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Teenage “hijinks” a poor description for bullying assault

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 14, 2012 at 9:49 am with 22 Comments »
May 14, 2012 9:49 am

Many of us have childhood memories of being singled out for the age-old crime of being different than the crowd. Fewer have experienced a traumatic incident as one alleged to have occurred to a high school student named John Lauber almost five decades ago. Some of the bullies recently “outed” their role in the event to The Washington Post (5/11), which included a known public figure.

The details are both troubling and cliche. In 1965 at Cranbrook School, an upscale Michigan prep, John Lauber was a transfer student whose effeminate habits made him “easy pickins'” for upperclassmen. One senior, a young scion of wealth and power named Mitt Romney, was especially offended by Lauber’s appearance. If the story, repeated by several classmates, is true, then the former Massachusetts Governor was John Lauber’s chief tormentor.

A young Mitt Romney/ Courtesy of Hinterland Gazette and AP

In the retelling young Romney (who was eighteen at the time) led the group that surrounded, tackled and held down Lauber. Ignoring his protests, an incensed Romney used scissors to slice off Lauber’s long, bleached hair. Romney then led the cheering group back to the dorm. That was back in 1965.

With Lauber’s death in 2004, the story will be hard to verify. Nevertheless, three classmates gave similar versions of the incident with a remarkable sense of clarity. And remorse. In comparison, Romney’s questionable failure to recall any aspect of the incident is only surpassed by his definition of such actions as “hijinks.” That term fits this incident as equally as Homer Simpson strangling Bart could be passed off as parental discipline.

Before being tossed into the legion of second-guessers, hindsight experts and democratic hatchetmen eager to dissect Mitt Romney’s political aspirations, let me first say what this column is not about: It’s not about politics. I normally make it a point to stay well outside of such turbulent waters, but the involvement of a public figure is central to the theme of injustice raised by these allegations.

As a father of two boys I recognize that, well, hijinks happens. I also know that the term is not synonymous for felony crimes, such as unlawful imprisonment. That would be the Washington statute applicable to the physical restraint used to hold down John Lauber. Tackling him and then using scissors to cut his hair would be, at minimum, a gross misdemeanor assault.

To better understand the need for perspective on the Lauber incident, let me introduce you to John. The son of a die-hard gangster, John is a boy of seventeen who joined a gang by the age of twelve. At age fifteen he shot a rival and was arrested. His victim survived, but John was remanded to adult court for trial. He was convicted of drive-by shooting and, as a gang member, received the enhanced sentence of 35 years in prison.

I testified at John’s trial and watched as he and his family took the news. It was gratifying to know that a hardened gang member would be kept off the streets, but it was also difficult knowing the actions of a fifteen-year-old boy would reverberate until his 50th birthday.

I am aware that the severity of John’s crime was light years beyond the allegations leveled at Mitt Romney as a young man. Nevertheless, our legal system and our society holds a boy accountable for his actions, and it is the man who will bear the yolk. Diminishing Romney’s alleged involvement in a criminal act is hypocrisy – we do, in fact, hold people accountable for the sins of their youth.

The Lauber incident is clearly a divisive story. Republicans will disregard or refute it; Democratics will hype and defend it. In the end it may serve only as a footnote to a political campaign, and without irrefutable proof of its veracity that might be for the best. Yet as a public figure, Governor Romney’s actions as a young man should at least be held to the same standard as John’s, whose background held little in the way of opportunity.

Whether or not The Post story is true, we should at least agree that the hijinks – or any other term that diminishes bullying or criminal behavior – should never be used to describe the assault of a helpless individual targeted solely for the audacity to be different.


Leave a comment Comments → 22
  1. Chippert says:

    Brian, I was sure that the first 10 or so comments on this would be anti-Obama rants castigating you for putting down Mitt Romney. I was pleasantly surprised that I have not seen that (yet).

    I am with you on this one. Normally I would say that something that happened in high school is not worthy of being dragged up in a Presidential campaign as “dirty laundry”. Normally. Even this incident, while serious no matter what, could be forgiven if Mr. Romney admitted to the mistake and to the seriousness of the act. He did not. When I heard him say that he did not remember it, and that he considered it “hijinks” I immediately said to myself “Uh oh!”. Yes, times were different then and there was not the acceptance of gay or seemingly gay people. Bullying was frequently turned a blind eye too. But that does not make it right and nor does it mean that it should be condoned in retrospect. At one time slavery was considered OK but any civilized person looking back can do nothing but condemn it.

    For Mitt it is too late to go back and correct the action that he took against this young man, and unfortunately I think it is too late to even go back and correct his garrulousness he displayed when this came to light. So, I have to say that a vote for Romney is a vote for bullying and a vote for a man without a conscience.

  2. Gandalf says:

    I’m not going to weigh in on the good or bad of anyone’s actions of this alleged “crime”. I am, however, going to bash Brian for a bit.

