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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America

Rick Santelli, High on Koch?This article first appeared on

Chris Matthews: “You’re up there with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity… It’s quite a team.”
Rick Santelli (smiling and nodding): “It is quite a team!”
Hardball, MSNBC, Feb 20, 2009

Last week, CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli rocketed from being a little-known second-string correspondent to a populist hero of the disenfranchised, a 21st-century Samuel Adams, the leader and symbol of the downtrodden American masses suffering under the onslaught of 21st century socialism and big government. Santelli’s “rant” last-week calling for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest President Obama’s plans to help distressed American homeowners rapidly spread across the blogosphere and shot right up into White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ craw, whose smackdown during a press conference was later characterized by Santelli as “a threat” from the White House. 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.

But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it 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 rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

As you read this, Big Business is pouring tens of millions of dollars into their media machines in order to destroy just about every economic campaign promise Obama has made, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. At stake isn’t the little guy’s fight against big government, as Santelli and his bot-supporters claim, but rather the “upper 2 percent”’s war to protect their wealth from the Obama Adminstration’s economic plans. When this Santelli “grassroots” campaign is peeled open, what’s revealed is a glimpse of what is ahead and what is bound to be a hallmark of his presidency.

Let’s go back to February 19th: Rick Santelli, live on CNBC, standing in the middle of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launches into an attack on the just-announced $300 billion slated to stem rate of home foreclosures: “The government is promoting bad behavior! Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?! This is America! 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.”

Almost immediately, the clip and the unlikely “Chicago tea party” quote buried in the middle of the segment, zoomed across a well-worn path to headline fame in the Republican echo chamber, including red-alert headlines on Drudge.

Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “” 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. was just one part of a larger network of Republican sleeper-cell-blogs set up over the course of the past few months, all of them tied to a shady rightwing advocacy group coincidentally named the “Sam Adams Alliance,” whose backers have until now been kept hidden from public. Cached google records that we discovered show that the Sam Adams Alliance took pains to scrub its deep links to the Koch family money as well as the fake-grassroots “tea party” protests going on today. All of these roads ultimately lead back to a more notorious rightwing advocacy group, FreedomWorks, a powerful PR organization headed by former Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey and funded by Koch money.

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Add your own

  • 1. karlub  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Well, the original sources for this meme have pulled the piece. Acknowledgement of hackery, or proof of the power of the Koch star chamber?

    As I’m still waiting for my check, I’ll vote for the latter.

    But this meme will live, anyway. Just like flushed Korans, and how Ashcroft didn’t want people to see lady Justice’s boobies at a press conference.

    That, friends, is how disinformation fueled by “useful idiots” really works. That is straight from the Stalinist playbook. Hopefully we will all be aware of it in the future.

    Thanks to the host, by the way. There’s some useful information, here.

  • 2. cudmaster  |  March 4th, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Honestly I didn’t read very much of this, I kind of caught the tone when you actually decided that what the man said was not valid as he was NOT a celebrity already before he said it.

    The problem is celebrity, the heroes are the little unknown people working, carrying both the poor and elitist snobs like the author here on our backs both ways uphill through red tape.

    The Right in this nation is NOT a bunch of violent fascists, we are freedom loving small government constitutionalists.

    We DO NOT want the government to control ANYTHING, let alone EVERYTHING.

    Obama and his goons are the fascists, they are the ones that seek to silence or demonize any opposition.

    If the torches and pitchforks come out, I assure you the only institutions that will suffer our wrath are those of government…

    but it won’t come to that.

    People are waking up, and so long as we are still free to vote, the 2010, and 2012 elections will be a landslide for conservatives.

    Whether the GOP will be part of that charge or not remains to be seen.

  • 3. tanarg  |  March 4th, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    And ACORN wasn’t “staged”? Grassroots doesn’t mean unorganized.

    “Obama and his goons are the fascists.” No truer words have been said.

  • 4. jabuhrer  |  March 5th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    It’s pronounced “coke,” not “cock” or “kotch.”

    Thank you for exposing these libertarian goons for what they really are: hyperactive republican ultra elite robber barons masquerading as rebels. They truly are evil.

  • 5. JP  |  March 8th, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Your article would come across a lot better if you didn’t take every opportunity to hurl insults at the subjects. It goes from being a decent piece of investigation to a typical partisan hit piece. Next time, keep the insulting adjectives to yourself and just present your view.

  • 6. Fastidious  |  March 23rd, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Hello there,

    I’m new to your site, so I do hope that you’ll share my post.

    “The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people”

    Is there anyway that I could verify this? All I have to go on is your good will here… Can you provide a screen-shot or something that shows how you know this?

    “Even Facebook pages dedicated to a specific city “tea party” events, supposedly written by people connected only by a common emotion, obviously conformed to the same style. It was as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company.”

    Again, it would be very easy for you to support this claim. Can you point to specific examples of maybe eight to ten different Facebook pages that were a part of the original movement back in February?

