Red­skins name fight un­earths ques­tions about Oneida leader Halbrit­ter has ties to Obama, his­tory of le­gal prob­lems

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

As he de­scribes it, Ray Halbrit­ter is sim­ply on a cru­sade of con­science by spear­head­ing the ef­fort to ex­punge the “Red­skins” name from the Na­tional Foot­ball League.

But that con­tro­versy, which con­tin­ues to grow as Pres­i­dent Obama and oth­ers weigh in on whether Wash­ing­ton’s foot­ball club should aban­don what some see as a racially of­fen­sive name, has taken a de­tour in re­cent weeks. Ques­tions have arisen about Mr. Halbrit­ter’s past, his ties to Mr. Obama and po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing, clashes with oth­ers within the Oneida In­dian Na­tion, and law­suits that have chal­lenged his le­git­i­macy as the na­tion’s leader.

Mr. Halbrit­ter, rec­og­nized by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as the Onei­das’ of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a wildly suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, is de­scribed by his crit­ics as a “fraud,” and faces ac­cu­sa­tions that he is us­ing the Red­skins fight as a ve­hi­cle to boost his own po­lit­i­cal pro­file.

“I hope it’s the ar­ro­gance be­fore the fall,” said New York state Assem­bly­woman Claudia Ten­ney, a Repub­li­can who says she will file mo­tions in fed­eral court chal­leng­ing Mr. Halbrit­ter’s sta­tus as the Oneida leader.

“I think he’s try­ing to get him­self on the na­tional scene. … He co-opted this” move­ment against the Red­skins’ name, said Ms. Ten­ney, who rep­re­sents Oneida County and other parts of up­state New York in the state’s leg­is­la­ture.

In re­cent weeks, she also has pub­licly dis­puted Mr. Halbrit­ter’s lineage as a true mem­ber of the Oneida na­tion — an ac­cu­sa­tion that the tribe ve­he­mently dis­misses and char­ac­ter­izes as a vi­cious racial at­tack.

“Ob­vi­ously, he’s a mem­ber,” said Joel Barkin, the na­tion’s vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, adding that ques­tions about Mr. Halbrit­ter’s sta­tus as Oneida leader are “ab­surd” and “in­sult­ing.”

Mr. Barkin also re­ferred to com­ments to the web­site ProFoot­bal­lTalk, in which he de­scribed crit­ics as “the most com­mit­ted big­ots.”

The fierce back­lash from Mr. Halbrit­ter — the man be­hind the Change the Mas­cot cam­paign — and his al­lies doesn’t sur­prise Ms. Ten­ney and oth­ers who have dealt with him and chal­lenged him in court for years.

In 1996, the Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights filed a law­suit on be­half of the Oneida Na­tion of New York al­leg­ing that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — specif­i­cally, the In­te­rior Depart­ment and its Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs — vi­o­lated the Onei­das’ na­tional sovereignty by rec­og­niz­ing Mr. Halbrit­ter as the na­tion’s leader.

The center said the woman who led that law­suit, lawyer Bar­bara Ol­shan­sky, is no longer with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ef­forts to con­tact her were un­suc­cess­ful.

The law­suit cen­tered on the com­plaints of some Onei­das who claimed that Mr. Halbrit­ter vi­o­lated the Great Law of Peace of the Hau­denosaunee by en­ter­ing the casino busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to center doc­u­ments and case records.

The Turn­ing Stone Casino in up­state New York is a ven­ture of the Oneida Na­tion, which also owns a va­ri­ety of other stores and busi­nesses.

Amid con­tro­versy over the casino, the Grand Coun­cil of Chiefs de­cided in 1993 to re­move Mr. Halbrit­ter from his post as of­fi­cial Oneida rep­re­sen­ta­tive — a de­ci­sion that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment doesn’t rec­og­nize, records show.

Another law­suit was a 2004 chal­lenge on be­half of some Onei­das. The lawyer who filed the law­suit, Don­ald Daines, wrote that Mr. Halbrit­ter “and his casino fac­tion were im­prop­erly and il­le­gally given power by the [Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs] over the in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal af­fairs of the Oneida In­dian Na­tion of New York.”

