Squatters Lampoon Bachmann Candidacy

Posted October 21, 2011 at 5:53pm

Internet users are cyber-squatting against Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The GOP presidential candidate’s unconventionally spelled name — one “l” in Michele and two “n’s” in Bachmann — has opened the door for savvy squatters to buy similar domain names to lampoon the presidential hopeful.

For instance, Bachman2012.com, spelled with one fewer “n” than the Minnesota Republican’s real name, takes users to a spoof article about Bachmann announcing her candidacy.

“I’m called to bring the Good News of our one true American Idol, the Lord God, to Washington and to legislate His will among all the fornicators, scientists, public schoolteachers and other so-called ‘citizens’ of this blessed country,” the spoof article says.

Michele2012.com, meanwhile, redirects to the website for the skin magazine Penthouse.

A visit to michelebachman.com directs users to a blank webpage with the text, “Please learn to share, love and be more accepting of others.” A few seconds later, the page forwards users to the activist website gayrights.change.org.

Minneapolis-based search engine optimization expert Peter Quale, who counts himself as a member of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said he bought the rights to michelebachman.com in 2005 when Bachmann was a state Senator.

“I bought the domain just for the hepck of it,” he said.

He said he used to have the site redirect to Tolerance.org, a Southern Poverty Law Center offshoot, but he chose to redirect it to the gay rights site about six months ago in order to engage in “civil disobedience to draw a particular segment [of the population] to a particular place,” a technique he calls a “bug zapper.”

In this case, about 10 people per day, he said, perhaps looking for the candidate’s site, are directed instead to a site dedicated to gay rights — a cause Bachmann has vehemently opposed.

“The job that she and her husband do, the whole clinic to convert people back from their gayness, just seems sick and wrong,” Quale said, referring to Marcus Bachmann’s Christian counseling clinics. “This is just my own way of protesting Michele and her politics, her anti-gay politics.”

Quale said he did not coordinate with Change.org, and a spokesman for the site said it is not involved in the protest, calling the website a “platform for campaigns just like YouTube is a platform for videos.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if some users were kind of getting up to tactics like this to support some campaign or other, but it doesn’t have anything to do with us as a platform,” Benjamin Joffe-Walt said.

Las Vegas-based Internet entrepreneur Dahn Tamir bought Bachman2012.com earlier this year, he said, though he doesn’t have any lofty ambitions for the site.

“I figured that people misspell her name all the time. The intent here was not actually to drive anything meaningful; it was just comedy,” he said. “I guess I get a few emails a day from people saying, ‘Oh my god? Is this true?’ or ‘How could you say such a thing?’”

Records from domain sales company GoDaddy.com show that Michele2012.com, the site that redirects to Penthouse.com, is owned by Pete Lucas of Bridgewater, N.J.

In an email reply to Roll Call’s request for comment, Lucas wrote: “Have an urgent meeting with an attorney now. Are you interested in purchasing?”

News reports show that a man of the same name and hometown bought several campaign-related websites during the 2000 presidential contest in order to profit from selling them to candidates.

A spokeswoman for Penthouse did not return a request for comment.

While other candidates in the Republican field have cyber squatters too, Bachmann seems to be the only one who has drawn this form of cyber-protest.

Not all of the candidate’s fake sites are protests, however.

Bachmann2012.com appears to be an impartial message board where users can post articles and comment on them.

Others are even simpler. Brian Krassenstein, a Cape Coral, Fla.-based Web investor, bought MichelleBachmann.com in 2009.

“I just kind of saw it as an opportunity. Maybe if she ran for president, I could put a blog up or something,” he said.

He didn’t, but the roughly 60 clicks the basic site gets per day draw in advertising revenue, a feature that makes squatting attractive to investors.

For Quale, though, it’s not about the money. He said if Bachmann’s campaign wanted the site, he would sell it to them without a profit. And when his rights to the site expire next year, he may not re-register, especially if Bachmann wins the presidency.

“If she gets elected president, I don’t think I’d be re-registering,” he said. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”

Bachmann’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this article, Pete Lucas, the owner of Michele2012.com, has ceased redirecting the site to Penthouse.com. He said by email that he had been responsible for the site redirect, though. “What likely happened is that Ms. Bachman probably made some stupid comment about Penthouse at some point … so I played a joke letting her know she is hypocritical,” he wrote.