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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Investigative Report / Tea Party / February 27, 2009
By Yasha Levine


Koch Industries’ one-man teabag revolution in Santa Monica

As soon as Ames and I sent off our Santelli-FreedomWorks connection article to the editors at Playboy, I rushed out the door. I was already 10 minutes late to a tea party event being held just a few miles from my house.

The protest was scheduled to take place at the very end of the Santa Monica pier at 9:00 am Friday, February 27 — sharp — and would last until exactly 9:45 am. Tony Katz, the event organizer, had the whole thing mapped out on a Facebook page he set up: meet and greet, three keynote speakers (some no-name actor, a writer and an alleged comedian), a quick teabagging ceremony and then goodbye. It wasn’t the best time slot to attract protesters.  Most working people (exactly ones that should be outraged at having their hard-earned money spent bailing out deadbeats), would be just groggily arriving at work. But if you read the Santelli article, you know these tea party protests were never about attracting real supporters. They were about creating the perception that these supporters exist. As it happens, the early morning schedule was incredibly convenient for journalists. They’d get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.

I got there about 30 minutes late, just in time for the last part of the show.  Katz, short, chubby and sporting a greasy ponytail, was finishing up his closing speech. Helpers were passing out tea bags to the 50 or so people milling around restlessly. The crowd was not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days. It was more the size of a waiting list crowd milling around outside a popular sushi restaurant. Katz, who looked more like a failed porn actor, a dweeby version of Ron Jeremy, than a political organizer, was saying something about the need to  move past partisanship. Resistance wasn’t about being Republican, Democrat or Green — it was about being American. That got cheers from the crowd, but looking around me, these people were clearly going to have trouble hiding their obvious Republicanism.

A few people were holding anti-Obama signs. One guy, who called himself a comedian, held up a slickly designed sign that read: “Don’t Tax Me, Bro!” A sickly young couple, who identified their political affiliation as “freeper,” held thin cardboard signs with anti-tax slogans quickly scrawled with markers. There were a bunch of Republican hags. Some were senile and could barely walk; a few of the more sprightly ones had donned 18th century dresses they’d saved from their first proms. A dozen or so clean-cut Young Republican types were dispersed through the crowd. None of them would admit it, but they were obvious organizers of the whole sham gathering. Reporters and assorted media types made up 1/3 of the mass, and there was a constant stream of weirded-out passers-by who paused and gawked for a while before scuttling off. In rich, ultra-liberal Santa Monica, meeting lone Republicans is a rarity, like spotting a Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Saying critical things about Obama around here is blasphemy punishable by societal isolation.

Two other observations could be made about the crowd: 1) it was too white and 2) it was all dudes. You can tell just how authentic a political rally is by the male-female equality ratio. If you’re gonna build a mass movement against anything, there’s no way of getting around it. The only woman seemed to be on the job, working for some conservative TV station called Freedom Talk or Freedom Now. Judging by the name, it was connected to FreedomWorks, and she was obviously connected to Katz, chatting him up like they were friends at the end of the show.

It was now 9:35 am and Katz was finishing, right on schedule. He invited people to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (throwing tea bags into the ocean would be littering and illegal) and yell out their anti-tax demands. The whole thing was pathetic and over very quickly, thankfully.

It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. FOX news sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.

I had a little plan to toy with Katz and test his reaction, so as I milled around, waiting for him to finish his interviews, I tried interacting with the participants. It wasn’t easy. These people didn’t have much to say. The Young Republican cadre weren’t very chatty, answering in short, two- or three-word bursts. If you’ve ever been to a real protest, you know how open and forthcoming people are. They have to be to recruit. Most of the extras were useless, too, either senile or insane, or both. One woman was recruiting for a Republican club in West Los Angeles. But she had no idea what was going on. “Santelli? I don’t know. Do we support him? How did he vote on the Stimulus?” There was a fat Latino gay guy in a custom t-shirt showing Obama as a pirate. “I just think that protesting is a great, very important thing to do,” he said. He was one of those protest whores; he was against just about everything — Obama, Taxes, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. — but somehow remained real upbeat and chipper.

