Sunday, March 1, 2009

There's Astroturf At The Tea Party

If you suspected Rick Santelli’s “spontaneous” tea party rant was actually a fake, you may be on to something. It’s starting to look like it was part of a conservative astroturfing campaign put together by FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s right-wing propaganda operation.

FreedomWorks is one of those shady, GOP-affiliated organizations which use stealth propaganda campaigns to foist such unpopular policies like privatizing Social Security on the American people (Move America Forward is another one, but there are several).

Now they’ve used a phony “grassroots” campaign, a network of conservative blogs, and a willing mouthpiece in CNBC’s Rick Santelli to launch the first assault on President Obama’s economic plans. Journalists Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, both familiar with Russian-style propaganda campaigns, smelled a rat and did some digging. They broke the story on Friday here at (no jokes, please! I was directed there by Avedon Carol). Do read the entire thing, but here are a few excerpts:
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.


On the same day as Santelli's rant, February 19, another site called went live. This site was registered to Eric Odom, who turned out to be a veteran Republican new media operative specializing in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns. Last summer, Odom organized a twitter-led campaign centered around to pressure Congress and Nancy Pelosi to pass the offshore oil drilling bill, something that would greatly benefit Koch Industries, a major player in oil and gas. Now, six months later, Odom's DontGo movement was resurrected to play a central role in promoting the "tea party" movement.

Ames and Levine go on to link the “tea parties” to the bazillionaire arch-conservative Koch family, the folks behind the John Birch Society, the Club For Growth, the Cato Institute, and a network of smaller organizations like Chicago Libertarian activist group, the Sam Adam Alliance. Not coincidentally, that is where Eric Odom worked as "new media coordinator." Sam Adams, huh. Wow, what a coinky-dinky:

Samuel Adams the historical figure was famous for inspiring and leading the Boston Tea Party—so when the PR people from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance abruptly leave in order to run Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party,” you know it wasn’t spontaneous.

Koch family money is behind all of these various different players, and while it may be a little difficult to follow along in blog excerpts, I urge you to read the Ames/Levine piece. Bottom line is, the vast right wing conspiracy is alive and well, and regular people across the country--including right here in Nashville--were turned into its tools.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen fake "grassroots" campaigns funded by conservative megabazillionaires like Howard Ahmanson, Tom Monaghan, Rev. Moon and the DeVos family. Conservatives have a whole group of these moneybags they can turn to when they need to finance a new astroturf operation.

But this is the first time we’ve seen evidence that a media figure like Rick Santelli knowingly took part in a conservative propaganda campaign. Why? Well, I'm sure the fact that his contract is up for renewal this summer had something to do with it. His Tea Party-enhanced national profile will no doubt help with those negotiations. But news that the entire thing was planned and orchestrated by conservative PR firms should be grounds for Santelli's firing--now. He just threw any suggestion that he had journalistic impartiality out the window to meet his own selfish ends. If CNBC doesn’t investigate this now their credibility is gone, too.

Not to be overlooked or understated is the entire purpose of the “Tea Party” propaganda campaign, which is just one piece of a larger strategy. Ames and Levine state it loud and clear:

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.

Indeed. This is, at its core, yet another battle in an unspoken class war. A group of Americans have unwittingly been conscripted into service for the wealthy establishment that oppresses the poor and robs the middle class. Don’t believe me? Just look at the past eight years under Bush. The past is prologue.

Progressives are going to have to step it up if we’re going to expose these charlatans and puppeteers. You’re being played, people.