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eXiled Alert! / Tea Party / April 15, 2009

Tea Party USA

This afternoon, groups of angry conservatives will gather on street corners and in parks across the country to protest.

They will carry signs and deliver speeches expressing outrage over the Democrats’ stimulus bill, over entitlements, over budget pork, over taxes. They will dump boxes of tea on the ground and wear three-cornered hats. The leading lights of the Republican Party will be on hand to cheer them on.

But as with so much on the right, these apparent displays of populist rage are not what they will seem.

Six weeks ago, two of us (Mark Ames and Yasha Levine) published an investigation exposing the nascent “Tea Party” protest movement for what it really is: a carefully planned AstroTurf (or “fake grassroots”) lobby campaign hatched and orchestrated by the conservative advocacy organization FreedomWorks. Within days, pieces of the scam had crumbled, exposing a small group of right-wing think tanks and shady nonprofits at its core.

The Tea Party movement was born on Feb. 19 with a now-famous rant by second-string CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli, who called for a “Chicago Tea Party” in protest of President Barack Obama’s plans to help distressed American homeowners. Santelli’s call blazed through the blogosphere, greased along by a number of FreedomWorks-funded blogs, propelling him to the status of a 21st century Samuel Adams — a leader and symbol of disenfranchised Americans suffering under big-government oppression and mismanagement of the economy.

That same day, a nationwide “Tea Party” protest movement mysteriously materialized on the Internet. A whole ring of Web sites came online within hours of Santelli’s rant, like sleeper-cell blogs waiting for the trigger to act, all claiming to have been inspired by Santelli’s allegedly impromptu outburst.

At first glance, the sites appeared to be unconnected and unplanned. But many were suspiciously well designed and strangely on point with their “nonpartisan” and “grassroots” statements. It was as if all of them were reading from the same script. The Web sites heavily linked to each other, spreading their mission with help of Facebook and Twitter feeds. FreedomWorks, as if picking up on rumblings coming from the depths of the conservative netroots, linked to them, too.

But as our investigation showed, the key players in the Tea Party Web ring were no amateurs, but rather experienced Republican operatives with deep connections to FreedomWorks and other fake grassroots campaigns pushing pro-big-business interests.

FreedomWorks has a long history of using such campaigns. Founded in 2004 by Dick Armey, the former Republican House Majority Leader and lobbyist from Texas, and publishing titan Steve Forbes, FreedomWorks represented the consolidation and rebranding of two older think tanks, Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded by the notorious Koch family, and Empower America, a powerful lobbying firm that has battled health care reform and minimum-wage bills while championing deregulation, corporate tax cuts and whatever else their corporate clients desire.

The idea was to bring these two dinosaurs into the Internet age so they could compete with the newly created MoveOn.org.

dick armey arizona tax-free money honeys

Dick Armey goes grassroots with two tax-free money honeys in Arizona

FreedomWorks got caught AstroTurfing their sponsors’ agendas almost as soon as the group was formed. In 2005, when President George W. Bush was trying to get the public to go along with his plans for handing Social Security over to Wall Street bankers, the New York Times revealed that a “regular single mom” paraded by Bush’s White House in its PR campaign was in fact FreedomWorks’ Iowa state director.

Last year, the the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ role in sponsoring AngryRenter.com, a site designed to imitate an amateur blog with a plutocrat’s agenda: to shoot down a $300 billion bill meant to help distressed American homeowners. Freedomworks and its clients understood that if the superwealthy Republicans who opposed the bill were fronting the campaign, it wouldn’t fly with regular Americans buckling under the housing crisis, so they set up Angryrenter.com to give the impression that millions of ordinary Americans were the ones opposing it. The bill passed, but AngryRenter.com served as a warm-up exercise for the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party improved on the AngryRenter.com model by diversifying its AstroTurf assets. Rather than put all its efforts into one vulnerable strategic entity, FreedomWorks distributed its campaign across a network of smaller, seemingly independent blogs and sites. If one was outed as a fake, the rest of the machine could deny affiliation and survive.

But what reeked of AstroTurfing on the Internet also reeked on the street, when protests hit over 30 cities across the country on Feb. 27.

