Muscling A Web Site Into A Social Movement

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, July 22, 2007

Illegal immigrant ice cream vendors might be spreading leprosy in Manassas. Prince William County has been infiltrated by “unassimilated marxist radicals.” Manassas Park police covered up the predations of five Hispanic men who gang-raped a woman in the street in June.

These claims, among others, have been made in recent months by Greg Letiecq, whose popular blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li, offers “Blog-Fu for Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park politics”—often making up in passion what it lacks in proof.

But Letiecq (pronounced LUH-teek) is not some mouse-pushing crackpot with a keyboard and an Internet connection. In the past 18 months, Letiecq has leveraged his blog to help elect allies, kill off opponents’ campaigns and shape local public policy. Peers call his site the most influential local blog in Virginia.

Since April, Letiecq has used his blog to sign up more than 500 members for his anti-illegal immigrant organization, Help Save Manassas, quickly building it into one of the region’s most effective social movements. He and his group researched, facilitated and wrote parts of the illegal-immigration resolution that Prince William officials adopted this month, working with the Washington-based Immigration Reform Law Institute.

The resolution—approved unanimously July 10—seeks to deny services to illegal immigrants and sharply increase immigration enforcement by police. Its sponsor, John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville), is Letiecq’s district representative and also a member of Help Save Manassas.

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His movement has tapped into a wellspring of simmering anger over illegal immigration and a general unease about the large influx of Hispanic residents who have moved to the region in the past decade, sparking suburban clashes over such quality-of-life issues as overcrowding, language, even lawn care.

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When Letiecq isn’t helping write county policy in Prince William, he can be found writing material of a different sort as Black Velvet Bruce Li. Among the ranks of the online martial artists who spin and strike across the so-called blogosphere, Letiecq is a virtual ninja, practicing character assassination, innuendo and exhortation with the skill of a black belt.

“He has by far the most well-trafficked local blog in the state and, as far as influencing public policy, one of the most influential blogs in the country,” said Ben Tribbett, whose Not Larry Sabato blog covers Virginia politics.

David Mastio, who tracks 200 Virginia political blogs on his Blognetnews.com, ranks Letiecq “the most influential conservative blogger in Northern Virginia” and among the top three most-influential political blogs in the state. Letiecq’s site tallies about 47,000 distinct page views a day and counts 5,000 unique visitors, although he said he earns only about $1.50 a day from the operation because he doesn’t have time to sell much advertising.

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“Fairfax County Harboring Illegal Aliens” was the title of a recent, and typical, Letiecq posting. Another warned “Zapatista Army Affiliate to Protest in PWC Today”—taking yet another swipe at a favorite target, the immigrant rights group Mexicans Without Borders.

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But to dismiss Black Velvet Bruce Li as the rantings of a fringe extremist underestimates Letiecq’s reach and appeal. When he isn’t fanning anti-illegal immigrant sentiment—and providing a venue for raw, sometimes bigoted views, on his comment pages—Letiecq reports on the minutiae of local news and politics to a degree no other media outlet has matched. Gossip, school board meetings, rumors, tax rate analysis—it’s all there on his site.

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Letiecq’s blog is also more media-savvy than most, using video, photos and snazzy graphics. The blog is widely praised for its playful humor, often at the expense of local officials, such as a “Ham Sandwich for Commonwealth’s Attorney” campaign mocking Democratic incumbent Paul B. Ebert, or the constant referral to a Democratic House of Delegates candidate, Jeanette Rishell, as “moonfruit.”

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In fact, Letiecq would not say that the anti-illegal immigrant campaign began in his basement so much as on his lawn. From there, he points to his neighbor’s house, emanating loud salsa music, where he believes two “illegal aliens” are living. He doesn’t have proof of this, of course, but pronounces his assumption as fact anyway.

Letiecq then points to a house two doors down, saying three families are living there with “six to eight” kids. He worries about crime, he said, and about his daughters, Lillian, 5, and Marian, 2, and whether public school resources are being diverted to English as a Second Language programs.

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When Letiecq isn’t campaigning against illegal immigration, he savages local officials, media outlets (The Washington Post is a favorite target) and candidates who disagree with his views, unafraid to strike below the belt. A Democratic candidate for the Virginia General Assembly, Jeff Dion, withdrew his candidacy in May after Letiecq attacked Dion’s “homosexual lifestyle” and revealed that Dion had a personal ad on a gay dating Web site.

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But Democrats, illegal immigrants and homosexuals aren’t Letiecq’s only targets. He has also waged a withering offensive against Faisal Gill, a Republican naval officer and former Homeland Security official of Pakistani descent who is the first Muslim nominee to the Virginia General Assembly.

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Letiecq has repeatedly derided Gill as a “terrorist” because Gill once worked for a U.S. Muslim group whose former leader was convicted of having illegal ties to the Libyan government. Gill was cleared of any wrongdoing by Homeland Security investigators. He calls Letiecq’s Web site “yellow journalism.”

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Instead, Letiecq said, he is like a 19th-century pamphleteer, advancing his views and urging others to action. “I don’t like clean, sanitized don’t-upset-anybody kinds of discussions,” he said. “We shouldn’t pull our punches.”

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