I apologize for the interruption in service yesterday, but my site was taken down without my consent, at the request of a man by the name of Justin Zatkoff. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about Justin back in 2006, when he was severely beaten in Ann Arbor. The story went viral in conservative circles, as you may recall, as Zatkoff, a student at Oakland University, was, at the time, the executive director of the Michigan College Republicans. Furthermore, it was suggested to investigators that his beating was likely the work of his liberal enemies. Here, with more on that, is a clip from the conservative website The Truth Causus, which proclaimed the attack to be a “hate crime” perpetrated by “liberal thugs.”
Justin Zatkoff, the executive director of the Michigan College Republicans, was brutally beaten after leaving a party in Ann Arbor on Saturday night. The Oakland University junior from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. was rumored to be targeted by militant leftist groups. Zatkoff, pictured above, did not know his attacker, and no money was stolen.
A source close to Zatkoff reports:
Justin may have been 1. randomly attacked (but not robbed??), 2. attacked by BAMN (well known for violence and strong in Ann Arbor), or 3. attacked by a homosexual rights group (Justin received an ‘odd/threatening’ email from a gay rights group about a day before the attack.)
As hard as it may be to believe, however, that was not the case. Justin was not beaten by a menacing gang of homosexuals. His eye socket, nose and nasal cavity were not broken by the members of BAMN, who, to my knowledge, have never done anything more radical than march around campus with signs advocating for affirmative action and immigrant rights. No, he was beaten by a friend in Ann Arbor after drunkenly provoking said friend. The following comes by way of the October 1, 2006 issue of the Michigan Daily.
…Last Thursday, Don Carlson, state chair of the Michigan College Republicans, issued a statement urging students to “Keep (Justin) in your prayers” during his surgery and to “Travel in groups when possible, especially until the elections are over.”
Carlson also included a link to the post on truthcaucus.com alleging that it was liberals who had beaten Zatkoff.
The police report tells a much different story.
Police said Zatkoff received his puffy purple left eye during a fight with a high school friend.
Zatkoff was at a friend’s party on the 1100 block of White Street on Sept. 23 when he engaged in what the police report called “horseplay” with a friend. Fueled by alcohol, Zatkoff was belligerent.
“When Zatkoff drinks, he gets a little out of control,” the report quoted one of Zatkoff’s friends. “At this particular party Zatkoff was being obnoxious.”
Another one of Zatkoff’s friends eventually admitted to police that it was he – not a gang of angry liberals – who punched Zatkoff.
After learning of the friend’s confession, Carlson said his statement had not been politically motivated.
“I wanted people to be warned of it and be careful,” he said. “That’s just good advice”…
Well, according to LinkedIn, it would appear that Zatkoff is now studying law at University of Detroit Mercy. I’ve also heard from a friend that he’s been interning for a Republican federal judge appointed by Reagan, by the name of Lawrence Paul Zatkoff. (Judge Zatkoff, I’m told, is best known around these parts for accusing federal agents of entrapment in a discrimination case against Ypsilanti landlords known for refusing to rent to families with children.) Given that their shared last name isn’t terribly common, and that Lawrence is a graduate of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where Justin now attends, my guess is that the two men are related. I’m tempted to add something at this point about nepotism, and how this is just one more instance of Republican hypocrisy, given that Justin Zatkoff, from what I’m told, spent a great deal of time on the University of Michigan campus a half dozen years ago, protesting affirmative action, telling people that such policies gave students of color unfair advantage over their white counterparts, but I’ll save that rant for another day.
So, it would appear that Justin Zatkoff, now in law school and working for a relative who happens to be a federal judge, is looking to clean up his online image. And, in hopes of seeing that accomplished, he sent out a slew of cease and desist letters citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on October 31. (He maintained, in my case, that I didn’t have the rights to use the photo of him with a black eye, which accompanied my 2006 article.) Unfortunately, however, the company that hosts my site didn’t let me know until Thursday, and, when they did, I didn’t immediately read their email. So, on Friday, they pulled my site. It wasn’t a huge deal for me, seeing as how I don’t derive my income from the site, but the idea that someone like Zaktoff could have my site yanked from the internet, I guess you could say, kind of pissed me off. Not having the financial resources to fight him in court, and lacking a relative on the federal bench, I removed the offending image, and, within a day, my site was back up. As I said, it wasn’t a terrible ordeal, but, if I were dependent upon this site for an income, the interruption could have been devastating, and, because of that, I felt that I shouldn’t just let it go without doing something that could perhaps dissuade others in the future from following Zatkoff’s example. So, I sent word out to my artist friends that I was looking for drawings and paintings of Zatoff, to replace the one that I didn’t own the rights to… The results can be seen to the right. The first image is by Alexis Ford. The second is by Ann Schneider… And here’s the DMCA letter, minus Zatkoff’s contact information.