    How can you sit there and claim that this article isn’t political yet spend almost the entire time blasting Mitt Romney for his alleged involvement in it? You’re also careful to use the word “alleged” a few times yet seem to have condemned him personally over and over.

    If you want to discuss bullying, fine. It’s a good subject to bring up, although a bit overplayed in the media recently. It’s also a far reach to compare a gang banger’s drive by shooting conviction and someone allegedly getting their hair cut against their will, don’t you think?

    Honestly, what was the point of the article, if not to somehow want to convict Romney now, for an alleged “crime” that happened 40+ years ago?

    Funny, you haven’t struck up the band to bash Obama for eating dog meat, or smoking/dealing drugs (also a crime, last I checked). Or was that just a simple “indiscretion of youth”?

    And Chippert, wow, you must not remember your own childhood all that much. Or were you also without sin? Shall we define you now for the stupid things (that all kids do) you did? What a pity be so intolerant. Pot/Kettle, eh?

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    And thank you for being the first to take the partisan bait, Gandalf.

    This is a discussion about bullying that also happens to include the actions of a public official. I believe I already addressed every question you raised, so if you want to condone the attitude of the central figure in this incident then go right ahead. As Chippert said, it is Romney’s memory lapse and trivialization of the incident that is the real issue. I concur.

    If Obama were the one in Romney’s seat I would have written the article, and I bet you would have been the first to jump on the bandwagon. That’s why I don’t usually write about politics.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    So much for “open” discussion. Thanks for deleting my comment vis-a-vis a partisan column.

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    I didn’t delete your comment, Blaine. Either you put too many links in or said some words the filtering system thought you should not.

  6. smokey984 says:

    So i will assume your very next article will cover the topic of drugs?

    and how Obama has used both Mary Jane and Cocaine?

    and somehow relate the article to a drug case 40 years ago?

    Regardless of the political spectrum one supports, i think we can all agree it wont matter which party’s in charge. They both continue the previous administrations policies…and are controlled by big business/corporations..

    Apparently im a little off base as well though…

    I don’t think bully is all that bad as it seems. I was picked on in grade school and im a better person for it. More tolerant and understanding.

  7. timogeneredmond says:

    In looking at the previous comments, I have to say that a few of you appear to be more accepting of Romney’s bullying behavior. As a child, I got bullied quite a bit until I fought back. Guess what? It didn’t make me feel better about myself beating up a former bully. People who minimize the issue of bullying really worry me. Bottom line is it is wrong. There is no gray area and no justification based on what some perceive as “everybody does it”, which is in itself a fallacy. The one thing about human behavior is that it is far from absolute. 100% of children do not bully. I will say that I am prone to believe that Romney did bully Lauber as more than 1 person came forward about this issue. However, that is not the issue I have here. I am disturbed by his response to the incident, not necessarily the fact that he did not remember, but to belittle such an act with the term hijinks. Within the last decade or so, people have actually taken their own lives because of such harassing behavior. In reference to Obama’s alleged drug activities, just as I did not witness Romney’s activities, I cannot verify his actions either, but I do agree that regardless of who is in office, it appears that they continue down the same path as the previous administrations.

  8. Mike1776 says:

    Brian: your analysis is right.,

    This matters. It speaks to character.It speaks to character — and the character of the man controlling the nuclear command codes is, very literally, a matter of life and death.

    Romney claims he has changed; yet he still calls a mean, cowardly and vicious five-against-one assault a “prank” and “high jinks”. Not is it credible that he clams when his fellow gang members remember it so clearly. And just suppose (against all plausibility), that Romney really does nor remember the incident: that would mean that he thought nothing of perpetrating this criminal assault; and /or that this was one of so many such “pranks’ that they all blurred together in Romney’s memory. Neither explanation is reassuring.
    So I don’t buy Romney’s story . Where is the real regret or remorse ?? Once a mean and callous bully, always a mean and callous bully.

    The slick, older Romney may be more sophisticated about concealing the bullying side of his character; but somehow I think we are now going to learn a lot more about it, despite his best efforts to conceal it or laugh it off.

    Now about Romney and cowardice. During the Viet Nam war, Romney did everything he could to avoid military service, and went off to France … even though he had gone on demonstrations in favor of the Viet Nam war. Romney didn’t want to be one of the 50,000 young Americans who lost their lives in that war — or the thousands more who lost their limbs. He wanted the war he clamored for, to be fought by the “little people” like you and me. Like Dick Cheney, Romney had “other priorities” for his life.

  9. Chippert says:

    Gandalf, I clearly remember my youth and I clearly remember all the stupid and wrong things I did. Yep, I grew up in the South during the civil rights years. I am embarrassed that I so clearly remember putting the Confederate flag across the hood of my car and driving through black neighborhoods. I am chagrined that I remember so clearly the racist life and statements I led as my high school was integrated, and how I treated the first few blacks there. I don’t deny the stupid things I did back then, but I am genuinely sorry for them and I live everyday a life that would try to show that I am indeed a different person now.

