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The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the first of a number of “citizen advocacy” groups they either found or fund, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs are staunch right-wing libertarians determined to successfully combat government regulation and oversight of businesses, government taxation, and government funding of social programs (see August 30, 2010). Between 1986 and 1993, the brothers will provide $7.9 million to the group, even as it promotes itself as a “grassroots,” “citizen-driven” organization. (Such organizations that call themselves “citizen-based” while actually being founded, operated, and funded by corporate interests are called “astroturf” organizations.) Matt Kibbe, who will go on to head a Koch-funded lobbying organization, FreedomWorks, will later say of Citizens for a Sound Economy that its driving force was to take the Kochs’ “heavy ideas and translate them for mass America.… We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” One organization participant will say that the brothers are “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.” By 1993, the organization will become powerful enough to successfully thwart the Clinton administration’s efforts to place a “BTU tax” on energy, and mounts successful “citizen protests” against Democrats, sometimes funnelling millions of Koch monies into the political campaigns of their Republican opponents. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The Wall Street Journal learns that a supposedly amateur-based, citizen-driven protest Web site is actually a product of a professional public relations and lobbying organization, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). The site, AngryRenter.com, is designed to look like something an “ordinary citizen” would produce. Michael Phillips of the Journal writes, “AngryRenter.com looks a bit like a digital ransom note, with irregular fonts, exclamation points, and big red arrows—all emphasizing prudent renters’ outrage over a proposed government bailout for irresponsible homeowners.” The site’s home page proclaims, “It seems like America’s renters may NEVER be able to afford a home,” and exhorts visitors to sign an online petition directed at Congressional Democrats. (The petition, with some 44,500 signatures, was delivered to Senate leaders earlier in the week.) “We are millions of renters standing up for our rights!” the site proclaims.
'Astroturf' - However, it is designed and hosted by FreedomWorks, which the Journal describes as “an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. [Forbes is an unpaid board member.]… [AngryRenter.com is] a fake grass-roots effort—what politicos call an astroturf campaign—that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington.” FreedomWorks opposes the proposed government bailout of the housing industry, and says it plans to oppose any further bailouts. AngryRenter.com is copyrighted by FreedomWorks, which discloses its ownership of the site on a page deeper into the site. However, Phillips writes, “The site is nonetheless designed to look underdoggy and grass-rootsy, with a heavy dose of aw-shucks innocence.” The site says: “Unfortunately, renters aren’t as good at politics as the small minority of homeowners (and their bankers) who are in trouble. We don’t have lobbyists in Washington, DC. We don’t get a tax deduction for our rent, and we don’t get sweetheart government loans.” Most visitors to the site have no idea that lobbyists for FreedomWorks actually wrote that copy, nor that FreedomWorks garnered $10.5 million in lobbying fees in 2006, most of which came from large donors the organization is not obligated to disclose.
FreedomWorks Operated by Millionaires - FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe says the site is an attempt to “reach out” to disgruntled renters who share the free-market views of Armey, Forbes, and others. Kibbe calls himself “an angry homeowner who pays his mortgage.” He lives on Capitol Hill in DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Forbes lives in a home in New Jersey worth $2.78 million, and owns, among other properties, a chateau in France. (The Forbes family recently sold its private island in Fiji and its palace in Morocco.) Armey earns over $500,000 a year working for FreedomWorks, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) says he finds it amusing that Armey is portraying himself as a champion of ordinary renters. “I worked a long time trying to improve the condition of renters,” he says. “Dick Armey has usually been on the other side.”
Looking Out for the 'Poor Devil' Who Can't Afford to Buy a Home - Armey says he’s looking out for “the poor devil” who can’t afford to buy a house. “From our point of view, we have an industry in which people were very careless, very reckless—both lenders and borrowers. What various policy makers are saying is we need to rush in here with a program to protect people from the consequences of their own bad judgment.”
Deliberately Misleading? - Armey defends AngryRenter.com’s deliberately amateurish appearance, and calls it “voluntary” for civic participation. San Diego financial adviser Rich Toscano, who rents his home, thought the site was an amateur venture similar to his own blog, Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac for the Landed Poor, which chronicles foreclosures and other financial misfortunes suffered by real-estate brokers whom Toscano says helped inflate the area’s real-estate bubble. AngryRenter.com appeared to Toscano as genuinely citizen-produced: “It looks like a young person did it,” he says. He still supports the site even after learning that it is a production of a DC lobbying firm, saying the message is more important than the identity of the bailout. Web designer Chris Kinnan, a FreedomWorks employee, actually designed the site. Of himself, he says: “I’m a renter. I’m not an angry renter.” (Phillips 5/16/2008)
A rally in Seattle called “Porkulus,” a term popularized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, draws about 100 participants. The rally is to protest the Obama administration’s economic policies. It is organized by area math teacher Keli Carender, who blogs under the moniker “Liberty Belle.” During the rally, Carender shouts, “We don’t want this country to go down the path to socialism!” eliciting “Hear, hear!” responses. She calls the government’s economic stimulus package (which Limbaugh has dubbed “porkulus”) “the reason we’re in this mess.” She also plays an audiotape of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. Rally participant Connie White tells a reporter that Congressional Democrats are “ramming things through for their liberal agenda. I’m one of the poor. I used to be middle class. But I don’t want the government helping me.” Carender will become one of the area’s more prominent “tea party” organizers, and after she is brought to Washington, DC, for training by the lobbying group FreedomWorks, becomes part of the nationwide Tea Party Patriots organization. The next day, the day President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another “Porkulus” rally occurs in Denver, hours after Obama visits another site in the city to promote the bill. The Denver “Porkulus” rally is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute. The next day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli performs his five-minute “impromptu” rant against the legislation, and calls for “tea party” protests to oppose it (see February 19, 2009). (Kissel 2/17/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
CNBC stock analyst Rick Santelli’s “impromptu” on-air “rant” against President Obama’s economic stimulus program, in which Santelli calls for a “tea party” protest and tells viewers he intends to begin organizing a “Chicago Tea Party,” galvanizes nascent “tea party” groups around the nation. Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson has already registered the Internet domain “chicagoteaparty.com” (see August 2008), and hours after Santelli’s rant Christenson puts up a “homemade” tea party Web site. A Chicago Libertarian activist, Eric Odom (see After November 7, 2008), puts up a similar site at “officialchicagoteaparty.com.” The next day, the short-lived “Nationwide Tea Party Coalition” forms. At the same time, a new Facebook group, “Rick Santelli is right, we need a Taxpayer (Chicago) Tea Party,” is created by Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity, and is administered by Odom. The Facebook page leads back to a site called “taxpayerteaparty.com,” run by Americans for Prosperity. Simultaneously, Brendan Steinhauser, the campaign director of FreedomWorks (see March 2, 2009) and another administrator of the Facebook group, begins organizing “tea party” groups—or actually continues his efforts, since on February 9, 10 days before Santelli’s broadcast, he had contacted a Florida activist who had attended a FreedomWorks training session and asked her to organize a protest in Fort Myers. Steinhauser later writes that the day after Santelli’s broadcast: “I just wrote this little 10 quick easy steps to hold your own tea party, wrote it up, and kinda was proud of it and sent it to Michelle Malkin. She linked to it from her blog.” Malkin’s blog is overwhelmed by the response. FreedomWorks staffers call activists around the country asking them to organize “grassroots” tea party organizations, and on March 9, FreedomWorks announces a nationwide “Tea Party Tour,” saying in a statement, “From [Santelli’s] desperate rallying cry FreedomWorks has tapped into the outrage building from within our own membership as well as allied conservative grassroots forces to organize a 25-city Tea Party Tour where taxpayers angry that their hard-earned money is being usurped by the government for irresponsible bailouts, can show President Obama and Congressional Democrats that their push towards outright socialism will not stand.” By February 27, the first official “tea party” events take place, organized by the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity. Many of the original organizations will eventually be subsumed by, or merge with, national structures, again primarily organized and funded by FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and other right-wing lobbying organizations. Eventually, six nationwide networks will form (see August 24, 2010). (Hamsher 4/15/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) During this period, conservative media outlets such as the Weekly Standard will claim that the tea party movement was entirely spontaneous in its origins (see March 2, 2009). However, facts stand in the way of that claim (see February 15, 2009, February 16, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 18, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 20, 2010).
CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” (Phillips 7/19/2008)
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. (Barry Ritholtz 2/28/2009)
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. (Jeffrey Feldman 3/2/2009)
The Weekly Standard, in a column by Jonathan Last, promotes and celebrates the nascent “tea party” movement that started as a reaction to an on-air “rant” by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009) against the government bailouts of large corporations. (The article is dated March 9, but is posted on the Standard’s Web site on March 2.) Last notes that previous organizations opposing the bailouts had been proven to be “astroturf” groups pretending to be grassroots, citizen-driven organizations, but in fact owned and operated by such conservative public relations firms as FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Now, however, Last says the “tea party” organizations springing up around the country are actual grassroots organizations with no affiliations to conservative PR firms or political organizations. Last notes that conservative radio producer Zack Christenson had indeed bought chicagoteaparty.com in August 2008 (see August 2008), as noted by progressive reporters who have alleged that the “tea party” movement—and Santelli’s “spontaneous” rant (see March 2, 2009)—were part of a pre-planned launch effort (see February 27, 2009), but claims that Christenson merely bought the domain “thinking it might be a good name for a group,” and “retooled the site” hours after seeing Santelli’s rant. Last claims that dozens of other sites, including reteaparty.com (see March 2, 2009), were bought and posted “spontaneously” within hours of Santelli’s broadcast, as were dozens of Facebook “tea party” and Santelli fan sites. Last claims that reteaparty.com owner Anthony Astolfi, with the help of “his roommate and a cousin,” bought the domain, designed and posted the site, and promoted it on dozens of “high-ranking results pages” within 12 hours of Santelli’s rant, and awoke the next day to find they had had 40,000 visitors to their site and become “a minor sensation.” Last concludes by writing: “[I]t’s easy to see the groups that might make up a real grassroots movement: the Ron Paul libertarians, renters, housing bubble obsessives, disillusioned Democrats, stat-head financial types, and, of course, rich, heartless Republicans. And then there is Santelli, who, if so inclined, might put himself forward the way Howard Jarvis did with his property tax revolt in California in 1978. The question is whether or not these people can find each other and figure out a way to push back.” (Last 3/9/2009) Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine note that Astolfi’s Web site is indeed funded by a conservative political action committee (PAC), a fact that Last either does not know or chooses not to report. (Mark Ames and Yasha Levine 3/2/2009)
The Atlantic’s business blogger, Megan McArdle, lambasts Playboy for publishing an article that claims the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” (see February 19, 2009) may have been a pre-planned incident designed to coincide with the launch of a number of “tea party” Web sites and “grassroots” organizations (see February 27, 2009). McArdle says that the suspicious timing of the chicagoteaparty.com Web site launch, hours after Santelli’s “impromptu” rant on CNBC, was nothing more than an example of someone “leap[ing] in when opportunity arose.” McArdle denies that oil giant Koch Industries, or the Koch family, funds the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), and says, “[A]stroturfing [the practice of forming fake ‘grassroots’ organizations clandestinely organized and funded by lobbying groups or corporate entities] doesn’t really seem like their style.” McArdle may not be aware of a recent Wall Street Journal expose of a FreedomWorks “astroturf” endeavor (see May 16, 2008). She does acknowledge that since FreedomWorks does not publicize its donor list, she cannot be sure Koch is not funding the group. She admits that many “tea party” organizations are funded and operated by large conservative PR and lobbying firms, and writes: “So what? Groups—often funded by God knows who—coordinate protests.” McArdle calls the article’s allegation that Santelli participated in a pre-planned, scripted event “potentially libelous,” and writes, “If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” At the very end of her column, McArdle admits that she lives with a former FreedomWorks official, Peter Suderman. She denies that Suderman influenced her writing in any way except to give her an e-mail address of “the right employee to… make inquiries” of at the firm. “I haven’t asked him about his former employer, and he hasn’t told me anything. I debated whether to write about this, but since I’m not actually defending FreedomWorks, I think it’s kosher.” (McArdle 3/2/2009) Shortly after posting her column online, McArdle posts a follow-up, with details of her conversation with FreedomWorks official Brendan Steinhauser. She identifies Steinhauser as “the chap at FreedomWorks who has helped organize the tea parties.” She calls the firm “completely open about their interest in furthering the tea parties” (see May 16, 2008 and March 13, 2009 and After). She says Steinhauser got the idea for the “tea parties” from Michelle Malkin’s blog, which is at odds with Santelli’s claim of “spontaneously” using the term (see March 2, 2009). (McArdle 3/2/2009)
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, the reporters-turned-bloggers who recently caused a firestorm of controversy with their article on Playboy.com accusing CNBC commentator Rick Santelli of colluding with FreedomWorks and the Koch family in launching the anti-Obama “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), discuss Playboy’s recent unexplained deletion of their article from its Web site. AlterNet editor Jan Frel writes that Playboy’s action was likely taken due to fear of libel suits. In an e-mail to Frel, Ames and Levine write: “There has been a lot of speculation as to why Playboy removed our original article from its site. Let us put it this way: When you look at the fallout from our article—FreedomWorks admits its role in the teaparty, Santelli issues a giant lawyer-penned opus about how he loves Obama (see March 2, 2009), and CNBC (whose parent company is the megaconglomerate General Electric) frightens a bunch of Astroturfing Web sites into dropping Santelli’s name and into revealing their own PAC sponsors (see March 2, 2009)—then it’s clear we hit the bull’s-eye and stirred up the wrath of a very scary monster. Given all of this, it would not be unreasonable for one to consider the possibility (as many have) that the multigazilliondollar megabeast GE threatened the much smaller independent media company Playboy with a terrifying and expensive lawsuit, which, given the current financial crisis, is not something anyone but another GE-sized megabeast could cope with. ‘Nuf said on that.” Frel notes that some of the critics of Ames and Levine have their own ties to the subjects of the controversy. Playboy has a film deal with NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC. The New York Times, which has been critical of the story, has disclosed its content-sharing agreement with CNBC. And Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle, who has attacked the credibility of the story, has disclosed that she lives with a man who used to work for FreedomWorks and who has engaged in similar “astroturfing” incidents as the ones Ames and Levine reported on in their article (see March 2, 2009). (Frel 3/3/2009)
Conservative radio and Fox News television host Glenn Beck tearfully announces the inception of the “9/12” project, which he claims is a nonpartisan effort to reclaim the spirit of cooperation and unity that suffused the nation on September 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 attacks. “We weren’t told how to behave that day after 9/11, we just knew,” he says. “It was right; it was the opposite of what we feel today.” With tears flowing down his cheeks, Beck asks, “Are you ready to be the person you were that day after 9/11, on 9/12?” He assures his viewers, “You are not alone,” and says that the project has already grown into “something that millions are now participating in.” The project is “not about parties or politics or anything else,” he continues, but “about proving that the real power to change America’s course still resides with you. You are the secret. You are the answer.” He apologizes for his on-air weeping, and, holding his hand over his heart, sniffles: “I just love my country, and I fear for it. And it seems that the voices of our leaders and the special interests and the media that are surrounding us, it sounds intimidating. But you know what? Pull away the curtain. You’ll realize that there isn’t anybody there. It’s just a few people that are pressing the buttons, and their voices are actually really weak. Truth is, they don’t surround us. We surround them. This is our country.” He tells his viewers to visit The912Project.com, the Web site for the new organization. Beck then cuts to his producer, Steve (Stu) Burguiere, broadcasting from a “massive gathering” in Hollywood, “one of the most liberal cities in the country.” Burguiere begins reporting from an empty room, and begins by saying, “There’s still no one here.” He reiterates Beck’s opening line of “You’re not alone, unless you’re me.” Beck says, “Well, it must be traffic or something.” (Media Matters 3/13/2009; Media Matters 9/11/2009) Days before, Beck had announced his “We Surround Them” movement (see March 9, 2009), featuring actor/martial arts expert and secessionist Chuck Norris. The two organizations seem to dovetail with one another, and with the “tea party” groups (see April 8, 2009). Bloggers at SaveTheRich (.com) later learn that the 9/12 movement is actually a creation of FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), the conservative, corporate-funded “astroturf” organization behind the 2009 anti-health care protests. The organization begins planning for its September 12, 2009 march on Washington the same day as Beck announces his 9/12 project on Fox. SaveTheRich concludes that the entire project is a collusion between Fox News and FreedomWorks. Beck does not inform his audience of the connections between the organizations and his project. (SaveTheRich (.com) 4/17/2009; Media Matters 9/11/2009)
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. (Fang 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). (Fang 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. (Phillips 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; Fang 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)
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” (Shakir et al. 4/15/2009; Fang 5/29/2009)
The corporate lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) sends out a detailed memo, written in part by founder Dick Armey (R-TX), laying out strategies for protesting the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. The memo claims that the White House intends to supplant the current privately owned and operated health care system with a “government-run” system “that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in new taxes” and feature “government bureaucrats,” not doctors and patients, deciding who received what health care. “This takeover of the health care system would be costly in terms of our money, our freedom, and even our lives,” the memo states. Members and sympathizers should descend on the “town hall” meetings and other venues hosted by their Congressional representatives and demand that they oppose the proposals. The memo states that its “action kit” should be used at the “tea parties” being sponsored by FreedomWorks and other right-wing organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009). The memo contains talking points, slogans, sample questions, a “sample” letter to the editor that members can copy and sign, a petition, and a satirical “Obamacare Card” issued to “Nancy P. Pelosi,” the Democratic Speaker of the House, saying that the bearer is entitled to “rationed health care, long waits, less choice and control, poorer care, fewer doctors and drugs, massive government, higher taxes, growing debt, zero innovation, rising costs, waste, fraud, and abuse, [and] anxiety, pain, [and] fear of death.” (Dick Armey 6/26/2009 )
A thousand people attend a “tea party” rally in Washington, DC. Speakers include members from a number of anti-tax “reform” groups, the lobbying organization and tea party sponsor FreedomWorks (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009), and a number of radio talk show hosts. A rock band, Poker Face, provides entertainment and technical support. Poker Face’s lead singer, Paul Topete, has publicly called the Holocaust a “hoax” and has written for Holocaust-denial publications. Poker Face was refused permission to play at a Rutgers University event in 2006 and a Ron Paul (R-TX) campaign event in 2007 because of the band’s open bigotry and anti-Semitism. However, as the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’s Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind will later note, “they made it to the stage of the tea party without any questions asked.” (Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), an anti-health care reform lobbying organization owned by former health care industry executive Rick Scott (see August 4, 2009), sends an e-mail to a listserv called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee detailing over 100 “town hall” meetings to take place during the August recess. All are to be hosted by Democratic members of Congress, and most will feature discussions of the White House/Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposals. (Beutler 8/3/2009) The Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee has hundreds of members on its mailing list, and cross-connects to other, larger mailing lists for anti-reform groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). CPR features the same list of town hall meetings on its own Web site. The liberal news site TPMDC notes that the same listservs have featured blatantly racist messages such as pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose (see July 28, 2009). (Conservatives for Patients' Rights 7/2009; Beutler 8/3/2009)
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). (Fang 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.” (Beutler 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; Fang 7/31/2009) MacGuffie later claims to have first e-mailed the memo to “8-10 community activists” in June. (Ham 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:
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.”
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.”