Being a bleeding heart liberal, I’m somewhat conflicted about this. Zatkoff was likely about 20 when this original incident took place. Vaguely remembering what life was like at that age, I can imagine that he was confused, upset and embarrassed when he got his ass kicked by a friend for being… to quote the Michigan Daily… “obnoxious” and “out of control.” I can easily imagine how someone in that situation might tell police, as Zatkoff did, that he didn’t know his attackers. I cannot begin to fathom, however, how he could allow the “hate crime” lie to spread across the internet, knowing full well that it wasn’t the case. While it’s unclear to me as to whether or not the idea to blame the attack on “liberal thugs” actually originated with Zatkoff, it’s obvious that he didn’t do anything to stop that narrative from spreading prior to the 2006 election. And I find that to be absolutely despicable. Not only were our limited police resources being diverted unnecessarily from other vital tasks, but the student members of BAMN, and others, had to experience the indignity of being investigated as suspects, and confront the very real threat of serving time in jail for a violent crime that they didn’t commit.
But, in spite of all this, I could perhaps have found it in my heart to be forgiving. And, if he’d written to me and explained that he’d learned from the experience, and was attempting to move forward with his life, I likely would have wished him well and removed the image without a second thought. Instead, however, he took legal action, forcing my site to be taken down. (Granted, some fault lies with my site’s host for not alerting me sooner of the DMCA notice.) That doesn’t, to me, show remorse. Quite the contrary, the image that it conjures for me is of a wealthy, entitled Republican law student from West Bloomfield, who thinks that he can bully people into assisting him in his quest to rewrite history, and scrub the internet clean relative to this shameful incident, so that he can continue to ascend through the ranks of the Michigan Republican Party apparatus. (Speaking of which, you can find a nice photo of Zatkoff at a University of Michigan football game with Governor Rick Snyder and Congressman Fred Upton here… It would seem that maybe I knew what I was talking about in 2006, when I wrote, “He’ll no doubt go very far in conservative politics.”)
[note: According to a short update on the Michigan Liberal website in 2008, Zatkoff, in addition to filing a false police report, has also "faced allegations of illegal campaign finance activity, immoral behavior (including posing semi-naked for sexually explicit photos), (and) corruption." And, it would seem, this is not the first time that he's threatened to sue. "In a weird twist of events," According to the report by Michigan Liberal, "Zatkoff even threatened to sue Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis after scores of College Republicans were leaving the organization and pleading with Anuzis to remove Zatkoff as chairman."]
And here’s the irony… Because of these recent threats of legal action over copyright, Zatkoff’s name is once again making its way around the internet. If I didn’t find his previous actions so loathsome, I’d feel bad for the guy. He clearly doesn’t understand how the internet works, and, now, as a result of his actions, he’s going to experience the full force of the Streisand effect (the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely). Yes, a huge storm is forming off the coast, ready to blow inland. Memes are gathering on the horizon, and new articles are being written. Soon, a whole new generation of Americans will know about Zatkoff, and, this time, thanks to Facebook, it will spread like wildfire.
[update: I've just been alerted to the fact that Justin now has his own ArborWiki page.]
It’s also worth noting, that some sites that have been threatened by Zatkoff aren’t removing their images. From what it looks like TMZ is among them. The image accompanying their 2008 article on Zatkoff, which is the same one that I’d used, is still up. (Their article was on Zatkoff having been fired from his position within the Republican National Committee’s “Victory ’08″ Campaign, “after he stole 300,000 pieces of campaign literature from Michigan campaign headquarters.”) Another site, by the name of Sadly No, is openly mocking his request, saying that the image that they’re using, which was taken by a Michigan Daily photographer, falls under fair use. (I’m glad to see that not everyone has buckled under the pressure, like I did.)
Oh, and if I’m reading this correctly, he’s not only fighting to have people remove his image from their sites, but he’s petitioning Google to stop indexing pages that reference his sordid past.
All of this has me wondering if perhaps the College Republicans offer a Web-washing 101 course at their annual convention. And, if not, I wonder if there might be a business in consulting with young, conservative political operatives who want to hide their campus activities before heading into the real world. I suspect it could be quite lucrative.
The bottom line is that we can’t just let these things slide, regardless of how inconsequential they may seem to us today, more than half a decade later. People need to be held accountable for their actions, and college students need to learn that there will be consequences for this kind of behavior, regardless of whether or not they have powerful relatives who are able to pull strings on their behalf. And, while we’re at it, I think this is a good place to add that the College Republicans, like the rest of the Republican party, need to undergo a serious reformation. I’d argue that these actions of Justin Zatkoff’s did not take place in a vacuum, but were informed by the culture of the College Republicans, which has been poisoned since the early 1970s by the likes of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater. The “win at all costs” mentality that they’ve driven into young, impressionable conservatives may have served their cause well for a time, but I’d argue that it’s time for a change. And, judging from the last election cycle, a great number of Americans agree. We’ve had enough of lies and deceit. What we need to focus on now is reality and honesty. And not allowing Zatkoff to rewrite history in this case, I think, is a good first step.