Local groups have fired back against U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, saying he falsely claimed that a local activist was parading as a deceased civil rights icon in possible violation of federal law.
Turner made the claim Thursday in a press release distributed to local media organizations. In it he said a woman named Christie Lamb was using the name of Ella Baker, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement who worked with people like Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks before her death in 1986.
It is illegal to misrepresent yourself in dealings with the government, according to the section of U.S. Code cited by Turner.
“The leader of Dayton Indivisible purports to be Ella Baker. She is not and she along with the leadership of her fraudulent group know her true identity,” Turner’s statement said, demanding an apology from Baker and the group to the community.
Baker responded by issuing a written statement late Friday. She denied all of Turner’s claims that she had attempted to deceive anyone, and said he was abusing his power.
“(Turner) has used his position of privilege and power in an attempt to intimidate me and the various political activist organizations with which I have coordinated,” Baker’s statement said. “He launched an attack against me, a private citizen, exercising my civic right to request that my representative meet with his constituents.”
She said her prior name was Christie Lamb. She got married in August and her last name became Baker. She has gone by the nickname “Ella” for many years, she wrote.
“Unless it has now become illegal to go by a nickname or to change your last name after marriage, then Mr. Turner’s claim here is blatantly false,” she wrote.
Davin Flateau responded on behalf of the group — whose full name is Dayton Indivisible for All — demanding an apology from Turner.
“We’re now concerned about the congressman inventing stories, putting out falsehoods and falsely accusing people of crimes,” he wrote in a message. “(That) can only serve the purpose of attempting to intimidate constituents who are simply performing a civic duty by asking him to a public forum.”
“In the era of (President Donald) Trump, the community should be very wary of tactics like this that seem to take a page out of Trump’s playbook.”
Flateau said Baker’s legal name is Christie but she has gone by Ella for at least two years. Her maiden name is Lamb but she was married last year and it is now Baker, he said.
Montgomery County marriage records obtained by this newspaper confirm that a woman named Christie Lamb married a man named William Baker in August.
Baker is also not the leader of Dayton Indivisible for All, he said.
Mathias Detamore, president of a separate group, Miami Valley Progressive Caucus, said Baker is its treasurer. He said she often goes by the name Ella Baker and has never attempted to assume the identity of a civil rights icon by the same name.
“That is such a far-reaching attempt to smear her character it is laughable,” he said. “We have Mike Turner’s attention. He is scared.”
Dayton Indivisible for All was one of three local groups criticizing Turner for not attending a town hall scheduled for Saturday, March 18, at the Westwood Pre-K-6 school in Dayton. Turner cited Baker’s alleged falsehoods as his reason not to attend.
“I participate in many community events… where I go to groups and organizations, speak to them and take questions but I’m certainly not going to go to a illegitimate group that’s fraudulently claiming a name of its leader that’s not their name, and a group that’s purporting to be something they’re not,” Turner said in an interview Thursday.
Officials from his office said Baker represented herself as an organizer with “Dayton Indivisible” when she called Turner’s office.
There are at least two area groups that operate under the “indivisible” banner, a national movement created to organize local resistance across the country to President Donald Trump’s agenda.
One of those groups is Dayton Indivisible for All, and is involved in the town hall event. The other is called Indivisible - Dayton and is not involved in the event.
Raul Ramos, an organizing member of Indivisible - Dayton, said he was not familiar with Baker, adding: “The congressman should be a little more careful of who he accuses of fraud.”
Turner said Dayton Indivisible for All is part of a national movement protesting the loss of Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
The section of law Turner alleges that Baker violated — Title 18, Section 1001 of the United States Code — makes it a crime to knowingly and willfully make “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government.
Turner said he does not intend to pursue criminal charges.
Late Friday Turner sent this statement to this newspaper: “My staff did not just make this up. The woman claiming to be the head of this and multiple organizations has had multiple unprofessional contacts with my office. The community needs to understand that this is a protest group not a community group.”
Lauren O’Toole, Turner’s spokeswoman, said Baker presented “misinformation,” such as that Turner is attending a brunch fundraiser on March 18 that he is not.
Flateau said “What we were addressing in my response was the completely unfair allegations that this person was representing herself as a 113-year-old deceased civil rights icon. That is false and Mike Turner’s statement does not address this and amounts to falsely accusing a citizen of breaking the law and of abusing his power. The entire town hall is devoted to very specific issues the community needs. We are an issues group not a protest group.”
Joel Levinson, a member of the Yellow Springs Political Action Group that helped organize the March 18 town hall, criticized Turner for refusing to speak to thousands of constituents because of claims about one event organizer.
“The idea that he’s not going to address the concerns of any of these people who showed up because….he’s going to say a single person is not who they claim they are, that’s ludicrous,” he said. “It’s another way of him to avoid saying or doing anything.”