In Santa Monica, Calif., the crowd was no bigger than the kind that mills around taco trucks at lunch hour. Other locations reported the same pathetic tally. In Cobb County, Ga., which should have been teeming with outraged freedom-loving, small-government activists, turnout was only marginally better.

It was clear that this grassroots movement was meant as a TV-only event. In the following days, as our article generated controversy about who really backed the Tea Party, FreedomWorks came clean and admitted to staging the whole thing. Santelli, the movement’s own larger-than-life hero, published a lawyer-crafted statement on CNBC’s site renouncing his role in the rebellion and throwing himself at the feet of Obama.

It was a crushing and humiliating blow to see the movement’s leader buckle so quickly, as if Adams had rushed to King George’s palace, three-pointed-hat in hand, and threw himself at the monarch’s mercy. To add to the humiliation, Santelli’s appearance on the Daily Show was canceled, and his employer, CNBC, soon became the laughingstock of the American network TV world.

The Tea Party movement seemed like it was dead in the water. But what seemed to be another failed FreedomWorks project came back one month later with a vengeance.

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35 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Nolan  |  April 15th, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Well said, as always.

    The social contract is being broken in front of our eyes, and these teabagging idiots are screaming about taxes?

  • 2. John  |  April 15th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    And the tea bags are completely harmless too. Why not just write a letter to Obama pleading him to treat you like his bitch? At least the original tea party had the spine to break the law.

  • 3. Oili  |  April 15th, 2009 at 11:27 am

    At least the original tea party had the spine to break the law disguised as indians.

  • 4. Anon E Mouse  |  April 15th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    >>However, Santelli told Kernen inciting mobs and pitchforks wasn’t part of his playbook.

    >>“Well, you know, populist rant – mobs, pitchforks, that’s the vocabulary I’m certainly not using,” Santelli responded. “But, I’m sure it’ll be out there nonetheless.”

    Pure comedy from the article featured in the ‘What you should think’ textbox
    http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2009/20090415092104.aspx

  • 5. Everitt Mickey  |  April 15th, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Good article. Well written.

    Unfortunately it’s all lies.

  • 6. Jorge Soroz  |  April 15th, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Did it really take three of you to write one blog post?

    Why shouldn´t we blame the feds? Who handed GSax the frickin´ money?

  • 7. geo8rge  |  April 15th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I hope you got picks of the tea party in Victorville. BTW, Dick Army was responsible for closing many military bases, possibly including Victorville silly Air Force Base.

  • 8. buzz  |  April 15th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    “Sasha Grey has pubic hair.”

    gee, you couldn’t post a pic of Sasha’s snapper instead ? instead you expect us to get all excited about “exposing” what a crapitalist cheerleader bitch Rick Santelli really is ??

    maybe if you get a pic of Tiffany Cheng’s underarm hair, at least i might send money for that…

    Rich Santelli is a punk ? that’s news ?

    “nationalize, reorganize and decentralize.”

    hum ! why can’t we just skip the first 2 and go straight to decentralize ? …

  • 9. Windriven  |  April 15th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    The tea parties may well have been orchestrated by elements of the right. When the right is involved the groups are ‘shady.’ When the left is involved its just MoveOn.org. They’re centrists, right? Right?

    I, for one, am deeply concerned by the torrent of money being spent by the president’s administration. This huge debt will soon be compounded by the drain posed by tens of thousands of baby boomers retiring over the next 15 years. Who is going to pay the bill?

    Now some of the ranters on the left will immediately respond that Bush ran up a huge deficit. And of course that is absolutely true. So what? What is this – the battle of the morons? Their moron was a free-spending dufus so our moron should be given a free pass?

    Whether the tea parties were spontaneous grass-roots events or carefully orchestrated shams, the point that government spending is wildly out of control remains true.

  • 10. Nolan  |  April 15th, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Worrying about government spending is like worrying about your cough when you are dying of cancer. Stop focusing on the symptoms, sure the government is a corrupt mess screwing over taxpayers, but do you really think cut government spending is doing to stop the plutocrats from screwing you over?