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 ; Fang 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. (Fang 7/31/2009) Liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will accuse Right Principles of crafting a “how-to” manual for disruptive “rent-a-mob” activities. (Carpenter 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.” (Ham 8/5/2009)
Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) receives a hostile reception in a town hall meeting in an Austin grocery store. The meeting is to discuss the controversial Democratic health care reform proposal. The crowd is much larger than some had anticipated, and apparently packed with anti-health care reform protesters; anti-reform and anti-Obama signs are prominently displayed, including signs that read, “No Socialized Health Care.” Protesters also wave signs with Doggett depicted with devil horns, of a marble tombstone with Doggett’s name on it, and with slogans alleging Democrats are Nazis. When Doggett tells the crowd that he will support the reform plan even if his constituents oppose it, many in the crowd begin chanting “Just say no!” and, according to news reports, “overwhelm… the congressman as he move[s] through the crowd and into the parking lot.” One resident says of the meeting: “The folks there thought their voices weren’t being heard. They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn’t any violence.” Another says, laughing: “He jumped in [his car] and fled. It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.” Doggett later notes that because of the disruption, he is unable to engage in discussion with constituents who have other issues, including a father who wants his help in getting his son into a military academy. (Austin American-Statesman 8/3/2009; Herszenhorn and Stolberg 8/3/2009; Ambinder 8/4/2009)
Congressman: Protesters a 'Mob' - Doggett will later characterize the anti-reform protesters as a “mob.” In a statement, he says: “This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the ‘party of no’ than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming ‘just say no!‘… Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.” (Thrush 8/3/2009; Hechtkopf 8/3/2009)
Coordinated by Local Republicans, Washington Lobbyist Firm, 'Tea Party' Group - The protest is coordinated by Heather Liggett, a local Republican Party operative, and by officials with the lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which has organized numerous anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations (see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009). Liggett confirms she is part of a national network of conservative organizers putting together anti-reform protests. Doggett says: “This is not a grassroots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event.” Of the event itself, he says: “In Texas, not only with the weather but with the politics, it is pretty hardball around here. I have a pretty thick skin about all of this. But this really goes over the line.” And Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), adds: “Conservative activists don’t want to have a conversation. They want to disrupt.” (Herszenhorn and Stolberg 8/3/2009) Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says, “The right-wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the president’s citizenship, and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are.” Another group with connections to the “tea party” movement, “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman,” helped organize the protest. It says on its Web site: “These arrogant, ignorant, and insolent [Congress members] have embarrassed America, trampled the Constitution, and ignored their constituents for far too long. Attend their townhall meetings during recess and press them with intelligent questions (unlike the mainstream media), asked in an intelligent manner to see if they are really in touch and on board with ‘the will of the people.’” (Hechtkopf 8/3/2009) After the meeting, FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization that actively promotes disruptive behavior at Congressional town halls (see April 14, 2009), posts video from the meeting, and exhorts its members, “If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think.” (FreedomWorks 8/3/2009)
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) hold a meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the White House’s health care reform proposals. A large and vocal crowd of anti-reform protesters attempts to shout over, or shout down, both Sebelius and Specter during the event. Over 400 people attend the meeting, and many “cheered, jeered, and booed” the two, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sebelius’s response to the crowd: “I’m happy to see democracy is at work.” The Inquirer reports, “Sebelius and Specter managed, barely, to impose a tenuous civility on the hour-long meeting titled ‘Health Insurance Reform—What’s in it for You.’” At one point, the booing and screaming become so pervasive that Sebelius informs the crowd, “We can shout at one another, or we can leave the stage.” Audience members verbally engage with each other as well: one, a self-identified Republican “political junkie,” says the nation cannot afford to insure 47 million uninsured Americans, and is countered by a rheumatologist who works with underinsured and uninsured patients, and who describes the horrific situations many of them face. One anti-reform participant tells the pair, “The American people don’t want rationed health care,” winning cheers from many in the audience. When Sebelius retorts that health care is already rationed for the 12,000 people a day whose insurance disappears when they lose their jobs, she wins applause from other audience members. About a dozen members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are there to support Sebelius and Specter, and some members of the pro-reform group Physicians for Obama are also in attendance. Countering them are numerous audience members with “Tell Washington No” bumper stickers plastered to their chests. One anti-reform organization, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, will later claim to have around 40 members in attendance. Outside the hall, dozens of anti-reform protesters picket with signs saying, among other slogans, “Government Health Care: Dangerous to Your Health,” “Welcome to the United States Socialist Republic,” and various anti-abortion signs. After the meeting, Sebelius says: “Health care touches everybody personally.… I find it difficult, because so much misinformation gets repeated in questions at town hall meetings. We have a challenge to get the message out.” (Bergen 8/3/2009) After the meeting, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), a lobbying organization that actively promotes the town hall disruptions by conservative protesters, calls the event “a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month.” (FreedomWorks 8/3/2009)
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder says that the Democrats are, in part, being beaten in the public perception battle over health care reform because they were caught flat-footed by the wave of angry, if orchestrated, conservative opposition manifesting itself at 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, and August 4, 2009). Ambinder writes: “Democrats know the rulebook. The tactics being used against them by Republican and conservative groups were perfected by the party when it set out to defeat President Bush’s Social Security privatization proposals. They also know that it’s easier to gin up noise against a major legislative initiative than it is to sell an initiative that isn’t fully formed yet.… As a Democratic strategist said to me: ‘I think as Dems we learned a lot of lessons from beating Bush on privatization—we know and perfected all the tricks and tactics so we know what to expect from the tea baggers, the insurance companies, and other opponents.’” But because the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats have not yet created a cohesive, easily explained health care reform package, conservatives are finding it easy to attack the various proposals while Democrats flounder in attempting to explain that not-yet-perfected package. It is also easy for conservatives to allege horrific elements of that package which do not exist, but succeed in inflaming public opinion and raising the “fear level” among ordinary citizens. Ambinder concludes: “The press will be complicit in telling the story, as the louder voices at town hall meetings will ultimately get more coverage. As the Democratic National Committee has learned, it’s not easy to engineer a massive national congressional switchboard campaign unless there is a defined target.… The goal of the opposition—of FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity (see April 15, 2009)—isn’t to change minds; their activists know what they believe already: it’s to make noise. Making noise scares members of Congress. And Democrats are vulnerable to panics.” (Ambinder 8/3/2009)
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.’” (Tapper 8/4/2009; Kleefeld 8/4/2009; WKTV 8/4/2009)
Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
Max Pappas, a senior official with the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), openly takes credit for his firm ratcheting up disruptive behavior at “town halls” across the nation devoted to discussion of health care reform (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, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009). Pappas is interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who says that FreedomWorks is “blowing them [town hall meetings] apart.” Pappas agrees, saying, “Yes, just like we blew up—” before Matthews talks over his response. Pappas says that FreedomWorks only has about 18 paid employees, and does most of its work over the Internet, working with 400,000 online members (referring to the number of people on its e-mail lists). “We… send them information about when the town halls are, give them briefings on the health care reform plans.” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes: “[T]here’s nothing wrong with FreedomWorks or any other group doing this. But if industry-funded groups are pumping up turnout at town hall meetings, it makes it perfectly fair game for reform proponents to argue that the industry is trying to manipulate perceptions of public opinion for the sake of its bottom line.” (Sargent 8/7/2009) The next day, Pappas appears on C-SPAN, and a caller claiming to be a Republican veteran asks him “to tell these people to wrap it down.” The caller says: “We Republicans already have the image of being owned by corporate America. Now we’re getting the image of being owned by wild red neck America.” Pappas responds: “We don’t have the power to control how many people turn out or how they behave there. All we really do is facilitate their participation by letting people know when these town halls are and giving them information about the issues that are going to be discussed. The passions are so deep about this issue that we can’t send out an email that says ‘calm down.’” Another caller claims to be from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white power and outspokenly racist organization (see June 2, 2009), and praises Pappas and FreedomWorks, calling him “a true patriot.” Pappas asks the caller to join the organization. (Armbruster 8/7/2009)
Frank Schaeffer, who with his late father Francis Schaeffer helped shape the social and religious conservatism that currently dominates much of American politics, writes what he calls an “inside scoop” on “why conservatives are rampaging town halls” to disrupt discussions of health care reform (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, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009), and, ultimately, to deliberately foment political violence. Schaeffer was once a leader of the conservative evangelical movement who has now repudiated his former positions, and has written a book on the subject. (Schaeffer 8/7/2009; MSNBC 8/10/2009) Schaeffer’s father wrote a book, A Christian Manifesto, which compared pro-abortion policies to those of Adolf Hitler, and said that the use of force to roll back abortion law would be justified. Schaeffer himself has written a very different book, entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back. (MSNBC 6/1/2009)
Comparing Pro-Abortion Activists to Nazis - He tells MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that his father used to compare pro-abortion activists to Nazis, and told his followers “that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of [Adolf] Hitler.” It is a straight, short line, Schaeffer says, to go from the concept of justifiably assassinating Hitler to using violence against those who are compared to Nazis. “It’s really like playing Russian roulette,” he says. “You put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in a while it goes off. And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller (see May 31, 2009). We’ve seen it happen numerous times in this country with the violence against political leaders, whether it’s Martin Luther King or whoever it might be. We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country.… There is a coded message here. And that is that you have a group of people who, like Rush Limbaugh (see July 21, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) would rather see the president and the country fail, and their coded message to their own lunatic fringe is very simple—and that is go for broke. When you start comparing a democratically elected president, who is not only our first black president but a moderate progressive, to Adolf Hitler (see August 7, 2009), you have arrived at a point where you are literally leading—leaving a loaded gun on the table, saying the first person who wants to come along and use this, go ahead. Be our guest.” (MSNBC 8/10/2009)
Conservative World View Shattered by Obama Election - In a separate op-ed, Schaeffer writes: “The Republican Old Guard are in the fix an atheist would be in if Jesus showed up and raised his mother from the dead: Their world view has just been shattered. Obama’s election has driven them over the edge.” Schaeffer says that when he worked with Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader and now lobbyist was “a decent guy, whatever his political views. How could he stoop so low as to be organizing what amounts to America’s Brown Shirts today?” He answers his own question: Armey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and others “can’t compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can’t reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don’t run the country any more—and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the ‘other’ into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009)… for them this is the Apocalypse.… [N]ow all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can’t win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!”
Using 70s-Era Anti-Abortion Protest Tactics - Schaeffer says conservative and industry lobbying firms orchestrating the anti-reform movement (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, May 29, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) are using the same tactics he and his father helped create for anti-abortion clinic protesters in the 1970s. He notes one lobbying organization, Armey’s FreedomWorks. “FreedomWorks represents a top-down, corporate-friendly approach that’s been the norm for conservative organizations for years,” Schaeffer writes. “How do I know this is the norm? Because I used to have strategy meetings with the late Jack Kemp (R-NY) and Dick Armey and the rest of the Republican gang about using their business ties to help finance the pro-life movement to defeat Democrats. I know this script. I helped write it. Democratic members of Congress are being harassed by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior at local town halls. It’s the tactic we used to follow abortion providers around their neighborhoods. ‘Protesters’ surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (see June 22, 2009) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety. We used to do the same to Dr. Tiller… until someone killed him.” (Schaeffer 8/7/2009)
Aware of Potential for Violence - In a previous interview with Maddow, Schaeffer expounded on this same topic. “[W]hat we did is we talked one game to the large public and we talked another game amongst ourselves,” he told Maddow. “And amongst ourselves, we were very radical.… I know that this is the case because of the fact that I was part of the movement, but also understood very well what we were doing back then was to attack the political issue when we talked to people like Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and Jack Kemp—the late Jack Kemp that we were very close to in all this. But on a private side, we also were egging people on to first pick at abortion clinics, then chain themselves to fences, then go to jail. We knew full well that in a country that had seen the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, two Kennedy brothers, and others, that what we were also doing was opening a gate here. And I think there’s no way to duck this. We live in a country in which guns are all over the place. We have plenty of people with a screw loose, plenty of people on the edge. It only takes one.” (MSNBC 6/1/2009)
Using Lies to Obscure Facts, Disrupt Debate - The health care reform opponents are using what Schaeffer calls “[a] barrage of outright lies, wherein the Democrats are being accused of wanting to launch a massive euthanasia program against the elderly, free abortions for everyone, and ‘a government takeover’ of health care” to disrupt informed debate. Some protesters have escalated to physical violence and intimidation. Schaeffer says that just as in the 1970s, the protesters engaging in the physical violence are often “plants sent to disrupt public forums on the health care issue.… [M]uch of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms. There is no daylight between the Republican Party, the health care insurance industry, far-right leaders like Dick Armey, the legion of insurance lobbyists, and now, a small army of thugs.… No, I don’t believe that these people are about to take over the country. No, the sky is not falling. But the Republican Party is. It is now profoundly anti-American. The health insurance industry is run by very smart and very greedy people who have sunk to a new low. So has the Republican Party’s leadership that will not stand up and denounce the likes of Dick Armey for helping organize roving bands of thugs trying to strip the rest of us of the ability to be heard when it comes to the popular will on reforming health care.”