    Mistakes are opportunities to learn and do better. I don’t call those times “youthful hijinks” and claim that I don’t remember them. In fact, I hope that I never, ever forget them. If I did, then I would not have the chance to use them to show just how wrong and stupid those acts were.

    That’s what makes me different than Romney and that is what makes this not the “pot calling the kettle black”

  10. BlaineCGarver says:

    There must be two iterations of this piece. One has my comment (that I saw this morning), and this one does not. I did not use “wrong” words.

  11. Brian, Thank you for this post. You have caused me to think deeper about the implications of this incident. On the surface everyone wants to make it political, but it really is about bullying and respecting individual differences.

  12. cadana1961 says:

    So far there is nothing about Romney I find to be worthy of my vote … His integrity is in question, his past reflective of values I don’t identify with … From his own mouth he has denounced the poor and thinks working two-three-four jobs has some sort of honor … And if hate is to added to his repertoire, then I think his resume is best deposited into the waste basket …

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    At any rate…it’s a real cheap shot at the GOP…..I think better of you than that….

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    This was neither cheap nor a shot. I was aware when I wrote it that many (most?) would consider it a partisan issue. But if I chose to ignore such an incident – one that came right into my wheelhouse – simply because a prominent figure was involved, then I would deserve the rebuke.

  15. BlaineCGarver says:

    Not a rebuke, actually. Juvey records are sealed against use when the adult is tryied? I really doubt that this “cutting” remark was nothing more than a jab. If you can say that you never broke your current Oath vis-a-vis your childhood/teen years, then I appologize and hold you in awe….Imagine that: A perfect child…

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Romney was an adult when this incident occurred. The reason for the column was to put his actions – which violate criminal law and demonstrate disturbing behavior – into the proper perspective. I know few people who behaved that way in my youth, and they were no friends of mine.

  17. BlaineCGarver says:

    (if you get bored) Would you have reacted to this the same way if this was a hazing, instead of hazing on a Gay man?

  18. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    “The reason for the column was to put his actions – which violate criminal law and demonstrate disturbing behavior – into the proper perspective”.

    No, it wasn’t. You’re being dishonest, just as all the partisan hacks eager to dig all the way back to a 1965 prep school prank for “dirt” on Romney have been revealing themselves as.

    You are merely another shill, a mouthpiece for the attack wing of a failed presidency- a way to shield this president from the consequences of his own first term in office.

    It won’t work.

    The transparency of dredging up an “incident” that occurred in 1965 in an effort to smear a presidential candidate only serves to show how little you really can find about this man. The fact that it was published in a column devoted to our police is even worse.

    Have you no shame?

    You should ponder, at this point, how damaging to your own reputation this shill attempt really is. How many people will read your column, put it down in disgust, and think to themselves about how an officer of the law -normally someone considered to be noble and protecting- could lower himself to such a level.

  19. Brian O'Neill says:


    Are we discussing the same article? Your comments suggest a disgust most people would reserve for, say, a sex offender describing his fantasies.

    I stand by my statements because they are based on the laws as they exist today, not as you would prefer they exist in an alternate reality. Your comments also suggest a partisan refusal to look at this incident as anything other than a political issue. I don’t choose political sides in this column, and my past blogs confirm that viewpoint.

    I will conjecture that were Obama the target of this piece you would be one of those lined up thanking me for such an insightful article. Take off the blinders.

  20. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    You stand by your statements.

    Spoken like a true shill!

    This is nothing but a partisan issue. The “victim” you have spoken of has actually come out against your party’s political exploitation of it. Do you want to know what they think of you?

    “The family of John Lauber is releasing a statement saying the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda.”

    The only partisanship that is present comes from a man so desperate to find something, ANYTHING to disparage this candidate with, that he digs out an incident from 1965.

    How dare you consider yourself a police officer.

  21. Brian O'Neill says:

    Regardless of your motives, your inflammatory comments are incorrect. The victim passed away years ago and the word of his parents may reflect his truth or they may not. I’ll let your comments stand because your vindictive tone says more about you than it does your point of view.

    Now that you’ve had your quota of inciteful free speech, Safeway, I recommend a strategy other than name-calling and insults if you wish to remain a participant in the discussion.

  22. SafewayOrangeSoda says:


    Oh, Mercy.

    Allow me to educate you, “Brian”-

    “The family of John Lauber is releasing a statement saying the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda,” she said. “There will be no more comments from the family.”

    “in an interview on ABC News, notes that White railed against this notion [the "harrowing" account of the hair clipping]. The ex-classmate apparently said that he wasn’t at the school when the prank unfolded and that he only found out about it a few weeks ago. This, of course, calls into question the notion that White was bothered by the incident for a long time (after all, he just learned about it).”

    Oh, but, boohoo, you’re upset that your partisan shilling has been exposed!

    I would say that the very SISTER of the “victim” has a lot more credibility than some partisan shill.

    Hey, you fit in nicely with the other far-left bombthrowers. Have they let you shake hands with good ole’ Pittsy yet?

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