One of Mitt Romney's prep school classmates, Phillip Maxwell, described in a Washington Post story published Thursday how Romney led him and a few other boys on a hunt for an effeminate classmate, John Lauber, who was believed to be gay. When they found him, Maxwell told the Post, Romney, wielding a pair of scissors, had his friends hold down Lauber while he used the scissors to clip off clumps of the terrified boy's long blonde hair.
"It all happened very quickly," said Maxwell, now a Michigan lawyer. "It was like a pack of dogs," he said. "It was vicious."
Romney said on Thursday that he "didn't remember" all the "hijinks and pranks" he engaged in at Cranbrook, a private high school. But if this happened, he said, "why, I'm afraid I've got to say sorry for it."
That hardly resolved the account of his bullying. In a follow-up interview with CBS, Maxwell said:
"Mitt was a prankster, there's no doubt about it. This thing with Lauber wasn't a prank. This was, well, as a lawyer, it was an assault. It was assault and battery. And I'm sure that John (now deceased) carried it with him for the rest of his life."
"I've carried this story with me a long time. It was very disturbing. I think that view is shared by everyone involved in it," Maxwell said. "It was just a black mark on my character that I didn't stop it."
Four other classmates at the private Cranbrook School where the bullying assault occurred also confirmed the story to the Post, with much the same sentiment as Maxwell.
One of them told ABC News that Romney's conduct in the Cranbrook dormitories was "evil," like something out of "The Lord of the Flies." Citing the others who remembered the attack on Lauber, he said Romney's claim that he didn't remember it "doesn't ring true. How could the fellow with the scissors forget it?" he asked.
That's a credible question given accounts of witnesses and Romney's gaps in his memories of "hijinks." Though the labels then were more offensive, guys believed to be gays in 1960s -- Romney, 65, would have graduated from Cranbrook about 1965 -- were often haunted by threatening behavior, and beatings were not uncommon. Most male students in high schools in that era would readily attest to that.
The irony of Romney's foggy memory of that era undercuts his more reasonable claim that he has changed a lot as adult. In fact, he openly employed gays at Bain Capital, where he made his millions. As governor of Massachusetts, both his political campaign director, Jonathan Spampinato, and his secretary of transportation were openly gay. Yet now he is running away from his acceptance of gays.
Romney, for example, recently hired a foreign policy expert and former Bush administration NATO spokesman, Richard Grenell, as his campaign's foreign policy director, even though he knew Grenell to be an outspoken advocate of gay marriage. Unfortunately, as soon as evangelicals began attacking his hire of gay Grenell, Romney shut down Grenell's debut in a foreign policy teleconference at the end of April, prompting Grenell to resign.
This week, he went full-bore against gays again, attacking President Obama for saying he had come around to believing that gay couples should be allowed to marry as a matter of fairness. Romney went on to say that he also does not support civil unions, which many states have adopted to convey the legal rights of committed relationships in lieu of marriage.
Having flip-flopped on health care reform, tax equality, immigration policy and so many other issues, it is doubly troubling to see Romney flip-flopping twice on persecution of gays -- once as a high school bully, and now -- after having employed gays as high level advisers in government affairs -- as an adversary against their civil rights. It may not be his memory that is so blank about his attack against Lauber: It is more likely his conscience.