitbart has claimed that Obama joined this conspiracy by sponsoring a bill to open up the Pigford settlement to additional claimants who did not file on time. But several months before Obama filed his bill, Grassley sponsored a very similar bill. So, was Grassley in on the conspiracy to elect Obama?

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Clinton and Biden co-sponsored Grassley's bill (as did Obama). Does that mean that the then-presidential candidates were in on the conspiracy to elect Obama rather than themselves?

Steve Chabot. Chabot, a Republican congressperson from Ohio, co-sponsored two House versions of Grassley's and Obama's bills.

James Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner, a Republican congressperson from Wisconsin and a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also co-sponsored a version of Grassley's bill.

Congressional Research Service. The Congressional Research Service has issued a report on the Pigford settlement (updated several times). Far from providing any evidence that Pigford is a backdoor attempt by Democrats to give out reparations, it actually pokes a hole in a central part of Breitbart's thesis: his argument that because the number of Pigford claimants exceeds the number of African American-operated farms counted by the census, there must be massive fraud in the case. Either the Congressional Research Service is in on the fraud, or it has been duped.

Government Accountability Office. The Government Accountability Office has also issued a Pigford report. According to GAO's website, "GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars." Nevertheless, its report on Pigford does not document massive fraud. Either GAO is in on the conspiracy, or it has been duped.

The Arbitrator Who Decided Sherrod's Claim. Breitbart said that Sherrod got $13.3 million because of her advocacy on behalf of Pigford claimants. However, the arbitrator who reviewed the claims by Sherrod, her husband, and her company, New Communities, Inc., found that the claimants had provided numerous instances in which they had been treated differently from white farmers following a major drought in the early 1980s and that the USDA "offered no nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct." Specifically, with regard to a demand by the Farmers Home Administration that New Communities pay $50,000 from the sale of timber in order to secure an emergency loan, the arbitrator found:

Claimant testified that "Farmer B, a white farm located in Lee County sold timber in 1981 ... and the sale proceeds [were] treated like normal income. He didn't have to give the proceeds of the timber sale to FmHA." Claimant's expert testified that the "County Supervisor accepted that timber attached to real property is normal farm income." As a result, the Chief Arbitrator finds that FmHA did treat a similarly situated white farmer more favorably than New Communities.

Respondent alleges that it had a nondiscriminatory reason for making the $50,000 demand as a precondition to obtaining the Emergency Loan - that "since it was part of the real estate and reduced the value of the real estate, the FSA policy is that the borrower has to pay toward the liens of the real estate from the proceeds of, in this case, the timber sale." However, the arbitrator found that the Respondent did not have a security interest in the Dewey Gowan property. Accordingly, the Chief Arbitrator finds the USDA's explanation for why it made a $50,000 demand on New Communities as a precondition to obtain a loan was a pretext. The demand for the $50,000 realized from property in which Respondent had no interest, was an outrageous act -- one totally unsupported by FmHA policy or regulation. In fact, the County Supervisor, in his deposition testified that he could not think of any circumstances under which FmHA would require such a payment. The payment smacks of nothing more than a feudal baron demanding additional crops from his serfs. The Chief Arbitrator finds no legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the demand.

Thus, for Breitbart's complaint to be true, the Pigford arbitrator is also either in on the conspiracy or a dupe.

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