American Fascism - Schaeffer accuses the right of undermining American democracy and attempting to establish an almost-fascist control of society. “Here’s the emerging American version of the fascist’s formula,” he writes: “combine millions of dollars of lobbyists’ money with embittered troublemakers who have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi-literate and completely and routinely misinformed right wing—evangelical religious underground. Then put his little mob together with the insurance companies’ big bucks. That’s how it works—American Brown Shirts at the ready.” He notes that the murder of Tiller closed down his clinic, one of the few in the country that performed late-term abortions. So the murder of Tiller achieved the goal of the anti-abortion movement. “In this case a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save our economy from going bankrupt because of spiraling health care costs may be lost, not because of a better argument, but because of lies backed up by anti-democratic embittered thuggery. The motive? Revenge on America by the Old White Guys of the far right, and greed by the insurance industry.” Schaeffer concludes, “It’s time to give this garbage a name: insurance industry funded fascism.” (Schaeffer 8/7/2009)
The progressive news Web site AlterNet publishes an analysis of how health insurance and medical industry firms use so-called “Astroturf” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) to work against health care reform. One firm investigated is the Medicines Company, a small pharmaceutical firm, which has hired the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper to promote its interests, including fighting health care reform. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is a senior policy adviser for DLA Piper, and heads the “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks, which apparently conducts protests and advocacy for the interests of DLA Piper’s clients (see April 14, 2009). The AlterNet analysis, by Adele M. Stan, accuses Armey of having a conflict of interest in his dual roles as lobbyist and “grassroots” organizer. The Medicines Company’s contract with DLA Piper comprises 15 percent of that firm’s business. (The Medicines Company will later claim that it does not contract with any lobbying firms to influence anyone’s position on health care legislation.) Other “Astroturf” organizations such as Grassfire.org and its subsidiary, ResistNet, are also involved in combating reform. ResistNet bills itself as “[t]he online community for patriotic citizens who are opposing the Obama-led socialist agenda.” The home page of ResistNet’s Web site features a video entitled “Obama Equals Hitler.” ResistNet is run by Grassfire, which says it funds ResistNet as part of “our overall patriotic resistance efforts.” Stan expands her analysis to include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose NewsCorp owns Fox News. NewsCorp invests heavily in health industry firms, and, according to Stan, would profit by keeping reform from becoming law. Stan notes that one of Murdoch’s key hires was radio and former CNN host Glenn Beck. Beck was hired, Stan claims, to host a Fox News show and to organize a group called the 9/12 Project. Beck’s 9/12 Project, which, like Grassfire and ResistNet, serves as a “social networking” tool to bring together reform opponents, has been involved in a number of raucous anti-reform protests (see June 30, 2009 and August 6, 2009). Stan says the combination of these elements, along with what she calls “an oppressed-white-people narrative that has its roots in the origins of what used to be called the New Right,” has created the “perfect storm” of converging trends to create a chaotic and confrontational season for anti-reform protests and lobbyists. (Stan 8/10/2009; MSNBC 8/14/2009)
Top “tea party” and other conservative organizers, taking part in a private conference call, discuss their primary goal for health care reform: blocking any kind of compromise entirely, and ensuring that no health care reform package of any kind is passed. An AFL-CIO organizer manages to get involved in the call, and his notes are provided to, first, the union itself, and then to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. The call consists of representatives of powerful lobbying and “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) such as the American Liberty Alliance, the “Tea Party Patriots,” and RecessRally.com (see August 5, 2009). (Sargent 8/11/2009) The conference call is sponsored by the “Tea Party Patriots,” which labels itself the “official grassroots American movement.” The group is sponsored and organized by, among other organizations, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). When the “Tea Party Patriots” organized a trip to Washington in July, FreedomWorks provided the members with prepared packets of information and briefed them on how a visit to Capitol Hill works. (MSNBC 8/12/2009) Sargent writes: “It’s certain to be seized on by [Democrats] to argue that organized tea party opposition to [President] Obama has no constructive intentions and is fomenting public ‘concern’ about Obama’s plan solely to prevent any reform from ever taking place. GOP officials would argue that they don’t share these goals.” The moderator on the call tells participants that bipartisan compromise on the Senate Finance Committee, where senators are holding talks, must be stopped at all costs. Organizers are told to pressure Republican senators seen as likely to compromise with Senate Democrats, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), to stop the negotiating. “The goal is not compromise, and any bill coming out this year would be a failure for us,” the moderator says. He adds that “the Democrats will turn even a weak bill from the Senate Finance Committee into Canadian-style single-payer through underhanded implementation.” Single-payer, or a system of government-only health care, is not in any versions of the legislation in either house of Congress. Another organizer says, “The purpose of tea parties is not to find a solution to the health care crisis—it is to stop what is not the solution: Obamacare.” A spokeswoman for the American Liberty Alliance later acknowledges that comments like the ones noted by the AFL-CIO source were likely made, and that the organization’s specific goal is to prevent the current legislation in Congress from becoming law. No audio of the call exists, she claims. A “tea party” organizer later denies that his organization has any intention of “politically ‘accepting’ or denying legislation.” (Sargent 8/11/2009)
The press releases a confidential, “sensitive” memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing a plan to create “Astroturf” rallies at which industry employees posing as ordinary citizens will urge Congress to fight climate change legislation. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and sent to several reporters. It urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” and will urge senators to “avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.” The campaign is funded by a coalition of corporate and conservative groups called the “Energy Citizens” alliance, which includes the anti-health care reform group 60 Plus, the industry “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), Grover Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. API president Jack Gerard, who signed the memo, asks recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warns, “Please treat this information as sensitive… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” At least two major oil corporations, BP and Shell, are members of API and also belong to the US Climate Action Partnership, which supports the House legislation sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA). API has spent over $3 million lobbying against that bill this year. API spokesman Bill Bush says his organization is not trying to deceive anyone. “I don’t think anyone’s hiding the ball about this,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with the oil and gas industry.” Greenpeace has asked API to reveal the member companies funding the Astroturf efforts. Shell Oil Company later informs reporters that it will not take part in the rallies. In a statement, the corporation says, “Shell’s position is not aligned with the consensus opinion of the API on Waxman-Markey, therefore Shell will not participate in the rallies.” (Gerard 8/2009; Roth 8/14/2009)
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), the head of the “astroturf” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), leaves his position as senior policy adviser for the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper. Armey says he is leaving because of the negative press attention FreedomWorks is garnering, including “unwarranted” accusations that it is organizing “grassroots” citizen protests against health care reform on behalf of DLA Piper’s clients. In an interview, he says: “The firm [DLA Piper] is busy with its business, and shouldn’t be asked to take time out from their work, to defend themselves of spurious allegations. No client of this firm is going to be free to mind its own business without harassment as long as I’m associated with it.” DLA Piper chairman Frank Burch says that the decision for Armey to leave is mutual. In his statement, Armey adds: “It is painful and frustrating to see a good, decent, able, and effective partnership of honorable men and women and their clients attacked for things in which they are not involved simply because of their association with me. One would expect a higher degree of competence and professionalism from members of the media than spurious attacks on innocent bystanders.… Let me be perfectly clear about DLA Piper. It is a fine firm with good, competent people. It has been my privilege to be associated with them and I will miss them. I am leaving the firm with regret but also with anticipation of being more fully engaged in the nation’s struggle [against health care reform] and without having attacks on me being directed at others.” Armey says he will now focus all of his efforts on FreedomWorks: “It is imperative for me, within the context of my life’s work in the defense of personal liberty against the encroachments of big government, to give my undivided attention to the work we do at FreedomWorks. In short, the threat to personal liberty in America is so serious and imminent at this time that it requires the full commitment of my efforts. While I consider it a personal sacrifice to leave DLA Piper, it is a sacrifice I must make in light of the important work I am committed to at FreedomWorks.” (Mark 8/14/2009; Roth 8/14/2009)
Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader who now heads the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks, predicts that the Obama administration will try to counter the “grassroots” protests with what he calls a “fear campaign” designed to frighten wavering lawmakers, whom he terms “bed-wetters.” The administration will use false claims of a “swine flu” epidemic in its efforts, Armey says in an interview with the Financial Times: “In September or October there will be a hyped-up outbreak of the swine flu which they’ll say is as bad as the bubonic plague to scare the bed-wetters to vote for health care reform. That is the only way they can push something on to the American people that the American people don’t want.” FreedomWorks reprints the original article, published in London’s Financial Times, on its Web site. (Luce and Ulmer 8/17/2009)
MSNBC reports that FreedomWorks, the non-profit “grassroots” lobbying organization that has spearheaded anti-health care reform efforts (see April 14, 2009, June 26, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, and August 17, 2009), has recently raised the amount of money it charges organizations to take part in anti-reform protests. FreedomWorks used to charge groups $2,500 to distribute their materials at FreedomWorks-sponsored events; now the price is $10,000. However, the new price includes the opportunity for a group to have a speaker at a FreedomWorks rally. FreedomWorks says it is trying to offset costs for stages, equipment, and other operating costs. (MSNBC 8/20/2009)
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. (Marshall 9/12/2009; Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 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. (Beutler 9/11/2009; Marshall 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.” (Richart 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. (Gardner 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). (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 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.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009; Gardner 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.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Mark Williams, a conservative talk radio host in Sacramento and a prominent spokesman for the nationally based Tea Party Express (TPE), appears on a CNN panel during that network’s Anderson Cooper 360° and, while defending his organization against charges of racism, himself uses racist allegations against President Obama. Williams denounces those who carry openly racist signs against Obama during tea party events (see June 30, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 11, 2010), and September 12, 2010), calling them “no more part of the mainstream of America than the hippies who wear nipple clips and feather boas in San Francisco streets during so-called peace demonstrations.” Cooper informs Williams, “What you’re saying makes sense to me here when I’m hearing what you say but then I read on your blog, you say, you call the president an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief.” Williams shrugs and answers, “Yeah, that’s the way he’s behaving.” Cooper asks Williams if he really believes Obama is an Indonesian Muslim and a welfare thug, to which Williams responds: “He’s certainly acting like it. Until he embraces the whole country what else can I conclude.” (Graham 9/15/2009) TPE is one of the most “establishment” of the various tea party organizations. It was founded and run by Republican operatives and lobbyists, in a similar fashion to the Washington conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Williams is a key element in making TPE a large and influential organization, and has publicly associated the organization with conservative Republican 2010 candidates such as Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle and Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller. (McMorris-Santoro 7/19/2010)
In November 2009, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, establishes a new “tea party” organization she calls Liberty Central. (Some media sources claim that Liberty Central begins operations in January 2010.) She describes the group as intended to bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. “I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,” she says at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country. I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.” She also says she started the group because of her reaction to what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” The group also intends to work to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, and provide political strategies and “talking points” for conservative candidates. (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Commission 7/1/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011) In May 2010, the organization officially declares itself open for business, launching a $27,000 Web site, and touting partnerships with a number of prominent conservative groups and the backing of prominent conservatives such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, whom Justice Thomas has called “my good friend.” (Vogel 7/6/2010)
Questions of Conflict of Interest, Ethics - Almost immediately, legal ethicists assert that Virginia Thomas’s role as the head of a partisan, openly political advocacy organization could taint her husband’s impartiality, especially in light of the Citizens United Court decision, in which her husband sided with the 5-4 majority (see January 21, 2010), that allows her group to accept donations and spend them without publicly disclosing information about them. The group could have benefited from the Court’s decision, and Justice Thomas’s decision could be seen as being influenced by his wife’s decision to start the group. Law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a Court historian, says, “I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics.” The expectations for spouses are not so clear, he adds, saying, “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it.” Legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, another law professor, says, “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse.” Moreover, the press learns that while the Court was deliberating the Citizens United case, Liberty Central received an anonymous $550,000 donation. Government watchdog organization Common Cause wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case, and wrote that “the complete lack of transparency of Liberty Central’s finances makes it difficult to assess the full scope of the ethics issues raised by Ms. Thomas’s role in founding and leading the group.” (The media later learns that $500,000 of the anonymous $550,000 donation for the organization comes from Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, who also hosts a fundraising event for the organization at his home. Crow once gave Justice Thomas a $19,000 “Frederick Douglass Bible” as a gift, and donated $150,000 to build a new wing named for Justice Thomas on a Savannah, Georgia, library that he visited frequently in his youth.) Common Cause also notes that Justice Thomas had failed to report on his financial disclosure filings his wife’s income over the last 13 years, prompting him to file amendments to the filings that indicated the sources, but not the amounts, of his wife’s income. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from the case.
