Now this is a compelling political story.
A smart, talented, highly motivated guy, albeit one given to romanticizing himself, commits a war crime, and then he joins the Tea Party. Wow.
I could easily write a couple thousand words on this guy, but I’ll keep it short, for today: he’s the Tea Party candidate in North Carolina’s 7th district. He beat fellow Republican William Breazeale in the primary and takes on incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre for the congressional seat. Polls have him trailing McIntyre by up to 12 points for the traditionally Democratic spot.
After serving in the first Gulf War, he returned to the states and began to put together a career, working at Goldman Sachs and elsewhere. Putting down roots, getting married, having kids.
After 9/11, the desire to go back into the service overcame him, and he joined the Marines, went to officer candidate’s school. He shipped off to Iraq and was serving as a Second Lieutenant when the Iraqi insurgency began.
On April 15th, 2004, Lt. Pantano led his platoon to an area near Mahmuhdiyah, outside of Fallujah. While the rest of his men went through a compound suspected of holding insurgents, Pantano and two of his men detained a car containing two men that had exited the compound. They pulled the men out, cuffed them with zip ties, and went through the car, finding some suspicious looking wires. The Marines who ransacked the compound found AKs, mortar stakes and more wires.
Pantano ordered the men un-cuffed. He ordered his own two men to stand watch at the front and rear of the car, which they did, turning their backs to the scene. He ordered the two detainees to kneel inside the open front and back doors of the car, to pull the interior apart again to prove to Pantano they weren’t secreting anything else, which they did. When they began to talk to each other, he told them in Arabic to be quiet.
And then Pantano began shooting. After emptying one magazine into the two detainees, he pulled a second magazine and loaded it, and then emptied that magazine as well. 60 bullets in all.
After the shooting, he fashioned a placard with his favorite Marine motto: “NO BETTER FRIEND, NO WORSE ENEMY”. He left the placard against the window of the car.
Eventually, word of the shooting got around to Marine authorities, and he was brought up in court martial. He was charged with pre-meditated murder, among six other charges, and faced a possible death sentence.
But one of the two men at the scene was a bad witness (and probably a spotty Marine), and the charges were dropped. Pantano’s career essentially over, he was honorably discharged and returned to the U.S.
And now, years later, he’s a Tea Party guy. This is no surprise. In reading about Ilario Pantano and his history (see this New York Magazine article — also: Time Magazine, The Guardian, Raw Story), one thing becomes clear: he can romanticize himself at any time.
. . as a child, Pantano dreamed about rescuers. He wanted to be Lancelot, knight of the Round Table. “He thought it was such an important job,” his aunt recalls. Then he wanted to be a samurai, practicing for hours with a sword. “There was something that was so powerful to me about being a protector of others,” Pantano says. It was a way, as he put it, “to order the chaos.”
That is Pantano. After 9/11, when his father told him that, at 30 and with a family already, he didn’t have to join the Marines, he said:
“No, Daddy,” Pantano told his father. “I want to be a Marine.” He explained, “The Marine Corps was the closest I could get to a knight.”
So, after returning stateside, when word got round of his exploits, or his crimes (depending on your mindset), you understand why he found no reason to resist writing his autobiography once asked. It is “Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” (Amazon).
The far-right are absolutely gaga over this guy. Michael Savage thinks he’s a god. Others, too:
–North Carolina Third District Representative Walter B. Jones introduced House Resolution 167 which expressed the support of the House of Representatives for Pantano. On February 25, Congressman Jones wrote a letter to President Bush asking for his support for Pantano.
–On April 14, 2005, the Association for Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs sent a letter to then President Bush endorsing House Resolution 167 in support of Ilario Pantano.
On The Congressional Record:
–House Resolution 167 in support of 2LT Ilario Pantano, March 17, 2005.
–LA Deputy Sheriff’s endorsement of HR 167, April 14, 2005.
–Congressman Walter Jones’ public statement of support, May 5, 2005.
–Congressman Walter Jones’ endorsement of Pantano’s memoir, June 6, 2006.
But certainly not everybody. Iraq War veterans included, like the Republican candidate Pantano beat in the primary:
Will Breazeale, a former lieutenant colonel who served in both Iraq wars, says Pantano has “no excuse for what he did.”
“To shoot two unarmed prisoners 60 times and put a sign over their dead bodies is inexcusable,” Breazeale told The Daily Beast. “And once people know the real story, he has no chance of winning in November. I know people think it’s sour grapes, but I have nothing to gain by opposing him except clearing my conscience and fighting for good government.”
I don’t blame Breazeale. With everything that I’ve read about the shooting incident, there’s no indication that the ‘threatening’ Iraqis ever managed so much as to get up on their feet. Many, if not most, of the bullets were fired into their backs. But the case has long since been adjudicated, it’s over.
So this is your North Carolina Tea Partier, Ilario Pantano. If nothing else, I’m confident I can say this about him: he’s the most talented, most accomplished person the Tea Party has ever had. He’s probably the most dangerous, too.