As soon as NBC finished their interview with Katz, I came up and introduced myself. I wanted to see how he’d respond if I started throwing around FreedomWorks. Would he deny the connection? Pretend like he didn’t know what I was talking about? Embrace me as a brother? Doubtful. Sure, this event was all about populism, but I didn’t fit into the whole scene. My punk-esque leather jacket and shaved head didn’t fit in among the polo shirts, Stanford baseball caps and sportscoats. I just don’t own anything that resembles their semi-casual staffer attire.

“Hey, I just want you to know that my brother works for FreedomWorks in Washington. We’re not close, but I spoke to him on the phone last night and he told me about what you guys are doing. I just want you to know I respect and support you 100%.”

Katz paused for a second, his smile tightening, shrinking almost imperceptibly. And then he just ignored the question, shifting his attention to a dweeby Republican who came up to introduce himself. Apparently these two had been communicating via Twitter for some time, but had never met in real life. I hung around to try to push Katz some more, but he obviously smelled me out. I never even got his business card, which he was giving away to everyone else. Instead, I was instructed to go to their Twitter page. It wasn’t much of a recruitment effort. But then, when your whole movement is a fake, you don’t need to worry about recruitment. All you need to do is lure the sucker-media’s TV cameras to the pier for a few minutes.

Related reading: Exposing The Rightwing PR Machine: Is CNBC’s Rick Santelli Sucking Koch?


Add your own

  • 1. chrisv  |  February 27th, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Good job, guys. I was afraid this site was turning into a boring pointless blog about drugs, but it seems you guys are still capable of doing some real quality journalism like the old days.

    I am glad to see your brains are not completely fried yet.

    Thanks much and lets see more of this stuff in the future.

  • 2. Mr. Wiggles  |  February 28th, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Well done. ExiledOnline is one of my few must-read sites because of pieces like this. Please find a way to stay in business. I’ll paypal a few bucks your way if it comes to that.

  • 3. zach wilson  |  February 28th, 2009 at 6:07 am

    don’t be afraid to keep writing about about drugs (some of us aren’t pussies) and tell Brecher to do another one of his book reports.

  • 4. Pablito  |  February 28th, 2009 at 8:49 am

    I stopped by the Chicago protest, and it was all grassroots types, organized over the internet. Not to rain on your brilliant journalistic parade, or anything.

  • 5. DocAmazing  |  February 28th, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Great work. Post this to AlterNet, too, if possible–getting the work out about Koch’s suckers’ role in this astroturf campaign is vital. Even the corporate media might just catch on.

  • 6. TimH  |  February 28th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Looks like the Kochtopus is trying to light a backfire in order to destroy Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty

  • 7. doctor k  |  February 28th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    as if anything needed to be done to relegate the good doctor’s “campaign” to the slagheap.

  • 8. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  February 28th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Amazing that right wingers would organize and work against the efforts of their ideological opponents. After all, when the Republicans were in charge the Democrats went along meekly with the whole right wing agenda. Nary a single complaint was voiced by a single Democrat anywhere in the nation for the last 8 years.

    I really don’t understand where these Republicans get off going against the tradition of a passive minority party. I mean, what is the world coming to when people who lost the election have the nerve to speak their minds and organize protest events. They must understand that this is simply not done.

  • 9. DocAmazing  |  February 28th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Mr. M.–

    Do you just not get the idea of “astroturf”, of “faux-spontaneous”, of “hypocrisy”?

    Or, if you do, can I have some of that sweet wingnut welfare from Koch?

  • 10. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  February 28th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Doc, do you not get the idea of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”? For eight years the PR machine funded by big money Democrats has created well timed and carefully planned events to protest the actions of the Bush Regime. Now the right is using those techniques against the Obama Regime and it’s your side that’s whining about it. That’s how the game is played. Get over it.

  • 11. Innocent Bystander  |  February 28th, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Mister Mxyzptlk-

    By all means, knock yourself out protesting against government programs that are meant to help us weather the economic mess created by the Bush administration.