Period of Success - Liberty Central flourishes for a brief time, with Virginia Thomas assembling a veteran staff and forging relationships with conservative donors, with most of whom she and her husband had long, close relationships. Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, one of the over 30 state and national tea party groups that are listed as partners in Liberty Central’s affiliate network, says, “Her association with Justice Thomas clearly provides a level of credibility that others wouldn’t be able to have, just because of the beliefs that he has and the stands that he has on the different positions that align with our own.” Liberty Central’s connection with Justice Thomas, Graham says, “gets you to open the email, if nothing else, as opposed to some other one that you may not even open.” Liberty Central hires the services of CRC Public Relations, a prominent Washington communications firm that has garnered some $15 million in fees from a number of clients, including top Republican Party committees and the presidential campaigns or political committees of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, among others. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party lobbying organization also partnered with Liberty Central (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), says, “Ginni was able to raise the seed capital to have a real launch” because of her connections in small-government conservative circles. Kibbe says most people are unaware that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin calls Thomas a “mentor” for many tea party organizations, and says she helps these organizations “to navigate some of the waters in DC.… She’s been kind of a mentor, and when we had questions about things that we were doing, we bounced a few of the ideas off of her and also off of a few other people in DC just to make sure that what we were doing made sense.” (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011)
Media Attention - In a June 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Thomas says she is sure “liberals” will “persecute” her just as she says they did when her husband was undergoing confirmation for the Supreme Court. “They’re after me now sometimes,” she says. “And so, we’re not going to be dissuaded. We are in the fight for our country’s life.” She and Hannity engage in a lively conversation about the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. She also promises to “watch for conflicts” between herself and her husband. In October 2010, the media reports that Virginia Thomas leaves a voice mail for former college professor Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the Court (see October 8, 1991, October 8-12, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991), demanding that Hill issue an apology to her husband. The voice mail says: “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.” The attention from the voice mail prompts more negative media attention, and some donors begin distancing themselves from the organization. (Virginia Thomas later admits that her voice mail message for Hill was “probably a mistake,” though she will call the media’s response to it “laughable.” She will call the message “an olive branch” she extends to Hill. For her part, Hill says: “I don’t apologize. I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony in 1991.”) (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Fox News 6/8/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Smith and Shiner 10/19/2010; Gardner 11/15/2010)
Thomas Steps Down, Group Merges with Another Organization - In November 2010, Virginia Thomas steps down from her leadership post at Liberty Central. The group then merges with another, similar group called the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, an organization founded by ex-CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a largely discredited book “exposing” the “secrets” of the Clinton administration. Sources later tell reporters that Virginia Thomas sells off Liberty Central because it cannot raise the funds needed to support its large staff and high overhead. According to CRC spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll, Thomas will “take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions. After discussing it with the board, Mrs. Thomas determined that it was best for the organization.” However, Sarah E. Field, general counsel of Liberty Central, disagrees, saying: “There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time.… The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” Keith Appell of CRC tells a reporter that the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner “breached confidentiality” by reporting her conversation with Carroll. Gardner responds, “Everything I attributed to Caitlin Carroll comes from an on-the-record conversation we had by telephone this morning.” Within hours, Thomas files incorporation papers for a new political lobbying and consulting firm, Liberty Consulting (see February 4, 2011). (Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel 11/15/2010; Gardner 11/15/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011)
Some “tea party” leaders express their dislike of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections (see January 21, 2010), a position that puts them at odds with the Republican Party and mainstream US conservatism. Hours after the decision was handed down, Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele hailed it as “an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights” of corporations (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010), but some tea partiers see the decision much differently. Texas tea party activist Shane Brooks says in an email to Talking Points Memo reporter Zachary Roth: “This decision basically gives the multinational corporations owned by foreign entities [the right] to pour unlimited funds into the pockets of corrupt corporate backed politicians to attack everything this country stands for. We might as well be able to vote for Disney or the SEIU as president of the United States of America.” Nashville Tea Party official Kevin Smith recently wrote that the ruling “puts corporations in a position to crowd out smaller competition and buy politicians from the local sheriff to the president himself.” Dale Robertson, the leader of TeaParty.org, said after the decision: “It just allows them to feed the machine. Corporations are not like people. Corporations exist forever, people don’t. Our founding fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmountable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage.” Sacramento tea party activist Jim Knapp tells Roth: “Most of the anger by tea party supporters is directed at the effects of special interest money.… I believe that campaign finance reform is the most important political issue facing America. I would even go so far as to say that this issue is even more important that our current financial crisis and jobs. Everything in American politics is affected by special interest money. From who controls our monetary policies in treasury and the Fed to regulation of Wall Street. I would also venture to say that it was special interest money which precipitated the current economic crisis.” Everett Wilkinson, the leader of a Florida tea party group, tells Roth that his group has “mixed feelings” about the ruling. On the one hand, he says, “getting corporations more involved with politics could be a detrimental thing.” The ruling also upholds free speech, he counters. FreedomWorks, the lobbying organization that helped found the tea party movement, and officials of the Tea Party Patriots refuse to speak to the issue with Roth. The reporter writes: “[T]heir opposition to the Court’s ruling on behalf of corporations hints at an ideological split between the movement and the GOP that has long existed under the surface. Tea Partiers—especially the rank-and-file activists, as opposed to the movement leaders—often embrace a more populist, anti-corporate position than does the Republican Party, or the conservative movement that under-girds it. This difference underlies much of the tension we’re increasingly seeing between Tea Partiers and the GOP.” (Roth 2/3/2010)
The New York Times publishes a large front-page story on America’s “tea party” movement. The report is written by staff reporter David Barstow, who researched the story for five months, first joining a bus tour by the Tea Party Express (see August 28, 2009) and then staying for the month of October in and around Spokane, Washington, to interview tea party members and others, such as white supremacist militia members, who have some affiliation with tea party organizations. The first person he mentions is a retiree named Pam Stout, who once worked for federal housing programs and is now aghast at the government’s handling of the economic crisis. She told Barstow that one day “she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated—even manufactured—by both parties to grab power.” She went to a tea party rally, then a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, where she surprised herself by nominating herself for president. Under her leadership, the Sandpoint group joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project (see March 13, 2009 and After), the extremist, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), a far-right militia organization. Stout told Barstow that her family worries that she has become enmeshed in a group of conspiracy theorists and ad hoc revolutionaries, but she said she has never felt more engaged. (Barstow 2/15/2010; Marx 2/18/2010)
Increasing Tilt towards Anti-Government Militia Ideology - Barstow writes that many tea party members are like Stout, with an inclination to conservative anti-government politics, but also with a fear of eventual government tyranny that has driven them to join the movement. “These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the tea party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement,” he writes, “a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates, and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve. Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show.” Many tea partiers hold former President Bush and President Obama in equal contempt, holding them jointly responsible for deliberately undermining the Constitution and the free market system “for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites” (see February 4-8, 2010). Coalition groups like Friends of Liberty are “forming hybrid entities of tea parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. A fear of government tyranny is one of the most common ideological threads running through virtually all tea party organizations.”
Targeting Republicans as Well as Democrats - Barstow continues: “These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal—a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain” and other Republicans whom they consider part of the “government conspiracy” to destroy democracy. While tea parties routinely target Democrats in elections, they are also targeting more moderate Republicans, especially those who support ideas or legislation that they feel is part of the “conspiracy.” Republicans who supported the government bailouts of large corporations are being targeted, as are those who support global warming legislation or who have shown any impetus to work with the White House or with Congressional Democrats (see January 29, 2010). Barstow notes that the tea party movement is anything but homogenous and rigidly organized: “It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure.” Some groups are “essentially appendages of the local Republican Party,” but many are not. However, many of the beliefs espoused by individual tea partiers tend to be reflected in most groups. Not all believe that Obama wants to impose a dictatorship, with or without McCain’s help, but many do. The frustration expressed by Stout in the economy and the government’s response to it is echoed throughout tea party groups in every state.
Turning to Radical Ideologies and Conspiracy Theorists - One of the tea partiers’ favorite thinkers is Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 29, 2009). Beck’s often-revisionist, often-inaccurate opinions led many tea partiers to read the Federalist Papers (or, more often, right-wing blogs about the Federalist Papers), conspiracist “exposes” of the Federal Reserve, and the novels of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Online resources tailored for tea party organizations provide a wealth of what Barstow calls “radical critiques of Washington.” Two of the primary sites are ResistNet.com and InfoWars, both of which combine far-right ideology with a plethora of conspiracy theories covering everything from 9/11 and the Federal Reserve to the New World Order (see September 11, 1990). Some tea partiers are joining with militia groups, or forming their own, and making stockpiles of food, gold, and weaponry to prepare for the end of civilization. Many tea party leaders say they believe that a return to a strict adherence to constitutional law would solve most of the nation’s problems, but many of them espouse a radical view of the Constitution, such as that delineated by radical Constitutional revisionist W. Cleon Skousen (first popularized among the tea party community by Beck—see 1963). Many want to completely do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the federal income tax, and most government agencies, all of which they say violate the Constitution. Some go even farther, advocating secession, states “nullfying” federal laws, and the formation of citizen militias. The tea parties in the Pacific Northwest, Barstow writes, have been shaped by influences such as libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and by the sometimes-violent anti-government activism of northern Idaho (see Early 1970s, 1980-1982, 1983-1995, and February 15, 1995). The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992), which occurred in nearby Idaho, is a touchstone for many tea partiers, just as it was for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see August 21-31, 1992). Many, but not all, tea party members and groups embrace the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural American citizen. A favorite news blog, WorldNetDaily, routinely electrifies the movement by warning of new White House plans to build massive internment camps and stuff them with tea party members, or of plans to send waves of United Nations troops throughout the nation to confiscate Americans’ guns. ResistNet regularly warns that Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his own personal police force, and advises tea partiers to “grab their guns.” Tea partiers like Mary Johnson of New Mexico points to the Bush-era wiretapping scandal as proof that the government can, and is, preparing to bring democracy to an end. As the groups’ fear and contempt for the federal government grows, Barstow writes, they turn more frequently to “fringe” groups such as white supremacist, anti-government militias. In Indiana, a militia coalition called Defenders of Liberty is networking with tea party groups and other “Patriot” organizations throughout the state. Darin Stevens, the leader of the Spokane 9/12 project, told Barstow that before tuning in to Beck’s show, he had paid almost no attention to politics. After the recession hit and his personal financial structure started to collapse, he began watching Beck. “I had no clue that my country was being taken from me,” he explains. He began the Spokane chapter of Beck’s 9/12 project, and was astounded that 110 people attended the first meeting. Stevens now belongs to the Oath Keepers as well as the 9/12 Project. Spokane tea partier Leah Southwell became a convert after stumbling on Paul’s speeches on YouTube. Southwell turned from being a successful Mary Kay makeup sales representative to being a self-described member of “the uprising.” Southwell, through Paul, is now fully supportive of the Patriot ideology, and holds as evident truth a number of conspiracy theories involving the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations. “The more you know, the madder you are,” she told Barstow. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!” Southwell is now a local official with the John Birch Society. She says that the affiliation between organizations like the JBS and the tea parties will continue to grow: “Most of these people [tea partiers] are just waking up.” Former car salesman Richard Mack, a longtime militia supporter who co-wrote Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver’s memoirs, is a favorite speaker at tea party events. “People just do not trust any of this,” Mack told Barstow. “It’s not just the fringe people anymore. These are just ordinary people—teachers, bankers, housewives.”