Mr. Daines could not be reached for com­ment and is no longer with the New Jersey firm at which he worked dur­ing the time of the law­suit.

Those and other chal­lenges have been un­suc­cess­ful, and Mr. Halbrit­ter has con­tin­ued to hold his in­flu­en­tial and pow­er­ful role.

But Mr. Halbrit­ter may be com­ing un­der an in­creas­ingly bright spot­light.

On Sun­day, the New York Post pub­lished a lengthy ar­ti­cle that de­scribed how a “cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­pert” took part in its in­ter­view with Mr. Halbrit­ter and “tried to con­trol the con­ver­sa­tion.”

The “cri­sis” has risen as high-pro­file fig­ures take an in­creas­ing num­ber of shots at Mr. Halbrit­ter.

On his ra­dio talk show last week, Rush Lim­baugh dubbed Mr. Halbrit­ter “a fraud” and an “Obama crony,” and said the pres­i­dent is the one who is truly be­hind the drive to change the Red­skins’ name.

“Was there ever any doubt that Obama’s be­hind this? Not in my mind,” he said.

More at­ten­tion also has come to the Onei­das’ po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions to both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties and Mr. Halbrit­ter’s per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Obama.

In Fe­bru­ary 2012, Mr. Halbrit­ter and about 70 other In­dian of­fi­cials at­tended a Wash­ing­ton fundraiser for the pres­i­dent. The In­dian County To­day Me­dia Net­work re­ported that tick­ets for the event started at $15,000. A top dona­tion, which in­cluded pic­tures with Mr. Obama, was re­ported to be $35,800.

In Au­gust 2011, Mr. Halbrit­ter at­tended a White House meet­ing on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

In 2009, he and other tribal lead­ers at­tended a con­fer­ence at the In­te­rior Depart­ment. The pres­i­dent was present at the event for about an hour, the Oneida Na­tion said in a press re­lease.

The Oneida Na­tion dis­misses the scru­tiny of those meet­ings and Oneida cam­paign do­na­tions as noth­ing more than an ef­fort to turn at­ten­tion away from the bur­geon­ing anti-Red­skins move­ment.

“I think it’s a dis­trac­tion from the main is­sue, which is we’ve sim­ply asked for an of­fen­sive mas­cot to be changed. It’s not a par­ti­san is­sue, it’s not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. The sim­ple fact is there are both Repub­li­cans and Democrats who sup­port this,” Mr. Barkin said. “The no­tion that there has to be some right-left di­vide is un­fair be­cause I think peo­ple of good faith on all per­spec­tives … are com­ing to the un­der­stand­ing that we shouldn’t have racially of­fen­sive mas­cots.”

Through Mr. Barkin, Mr. Halbrit­ten de­clined to speak di­rectly to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Nev­er­the­less, pub­lic op­po­si­tion and crit­i­cism of the Red­skins’ name has grown in re­cent weeks.

Mr. Obama re­cently told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the team should con­sider chang­ing its moniker if any­one is of­fended. NBC Sports an­nouncer Bob Costas de­nounced the Red­skins name at half­time of their re­cent Sun­day Night game with the Dal­las Cow­boys.

Rep. Tom Cole of Ok­la­homa is among the con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans who agree with that view and say the name car­ries neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions.

Even Ms. Ten­ney, while skep­ti­cal of Mr. Halbrit­ter’s mo­tives, said the Red­skins’ name sends the wrong mes­sage. “I think it is sort of of­fen­sive,” she said. Last week, the Oneida Na­tion re­leased a poll con­ducted by Sur­veyUSA, based on 500 in­ter­views, show­ing that 59 per­cent of

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ray Halbrit­ter, na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Oneida In­dian Na­tion, has been called a fraud who is try­ing to use the con­tro­versy over the Wash­ing­tont Red­skins name to raise his po­lit­i­cal pro­file, but he has won a num­ber of le­gal chal­lenges against him.

Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der has vowed never to aban­don his team’s name.

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