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Context of 'Late July, 2009: Conservative PAC Releases ‘How-To’ Memo for Disrupting Town Hall Meetings'

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FreedomWorks logo.FreedomWorks logo. [Source: FreedomWorks]The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” [MSNBC, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2009; Think Progress, 4/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009] In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: MoveOn (.org), Steve Forbes, Think Progress (.org), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Wall Street Journal, Matt Kibbe, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DLA Piper, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Patients First bus featuring the “Hands Off Our Health Care” slogan and bloody handprint logo.Patients First bus featuring the “Hands Off Our Health Care” slogan and bloody handprint logo. [Source: Associated Press]The citizens’ organization Patients First, a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009), schedules a 13-state bus tour. The tour is aimed at bringing conservative protesters to rallies and “town hall” meetings where the White House’s controversial health care proposals are being discussed. AFP’s board includes James Miller, a Federal Trade Commission chairman and budget director during the Reagan administration. The tour begins with a “tea party” rally in Richmond. According to AFP official Ben Marchi, organizers will urge constituents to call or visit their senators and sign a petition that asks members of Congress to “oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need.” The bus will make 26 stops in Virginia alone before journeying to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Louisiana. Another bus will visit Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri. “Virginians are fired up about health care and what they see as an overreaching federal government,” Marchi says. “We don’t want legislators to come between them and their doctor. The relationship that exists between doctors and patients is sacred and should not be interfered with.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Americans for Prosperity, Patients First, Ben Marchi, James Miller

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

A screenshot from a Democratic National Committee ad highlighting phrases from the memo.A screenshot from a Democratic National Committee ad highlighting phrases from the memo. [Source: Weekly Standard]The conservative Web site and political action committee (PAC) Right Principles releases a memo entitled “Rocking the Town Halls: Best Practices,” written by Bob MacGuffie, a founder of the organization and a volunteer with the “Tea Party Patriots,” a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). [Think Progress, 7/31/2009; Tea Party Patriots, 8/6/2009] The organization is very small—basically MacGuffie and four friends—and although MacGuffie volunteers with the aforementioned tea party group, he insists he and his organization have no connections to the much larger and well-funded FreedomWorks or other lobbying organizations that support anti-health care protests. “We are recommending with that memo that other grassroots groups that share our view should go to the town halls of their members and use the strategy that we did,” MacGuffie says. “We are trying to get into that town halls to make them understand that they do not have the unanimous support from people in their communities.” [TPMDC, 8/3/2009] Although the site either never posts the memo or takes it down shortly after, it quickly circulates throughout the conservative community (see July 23, 2009), and will be used to disrupt “town hall” meetings by Democratic House members, who intend to spend time during the August recess holding such meetings to discuss the Obama administration’s health care proposals. [Right Principles, 2009; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] MacGuffie later claims to have first e-mailed the memo to “8-10 community activists” in June. [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]
'Best Practices' - The memo advises conservative activists and protesters of the best ways to dominate and disrupt the town hall meetings. Basing the memo on actions conducted by Right Principles members and supporters during a May 2009 town hall meeting held by Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT), MacGuffie writes, “We believe there are some best practices which emerged from the event and our experience, which could be useful to activists in just about any district where their congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington.” Some of the steps include:
bullet Artificially inflating numbers. “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
bullet Being disruptive from the outset. “You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early.” The memo also advises, “Don’t carry on and make a scene, just short, intermittent shout-outs.”
bullet Attempt to rattle or goad the speaker. “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
The memo also attaches some possible questions for the representatives, “which apply to most any Democrat that is supporting the socialist agenda,” it says. [Bob MacGuffie, 7/2009 pdf file; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress will note that the questions closely resemble talking points handed out in July by FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will accuse Right Principles of crafting a “how-to” manual for disruptive “rent-a-mob” activities. [Washington Times, 8/6/2009] The conservative Weekly Standard will accuse “liberal media” outlets such as Think Progress and MSNBC of “manufacturing outrage” over the memo, and prints MacGuffie’s denials of having any connections to FreedomWorks. “There is no formal connection,” he says. “I don’t know anyone from FreedomWorks.” [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Weekly Standard, Tea Party Patriots, Right Principles, Jim Himes, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Think Progress (.org), FreedomWorks, Bob MacGuffie