Amorphous Structure - Local tea party groups often join, in one degree or another, one of several competing national tea party organizations such as ResistNet or the Tea Party Express, most of which are organized, staffed, and funded by conservative lobbying groups such as 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) or Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After). Some tea party groups have been joined by, or in some cases overrun by, other groups, from “birthers” to militias, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, pro-gun groups, and the sovereign states movement. Many coalitions such as Friends of Liberty were formed in opposition to what leaders called the endless “hijack attempts” by state and county Republican Parties. Dann Selle of the Official Tea Party of Spokane told Barstow, “We had to stand our ground, I’ll be blunt.”
Support from Elected Politicians - Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and a possible 2012 Republican candidate for president, has joined with Texas tea parties in supporting the state’s secession from the United States. Nevada Republican Joe Heck, who ran for Congress in 2008, attacked both parties for moving the nation towards “socialist tyranny” and solicited tea party support at a rally in Las Vegas. Indiana Republican Richard Behney, running for the US Senate, told tea party supporters that if the 2010 elections did not turn out to his liking: “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.” (Barstow 2/15/2010)
The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. (Sharrock 3/2010)
In the wake of tea party anti-health care reform protests that resulted in protesters verbally abusing a disabled man (see March 16, 2010), hurling racial and homophobic slurs at lawmakers, spitting on a lawmaker (see March 20, 2010), and threatening Democrats with violence (see March 24-25, 2010), the leaders of some tea party organizations condemn the harassment and threats of violence their members are producing. At the same time, these leaders say that their members are responsible for the incidents they condemn. Politico reports, “There hasn’t been any hard evidence that the reported harassment is linked to the tea party movement, but Democrats have tried to draw the link between the harassment and the sometimes-inflammatory rhetoric that tea partiers and Republicans deployed in opposing the health care overhaul.” A group of Florida tea party organizers releases a letter to Congress and President Obama saying they “stand in stark opposition to any person using derogatory characterizations, threats of violence, or disparaging terms toward members of Congress or the president.” The letter calls the tea parties “a peaceful movement,” and says its leaders denounce “all forms of violence” and “support all efforts to bring [any perpetrators] to justice and have encouraged full cooperation within our movement and have asked for the same from the members of Congress who have laid such claims.” The letter is also signed by the Florida chapter of FreedomWorks, the Washington-based lobbying group that sponsors and coordinates many tea party organizations (see April 14, 2009). FreedomWorks spokesman Brendan Steinhauser, who helps organize local tea parties around the country for FreedomWorks, issues a statement saying, “Political violence is both immoral and ineffective, and will only set the movement back.” He says he is “reminding all grassroots leaders that it’s important to focus our efforts on peaceful, political efforts like protests, office visits, letters, petitions, and of course, voting.” However, Steinhauser says, there is no evidence that tea party members have engaged in any such actions: “We must remember that the folks committing these acts are small in number, extreme in their methods, and not yet proven to be members of our movement. But we must be diligent in denouncing all acts of political violence and racism, when they occur.” A Colorado tea party coalition issues a similar statement, which reads in part, “Tea party and similar groups across Colorado are saddened tonight to hear of threats made upon Democratic lawmakers in response to the passing their recent health insurance reform legislation, specifically… Rep. Betsy Markey.” Office staffers for Markey (D-CO) have reported at least one death threat from an unidentified caller. The Colorado release states, “[I]t does not appear that these threats stemmed from those within Colorado’s tea party movement.” However: “organizers and members alike are firmly denouncing any acts of intimidation or threat. Statewide, tea party leadership has encouraged disappointed members to get involved in the political process rather than dwell on the passage of the health care bill.” Lesley Hollywood, the director of the Northern Colorado Tea Party, promises: “I can assure you that myself and my colleagues will take immediate action if any of these allegations are discovered to be connected to our organizations. At this time, our internal investigations have not revealed any correlation between the threats and the Tea Party.” (Vogel and Sherman 3/25/2010; Fox News 3/26/2010) Of the threats directed towards Markey, Hollywood says: “Tea Party and similar groups across Colorado are saddened tonight to hear of threats made upon [Markey]. Although it does not appear that these threats stemmed from those within Colorado’s tea party movement, organizers and members alike are firmly denouncing any acts of intimidation or threat.… These threats are likely coming from rogue, outside sources.” (Stokols 3/25/2010) Days before, FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon said: “If the movement gets tattooed as at all sympathetic to those [racist and homophobic] views, I won’t want to be involved in it anymore. It’s very distracting not only to our side but also to the debate and the country.” (Vogel 3/22/2010) Atlanta Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, says: “We support peaceful means.… There are so many tea party groups that are out there.… It’s like herding cats. It’s impossible.” James Clyburn (D-SC), a Democratic House member, accuses House Republicans of egging on abusive behavior from the tea partiers. “If we participate in it, either from the balcony or on the floor of the House, you are aiding and abetting this kind of terrorism, really,” he says. Steinhauser alleges that similar threats and rhetoric have come from liberal activists, and accuses the media of ignoring those actions. (Fox News 3/26/2010)
Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who are behind the conservative tea party movement (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 and October 4, 2011), begin to build a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters that they intend to use to drive conservative votes in elections, beginning with the 2012 Republican primaries and on to the November 2012 general presidential election. The database is nicknamed “Themis,” after the Greek goddess of divine law and order who imposes order on human affairs. According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, “the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons’ political influence and that could prove significant in next year’s presidential election.” Pilkington writes that Themis will bring together “the vast network of alliances” the brothers have formed over the last 20 years. (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011) Patrick Glennon of In These Times writes: “Email lists, phone numbers, and other contact information from disperse sources will merge into a comprehensive and streamlined political weapon. Purportedly, the database will also include extensive information relating to occupation and income levels, useful details for targeted fundraising initiatives.” (Vogel 10/10/2011) The database begins in April 2010, and is expected to be completed and functional by the end of 2011. Few details of the project are known; development leader Karl Crow, a Washington lawyer and longtime Koch advisor, refuses to speak about it, as do media representatives of Koch Industries. A member of a Koch affiliate organization who specializes in the political uses of new technology says in November 2011 that the project is almost ready to go live: “They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they’re getting Themis off the ground.” The project is intended to, Pilkington writes, “bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organizations, and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership—including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket, and so on. By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican Party.” The specialist tells Pilkington, “This will take time to fully realize, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond.” Themis is modeled in part on a project called Catalyst, a voter list that compiled and shared data about progressive groups and campaigns (see Late 2004 and After) and helped Democrats regain momentum after the 2004 defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011) The 2008 Obama campaign used social media outreach techniques to augment Catalyst’s database. Themis apparently incorporates many of those social-media and other interactive features in its construction. (Lachkovic 12/19/2011) Josh Hendler, the former director of technology of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), tells Pilkington that Themis could do for the GOP what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats. “This increases the Koch brothers’ reach,” he says. “It will allow them to become even greater coordinators than they are already—with this resource they become a natural center of gravity for conservatives.” Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause says of the reclusive brothers, “What makes them unique is that they are not just campaign contributors; they are a vast political network in their own right.” Themis will only deepen the Koch brothers’ control of American right-wing politics, Pilkington observes. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel writes that the Kochs intend to spend at least $200 million in 2012 on the Republican presidential campaign and other related activities. Pilkington writes: “Their potential to sway the electorate through the sheer scale of their spending has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United, last year’s controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate donations in political campaigns. The ruling allows companies to throw unlimited sums to back their chosen candidates, without having to disclose their spending. That makes 2012 the first Citizens United presidential election, and in turn offers rich pickings to the Koch brothers.” Themis will help the Kochs “micro-target” voters and potential fundraisers. Pilkington writes that it is reasonable to assume that Koch-funded lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are part of Themis, as are Koch-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. “Between them, they have tentacles that extend to millions of voters,” Pilkington writes. Liberal reporter and blogger Lee Fang says the impact of Themis and the Koch funding on the 2012 presidential campaign will be immense: “This will be the first major election where most of the data and the organizing will be done outside the party nexus. The Kochs have the potential to outspend and out-perform the Republican Party and even the successful Republican candidate.” (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011)
In the wake of the NAACP’s condemnation of racist speech being condoned by the various “tea party” groups around the nation (see July 13, 2010), Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, a California radio talk show host, tells NPR that NAACP leaders “make more money off of race than any slave trader ever.” Williams says: “We are dealing with people who are professional race-baiters who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever. It’s time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong, along with all the other vile, racist groups that emerged in our history.” The national Tea Party Federation cites New York Tea Party activist David Webb as saying: “A false charge of racism is itself, racist. This resolution shows they no longer serve the black community’s interests to advance people of color within American culture. Instead, they exert their power to isolate and control people of color.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), a popular supporter of the tea party movement, asks why the NAACP would criticize what she calls “liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots.” Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin calls the NAACP convention a “grievance-palooza” and a “smear-fest against the tea party.” Another conservative blogger, Power Line’s John Hinderaker, posts, “It is a sad day for a once-respected organization; truthfully, though, it has been a long time since anyone has taken the NAACP seriously.” A St. Louis tea party group calls on the IRS to revoke the NAACP’s tax-exempt status, saying that the resolution proves the organization is nothing more than a political arm of the tea party’s opponents. NAACP media director Eric Wingerter counters: “It’s clear that the far right has been waiting for this battle. We’re ready for it, too.” NAACP president Benjamin Jealous said after his organization released its resolution that the NAACP does not characterize the tea party movement as inherently racist; instead, he says, tea party organizers and leaders do not make enough of an attempt to curb racism in their ranks. “We do not think the tea party is a racist movement,” Jealous said. “Our concern is that it tolerates racism and bigotry by its members.” Many tea party spokespersons tell reporters that their organizations already condemn racism and do not tolerate it during their rallies or on their Web sites, a contention disputed by Jealous, who says: “Do you see the press releases on their Web site? I don’t. What you do behind the scenes is important but it’s not enough if you don’t make it public.… We need the anti-racists in the tea party movement to stand up and be clear that this will not be tolerated.” Jealous goes on to say that Dick Armey, the head of FreedomWorks, a Washington lobbying firm that funds and coordinates many tea party organizations (see April 14, 2009), and other tea party leaders “tolerate bigotry and racism within the ranks,” and allow racist groups to piggyback on the tea party into political legitimacy. Many conservatives counter the NAACP’s position with countercharges that the NAACP and other organizations tolerate and/or support the rhetoric of the New Black Panther movement; Jealous says: “Our message to them is the same thing. They should not tolerate racism and bigotry in their ranks. Move those people out of your organization.” However, Jealous notes, the citations of the New Black Panthers are attempts to change the subject from the overt and repeated acts of racism perpetuated by some tea party members. “The Black Panther party is a flea compared to the tea party dog,” Jealous says. (McMorris-Santoro 7/14/2010; McMorris-Santoro 7/14/2010) In the past, Williams has called President Obama the “racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009) and “our half white, racist president” (see September 2009).