    Stupid Americans, I doubt Ames and company are fans of MoveOn and are clearly not fans of Obama, if you actually read the article you’d see they support protests that actually propose action, instead of Republican financed spectacles that as far as I can tell have nothing but empty messages about cutting back government spending (and pictures of Obama with a Hitler moustache)

    For the past 30 years talks of cutting “government spending” have focused not on subsidies to corporations or military spending, but of social services, and since Reagan have we seen anything but an increase in inequality?

    Us truly on the “left” aren’t defending Democrats, we just want to see some of the hostility directed toward the puppet masters, not the puppets.

  • 11. coldequation  |  April 15th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    OK, so we should be protesting the bankers, not the government, but the Obama administration = bankers – so what exactly is the problem with being angry at the government? We should be mad at the bankers for taking our money, but not at the government for aiding and abetting them?

    The tea party is basically an anti-tax movement. The “New Way Forward” is about breaking up big banks. Where’s the contradiction? I’m in favor of both of them.

  • 12. Baked Dr. Luny  |  April 16th, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Yet another epic piece of political theater, orchestrated by the elite to shape the popular political atmosphere to their benefit. American voters are tools.

  • 13. Nicolai Ceske  |  April 16th, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Mark, can you write some more articles about banging whores? This serious stuff makes me sleepy.

  • 14. Doom  |  April 16th, 2009 at 4:34 am

    @9: Ah yes, that financial powerhouse MoveOn.

  • 15. fireclown  |  April 16th, 2009 at 5:04 am

    Is the notion of a right wing moveon.org really that offensive? Having opposing groups goes a long way towards monitoring absurdity.

  • 16. k  |  April 16th, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Was it Boss Tweed, Ronnie Raygun, Newt or one of the Dick Army who originally suggested that you can always pay half of the poor to kick the shit out of the other half??

  • 17. Windriven  |  April 16th, 2009 at 8:10 am

    We agree that corporate subsidies need to face the same hatchet as other superfluous government spending initiatives. But – strange bedfellows though they may be – who is talking about trimming government spending besides those on the right? Those on the libertarian right were among the first to oppose government bailouts of banks and insurers. It seems to me that most on the left are happy to bask in the glow of the president, holding hands and singing Kumbaya.

  • 18. Ed  |  April 16th, 2009 at 9:29 am

    It’s so entertaining to see the right wing frothing at the mouth over an intellectual, middle-of-the-road, black president that I’m going to vote to give Obama a second term in 2012.

    Are the teabaggers the new KKK?

  • 19. Sam  |  April 16th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Would freedomworks and neocons try to exploit this? Of course. Did I meet a few nutcases and neocon shills? Some. The speakers were obviously chosen for their more conservative viewpoints, but for every time I heard the merits of Ronald Reagan touted by the men and women at the podium, I heard shouts of dissent from several in the crowd. I was there, and I don’t like what Reaganomics has done, just like I don’t like our current president and his policy. They both mean more restricting and byzantine government.

    If you just look at Rick Santelli, then we look like plutocrat worshippers. If you like the cop’s and FBI’s take on us, then we’re a bunch of skinheads, terrorists and Klansmen (one of the undercover goons actually pulled me to the side and said he was going to take me down if anything went bad at the rally . . . these guys watch WAY too much TV.)

    We’re libertarians. Some lean more to the right or left than others, but the crowd I met was most interested in changing the role of government, not its management team.

    I know you guys at exiled have a holy war against republicans going on (and for good reason), but it’s a mistake to assume that the people trying to exploit the libertarian movement for personal gains represent what our movement is about.

  • 20. az  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    LOL libertarians thinking that it’s their show. Man those guys are such tools thinking that the McCain Campaign Part 2 is Ron Paul’s campaign for liberty or some shit…

  • 21. Nolan  |  April 16th, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Libertarians are meant to be exploited, just remember, it’s the invisible hand pulling the strings!

  • 22. gazzaj  |  April 16th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Obama’s deficits are going to be much, much bigger than Bush’s. Actually they’ll be bigger than every single previous Administration’s deficits put together. But hey, who cares, just don’t raise taxes.

    Idiots.

  • 23. Baltimoron  |  April 16th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Why the surprise about white Amerika only getting behind these fauxtests when they found out that obscenely wealthy financial parasites were organizing them? This is the sort of behavior that should be expected from the swine that populate the United Snakes.

