Mount Vernon Statement: A fake Hitler outdid conservatives online

A fake Hitler brought down conservatives' efforts to gather online signatures for the Mount Vernon Statement. Is the Internet too free?

Cliff Owen/AP
Kathryn Lopez signs the Mount Vernon Statement at the Collingwood Library and Museum in Alexandria, Va., on Feb. 17. The effort to get online signatures was suspended after a fake Hitler put his name down.

Is the Internet too free – even for limited-government conservatives?

On Wednesday, as President Obama and his cabinet were touting the benefits of his $787 billion stimulus package, a group of conservatives gathered in Alexandra, Va., to sign a document dedicated to the ideal of small and limited government.

The symbolism was important. The document was called the Mount Vernon Statement, recalling the home of George Washington. "We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding," it began. Even the website was designed to look like parchment.

But when the group invited Americans to sign the document online – complete with cursive signatures and a graphic quill – participatory democracy broke down in the face of the no-rules Internet.

For a time, it appeared that the statement's first signer was Adolph Hitler, or at least someone referencing the German dictator while misspelling his first name. "Joe Dufus" got in his digital John Hancock and so did another would-be prankster, The American Prospect reported.

Organizers promptly pulled the plug on the virtual signing feature.

“There were a lot of people who were playing games and posting vulgarities,” says Keith Appell, senior vice president of CRC Public Relations, who is a spokesman for the group. “We didn’t want people to use it as a forum for junior high antics.”

One hopes that in 1789, when anonymity was a little harder to come by in a live constitutional assembly, Americans were more polite to one another – or at least, more respectful.

The Mount Vernon Statement has collected some 4,300 legitimate signatures so far, Mr. Appell says. Many of them are familiar names from old-time conservative circles. And the group might consider reinstating the digital-signing feature, Appell says, if it can somehow weed out the fake John Hancocks and Adolf Hitlers.

A conservative group is trying to get fellow conservatives to recommit to the ideals of the Founding Fathers. But its online effort at participatory democracy was undermined by Internet pranksters. Is the Internet too free? Let us know on Twitter @CSMecon.

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