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. (Rich 8/28/2010)
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy analysis of the Koch (pronounced “coke”) financial empire, and its long-time financial support for right-wing causes (see 1981-2010). The article, written by investigative reporter Jane Mayer, shows that Koch Industries, led by brothers David and Charles Koch, has donated over $250 million to Republican and conservative politicians and organizations since the mid-1990s. The Koch brothers are also well-known philanthropists, having given millions to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, $100 million to the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, $40 million to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, and $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second-Largest Private Industry in US - Koch Industries, a $100 billion conglomerate, garners most of its profits from oil refineries and associated interests; it owns the firms that manufacture Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper products, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fabric. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the US after Cargill, and taken together, the Koch brothers’ fortune of some $35 billion places them just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street financier Warren Buffett as the nation’s richest people.
Longtime Libertarians - Personally, the Koch brothers espouse a libertarian philosophy—drastic reductions in corporate and personal taxes, huge cuts in government expenditures on social services, and widespread deregulation of industry, particularly environmental. Koch Industries was recently listed in the top 10 of US air polluters, and has for years funded organizations that oppose climate change, giving even more than ExxonMobil to organizations, foundations, and think tanks that work to derail or overturn climate change legislation. Koch funds so many different organizations that oppose various initiatives of the Obama administration that Washington insiders call the Koch ideological network the “Kochtopus.” While the Koch brothers have protested being characterized as major supporters of the right-wing agenda—David Koch has complained that the “radical press” is intent on making him and his brother into “whipping boys”—Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, says: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” The Kochs have embraced the pure free-market ideology of economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that any form of centralized government would lead to totalitarianism and that only complete, unregulated capitalism could ensure freedom. Many “tea party” supporters, such as Fox News host Glenn Beck, have openly embraced von Hayek’s ideals.
Inculcated Ideals of Anti-Communist Father - Both brothers are steeped in the anti-Communist, anti-government, minority-disparaging views of their father, Koch Industries co-founder Fred Koch (see 1940 and After).
Using the 'Tea Parties' - Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, who has worked at a Koch-funded think tank, says that the Kochs are playing on the anti-government fervor of the “tea parties” to further their pro-business, libertarian agenda. “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians,” Bartlett says. “There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the “tea parties,” Bartlett says, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. [The Kochs are] trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” A Republican campaign consultant who has worked for the Kochs says of the tea party movement: “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!” The consultant says that the Kochs keep an extremely low profile, in part to avoid accusations that they are funding an “astroturf” movement (see April 15, 2009). A former Koch adviser says: “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Democratic political strategist Rob Stein, who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, says the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.” Since a 2009 rally attended by David Koch (see November 2009), the brothers have all but explicitly endorsed the tea party movement, with David Koch praising it for demonstrating the “powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country.” Echoing the sentiments of many tea party leaders, Charles Koch said in a newsletter sent out to Koch Industry employees that President Obama is comparable to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Strategy - Charles Koch told a reporter that “[t]o bring about social change” requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.… We have a radical philosophy.” The Kochs launched their first “think tank,” the libertarian Cato Institute, in 1977 (see 1977-Present), which has been effective in promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and in opposing governmental initiatives to combat climate change. Other Koch-funded institutes such as the Heritage Foundation and the Independent Women’s Forum have also publicly opposed efforts to combat climate change. History professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of a book, Merchants of Doubt, that chronicles attempts by American industries to manipulate public opinion on science, says that the Kochs have a vested interest in keeping the government from addressing climate change. “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels,” she says, “a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.” David Koch has said that though he doesn’t believe that any global warming effects have been caused by human activities, if indeed the globe is warming, it will benefit society by lengthening growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Several years after founding Cato, the Kochs provided millions in funding to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, which Stein describes as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” Mercatus is headed by Richard Fink, a Koch Industries lobbyist and president of several Koch-funded foundations. Mayer describes Fink as the chief political lieutenant of the Koch brothers. Mercatus was quite successful at having the Bush administration adopt a number of its deregulatory strategies, particularly environmental deregulation. Like Cato, critics of Mercatus accuse it of serving the brothers’ corporate needs while hiding behind the facade of a nonpartisan academic organization. “Ideas don’t happen on their own,” says Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a tea party advocacy group heavily funded by the Kochs (see April 14, 2009). “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” FreedomWorks is one of many citizen activism groups founded and/or funded by the Kochs, usually masquerading as “grassroots” organizations started by “ordinary citizens” (see 1984 and After, 1997, and Late 2004).
Disrupting the Obama Administration - Since well before the 2008 presidential election, the Koch brothers have been involved in full-throated efforts to derail any policies or initiatives that would be launched by a Democratic president. In January 2008, Charles Koch wrote in the industry newsletter that America was on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” The Kochs have used their “astroturf” advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to great effect against the Obama administration, launching its efforts even before the November 2008 election (see October 2008 and January 2009 and After). Conservative activist Grover Norquist says that AFP’s August 2009 anti-health care rallies were instrumental in undermining Obama’s policy initiatives. Norquist says the rallies “discouraged deal-makers,” Republicans who otherwise might have considered cooperating with Obama and Congressional Democrats, and affected corporate donors to Washington lobbyists, steering millions into the hands of Republican lobbyists. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Tea party founders Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of the lobbying organization 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) announce the creation of DiverseTea, a project designed to encourage non-whites to become tea party members. Kibbe says DiverseTea will highlight “African Americans, Jews, Hispanics, others that have come to this movement, because there is this nagging perception that we are not diverse.” The Web site DiverseTea invites tea partiers to identify themselves as minorities. As of late September, 13 people have self-identified themselves as “minority” tea partiers, including one who identifies himself as “Welsh.” Dana Milbank of the Washington Post writes that even with its vanishingly small numbers, DiverseTea’s “launch is an acknowledgment that movement leaders are sensitive to the impression that the tea party is largely a coalition of angry, white, Protestant men.” Since its inception, accusations of racism have flown at various tea party members and organizations, a perception that Kibbe and Armey are eager to disperse. However, Armey attacks African-American and Latino communities for taking “reprisals” against minority members who join tea party groups, saying, “The difficulties, the harassment, the intolerance, the abuse that they suffer comes from… your own community, your own relatives, your own family.” But, as Armey informs a Pakistani-American who asks about the tea party’s “xenophobic” attitude towards Muslims, “It’s the most inclusive group of people I know.” (Quraishi 9/2010; Milbank 9/15/2010)
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.” (Booth 9/9/2010)
A large number of “tea party” activists and followers gather at the Washington Monument for a march and a rally. The protest rally, organized by the lobbying organization FreedomWorks and a number of national and local tea party organizations, is designed to show the size and efficacy of the “tea party” movement as the November midterm elections approach. Real estate broker Catherine Childers of Florida tells a reporter: “The average American has been asleep at the wheel. We think it’s time the silent majority starts speaking up.” “Today we are gathering to remind Congress and the president that we are fed up with their big-government policies,” says Brendan Steinhauser, a FreedomWorks spokesman. “They have ignored independent voters and have continued to spend our tax dollars in a wasteful and inefficient way. Because the bailouts and the growth of the federal government have continued, we are now more determined then ever to replace those in power with leaders that will put an end to the failed economic policies of the current Congress.” The featured speakers include FreedomWorks head Dick Armey, the former Republican House majority leader; Representative Mike Pence (R-IN); and conservative bloggers Andrew Breitbart and Erick Erickson. The rally is associated with the “9/12 Movement” promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck, but Beck is not at this rally; he held a rally of his own two weeks ago. Whereas Beck’s rally deliberately toned down political rhetoric, this rally is determinedly political. Initial estimates show that the number of protesters is far smaller than the number who attended a similar rally a year ago (see September 12, 2009). Reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro, writing for the progressive news blog Talking Points Memo, writes that he sees “[a]bout five” minority members on stage and none in the crowd. (Somashekhar 9/12/2010; McMorris-Santoro 9/12/2010; McMorris-Santoro 9/12/2010) Some of the signs carried by rally participants include comparisons between “Obamacare” and “slavery”; threats to “burn your Koran” and the launch of “Quiet Jihad” against Muslims; references to “Imam Obama”; claims that Obama and Congressional Democrats are “traitors” who should be executed; claims that Obama is a Communist; and one poster that depicts Obama as a number of African-American personages, including rappers, Jesus Christ, and TV’s “Steve Urkel.” (Tea Party Tracker 9/12/2010)
In a wide-ranging interview with Rolling Stone magazine, President Obama says that he believes the loose amalgamation of groups and organizations under the “tea party” rubric is “still defining itself.” Obama says: “I think the tea party is an amalgam, a mixed bag of a lot of different strains in American politics that have been there for a long time. There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the tea party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially. There are some social conservatives in the tea party who are rejecting me the same way they rejected Bill Clinton, the same way they would reject any Democratic president as being too liberal or too progressive. There are strains in the tea party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington, but their anger is misdirected. And then there are probably some aspects of the tea party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president. So I think it’s hard to characterize the tea party as a whole, and I think it’s still defining itself.” Asked how the tea parties are being financed, Obama says: “There’s no doubt that the infrastructure and the financing of the tea party come from some very traditional, very powerful, special-interest lobbies. I don’t think this is a secret. Dick Armey and FreedomWorks (see May 16, 2008, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), which was one of the first organizational mechanisms to bring tea party folks together, are financed by very conservative industries and forces that are opposed to enforcement of environmental laws, that are opposed to an energy policy that would be different than the fossil-fuel-based approach we’ve been taking, that don’t believe in regulations that protect workers from safety violations in the workplace, that want to make sure that we are not regulating the financial industries in ways that we have. There’s no doubt that there is genuine anger, frustration, and anxiety in the public at large about the worst financial crisis we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. Part of what we have to keep in mind here is this recession is worse than the Ronald Reagan recession of the eighties, the 1990-91 recession, and the 2001 recession combined. The depths of it have been profound. This body politic took a big hit in the gut, and that always roils up our politics, and can make people angry. But because of the ability of a lot of very well-funded groups to point that anger—I think misdirect that anger—it is translating into a relevant political force in this election.” (Wenner 9/28/2010)
Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, writing for their organization Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), examine the role of “nativism” in the ideology of “tea party” members in a multi-part IREHR report (see August 24, 2010). (The Free Dictionary defines “nativists” as having “a sociopolitical policy… favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants,” and favoring “[t]he reestablishment or perpetuation of native cultural traits, especially in opposition to acculturation.”) According to Burghart and Zeskind, many members and leaders of various “tea party” organizations are convinced that President Obama is not a “native-born” American, has never produced a valid birth certificate (see June 13, 2008), and is not a valid American citizen. They write that the idea “that Barack Obama is not a real American, but a ‘lying African,’ is… found across the entirety of the tea party movement. Hundreds of posts echoing these sentiments are on the Tea Party Nation Web site.” Since the first tea party protests in April 2009, they write: “those who do not believe that President Obama is a native born American have been widely visible. They have claimed he was a Muslim instead of a Christian, that he was born in Kenya or Indonesia, rather than in Hawaii. And that Barack Obama was a non-American socialist who conspiratorially slipped into the White House.” Characterizations that the tea party movement is based almost solely on economic concerns are belied by the strong threads of social conservatism, including “nativism,” evident in tea party ideology (see August 16, 2011). Conservative activists such as Pamela Geller, the authors note, have fueled tea party nativism and anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant stances. Geller is, the authors claim, a classic “Islamophobe,” expressing what a 1997 study by the Runnymede Trust termed an “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” Geller has frequently spoken at tea party events, often declaiming about the “threat” Muslims pose to America. Geller’s three “organizational fronts,” as Burghart and Zeskind call them, are her blog, “Atlas Shrugs,” and her two groups, SIOA (Stop Islamization of America) and the Freedom Defense Initiative. All are listed as official “partner” organizations of the ResistNet Tea Party faction. Geller is also a “birther” (see October 24, 2008, August 4, 2009, April 27, 2011, and April 29, 2011) who believes Obama is a “third worlder and a coward” who is “appeas[ing] his Islamic overlords.” Many tea party organizations also support anti-immigration legislation; Burghart and Zeskind cite a July 29 decision by the National Leadership Council of Tea Party Patriots to support Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration bill, SB1070. The largest umbrella tea party organization, the 1776 Tea Parties, holds as two of its “non-negotiable beliefs” that “illegal aliens are illegal” and “English only is required.” The 1776 Tea Parties also support Arizona’s SB1070, and has as members of its board two members of the violently anti-immigrant Minuteman Project. The tea party groups’ support for “birtherism” and nativist ideology has caused “something of a rift” between the groups and FreedomWorks, the lobbying organization that has funded the groups since their inception (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009). Tea party members have targeted FreedomWorks founder Dick Armey over his limited support for pro-immigrant reform; one Tenneessee tea party organizer recently wrote, “I think we should tar-and-feather Dick Armey.” Conservative blogger and activist Michelle Malkin, a vocal supporter of the tea party groups, has called Armey an “amnesty stooge.” Tea party organizer Roy Beck of anti-immigration organization NumbersUSA recently wrote that Armey “wants immigration to be treated as a social issue with no place in the tea parties,” and suggested FreedomWorks may be trying “to intimidate local tea parties” to stay away from the issue at the behest of “corporate benefactors [who] want the foreign labor to keep pouring in.” Congress members such as Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and others in Bachmann’s House Tea Party Caucus are strongly anti-immigrant. And 42 of the 51 Tea Party Caucus members also belong to the House Immigration Reform Caucus, which supports blocking any immigration reform that would give illegal residents a pathway to citizenship. Burghart and Zeskind write, “Opposition to ‘birthright citizenship’ extends throughout the tea party movement, and is often linked to an explicit fear of the demographic transformation underway in the United States, in which white people are projected to become one minority in a country of minorities during the next several decades.” ResistNet’s state director in Alabama, Jason Leverette, recently wrote of his fear that whites (“real Americans”) were being “out-bred” by “Mexicans” who want to take over the nation and “rule America! If this trend continues… by 2050 the United States will be ruled by Hosea Jesus Delgado Gonzalez Calderon, Esq. WTF!” Burghart and Zeskind conclude, “It is here, at the conjunction of nativism, opposition to birthright citizenship, the denigration of President Obama, and the fear of the new majority in American life, that the unstated racism embedded within the tea parties becomes vocal and unmistakable.” (The Free Dictionary 2009; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
The media reports that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the former head of a tea party organization, has become the head of a lobbying and political consulting firm, Liberty Consulting. The firm boasts that Thomas’s “experience and connections” will assist clients with “governmental affairs efforts” and political donation strategies. Critics say Thomas is in the midst of an enormous conflict of interest, because her husband, Clarence Thomas, is a Supreme Court justice. She left the tea party group in November 2009 because of questions that her leadership of the group, Liberty Central, which actively worked to defeat Democrats, was not appropriate for the wife of a sitting Court justice. Thomas has met with almost half of the 99 Republican freshmen in the House and Senate, according to an email she sent out to congressional chiefs of staff last week in which she called herself “a self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement.” Ann Pearson of the government watchdog organization Common Cause says that Thomas’s position at a lobbying and consulting firm “show[s] a new level of arrogance of just not caring that the Court is being politicized and how that undermines the historic image of the Supreme Court as being above the political fray.… It raises additional questions about whether Justice Thomas can be unbiased and appear to be unbiased in cases dealing with the repeal of the health care reform law or corporate political spending when his wife is working to elect members of the tea party and also advocating for their policies.” Some Republican lawmakers are uncomfortable with Thomas’s new position, with one senior House Republican aide criticizing Thomas for attempting to “cash in” on her ties to the tea party movement. Republican House freshman David Schweikert (R-AZ), who won his election in part because of support from tea party groups and was endorsed by Liberty Central, says he has not met Thomas and knows nothing of her background. “This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?” he says when asked about the situation by a reporter. “No, I’ve never met her. It’s not something I’ve heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman.” So far, only one Republican freshman will publicly admit to scheduling a meeting with Thomas. Thomas used to be an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), who until recently headed the tea party financing organization FreedomWorks (see August 14, 2009). She has also worked as a staffer at the US Chamber of Commerce, a trade organization that contributes heavily to Republican causes (see January 21-22, 2010), and at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 2009 she founded Liberty Central, which she described as a group that would bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. She eventually stepped down after questions were raised about her position’s impact on her husband’s appearance of impartiality, and the group was merged into another tea party organization (see November 2009 - November 2010). She filed incorporation papers for Liberty Consulting within a day of news reports about her departure from Liberty Central. She has told conservative news source Daily Caller that she intends to continue working for the group that bought Liberty Central, the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, and will “help them in any way I can think of, whether it’s lobbying on the Hill or connecting with the grass roots, or helping speak or write or fundraise.” However, lobbying records show no registration for Thomas, Liberty Consulting, Liberty Central, or the Patrick Henry Center. Liberty Central general counsel Sarah Field refuses to answer questions about whether Thomas is being paid through Liberty Consulting as a consultant. A source familiar with the Thomases and with Capitol Hill Republicans says her sojourn from Liberty Central to Liberty Consulting has damaged her reputation among some conservatives. “Ginni’s reputation around town is now even more of a fake entitled woman who is only here because of her husband,” the source tells a reporter. “Now she has opened her own lobbying shop… not sure how [the] conservative circle will feel when they find that out, or if they’ll care or not.” (Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011)
Previous Conflicts of Interest - Virginia Thomas has weathered criticisms of conflict of interest before. In late 2000, as a Heritage Foundation staffer, she was helping select key members for the Bush administration even as her husband was engaged in deliberating the Bush v. Gore Court decision that installed George W. Bush as president (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). At the time she waved off criticisms, saying that she and her husband conducted “separate professional lives.” (Hennessey 3/14/2010)
'Cloud of Corruption' Surrounding Justice Thomas? - Legal analyst Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress is far more blunt in his assessment than some more cautious critics, writing: “Now, Ginni Thomas appears to have found a way to earn money off her husband’s actions as a justice. Clarence Thomas released countless amounts of corporate spending on US elections [by voting with the majority in Citizens United], and Ginni Thomas can get rich advising those corporate clients on how to direct that spending. To be sure, it is possible that Ginni is somehow limiting her advice to ‘political investments’ that were legal before Clarence gave businesses like hers so many new potential customers. But if this is the case, Ginni has an obligation to explain just how she is limiting her advice—it’s the only way to remove the obvious cloud of corruption her actions have created around her husband.” (Millhiser 2/4/2011)
Liberal columnist Joan Walsh uses a recent op-ed by authors and researchers David Campbell and Robert Putnam (see August 16, 2011) to ask why the media portrays the “tea party” movement as a powerful new force of non-partisan advocates of small government, when research shows that the movement is, as Walsh and others have long argued, largely formed of right-wing social conservatives. Walsh writes: “It’s great to have data, but this is something a lot of us believed all along—the tea party was the Republican base dressed up in silly costumes. Why was the media so quick to declare them a vital new force in politics?” Walsh points to the early involvement of the billionaire Koch brothers (see July 3-4, 2010 and August 30, 2010), lobbying groups such as FreedomWorks (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009) and Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), and Fox News, whom she says did early and “energetic publicity for… tea party rallies” (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, Early November 2009, and May 22, 2011). Former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck helped start one of the earliest nationwide “tea party” organizations, the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After). The first “tea party” rally Walsh attended, in San Francisco in April 2009, was sponsored by right-wing talk radio station KSFO and featured speakers such as Melanie Morgan, who, Walsh recalls, “whipped the crowd into an anti-government frenzy that day.” Many “birthers”—people who insist that President Obama is not the legitimate president because he is not an American citizen—were on hand. Race is a big issue for many “tea party” members, Walsh writes: while Obama’s race is a bone of contention for many “tea partiers,” “it’s worth noting that these are the same people who’ve been fighting the Democratic Party since the days of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the beginning of the War on Poverty, almost 50 years ago. They associate those long overdue social reforms with giving folks, mainly black people, something they don’t deserve. I sometimes think just calling them racist against our black president obscures the depths of their hatred for Democrats, period.” (Walsh 8/17/2011) Walsh is echoing similar claims made by Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum almost a year ago (see September 2010).
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.” (Thompson 2/2/2012; Reich 2/21/2012; Shaw 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. (Mason 2/2012; Shaw 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.” (Mason 2/24/2012) Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. (Kilachand 2/8/2012)
USA Today, using data provided by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), reports that much of the unprecedentedly high political contributions in the 2012 presidential campaigns comes from anonymous donors. The report also shows that eight out of the top 10 donors give to Republican and/or conservative super PACs. The pattern is similar to that described in earlier reports, such as an August 2011 report that found a dozen wealthy donors made up the majority of super PAC donations, and most of those donors contributed to Republican or conservative organizations (see August 4, 2011), and a February 2012 analysis that found a quarter of the donations flowing into the super PACs came from just five wealthy donors, four of whom are Republican contributors (see February 21, 2012). The latest data shows that eight out of 10 of the top super PAC donors are either individuals or corporations who donate to Republican causes. One of the remaining two donors, the Cooperative of American Physicians, supports a single Democratic candidate and a range of Republicans. The other is a teachers’ union, the National Education Association. The top three donors—casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and his wife Annette, and Houston real-estate mogul Bob Perry—have between them contributed over $45 million, more than four times the donations coming from the “bottom” six donors. Much of the money collected by nonprofit political advocacy organizations remains undocumented; for example, 80 percent of the donations collected by the Republican-aligned American Crossroads super PAC and its 501(c)4 sister organization Crossroads GPS is from anonymous donors (see April 13-20, 2012). The groups plan on spending at least $300 million during the campaign. FreedomWorks for America, the super PAC arm of the “astroturf” lobbying organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), garnered about a third of its contributions from anonymous donors who gave to the organization’s nonprofit arm. Law professor and campaign finance expert Richard Hasen says, “We have a dysfunctional system for financing our elections,” when anonymous donations can fund political activity. “It’s bad for our democracy when people refuse to be held accountable.” Russ Walker, the national political director of FreedomWorks for America, says simply, “Everything we are doing is within the law.” (Schouten and Schnaars 4/22/2012; Millhiser 4/23/2012)
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