Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

April 9, 2009

Telling Tea Party Truth

by Stephen Gordon

Here’s some partially-true balderdash regarding upcoming Tea Parties found on Craigslist:

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.

With respect to the Chicago event to be held at the Kluczynski Federal Building Plaza, here’s a bit more accurate version of what happened. According the an e-mail I received from Dave Brady, the Chair of the Libertarian Party of Illinois, the Libertarian Party started the Tea Party plans for the federal building in Chicago — not Santelli nor the Koch brothers.

“The ‘tea party’ concept started with the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPI) who began organizing a 2009 Tax Day ‘Boston Tea Party’ in Chicago back in December of 2008 and created a Facebook group for it on Feb. 10, 2009, according to the LPI,” wrote Brady on an e-mail list for LP state chairs.  “Nine days later, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, broadcasting from the floor of the Chicago stock exchange, popularized the concept.”

Brady also provided the Facebook link, which is viewable for all.  As there are wall posts going back as far as February 11th, I’m going to call bullshit on the nearly ubiquitous statements being made in the mainstream media that Santelli started the whole thing.

It also seems rather unlikely that Brady flew to DC to sit in some cigar-smoke-filled back room with the Karl Roves of the Tea Party movement to assist the “Republican rightwing machine.”

To be sure, there are all sorts of Republicans and Libertarians and libertarians and conservatives involved.  However, the movement in Chicago and many (most?) other places was started at the grassroots.  As the word got out, things went viral and quite a few bigger fish jumped on board — which provided additional feedback to the system and amplified it even more.

A lot of folks are upset about people like Newt Gingrich joining the bandwagon. Jason Pye writes:

Sean Hannity, who will be attending the Atlanta Tea Party on April 15th, says he has criticized Republicans on spending. He has been more vocal of late about Republicans getting back to the supposed small government roots, but even he was only passive while the gross expansion of government was taking place.

Newt Gingrich and his group, American Solutions, recently announced that they were endorsing and supporting the protests. Gingrich has supported and lobbied for a $9 trillion expansion of Medicare and more recently, the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP or Wall Street bailout), which has resulted in trillions of taxpayers dollar being put at risk by a completely incompetent government. This is exactly the sort of spending that these protests are against. An argument can also be made, after reading Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, that Republicans began to lose whatever principles they claimed to have while Gingrich was Speaker of the House, something can be verified by the table above by looking at the growth in spending in the second term of Bill Clinton.

I’ll give Hannity a pass on this one, but not Gingrich.  As Pye explains, Gingrich (even recently) has been supporting exactly what Tea Party people are opposing.  While there are certainly many issues where I disagree with Hannity, he’s been fairly critical of Republican spending and is affiliated (according to media reports and Wikipedia) with the Conservative Party of New York.  As I recall the story, he joined the Conservative Party out of disgust over GOP spending.  As the Tea Parties are all about federal spending and taxation issues, Hannity has earned some street cred on these issues.  Gingrich lost whatever cred he had earned in the early nineties quite some time ago.

If the big boys want to jump on board, that’s fine, so long as the grassroots continue to control the message.  However, I’d be the first one protesting Republican spending if Newt Gingrich or John McCain showed up at my local Tea Party.

If your local Tea Party is one where big-government Republicans are given dominant roles or it’s an astroturfed event, my recommendation is to attend anyway, but ensure that your signs and literature target the particular big-government Republican involved.  This isn’t about political parties, and to some degree, it is aimed at them.  It’s about the grassroots telling folks in Washington (of all political flavors) that we ain’t gonna take it anymore.

UPDATE: On a related note, Eric Odom has told GOP Chairman Michael Steele that he more than welcome at the Chicago Tea Party, but not as a speaker.  His rejection letter follows:

As I mentioned on the phone the other day, I very much appreciate the fact that Chairman Steele is now finally starting to reach out to the true grassroots side of the free-market movement in America. Unfortunately, it appears that he has only just decided to reach out after realizing how big the movement has gotten and how much media is now involved.

That said, we’re still excited to know that Chairman Steele will be in Chicago and we hope, after knowing that he’ll be in the city, that he’ll stop by and mingle with the Americans who will be rallying on April 15th. This will also present a fantastic time for Chairman Steele to LISTEN to what we have to say and perhaps gather some thoughts on what the RNC needs to be doing moving forward.