    You don’t mind if we continue to research and expose the front groups that are organizing these ‘popular’ protests do you? When you get millions of people organized to protest against the Obama administration, I’ll believe you have a grassroots message. As long as it’s another Brooks Brother’s protest put together by paid Republican activists and their corporate underwriters, we won’t take you too seriously.

  • 12. DocAmazing  |  February 28th, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    “Big money Democrats”? Dude, rich people like deregulation and low capital gains taxes. Do you have examples of these big money Democrats or are you pulling this all ex ano?

    Oh, and bringing up George Soros definitely would mark you as a defective.

  • 13. breaktheirbones  |  February 28th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    In an era where snark trumps substance, it seems you have the upper hand.

    Too bad you’re wrong.

    I ran one of these events and you’ve got the intent wrong. The teaparty events weren’t abt feigning that there was more opposition to Washington’s spending than there was (astroturfing), they were about empowering people, most of whom had never publicly stood for anything to become activists. They were about fielding volunteers to form the nucleus of an army to push you back under the rock you slithered …

    you should stick to writing about drugs, you’re better at it.

  • 14. captain america  |  March 1st, 2009 at 12:05 am

    George Soros!

  • 15. Leninsghost  |  March 1st, 2009 at 3:06 am

    DocAmazing, you’re so cute when you’re ignorant. Big $ Dems have been manipulating your adolescent brain for years. Just look who pulls strings at MoveOn, Think Progress, Media Matters et al.

    Stop the hate and start the thought.

  • 16. aleke  |  March 1st, 2009 at 4:17 am

    George Soros George Soros George Soros Ra Ra Ra! GOOOOOOOO RIGHT WING RADIO TALK POINT

    george soros is to liberal as otto von bismarck is to anti-imperialist

  • 17. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 1st, 2009 at 6:10 am

    This mess started with the creation of the Federal Reserve System granting the government the ability to magically create money through fractional banking. The mess continued to grow as each consecutive regime added more idiotic economic incentives to borrow and spend. This mess has been close to 100 years in the making and should be blamed on both sides of the aisle, not just the last idiot to hold the office.

    As for your Obama’s economic programs helping us common folks, well I suppose if you’re going to have delusions you may as well go for the really satisfying ones. His programs will help out his major campaign contributors and screw the little guy just like the plans of the Bush Regime did. Once again we little guys will get the short end of the stick like we have always gotten. But the good news is the guy shoving it up our butts will be black instead of white. That will help I suppose.

  • 18. DocAmazing  |  March 1st, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Ahhh, yes. the Fed. Now we’re lining our chapeaux with Reynold’s Wrap, not some inferior-quality generic brand.

  • 19. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 1st, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Ah, I see. You think any mention of the Federal Reserve system without the accompaniment of angelic choir and heavenly hosts is wingnuttery. I suppose you think inflation is something that happens magically whenever Democrats don’t believe enough in Tinkerbell or something.

    For 100 years our government has been inflating our currency to give us everything we want just like a college kid with too many credit cards. Well the credit cards are maxed out and there’s nothing left to refinance against and we need to pay those bills and all that interest. If we’d stuck to a currency that couldn’t be inflated and built our economy on something more substantial than fairy dust this wouldn’t be happening.

    But go ahead and stick your head in the sand by blaming the last bunch of morons for everything that’s going wrong. It’s easier than admitting the truth and accepting your party’s share of the blame.

  • 20. Bat-Mite  |  March 1st, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I agree, we should have stuck with the gold standard!

  • 21. Doom  |  March 1st, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    It’s those DAMN Jew bankers!

  • 22. Chetly Zarko  |  March 1st, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I find humorous and hypocritical the sexist, demeaning attack this very article makes against women, while also admitting that Democrats, at least in Santa Monica, are the Party of the Wealthy and closed-minded and anti-free-speech enough to reject opposition ideas with isolation (and yes, I acknoledge free speech and free association often have tension with each other and social isolation is well within one’s First Amendment rights, but it is hypocritical in that it is not a commitment to open debate or diversity of ideas). Quoting:

    In rich, ultra-liberal Santa Monica, meeting lone Republicans is a rarity, like spotting a Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Saying critical things about Obama around here is blasphemy punishable by societal isolation.