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall.Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall. [Source: WKTV]Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), taking part in a town hall meeting in upstate New York hosted by House member Michael Arcuri (D-NY), is browbeaten and verbally assaulted by conservative protesters who are against health care reform. The meeting is to discuss a proposal for a high-speed rail system for the area. “You’re lying to me!” one protester, local conservative activist Don Jeror, screams during the assemblage. “Just because I don’t have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one!” Jeror adds, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!” Jeror and many of the activists, who continue to scream and shout over Hoyer during his entire presentation, belong to a group called the “Fort Stanwix Tea Party ‘Patriots.’” House Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who was recently accosted by conservative protesters during a town hall meeting in his district (see August 1, 2009), says the protests are anything but spontaneous and citizen-driven. “This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony,” he says. “The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up.” While he and fellow Democrats welcome dialogue, he says, “there’s no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies.” Doggett is referring to allegations that corporate lobbying groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) are behind the protests. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs agrees, saying, “I think what you’ve seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger.” Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut conservative activists who recently wrote a strategy memo directing fellow conservatives in methods to disrupt and dominate town hall meetings (see Late July, 2009), says that while there is organization, the anger and resistance to reform is “most assuredly real.… We’re organizing those voices, but it’s a real emotion, coast to coast.” ABC News reports that polls show the “protesters are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as ‘requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions’ and ‘requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.’” [ABC News, 8/4/2009; TPMDC, 8/4/2009; WKTV, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Americans for Prosperity, ABC News, Bob MacGuffie, FreedomWorks, Robert Gibbs, Don Jeror, Michael Arcuri, Steny Hoyer, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Reporter and media critic Howard Kurtz writes of the difficulties in discerning perceptions from reality in the debate over health care reform, and the increasingly contentious town hall meetings across America (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). “Is there a rising tide of anger in America against Barack Obama’s health plan and big-government programs?” he asks. “Or are the media just making it seem that way?” It has long been common practice to use footage of “one person… screaming, or us[ing] incendiary rhetoric” to add interest to an otherwise “dull and routine story,” he notes. In the modern age of YouTube, “instant” viral videos of protests and near-riots at town halls are subsequently played and replayed on cable news shows “in an endless loop.” Kurtz notes the controversial “strategy memo” for disrupting and dominating discussion at town halls, originally released by a small conservative Connecticut organization and picked up and redistributed by larger Washington lobbying firms (see Late July, 2009). He writes, “I have no idea how widely this memo has been distributed, but the language is revealing.” He also notes that some lobbying firms have taken credit for “helping gin up the sometimes-rowdy outbursts targeting House Dems at town hall meetings around the country, raising questions about their spontaneity” (see August 4, 2009). [Washington Post, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Howard Kurtz

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington.One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington. [Source: Daily Kos]An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. [Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009; Washington Post, 9/12/2009] Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). [John Lewandowski, 9/12/2009]
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. [TPMDC, 9/11/2009; Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009] One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/2009] Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” [Michelle Malkin, 9/12/2009; ABC News, 9/13/2009] The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. [London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009; London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Michelle Malkin, Matt Kibbe, Nancy Pelosi, Joshua Micah Marshall, Tom Price, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Washington Post, Tea Party Patriots, Joe Wilson, National Taxpayers Union, Jim DeMint, ResistNet, FreedomWorks, 9/12 Project, ABC News, Barack Obama, Andrew Moylan, Brian Beutler, Brendan Steinhauser, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Doug Thornell

