"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." -Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
It began in February with CNBC correspondant Rick Santelli's seemingly impromptu call to action for a Chicago Tea Party protest against government assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. So impactful was Santelli's effusion that an entire movement sprung forth whole the very same day. Within minutes and hours of Santelli's speech an inexplicably interlinked network of web sites materialized online. Santelli, whose contract with CNBC was due to expire within months, was conveniently catapulted into the conservative blogosphere limelight as a champion of the people.
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, two seasoned Russia reporters, sensed something familiar in that the whole thing smelled like one of the Kremlin's propaganda movements designed to garner political control. Skeptical that a grassroots movement could miraculously organize and synchronize its message so quickly and even coordinate a nationwide protest within a week of Santelli's speech, Ames and Levine investigated. They reported, "…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."
Ames and Levine discovered that Santelli was a front for what they called, "…some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced," including the multibillionaire oil and gas moguls, the Koch family. One of whom, the late Fred Koch, cofounded the John Birch Society. "Koch money funds industry-friendly messages that fill our airwaves and editorial pages, and influences outcomes in the halls of Congress and courtrooms across the country," says Media Transparency, an organization that spells out the relationship between the Kochs and FreedomWorks on its web site.
FreedomWorks is skilled at installing shill protesters and creating fake grassroots groups — a practice known as astroturfing. AngryRenter.com, one of FreedomWorks' efforts, was outted by the Wall Street Journal as a creation of the foundation. Steve Forbes is a member of FreedomWorks' board of directors. The ironical WSJ headline read: "Mortgage Bailout Infuriates Tenants (And Steve Forbes)." Ames, Levine, and Alexander Zaitchik, called AngryRenter "… 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." The AngryRenter ruse manipulated individual renters to mount protest in the interests of financiers. In another exposure, an "average single mom" flaunted by the Bush administration, in its PR campaign to privatize social security was revealed, by The New York Times, to be one of FreedomWorks' state directors.
Ames and Levine pulled back the curtain on the alleged spontaneous uprising and revealed a rat pack of billionaires, lobbyists, political bigwigs and veteran astroturf-movement manufacturers. Read their articles to see the details on scrubbed web site links and other efforts to cover up interconnections between the actors. The owner of Officialchicagoteaparty.com, for example, is fake-grassroots PR campaign specialist named Eric Odom, whose site came online the day of Santelli's performance.
PR professionals like Odom, use marketing techniques and backing from big-money interests to install a movement or protest group from behind the scenes, giving it the appearance of being created by ordinary people. Actual ordinary folks then visit the web sites, sign petitions and attend rallies which may promote an agenda designed in the interests of big business. Meantime, the supporters believe they are connecting to a citizen-controlled movement.
"The Tea Parties were never about the little guy's fight against big government or Wall Street," write Ames and Levine. "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."
After the Ames and Levine charges created controversy, FreedomWorks conceded that they did in fact astroturf the Tea Party movement. Santelli wrote a piece on the CNBC site renouncing his role in the scheme. And now, only a little over a month later the movement is back in full force, this time with FreedomWorks in an upfront role as organizer.
It's possible none of this ruffles you. Maybe you're an admirer of the capitalist ingenuity that would so cleverly construct a con to harness the energy of popular dissent and use it to effect its own political ends. Maybe your agenda is a perfect fit with that of AIG, Citibank, and the wealthiest 2% of the population. But if your interests do diverge, be sure to meet whatever propaganda you are offered with skepticism and read the fine print carefully. Make sure no one slips something unexpected into your cup of tea.Powered by Sidelines