With regards to stage time, we respectfully must inform Chairman Steel that RNC officials are welcome to participate in the rally itself, but we prefer to limit stage time to those who are not elected officials, both in Government as well as political parties. This is an opportunity for Americans to speak, and elected officials to listen, not the other way around.

I do hope that Chairman Steele will join us as a regular American in protest of Government spending and extreme taxation.

I look forward to hearing from you!

UPDATE II: Via Glenn Reynolds, Libertarian Party cofounder David Nolan will be speaking at the Tuscon Tea Party.  Also, there is additional conversation about astroturfing on the video.

UPDATE III: “Tax Hike” Mike Huckabee is using Twitter to try to astroturf into the Tea Party movement by popping out Fair Tax messages using the #teaparty tag. I know one person who no  longer supports the Fair Tax simply because he doesn’t want people like Mike Huckabee to use it to raise taxes.

UPDATE IV: Welcome Andrew Sullivan and Mark Thompson readers.  I’ll note that I aimed a special blog posting at Sullivan the other day on this same very topic.  I suggested that “Andrew Sullivan gets it right, and wrong, at the very same time.”

UPDATE V: The Other McCain picked this up, and Robert Stacy McCain (doesn’t that sound like the name of a mass murderer?) asks: “And where’s my wenches? They told me if I showed up wearing an eyepatch with a parrot on my shoulder, there’d be free wenches and grog.”

“Apparently, we’re Right Wing Corporate Neocon Pirates who’ve hijacked a grassroots movement,” McCain explains.

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  • http://none Nathaniel Greenspan

    “rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine”

    Ok, Santelli is an doubt. But claiming that the Cato Institute and Reason magazine are “right wing” publications is as accurate as claming that Communism and liberalism are the same thing.

    Those two organizations are Libertarian in Nature. NOT right wing. You know this, I know this. I promise that if you stop referring to anything that’s not flaming liberal as right wing and I’ll stop saying that the Lightworker a godless communist.

    Ok…so I don’t really say that anyway. Why? Cause it would be stupid. Sort of like lumping libertarians in with Republicans.

  • http://none Nathaniel Greenspan

    My comment came accross as it I thought that you wrote that screed. I realize you didn’t. I meant to speak generally towards the liberal world, not specifically.

  • Stephen Gordon


    I understood what you meant and took no offense :)

  • Westmiller

    Excellent commentary. The LP has been running some form of April 15 tax protest for three decades. But, it’s clear that the “right wing” has jumped on board, just as a vehicle for simplistic “anti-Obama” opposition.
    Oddly, the left-wing has also jumped on board, hoping to cash-in on anti-bank (and anti-capitalism) sentiment. They’ll carry-over their April 11th rallies to solicit among the tea-party crowds … which does include those who believe the government should nationalize the banks … preposterously as a step toward eliminating the income tax.

  • Daniel

    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.

    The disinformation campaign has begun.

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  • teabagger

    When did Obama threaten to tax tea without representation?

  • Jim Ostrowski

    I’m very active in the Tea Party Movement. In Buffalo, we had 500 people the other day and will have even more on April 18th. See my link.

    It is purely grassroots with lots of involvement from the libertarians. I know all the local “suits” and none are involved, thankfully.

    We will be rolling out a 12-point plan for victory on April 18th. Stay tuned.

  • Stephen Gordon


    Obama seems more willing to tax tobacco than tea. And he loves taxing our children and grandchildren with deficit spending. However, taxation with representation hasn’t turned out so hot, either.

  • Stephen Gordon


    Despite the fact that Sean Hannity will be doing a live stream from the Birmingham event, ours seems to have pretty balanced participation.

    Then again, most of us are experienced Tea Partiers and held a very major Tea Party (mostly ignored by the media) to start the movement that killed the largest tax hike ever proposed in our state’s history.

  • lee

    I’m confused by your comment that the FairTax would be used to raise your taxes.

    The FairTax advocates that the rate be set by Constitutional Amendment at 23%.