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Logo of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks the activities of so-called ‘hate groups’ around the US.Logo of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks the activities of so-called ‘hate groups’ around the US. [Source: GuideStar]The number of extremist militia and “patriot” groups has expanded dramatically since the election of President Obama, according to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that tracks “hate groups” and other, similar organizations. The number has expanded from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009—a 244 percent increase. “That is a lot of change in a short period of time,” says SPLC research director Heidi Beirich. The SPLC report says the number has “exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream.” While many of these groups do not espouse violence and are not considered a direct threat to government officials, government property, or citizens, some of them do advocate violent strikes against government organizations and/or “liberal” groups or individuals. The number dwindled during the eight years of the Bush presidency, the SPLC reports, but since the election of a black, Democratic president, along with a poorly performing economy and a female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as catalyzing factors, the number has increased, and continues to grow. “The country is becoming more diverse,” Beirich says. “Some people find it hard to handle.… These are extreme stressors for people.” Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, writes: “We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.” The SPLC tracked 42 armed and potentially violent militias in 2008; that number has grown by over 300 percent, to 127, since then. The SPLC writes: “Patriot groups have been fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy, and an array of initiatives by President Obama and the Democrats that have been branded ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ by his political opponents (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, January 2009, March 4-6, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 9-22, 2009, May 13, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 24, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 18, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 17, 2009, November 5, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 7, 2010, May 19, 2010, May 25, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, September 13, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 21, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 14, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 16, 2010, and April 27, 2011). Report editor Mark Potok says: “This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern. The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Moreover, the report finds, the “patriot” movement has made common cause with the “tea party” political movement, and the two are becoming more and more entwined. The report finds, “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.” The “patriot” movement’s central ideas are being promoted by national figures, such as Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and lawmakers such as House member Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The number of identified “racist hate groups” has not increased significantly from 2008 from 2009, the report finds, growing from 926 to 932. However, the growth rate would have been far higher if it were not for the collapse of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi network whose founder was arrested in October 2008 (see December 18, 2009). So-called “nativist extremist” groups, vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants, have also grown in number, from 173 in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent. The SPLC reports: “These three strands of the radical right—the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations—are the most volatile elements on the American political landscape. Taken together, their numbers increased by more than 40 percent, rising from 1,248 groups in 2008 to 1,753 last year.” The report warns that the number and intensity of violence from these groups, and from “lone wolf” extremists perhaps triggered by these groups’ rhetoric and actions, is increasing. Since Obama took office in January 2009, six law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists. There are large and increasing numbers of arrests of racist “skinheads” for plotting to assassinate Obama, and an increasing number of anti-government extremists have been arrested for fomenting bomb plots. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 3/2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 3/2/2010; Detroit Free Press, 3/31/2010] A Detroit Free Press report will directly tie the Michigan Hutaree, a radical Christian group arrested for planning the murder of local police officers (see March 27-30, 2010), to the growing trend of militant activity documented in the SPLC report. Political science professor Michael Barkun, an expert on extremist religious groups, says of the Hutaree arrests: “I don’t think this is the last we’re going to see of these groups. The number of such groups has increased fairly dramatically in the last couple of years.” Beirich will note that the Hutaree were not isolated from other militias: “They were part of the broader militia movement,” she says. However, her conclusion is disputed by Michigan militia member Michael Lackomar. “They more closely fit the definition of a cult,” Lackomar will say. “They believe the world is about to end according to how it was written in the Bible, and their job is to stand up and clear the way for Jesus and fight alongside him against the forces of darkness.” While “[a] lot of people are upset at an ever-growing government that is overreaching,” Lackomar will say, most militias do not go to the Hutaree’s extremes. He will call the Hutaree’s plans to attack police officers “despicable.” [Detroit Free Press, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Michael Barkun, Glenn Beck, Chip Berlet, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American National Socialist Workers Party, Heidi Beirich, Hutaree, Mark Potok, Michele Bachmann, Nancy Pelosi, Southern Poverty Law Center, Michael Lackomar

