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Profile: Organizing for America (OFA)

a.k.a. Obama for America

Organizing for America (OFA) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Protesters bang on the windows of the Children’s Board, demanding to be heard.Protesters bang on the windows of the Children’s Board, demanding to be heard. [Source: WTSP]The raucous and near-riotous behavior of recent town hall and forum meetings about 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 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) reaches new heights in Ybor City, Florida, just outside Tampa, as a large and disorderly group of anti-reform protesters disrupt a town hall meeting held by Betty Reed (D-FL) and featuring Kathy Castor (D-FL). [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009] The forum, apparently intended to be something of a pep rally for the Obama administration’s health care proposals, was organized by Reed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a pro-reform group, Organizing for America. But hundreds of protesters also appear, many affirming that they came at the urging of the Tampa 9/12 conservative activist group, an organization promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Others say they received e-mails from the Hillsborough County Republican Party urging them to speak out against the plan and offering talking points. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009]
Huge Turnout Exacerbates Tensions - Well over 1,000 people appear for the meeting, held at the Children’s Board, a venue that holds a maximum of 250. Local news reporters note that “[t]ensions were high among people who couldn’t get in.” Protesters accuse the forum organizers of barring people who oppose health care reform, but many of the people left outside are reform supporters. The meeting is marred by screams and shouts both outside the venue and in, as well as people banging on windows to be let in. [Think Progress, 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay, 8/6/2009; Fox News, 8/7/2009] Both Reed and Castor are shouted down almost from the moment they begin speaking, and battle spates of shouting, chanting, and a variety of accusations throughout the evening. Castor leaves relatively early, apparently frustrated at being shouted down when she tries to speak; when Castor leaves, she requires an escort to avoid being accosted. [WTSP, 8/7/2009] One of the popular chants is an apparently orchestrated repetition of “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” Other chants include: “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” “Read the bill!” and “Forty million illegals! Forty million illegals!” One reporter will write, “The spectacle… sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009]
Verbal, Physical Violence - Outside the hall, a fistfight occurs, with Orlando cameraman Mark Bishop being roughed up. “That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” he says. A protester, Randy Arthur, attempts to force his way into the hall, and is instead slammed into a wall by, he claims, union members acting as door guards. (Susan Smith, a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, later says that members of the Young Democrats, not union members, were on the doors.) A photo of him displaying his torn shirt and scratches later makes the rounds of anti-reform Web sites. Arthur says he intends to file charges, though the Tampa police have no such plans, and says he intends to become more involved in Republican and conservative politics as a result of the forum. Inside the hall, Kathy Miracle, who supports reform, is “inadvertently” spat upon by a shouting anti-reform protester, Barry Osteen, sitting beside her, she will later say. She shoves Osteen’s face away, and is photographed doing so, in what some people construe as a slap. Osteen will say: “She didn’t slap me. I almost didn’t even know she was there.” Miracle later says she doesn’t “appreciate being spread all over the Internet.” Supporters and opponents of reform engage in a number of verbal altercations in the parking lot. No arrests are made, even though many ignore police orders, issued through bullhorns, to disperse. Later, a Tampa police spokesman says, “We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009; Susan Smith, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/13/2009]