    When the teabaggings looked like they might have been grassroots, associating with them put a person outside of the mainstream and–even worse–potentially at odds with power. But now that Freedomworks and the plutocrats are public about their role they’ve presented Amerikans with an opportunity to do what they do best: lick the boots that crush the world.

    The Amerikan character is deeply flawed; perhaps irreparably so. Yellow ribbon carmagnets, stars and stripes lapel pins, and Freedomworks tea party shirts all reflect white Amerika’s will to grovel before monopoly capital and vicariously exalt in the violence it inflicts on the third world.

  • 24. Ben Landis  |  April 16th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    “How did the right-wing get people behind its absurd and unpopular economic platform of tax cuts, deregulation, status-quo health care, slashed entitlements and leaving homeowners to the wolves?”

    Could it be that minarchists still roam the earth? Should one be ostracized for such a belief? Could it be that people have no interest in being a slave to the tribe? I would rather not finance Joe Bob’s triple bypass; Thanks though. I’d rather not finance Jamals education either. Same goes for Havier and Hu. This pie in the sky one world shit is bizarre.

    You suggest that the tea party spectacle arose around opposition to foreclosure assistance. That is far too simplistic. I think you have overestimated the influence of Rick Santelli and freedomworks.org. Theyre just another phantom demon, a vague and ill defined focal point, not at all extraordinary.

  • 25. Ben Landis  |  April 16th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    fuck moderation.

  • 26. Rob  |  April 17th, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Good call Yasha! You busted these right wingers good! Caugh them red handed daring to organize! Even daring to protest! How dare they coordinate their protests!? These right wing scum are under some delusion that they have equal rights to organize, mobilize, coordinate and raise funding just like the left! It is absolutely outrageous!

  • 27. Nicolai Ceske  |  April 17th, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Face it, the right wingers are worthless.

    Whats really comical is that they have been voting into office the guys who completely ass screwed the citizens of the US (and the world) by allowing and supporting these bankers to loot American tax dollars.

    Yet now they carry this stupid indignation about what has transpired and want to blame Obama for the problems that happened under the Republican watch.

    But I guess as long as these politicians come out and talk tough about the “darkie pinko president” and take a stance against gay marriage and gun control laws, then they’ll continue to eat out of their hands.

  • 28. Expat in BY  |  April 17th, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Response to 16. k:

    It was Boss Tweed, quoted from the Scorsese film “Gangs of New York”:

    “You never enjoyed the enlightenment of poverty, did you, Governor? If you had, you’d know you can always hire half the poor to kill the other half.”

    (No verification on the historic Boss Tweed actually saying this.)

  • 29. Baltimoron  |  April 17th, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Keep licking, Rob. The toecap isn’t bright enough yet.

  • 30. purpleOnion  |  April 17th, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    If there are any republicans who are not all about screwing average Americans it would shock me. Republicans perceive being elected as a license to steal, while feeling entitled to think of themselves as a self-appointed aristocracy that derives “pleasure” from disrespecting and abusing “fellow” Americans. They want nothing less than the absolute right, without consequence, to exploit whomever, wherever, and whenever they choose. It is their version of freedom. I had no idea that the concept of freedom was the permission to screw over whoever I choose as long as I am not caught. If caught, and it benefits the “right” people there are commutations of sentences and pardons, (a modern means of obstructing justice.)

  • 31. Snarky  |  April 18th, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Ok, let me clarify the article, for those that do not get it. The article states that instead of blindly bashing the government, one should offer the government constructive criticism, and if the government refuses said criticism, then in comes mail writing, egg-nogging cars of politicians, etc.

    What the “Tea Party” is doing is saying that “Obama = bad”. What Ames is stating is that saying “Obama = bad” is not enough, and that you actually need to explain why “Obama = bad”.

    Once asked to explain why “Obama = bad” the “Tea Party” argument falls apart. The reason that “Obama = bad” is that Washington is controlled by lobbyists, but the “Tea Party” leaders don’t want you to protest against the lobbyists, so they’re pushing you to protest against Obama, Bush, Clinton – any figurehead, not the power behind the scenes.

    Ames on the other hand wants you to protest the power behind the scenes, the banks. Where I disagree with Ames, is that I think that the “Tea Party” movenment started not to bash Obama, but rather to protect the banks, of which bashing Obama is merely a symptom. Does that make sense?

