Communist spin on Taxed Enough Already
cwsiv_2nd at HOTPOP.COM
Fri May 22 19:42:51 MDT 2009
Fake Teabaggers Are Anti-Spend, Anti-Government: Real Populists Want to
Stop Banks from Plundering America
By Mark Ames and Yasha Levine and Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Posted on April 15, 2009, Printed on April 20, 2009
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
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.
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 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 super-wealthy 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 initiative 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
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 looked like it was dead in the water. But what
seemed to be another failed FreedomWorks project came back one month
later with a vengeance.
FreedomWorks is now running the show completely out in the open,
coordinating a vast and confusing army of Web sites, selling Tea Party
merchandise (with proceeds going straight into FreedomWorks' coffers)
and tapping Republican celebrities for speaker slots. Fox News will
provide around-the-clock, coast-to-coast coverage of today's Tea Party
event. (The network's newest star, Glenn Beck, will hold a $500-a-plate
fundraiser for the cause before zooming over to a tea party scheduled to
take place at the Alamo in San Antonio.) Last week, Newt Gingrich,
former Georgia congressman and Speaker of the House, and Texas Gov. Rick
Perry announced they'll keynote tea parties of their own in Texas and
The Tea Parties have gone large — and they've gone populist. Today's Tea
Parties are sure to dwarf the duds of February. Somehow, a movement that
was exposed as a fraud has persevered and morphed into something that is
channeling and redirecting legitimate concerns about Obama's handling of
the financial crisis.
To understand what the Tea Parties are really about, timeline is
everything. The Tea Parties were never about the little guy's fight
against big government or Wall Street. FreedomWorks did not uncork
Santelli while the government was bailing out the banks. The
FreedomWorks machine was idle while Citibank and GE pocketed their
billions. (The latter, incidentally, is a big donor to FreedomWorks).
Freedomworks kicked off its anti-tax, anti-spending movement only when
the government announced it would give money to regular Americans to
help avoid a wave of housing foreclosures.
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?
Enter the AIG-bonus scandal and a steady trickle of news about the
mismanagement of the bailout billions and the corrupt backroom cronyism
that has guided the whole process, from the Henry Paulson era straight
into the Larry Summers/Tim Geithner era. These developments, all under
liberal Democratic governance, enraged a lot of people and muddied the
waters of outrage — and policy.
The AIG-bonus scandal put a handle on the irresponsible government
policies that the Tea Party movement was supposedly rallying against.
What could be more irresponsible than allowing financial executives that
got America into this mess to walk away with multi-million dollar
bonuses lifted from taxpayer money? The same people who cost millions of
Americans their jobs and homes were taking what was left of the kitty to
ensure that they could maintain their mansions-and-yachts lifestyles.
The Right twisted the issue by getting people to focus their rage on the
government exclusively, forgetting the banker (who, in the conservative
mind, is being overtaxed). The problem is the Left has been subdued, to
put it mildly, in channeling rage at the bankers, in part because
Obama's economic team in many ways is the bankers.
The Left should have been there to claim this genuine outrage from the
very beginning. But it was late to the game. Until a new initiative
called A New Way Forward began picking up steam a few weeks ago, a lot
of people outraged by Obama's economic policies had only one place to
go: their local FreedomWorks Tea Party.
Luckily, and not a moment too soon, this is no longer the case.
It is hard to imagine more different origins from the FreedomWorks
creation than those of A New Way Forward. The seed for the initiative
was planted on the ratty couch in a 19th century farmhouse on a western
Massachusetts apple orchard. It was there that 29-year-old Tiffiniy
Cheng sat one night watching Bill Moyers Journal with her 86-year-old
landlord. Moyers' guest that night was MIT professor and former IMF
chief economist Simon Johnson. A fierce critic of Obama's handling of
the crisis, Johnson explained on the show that there were plenty of
roads not being taken, all of which led to nationalization and strict
new antitrust laws.
As they listened, Cheng and her landlord grew increasingly despondent.
When the show ended, the old woman turned to the younger woman and said,
"You kids need to go out and do something. The world is changing so
much, you need to take control of things." Cheng decided to take up the
"I knew a lot of people like me were upset that the banks are driving
the process," she says. "So I decided to coordinate among all of the
frustrated people out there, who are angry about the bailouts and want
to break up the massive institutions who brought us here."
Unlike a lot of people who might have shared the same thought, Cheng
actually had the organizing experience and tech chops to do put it
together. A self-described nonprofit "technologist" and activist with a
decade of experience -- she was part of the group that launched
OpenCongress.org and has developed software designed to facilitate
Internet organizing — Cheng sketched out a plan and called some
Soon they had a manifesto based on three principles: nationalize,
reorganize and decentralize. A Web site followed, and word quickly
spread with the help of some well-connected and supportive advisers,
among them Zephyr Teachout and Joe Trippi, both architects of Howard
Dean's pioneering 2004 presidential campaign.
Aided by social-networking sites and Cheng's own organizing software,
more than 10,000 soon signed NWF's petition to break up the banks. The
petition now holds more than 40,000 signatures and counting.
Last Saturday, NWF held the first day of rallies — the left's answer to
the Tea Parties. Groups in the hundreds gathered in 60 cities around the
country (including on the East Coast, despite heavy rains). The
organization is also picking up its share of media attention, including
a mention last month on Moyers' Journal, which brought the nascent group
"Having been around politics and political organizing for many years,
this feels different," says William Greider, a New Way Forward senior
adviser. "The 'Tea Party' gambit is the opposite example -- planned and
promoted top-down with the old hands of the right and lots of money. One
of our democratic difficulties in this mass-market age is figuring out
what's real and what's cleverly constructed propaganda."
It's hard to get more real than the first line of the NWF manifesto:
"Big bankers ruined our economy, and now they are gaming the political
system so they can profit even more off the crisis they caused. They
must be stopped."
Stopping the big bankers from plundering America. That's what protest
against the administration's economic policy must be about.
And whatever the Tea Party organizers scream today while standing on tea
boxes, their sponsors at FreedomWorks have no intention of ending the
Instead, FreedomWorks and its clients want to ensure more of the
national wealth is at their disposal — which for them means more
deregulation, lower taxes for the rich, fewer government programs for
distressed homeowners and no pricey national health insurance.
The suckers in the Tea Party movement have no idea that while their
anger is genuine, they're doing the king's bidding, not their own.
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine are editors of eXiledonline.com. Alexander
Zaitchik is a freelance journalist.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/136688/
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