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. [New York Times, 8/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Rand Paul, Koch Industries, Sharron Angle, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Kim Phillips-Fein, John Birch Society, Barack Obama, Americans for Prosperity, American Liberty League, Charles Koch, John Boehner, David Koch, Fred Koch, FreedomWorks, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Guardian reports that American tea party organizations are working with British anti-tax groups, teaching the British to emulate their mass-protest techniques. The Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), a British organization that stands for tax cuts and decreased government spending, is being advised by FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010 and September 12, 2010), an American lobbying organization that helped found and organize the tea party movement. Today a group of libertarian tea party leaders take part in a London conference with their British and European counterparts, calling their activities “an insurgent campaign” against the US government’s taxation and spending policies. British groups believe they can import tea party tactics to help expand their influence. “You could say our time has come,” says TPA founder Matthew Elliott, whose group has swelled to some 55,000 members. “Take the strikes on the London underground this week and how much they annoyed and inconvenienced people. Couldn’t we get 1,000 people to protest that? We need to learn from our European colleagues and the tea party movement in the US.… It will be fascinating to see whether it will transfer to the UK. Will there be the same sort of uprising?” FreedomWorks consultant Terry Kibbe says she wants to help mobilize British “grassroots” activists in much the same way her organization did in the US, by working through established right-wing lobbying groups to produce campaign materials, train community organizers, and pay for television advertisements. “We have been working to identify groups in Europe that would be amenable to becoming more activist-based, thinktanks that could start activist wings,” she says. “We have worked with the Taxpayers’ Alliance, in Austria and in Italy, and we want to do more.” Another lobbying group heavily involved in the tea party movement, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011), is also involved in the outreach effort. AFP leader Tim Phillips says: “In the US there is a growing consciousness of the effect of government spending and debt on their own prosperity. It strikes me that many Britons are coming to the same conclusion.” Other right-wing organizations that have funded the London conference include the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Representatives from Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, along with a British think tank that opposes climate change research, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, take part in the conference. “We need to reach out to a broader audience,” says Barbara Kohn, secretary general of the Hayek Institute in Vienna, one of Europe’s leading low tax campaigners that has also worked with FreedomWorks. “We need to come from various angles. We have all seen what our friends in the tea party movement, and their march, have achieved.” [Guardian, 9/9/2010]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Barbara Kohn, Americans for Prosperity, Global Warming Policy Foundation, The Guardian, Tim Phillips, Taxpayers’ Alliance, Imperial Tobacco, Matthew Elliott, Terry Kibbe, FreedomWorks, Philip Morris, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Republican presidential primaries are being largely controlled, at least from a financial standpoint, by a very few extraordinarily wealthy individuals, according to research provided by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich and the news organization ProPublica. In January 2012, the campaign of frontrunner Rick Santorum (R-PA) was almost entirely funded by billionaires William Dore and multi-millionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012), who between them supplied over three-quarters of the $2.1 million donated to Santorum’s “super PAC” “Red White and Blue Fund.” Dore is the president of a Louisiana energy corporation and Friess is a fund manager in Wyoming. Of the $11 million raised by the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich (R-GA), $10 million came from Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Adelson runs a casino ownership group in Las Vegas. Most of the rest of Gingrich’s funding came from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised in January by the super PAC for Ron Paul (R-TX). As for Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a multi-millionaire, his super PAC “Restore Our Future” raised $6.6 million in January. Almost all of it came from 40 donors, including hedge fund billionaires Bruce Kovner, Julian Robertson (the largest donor at $1.25 million), and David Tepper, hotel owners J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. The lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011) has contributed over $1.4 million to various Republican candidates. Reich writes, “Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.” Reich goes on to cite American Crossroads’s “super PAC” Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove, and its lineup of corporate moguls contributing hundreds of millions of dollars. The lineup of Crossroads supporters includes Charles and David Koch (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011, April 2010 and After and October 4, 2011), and Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corporation, who has contributed $10 million to the organization. Reich says there is no legal way to know exactly how much the Kochs and their fellows have contributed: “The public will never know who or what corporation gave what because, under IRS regulations, such nonprofit ‘social welfare organizations’ aren’t required to disclose the names of those who contributed to them.” The previous limit of $5,000 per year per individual was erased by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, a decision Reich calls “grotesque.” Reich writes: “In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.… Now, the limits are gone. And this comes precisely at a time when an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s income and wealth is accumulating at the top. Never before in the history of our Republic have so few spent so much to influence the votes of so many.” [The Atlantic, 2/2/2012; Salon, 2/21/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has received $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and another $1 million from the Service Employees International Union’s Committee on Political Education (SEIU COPE). However, Priorities USA has raised relatively paltry sums in comparison to the monies raised by the Republican super PACs, according to a Reuters report. Obama and his re-election campaign had originally distanced themselves from the super PAC operating in their name, in part because they disapprove of the Citizens United decision and the influence of super PACs in electoral politics. Since the Obama campaign officially endorsed the organization, donations have risen. Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says that Obama “believes that this is an unhealthy development in our political process, but it is a reality of the rules as they stand. This was not a quick decision, but he also feels a responsibility to win this election. There’s a lot hanging on this beyond him.” By the end of January, Priorities USA had raised $4.2 million. In contrast, Romney’s “Restore Our Future” had raised $36.8 million by the end of last month. [Reuters, 2/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] Partly in response to reports of billionaires’ influence on the 2012 elections, comedian Bill Maher will announce his donation of $1 million to the Obama super PAC. Maher will tell an audience that an Obama victory over any of the Republican contenders is “worth a million dollars” and will describe the donation as “the wisest investment I think I could make.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2012] Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. [Forbes, 2/8/2012]

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