    That is the diffrence between “A New Way Forward” and the “Tea Party” protests. Also, please ignore all of the Conservatives’ silly attacks, such as “Great Article – not true, IT’S A LIE, we won’t tell you why it’s a lie, but it’s a lie” which to me sounds a lot like “there are WMDs in Iraq, we won’t tell you how we know that, trust us!” – yeah right.

  • 32. Rob  |  April 18th, 2009 at 4:02 am

    Baltimoron wrote, “Keep licking, Rob. The toecap isn’t bright enough yet.”

    I wish I could, but as an American I’m way too busy kissing Israeli ass to lick anything else. Maybe I should reduce my Israel devotion down to 99% leaving 1% for the toecaps?

    Jusk kidding! I’d never do that! That would be thinly veiled anti-semitism! I kiss Israeli ass and only Israeli ass. I’m a proud American after all.

  • 33. Frank McG  |  April 22nd, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Just got done reading It Can’t Happen Here, a novel about the rise of a dictatorship in America. I’m not going to say it was a GREAT book, but it’s fascinating to read if only because it was written in 1935 and it’s surprising how little the ring wing propaganda machine has changed. Nothing but big money magnates utilizing twisted forms of patriotic nostalgia to dupe the public into lining their pockets. Cries of not supporting the troops when any threat to the military industrial complex arises. The 3 cornered hat tea parties reminded me of the book’s American Gestapo calling themselves “Minute Men” and dressing like 19th century American frontiersman cavalry.

    ANYWAYS, as much as I hate socially restrictive, rich man slave conservatives (and the Libertarians who are only fooling themselves), I’m not buying this New Way Forward surge. Hundreds of demonstrators in 60 cities? That’s…10 people per city? That’s even worse than the tea parties.

  • 34. Packeryman  |  April 11th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    I attended two teabaggers events last year to see what it was all about. The first had less than 300 people with all attending local right wing nuts. It had been organized by a right wing radio shock jock. The signs were anti Obama. Their main theme was hate for Obama. They got very little coverage and dissipated fast. The second was on July the fourth organized by the same right winger. They had less than 50 in attendance, same people as before, carrying Obama hate signs. It appears this teabag movement is the pipe dream of right wing AM radio shock jocks and Republican operatives(the likes of Dick Armey and Freedom Works). It was a complete flop. Sara Palin at her last tea party in Tennessee stated it was shoring up the right wing of the GOP, Yet the teabaggers claim to have no affiliation with the GOP. The Republican party with its antiquated reactionary political ideology has become obstructionists and the party of NO. They are controlled by corporate and have nothing for the working middle class American. If the teabaggers want to draw the Independents they must separate from the GOP and become a populists movement that will draw middle America and leave the big money corporate owned GOP. Run a candidate. What do you teabaggers say? You can’t stay with the sellouts in the GOP. The tea parties have become a disgrace to America. If you guys continues the bad publicity you are getting you will lose a creditability and force the government to shut down talk radio who has been whipping the sheep into a frenzy.You don’t think it can happen, the government can’t stand by and let DJ’s who overnight became all knowing political gurus whip the sheep into violent behavior.

  • 35. packeryman  |  May 11th, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Most tea baggers are affluent disgruntled Republicans. In their warped minds they believe the party has moved to the center. As they move further right they lose the Independents(swing vote).Look at the results in CT, DE, WV, NV, CO, CA, AK. Tea baggers lost due to their far right political ideology. They will go nowhere staying in the Republican party. They need to run a third party candidate that takes on a populist approach, get rid of social wedge issues and take on real issues about our failed free trade policies that is destroying the greatest middle class the world has ever known.We must reverse the idea we produce nothing an are a service economy. Once we began to produce again the high unemployment will end, revenue will increase and the baggers of today can forget about their social wedge issues and cutting taxes on the wealthy. One of our greatest waste is foreign bases and wars/occupations. Bring home all troops and station some from Brownsville TX to the Pacific. We would experience an economic boom with troops spending money in USA. We would end the drug traffic and illegal immigrant problem. Lets get a real populist third party going instead of the insanity of the baggers.


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