Cameraman Jostled - A protester with a camera, J. Mark Campbell, has his camera knocked out of his hand and his glasses broken during an attempt by protesters to force their way into the hall, and later tells his story to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. Campbell claims that the event was “set up” by SEIU and Democratic organizers to bring supporters into the front rows and force protesters into the back rows. He also claims that four “thugs” from the “Pipe Fitters Union” not only “bum rush[ed]” the protesters, but then gave him their business cards. Campbell claims that a “28-year-old Democrat… with cancer” was assaulted by union members, but also identifies an adult woman as “his daughter.” “[T]his is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “And I’ve been into jihadist areas. I’ve been dealing with, you know, Muslim extremists. And, you know, this is the most afraid I’ve ever been.” Campbell’s video shows little more than jostling and shoving at the door of the hall; he tells Hannity, “it’s what you don’t see in this video is what’s really telling.” [Fox News, 8/11/2009] Tommy Ates, a diarist on the liberal blog Daily Kos, later identifies Campbell as a member of a group he calls “the far right, libertarian, and ‘islamophobic’ Florida Security Council.” (Campbell directs viewers to the organization’s Web site during the Hannity interview.) Ates also asks some questions about Campbell’s claims: “How did Campbell get the information that the Tampa town hall had been stacked with Pipefitter union members? If the men guarding the door were union men committing assault, why would they give their cards to the man they were assaulting? Why didn’t Campbell file a police report? And (if J. Mark Campbell dealt with terrorists), why didn’t he identify what international media organization he served under? And if he didn’t go overseas, is Mark trying to say he dealt with Middle East domestic terrorists?” [Daily Kos, 8/12/2009]
'Somewhere in All the Screaming, No One Got Heard' - One participant, Largo resident George Guthrie, says of the crowd, “They think they’re exercising their right to free speech, but they’re only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse.” Andrew Reder, a reform opponent, defends the shouting from himself and his fellows by saying: “There were clearly people who were very, very upset. People are concerned about the direction of the county right now.” But Reder, who is allowed inside during the proceedings, admits that virtually nothing is accomplished in the meeting. “Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard,” he says. One protester, who identifies herself as a member of Beck’s 9/12 organization, says of Castor and Reed: “They’re hiding from their constituents. She works for us and needs to listen.” After the meeting, Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman says in a statement: “Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs—well funded and organized by Washington special interests—attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans’ access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in ‘breaking’ the president (see July 17-22, 2009) and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November.” [WTSP, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Castor later echoes Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “The insurance industry and… Republican activists are manufacturing a lot of these phony protests.… I do expect some rabble-rousing.” Reed later says she was shocked at the behavior of some of the crowd. “When you get to the point of possible violence, you’ve gone over the edge,” she says. Castor says the protesters who appeared at this and other venues “would have been protesting Medicare.… They would never have accepted Social Security.” But protester Brad Grabill counters, “It’s the backlash to the arrogance of our government that you’re seeing here.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/7/2009; Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] After the meeting, the Tampa 9/12 group posts the following on its Web site: “Be courteous while anyone is speaking, including Castor. We don’t want to sound like an ‘angry mob.’” [Tampa Tribune, 8/7/2009] Smith, the local Democratic Party official, later posts an e-mail she receives concerning the event. The message reads: “WAR IS COMING. YOUR THUG PR_CK B_STARD [apparently President Obama] SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS F_CKING COMMUNIST MOUTH SHUT.” [Susan Smith, 8/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Andrew Reder, Fox News, Tommy Ates, Service Employees International Union, Barry Osteen, Brad Grabill, Betty Reed, Florida Security Council, Daily Kos, Sean Hannity, Susan Smith, Organizing for America, Randy Arthur, Hillsborough County Democratic Party, George Guthrie, J. Mark Campbell, Karen Thurman, Hillsborough County Republican Party, Kathy Miracle, Obama administration, Kathy Castor, Mark Bishop