  • Stephen Gordon

    Show me a link to a link to where it would be set by constitutional amendment. That’s a new one on me.

    The point was wasn’t aimed at the FairTax movement, though — but aimed at yet another tax-increasing Republican who loves to spend other people’s money.

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  • Robert

    We cannot allow GOP politicians to make hay out of our tea party protests. The only thing that separates them from the Obama team is that this administration is spending WORSE. But the GOP deserves a big sock in the gut for what it ramped up in spending during the Bush administration. Perhaps the GOP learned its lesson, but they cannot take credit for the grassroots movement sweeping the country today. This protest is directed at their past transgressions just as much as it is directed at the current administration’s abominable spending plans.

    It’s WE THE PEOPLE this time, not WE THE POLITICIANS who long ago forgot who they’re supposed to be serving.

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  • fairmark

    Great news! Missouri congress will debate killing off the income, estate, and corporate tax for a sales tax! This should prove a great platform for the clear benefits of consumption taxes.





  • Stephen Gordon

    Derek — really? What a shocker!

  • tarran

    Derek, I think something is leaning on your shift key. Also, Reagan is hardly the guy to introduce defecit spending. You might want to google the phrase “A public debt is a public blessing” to enlighten yourself.

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  • Robert Stacy McCain

    Since we’re pirates who’ve hijacked this movement, I say Huckabee’s the first to walk the plank.

    Who’s with me, mateys? Arrrgggh!

    And where’s my wench? They told me if I showed up wearing this eyepatch, there would be wenches and grog.

  • chieftain1776

    I’m sorry but if anyone started this trend it was the Ron Paul grassroots. Yet no one wants give the movement its due credit.,_2008#Fourth_quarter_2007

    He called this Federal reserve created crisis and tried to prevent it with a bill–with detailed explanation–in 2002. WHEN IT COUNTED!

    He also opposed the changes to Glass-Steagall in 1999 with a detailed critique. All of his predictions have come to pass.

    His critique of the Fed’s low rates and the economy in general are now mainstreamed. It’s excruciating to see him insulted yet again by being ignored but when the history is written Ron Paul will loom over this period.

  • Stephen Gordon

    I’d like for Huckabee and Riley to walk the plank together. There’s a special place in hell for them, too. Move over Saddam, Satan’s got two new boyfriends.

  • Shane

    Very nice right up.

    I know for my local tea party Republicans can attend but they can not speak and will not be part of our organizations leadership. The Republican party today is more liberal that the most liberal Democrats of 50 or 60 years ago. It’s time for both parties to go. In fact George Washington opposed party affiliations so lets get rid of all parties.

  • CDarrow

    I live in Connecticut and while some libertarians are clearly involved, the “movement” has long been subsumed by the GOP establishment. My theocon in-laws, who are obsessive Fox News watchers and proud followers of the Catholic League, are deeply involved in the process. Me thinks it’s time to abandon ship. The “establishment” wanted nothing to do with the Good Doctor when he could’ve saved it from the abyss. And if the parties are successful and the GOP retakes power, does anyone out there really think things will be any different?

  • Eric Odom

    “The ‘tea party’ concept started with the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPI) who began organizing a 2009 Tax Day ‘Boston Tea Party’ in Chicago back in December of 2008 and created a Facebook group for it on Feb. 10, 2009, according to the LPI,” wrote Brady on an e-mail list for LP state chairs. “Nine days later, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, broadcasting from the floor of the Chicago stock exchange, popularized the concept.”

    This is inaccurate. While I applaud the IL LP for the effort, the LP cannot take credit for the tea party idea any more than I can.

    The fact is, these protests have been happening under the “tea party” brand since 2006 when a local anti-tax group in Chicago poured water into the river in protests over the water bottle tax.

    Another Tea Party protest took place in, I think, Novemember of 2008 in Seattle, and several others have occurred as well.

    With all due respect to Mr Brady, we need to stop moaning about not getting the limelight and start working on getting our government back.

    Just sayin…

  • Stephen Gordon


    As a veteran of the 2003 Alabama Tea Party which killed Gov. Riley’s tax plan, I certainly understand.

    “…we need to stop moaning about not getting the limelight and start working on getting our government back.”


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