By Michael Tracey
Rudy Giuliani traversed the Media Filing Center at the University of Denver last week, acting as a “Spin Room” surrogate on behalf of his former rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Mitt Romney. Gaggles of excited journalists clustered around “America’s Mayor,” eager to hear both his debate analysis and forecasts for how the race might shake out. A Romney campaign intern named Maddie Hawkinson was tasked with following Giuliani around; she held up a sign that blared “RUDY GIULIANI,” presumably so the press would be made aware of his presence.
I caught up with Giuliani before the debate, while he was in between television interviews. What did the mayor make of The Associated Press’ recent Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the NYPD, a department over which Giuliani presided for eight years?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
“You know,” I replied. “The revelations that the NYPD were spying on Muslims without proper warrants, colluding with the CIA, acting outside of their jurisdictional authority and so forth?”
“I don’t pay attention to that,” Giuliani scoffed. “People love to attack the NYPD—love to do exaggerated reports on the NYPD. I don’t pay a lot of attention to it. I think the NYPD is the best law enforcement agency in the country. Probably the best run.”
The mayor also told me he welcomed the establishment of an NYPD outpost in Tel Aviv, Israel. “It’s a good place to have a bureau,” he said, chuckling. “You’re going to get a lot of help from Tel Aviv.” Might the expanding footprint of NYPD personnel in foreign nations cause diplomatic confusion? I inquired.
“There’s always been a problem in flow and transfer of information,” Giuliani asserted. “I think what [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly wants to do is make sure he’s got at least some flow of information for himself so that he can interpret things correctly. And if you have to have a place where you’re gonna get help and a really good analysis of what’s going on, I can’t think of a better place than Israel.”
Speaking of the NYPD, about a year ago Giuliani made headlines when he declared that law enforcement ought to have cracked down even more harshly on Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
“They were basically just a bunch of malcontents,” Giuliani said at the debate, “who obviously didn’t want to work, don’t work, wanted to occupy other people’s property, created unsanitary conditions. And there was a lot of fear, I remember, for women who were getting attacked in that compound that they had established.”
(The false meme alleging an epidemic of rapes at Occupy encampments was first promulgated by Andrew Breitbart, the New York Post and similarly disposed right-wing characters.)
Back during Occupy’s heyday, Giuliani made the curious proclamation that the movement would be “the millstone around Barack Obama’s neck that will take his presidency down.” Has this theory been borne out? I asked.
“I think they’ve kind of disappeared,” he said. “I think they were an albatross. I don’t think they helped him; I think they hurt him a lot. I think he’d like to forget it. But I think they’ve become much less of an issue, because they’ve sort of petered out into almost nothing.”
What about the Breitbart universe’s view, promoted in the new pseudo documentary “Occupy Unmasked,” that Obama had a hand in organizing Occupy Wall Street—employing stealth “Saul Alinsky-ite” tactics to spur a phony grass-roots movement and thereby ensure his re-election?
“No idea if that’s true or not,” Giuliani said. “I don’t know why he would think that it would benefit him. Most people look at something like that, who are at home and they say, ‘Why are the people not working? Why aren’t they trying to find a job?’
“I don’t see how that benefits Obama,” he continued. “I think Occupy Wall Street—I think some of the debates about income inequality could help or hurt Obama. But I think to have a movement like Occupy Wall Street, that are basically just some people sleepin’ out overnight—look like some warmed-over hippies—is not going to help in Middle America. Certainly not going to help in the swing states that Obama is trying to influence. My guess is, he’s very happy that Occupy Wall Street has petered out, because it’s also then petered out as an issue.”
Giuliani later explained to a journalist from India who had questions about foreign policy that Obama is “unrealistic about the Islamic extremist terrorist threat. Doesn’t really get it; doesn’t really see it. So maybe he moved a little too fast in overthrowing Mubarak.”
I wasn’t aware that Obama had overthrown Mubarak! In saying so, Giuliani echoed a key theme of Dinesh D’Souza’s box office-topping conspiracy propaganda film “2016: Obama’s America,” which posits that the president surreptitiously emboldened hard-core jihadist elements during the Arab Spring with the hope of undermining America.
“Maybe it would’ve been better if [Obama] had listened to his secretary of state and tried to delay that a bit,” Giuliani said of Mubarak’s overthrow, “so they could work out a better transition. Now it turns out that possibly two of the people that were engaged in killing our [Libyan] ambassador were released by the Egyptian government—which only could’ve happened because of the Arab Spring.
“I have their names here,” Giuliani announced, producing from his pocket a piece of paper emblazoned with his law firm’s logo.
“One was Mohamed al-Zawahiri,” he said. “The other was Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad. Both of them were in Egyptian prisons. They were released as a result of the Arab Spring. So now, here’s one of the collateral consequences for the U.S. in the Arab Spring—they helped kill our ambassador.”
Back to Occupy Wall Street. In Giuliani’s mind, was there any validity to the core grievances putatively associated with the movement? That, for instance, the American political system seems rigged against ordinary citizens and favors those of extreme wealth? Or that vast corporate money flooding into the electoral process threatens the integrity of our democracy?
“I think that they basically are people that are countercultural people,” Giuliani said of the Occupiers. “They’ve existed forever. They’re anti-establishment, anti-power structure. ... ”
“I think a lot of it ... ” he paused, snickering lightly. “A lot of it would be helped if they kind of worked for a living, and got a job, and kind of worked their way up the ladder. Instead of sleeping out overnight, try to find a place to sleep.
“I think it would also be a good thing if they had a better understanding and more sensitivity about sanitary conditions,” he added with palpable disdain. “People sleeping out overnight created tremendous unsanitary condition[s] for other people. Shows total disrespect for the rights of other people.”
(Recall that the NYPD repeatedly denied Occupiers’ efforts to bring port-a-potties to Zuccotti Park.)
“The way they were treating women was disgusting,” Giuliani sneered, reiterating the bogus rape claim. “Women had to get a special compound where they could be protected against these people.”
(Perhaps safety would have been less of an issue if NYPD officers hadn’t directed homeless and mentally ill people into the park?)
“So I think the image they were projecting is an image in which most people—most normal, sensible, decent people—are going to say, ‘My goodness, what kind of cause could they be representing? And they’re acting in such an almost uncivilized way.’ ”
I tried to get in one more question, but Giuliani had tired of the topic. “We’ve already spent enough time on Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “They’ve kind of disappeared as an issue. I don’t find anything interesting at all about Occupy Wall Street.
“All that I’ve found about Occupy Wall Street is they looked very dirty, they looked like they hadn’t taken a shower in a while—looked to me like they were totally [in an] unsanitary condition.”
Michael Tracey is a journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Follow him on Twitter at @mtracey.