    And I have to agree with JP above: “Your article would come across a lot better if you didn’t take every opportunity to hurl insults at the subjects. It goes from being a decent piece of investigation to a typical partisan hit piece. Next time, keep the insulting adjectives to yourself and just present your view.” (And this could be because I’m new to your site.) It’s too bad your poor taste in ad hominem attacks undermines your “journalism.”

    Also, have you considered investigating folks like George Soros or Al Gore? The source of their considerable wealth is quite questionable. And have you considered investigating how groups like (funded by Soros) coordinate faux-grassroots movements?


  • 7. sr  |  April 15th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    @ 56

  • 8. Frank McG  |  April 21st, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    “The truth is liberals only think things like free speech and political protest are good when it’s liberals who are doing the speaking or protesting. When they are the ones being protested and spoke against suddenly this whole First Amendment is a dirty nasty thing and the minority party needs to shut up and take their whuppins like men.”

    Show me one registered Democrat that has ever uttered “love it or leave it”.

    Which end of the political spectrum is always attacking the ACLU’s outrageous stance on those dirty liberal beliefs like “bill of rights”?

  • 9. Frank McG  |  April 21st, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Somewhat related:

    I predicted almost 10 years back that consumer product review magazines would be rendered obsolete. Who would trust those paid off hacks when you could get totally objective views from your fellow consumers on internet message boards and forums?

    Then I realized a couple years later that I was both right and wrong. The paid off hacks would still be there, just as phony online identities posing as fellow consumers instead of the obvious professional magazine reviewer.

    The nature of propaganda and marketing never changes, it just get slicker.

  • 10. john smith  |  April 24th, 2009 at 9:40 am


  • 11. john smith  |  April 24th, 2009 at 9:50 am

    thanks for the info it bolsters me as an anti-osamabama American that our side has much money to counteract the illegally gotten riches of megalomaniac jorge sorrows

  • 12. john smith  |  April 24th, 2009 at 10:13 am

    spent the last few hours masturbating as usual, wishing i was either ames or levine…but here i am on the comments section. ah well. back to giving myself indian burns. good job, guys! you really kick ass, i really screwed up in life by taking the sad turn that i did.

  • 13. dresden  |  May 3rd, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Sleeper-cell-blogs?????? You’re kidding, right? I love how the left is now trying to paint any opposition on the right as a terroristic threat or an instigation to violence. Let’s see…who should we fear more when it comes to our First Amendment rights being violated or taken away completely? All you have to do is read this story, or any number of left-wing blogs, and the answer is very clear. Btw…I am independent of two-party affiliation, and always will be. God forbid that a majority of the American people fall prey to the zealots on the left or the right.

    And another btw to the lefty who wrote this story…ever hear of George Soros? Is he any better than the Koch family that you try so hard to demonize? Does the Koch family have First Amendment rights just like Soros does? Huh????????????? Or maybe because they differ from your elitist liberal dogma they should be silenced. I’d like to take the Constitution and feed it to you with hot sauce on it. Then maybe that burning feeling in your mouth would help you understand why it exists. It was written to protect us from people like you! If someone wants to start a website and protest something/anything, then that’s their business! If you don’t like it, then move to Venezuela…Hugo would love to have you!

  • 14. aleke  |  May 13th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Hahah oh look dresdendoll is going for the full Blog Comment assault! Those objectivist internet squad dollars must be pouring in! Maybe it’ll cover some of the loses in that portfolio!

  • 15. Daoc Platinum  |  November 6th, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    just so so,right?

  • 16. Beloved  |  March 28th, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Hi, I’m Mrs. Santelli. I gargle his nutsack.

  • 17. Spike  |  April 14th, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    If you two were reporting from Russia, I now suspect what I learned about Russia from the “news” was wrong! THANKS! Where were you during the campaign? What did you report? Nothing about Obama’s true beliefs. You let us down. You are not reporters. You are cheerleaders. Put your skirts back on. You’re unspeakable.

  • 18. Alex  |  May 30th, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Funny the difference a year makes. :)

  • 19. siptheriver  |  January 7th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    You (the author) misused the term “scion.”

    Scion is an heir or descendant — offspring, progeny, a *young* member of a clan… you probably meant “patriarch” or something similar.

  • 20. subbeast  |  January 26th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Congrats to comment number 3 – prophetic.

  • 21. LB  |  June 9th, 2012 at 9:54 am

    That is, what in most highly intellectual and freedom oriented circles is known as a crock of sh*t.

  • 22. plus ca change  |  October 21st, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Why didn’t you look for a Russia connection? As you say, these are textbook Russian tactics. Their extreme right wing politics are in line with the oligarch-and-siloviki Russian regime. Anti-immigrant, “we will rise from our knees”, oil and gas.
    Romney has ties to Russia via his work at Bain.

  • 23. bptr  |  December 24th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Could Mister Mxyzptlk be any dumber??

    Turn off the FOX LIES

  • 24. bptr  |  December 24th, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I love how “Conservatives” ALWAYS miss the point of every article.

  • 25. R Corbin  |  February 27th, 2015 at 7:20 am

    I watch CNBC regularly, but never knew people paid any attention to Screamin Gloom & Doom, Sky Is Falling, Silly Santeli.

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