    Two other observations could be made about the crowd: 1) it was too white and 2) there were no chicks. In America, chicks are protest canaries. You can tell just how authentic a political rally is by the number of attractive women that attend. If you’re gonna build a mass movement against anything, there’s no way of getting around the chick factor. The only cute girl, a perky, tall blond, appeared later. (Looking at her picture now, she does not seem cute at all.

    That demonstrates how this website is hypocritical and anti-feminist, anti-respect for women, and anti-democratic on its face (sorta like mine:

  • 23. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 1st, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    The Federal Reserve is composed of far more WASPs than Jews but hate what you will. I won’t bother trying to change you.

  • 24. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 1st, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Chetly, liberals can’t be racist, sexist or homophobic. Even when they say racist, sexist or homophobic things. Being that they are ideologically pure they can say those things without causing the damage that an ideologically impure person might cause by saying the same things.

    They also cannot be hypocritical because of that purity. Even though they may say hypocritical things or do hypocritical things because their intentions are so pure and good they are not hypocritical. We uncouth barbarians are capable of hypocrisy because we lack that purity.

    Also, when liberals acquire wealth and use it to encourage public debate and protest it is not a bad thing. Even if the wealth was acquired by non-liberal means and the use of the wealth would be considered immoral or illegal by others it is alright for a liberal to do it because they again have that purity of cause that others lack.

    Understand how that works?

  • 25. Re: Miss Breaktheirbones  |  March 1st, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    “In an era where snark trumps substance, it seems you have the upper hand.

    Too bad you’re wrong.

    I ran one of these events and you’ve got the intent wrong. The teaparty events weren’t abt feigning that there was more opposition to Washington’s spending than there was (astroturfing), they were about empowering people, most of whom had never publicly stood for anything to become activists. They were about fielding volunteers to form the nucleus of an army to push you back under the rock you slithered …

    you should stick to writing about drugs, you’re better at it.”

    This sounds like the last gasp of a rabid dog just shot through its cranium but still lingering with a flicker of life because it is rabid.

  • 26. GetTheTruth  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 2:53 am

    I’m tired of these fabrications.

  • 27. Chetly Zarko  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 5:37 am

    The link to my image and attempted humor of putting in parens (sort of like mine:Image of me) was not my doing and must have been added by the administration.

    If you want to make fun of me with ad hominem, that’s fine, but don’t change my words and represent them as mine.

    Mister Mx, I understand how that works. I worked (Dir. of Media Relations) for Ward Connerly here in Michigan on Proposal 2 to end preferential types of so-called affirmative action. I’m racist on my face for that, apparently, and that goes without saying one word about my philosophy — but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find former National Bar President Reginald Turner (black, liberal, pro-preference) with enough intellectual honesty to call some of my writing on the issue (before working for Connerly, I wrote several major pieces on the admissions lawsuits, including in the Michigan Bar Journal) the best of any he had received – and I’m not a lawyer. I’m no shill for anyone, and believe my motivations are the opposite of “racist”. But if you disagree with the left on this issue, you are ostracized without analysis.

    Kind of like Santa Monica – or here on this ironically inaccurately titled site.

  • 28. DocAmazing  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    so-called affirmative action
    I’m racist on my face for that

    That would be about right, yeah.

  • 29. Chetly Zarko  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    So, Doc Amazing, pray tell, why exactly is it that someone who opposes what you label as “affirmative action” is automatically racist. Are blacks who oppose affirmative action racist?

    Can you provide a reason, logic, or evidence for that? Or is it just so because it is dogma and convenient slime for you sling around? That tactic is ridiculous and without intellectual merit. It makes politics worse than it should be and polarizes America unnecessarily.