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

Health care reform supporters pack a 2,700-seat high school gymnasium in Reston, Virginia, to hear former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean and Representative James Moran (D-VA) discuss the Democrats’ reform proposals. Two pro-health care groups, Organizing for America and Change that Works, helped turn out the crowd, gathered signatures, and passed out signs, some of which resembled campaign signs for President Obama’s campaign, and some that were drawn in magic marker to appear homemade. One supporter says she goes because “I’ve heard these town hall meetings have been rude and out of control. I wanted to lend my support to the side that supports health care reform. I’m here to show my presence, wave my sign, and show that a good portion of Northern Virginia supports health care reform.”
Violent Street Theater - Anti-reform protesters gather outside the gym, and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry entertains the crowd with some street theater similar to what he has performed in recent days (see August 22-23, 2009). Terry and his supporters put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who repeats the line: “Massa, don’t hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies.” Terry also re-enacts his previous performance of a doctor pretending to stab an elderly woman to death. He explains his performance, saying, “There’s no way to pay for this thing without killing granny.” Two other protesters heckle supporters as they enter the gym; they wave signs and wear large flags around their shoulders adorned with a large machine gun and the words, “Come and take it.” (Guns are forbidden at the event because it takes place on school property.)
Police Remove Protesters - Inside, a small number of protesters try to shout down the rabbi who gives a preliminary invocation, but reform supporters drown out their boos and screams with cheers. Moran accepts only pre-screened questions, in an attempt to forestall raucous outbursts, but this process is disrupted when one protester pretends to be someone else who had been called upon to ask their question, and shouts out his objections to health care reform. In general, Moran is able to speak over the top of the near-constant heckling by using an amplifier and ignoring the taunts and jeers. However, when Dean takes the podium, the protesters erupt, and Moran orders some of them to leave. Police escort Terry and at least one other person out of the gym as the majority of the crowd chants, “Kick him out!” Although Dean is known as a fiery supporter of the government-run “public option,” his presentation is low-key and somewhat technical. [The Hill, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Randall Terry, Barack Obama, Change that Works, Organizing for America, Howard Dean, James Moran

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and a rumored candidate for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012, claims that President Obama has spent some $2 million defending himself against legal challenges to his US citizenship. In recent weeks, Trump has loudly proclaimed his conviction that Obama is not a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, and April 7, 2011). Trump is echoing claims made by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate who now appears regularly on Fox News. In a recent NBC interview, he claimed Obama “spent $2 million in legal fees trying to get away from this issue.” On CNN, he asked: “I just say very simply why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? Why has he spent over $2 million in legal fees to keep this quiet and to keep this silent?” On Fox, Palin repeats the figure and praises Trump’s efforts, saying that Trump is “paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have to spend $2 million to not show his birth certificate. So more power to him.” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, attempts to secure information from Trump about the source of his $2 million figure, and gets no response. One source, PolitiFact determines, is the conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), which claimed that Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings showed the Obama presidential campaign paid $1.7 million to the law firm of Perkins Coie since the election of November 2008. PolitiFact digs into the expenditures, as reported by law to the FEC by the Obama campaign organization Obama for America (OFA, later renamed Organizing for America). The figure of $1.7 million is accurate, PolitiFact determines, and adding expenditures between October 2008 and December 2010, the figure rises to some $2.6 million. However, the expenditures cover a variety of legal expenses, little of which went to birth certificate lawsuit issues. The FEC does not collect specific information on each payment, so it is impossible to tell how much, if any, has gone to Perkins Coie for court challenges to Obama’s citizenship. In a recent story in Roll Call, Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan said, “[T]he campaign has incurred ordinary legal expenses related to the wind-down of its operations and other legal services, which all campaigns incur, and which are proportional to the unprecedented size of this campaign.” Some of the expenditures have gone to fight what Sevugan called “unmeritorious” lawsuits, including one that challenged Obama’s citizenship. And WND has reported that Perkins Coie lawyer Robert Bauer wrote one letter challenging a lawsuit filed by Gregory Hollister questioning Obama’s right to the presidency (see March 5, 2009). PolitiFact notes that most of the legal expenses paid by OFA “have nothing to do with the citizenship question.” Four campaign finance experts confirm that after any presidential election, a campaign’s law firm has plenty of work to do and such an expenditure by a campaign is not unusual. PolitiFact concludes: “It’s clear to us that the WND story has been twisted to wrongly assume that every dollar the Obama campaign spent on legal fees went to fight the release of Obama’s birth certificate. The evidence shows that’s simply not true. It’s a huge, unsubstantiated leap to assume that all, or most, of that was related to lawsuits about Obama’s citizenship. We rule Trump’s claim false.” [St. Petersburg Times, 4/7/2011]

Entity Tags: PolitiFact (.org ), Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Hari Sevugan, Organizing for America, Robert Bauer, WorldNetDaily

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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