  • 30. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    The funny thing about rightwing conservatives is for people who claim to be all about freedom they sure to want to shut anyone up who disagrees with them. They call them terrorists when they aren’t in lockstep with war, but I know that rightwing conservatives are just plain idiots idiots who cant find anything remotely intelligent in their writings and they question their opponents sanity when all else fails.

  • 31. DocAmazing  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Even if one were to overlook the Bakke-logic that underpins opposition to affirmative action (“more qualified white applicants” is a phrase one hears a great deal), you’re left with utter ignorance of history and current events. If there were no history (and current existence) of institutional racism in the US, then we could talk about equal opportunities and level playing fields and color-blindness. As it is, it’s mere ignorance, or worse: disingenuousness in service of racism.

    And Ward Connerly’s a genius: they guy’s been cashing wingnut welfare checks for a decade and a half with minimal effort. Such opportunism is impressive.

  • 32. wengler  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Am I going to start hearing how paper money is the downfall of America on this thread?

    More to the point: What I really want to know is what I can do to encourage strife between the Paulites and the Republican corporate whores. On the one hand they look very similar, with the Paulites discounting the negative externalities of corporate power, and the corporate whores actively encouraging that ignorance. On the other hand, the corporations would like to have the government on their side and of a certain size necessary to enforce corporate policy without tarnishing the corporate image.

    Can I tell the Paulites that the corporate whores have a super secret socialist plan to destroy them?

  • 33. Mister Mxyzptlk  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 5:44 am

    Who am I really? My lame statement is as follows…

    The funny thing about sad losers like me is that I claim to be all about free speech but really I’d just like to talk to someone, or have someone talk to me, whether they disagree or not. I’d most like to get to know some liberals, since they have the hotter chicks, but for some reason losers like me only get to talk to fat-assed Republican closet-cases. They call themselves racists when they aren’t in front of the cameras, they call themselves trolls when they cant find anything interesting to say.

    So this is how it works here. If all else fails instead of calling me crazy you simply allow me to write my comments here, and still no one cares? So much for freedom of speech on a public forum. Time to shoot myself. Goodbye, cruel world!

  • 34. Orthodoxy  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 10:43 am

    So this is how censorship works at the new Exiled? Well done,I missed all the gags on the [sic] page. But this is long overdue.

  • 35. Greg Foreman  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Congrats on proving that conservatives are right in calling liberals childish and immature. Changing a posters words around is the kind of thing they would expect of you.

  • 36. bitchass  |  March 4th, 2009 at 5:47 am

    So many right wingers crashing the party.. Guess this is just how FreedomWorks reciprocates when you show up uninvited to one of their events.

  • 37. Nikita  |  March 11th, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Great work, Mr. Levine!
    Cheers from half-frozen Moscow!

  • 38. Daniel Freeman  |  March 16th, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Outstanding article gentleman, the mere fact that so many conservative comments have surfaced on your website, confirms the accuracy of your investigation. This is a wonderfully substantive article that describes the web of conspiracy at work in our politics today.

    I’m just another citizen, once un-informed, who now appreciates the stalwart efforts of journalist like the aforementioned. My promise is to tell everyone I know, of this vast and corporately funded attempt to hijack our democracy and destroy our unity at all cost.

    Daniel Freeman(The spook who sat by the door)

  • 39. kitsune361  |  March 26th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I had an odd feeling this whole “tea party” nonsense was staged. Almost immediately after Santelli’s rant, this story of all these “spontaneous tea parties” was getting harped everyday on just about every right wing echoing chamber on TV and AM radio.

    It was too slick, too media, to be “spontaneous”. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who saw a similarity in style in all the PR, or did a few whois searches. Any internet savvy idiot could have figured out some of these connections.

    No offense to the author with that last line, but a lot of lefties are very competent with computers and the internet, I feel insulted by these right wing, astroturfing hacks.

  • 40. Beloved  |  March 28th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    My Grandmother goes to Tea Parties.

  • 41. lose weight  |  December 2nd, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Thank you. Great website you got here. Got some more websites to point to with more stuff like this?

  • 42. Patience  |  November 4th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Articles like this really grease the shafts of kwnlodege.

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