Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit
Tea Partiers are famous for their raucous protests during the August Congressional recess. They screamed, yelled, stomped and railed against health care reform via town hall meetings and protests across the country.
Most of the August Tea Party activity was coordinated on RecessRally.com, a website started by Eric Odom in July. Odom previously administered OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com (February 27 protests) and TaxDayTeaParty.com (April 15 protests). In 2008, long before Odom's tea parties, while he was still a Sam Adams Alliance employee, he founded the #DontGo movement, in support of offshore drilling. In March Odom rebranded #DontGo into the American Liberty Alliance.
One of the hallmarks of astroturfing is the coordinated creation of many small, interdependent groups who publicly support each other. RecessRally.com, which was the driving force behind the organization of the August anti-health care reform rallies, used to tout the grassroots nature of the protests, listing its 15 sponsors: American Liberty Alliance; American Liberty Tour; American Majority; Americans for Limited Government; Americans for Prosperity; Let Freedom Ring; Michelle Malkin; Nationwide Tea Party Coalition; NetRightNation; Patients First; RedState blog, Sam Adams Alliance, Smart Girl Politics, and Tea Party Patriots. In reality, the groups were tightly coordinated and fewer than half of those 15 'sponsors' are independent from one another.
Each individual group appears to be an offshoot, partner or affiliate of at least one other project under the RecessRally.com umbrella. American Majority and American Liberty Alliance (Odom's organization) are both derivatives of Sam Adams Alliance. The American Liberty Tour advertised itself as "a collaborative project of the American Liberty Alliance, Americans for Limited Government, and the Sam Adams Alliance." NetRightNation is also a project of Americans for Limited Government. The national Tea Party Coalition site is registered to Michael Patrick Leahy of #TCOT, part of the "original organizing crew" of TaxDayTeaParty.com along with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Amy Kremer. Patients First is a project of Americans for Prosperity.
Patients First, which shares the same street address as Americans for Prosperity, was responsible for the summer's "Hands Off My Health Care" bus tours featuring buses with a giant bloody hand on the side. Its tour events have played host to some of the infamous rallies where official speakers compared Obama to Hitler. At an August tour rally in Pueblo, Colorado, speaker Mark Harrison addressed the crowd:
"Part of end-of-life counseling can be an end-of-life order... What does that mean? End of life. Another word for that is 'death'. Order. What's another word for that? A sentence. Now, you folks review with me a little bit; as I recall, Stalin in the 1920s issued about 20 million end-of-life orders for his fellow Russians. Pol Pot did it during the Vietnam War - he issued about two million end-of-life orders. It's being done in Africa today; Mugabe is doing it every day. Adolf Hitler issued six million end-of-life orders. He called his program the Final Solution. I kind of wonder what we're going to call ours."
Various members of the RecessRally.com coalition also belong to the upper echelons of politics and industry.
FreedomWorks is helmed by Dick Armey, former Republican House Majority Leader, and traces its routes back to Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group founded by David Koch of Koch Industries. Koch is the 9th-richest man in America and Koch Industries is the largest privately-held oil company in America. Americans for Prosperity, once part of Citizens for a Sound Economy, was also founded by David Koch who also serves as chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Together the two groups (FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have been the most active supporters of the Tea Party movement.
Howard Rich, a New York real estate mogul who has funneled millions of dollars into anti-big-government efforts (and now also anti-ACORN), is chairman of Americans for Limited Government. He also sits on the boards of the Cato Institute (along with Koch) and the Club for Growth.
Rich has been one of the primary financial backers of libertarian efforts such as Proposition 90 in California, which would have severely limited the ability of the state government to collect new taxes. One of Rich's associates, former executive director of the National Libertarian Party Eric O'Keefe, has served on the boards of Americans for Limited Government, the Club for Growth, and the Institute for Humane Studies. He also worked for Citizens for Congressional Reform, (pdf) a project of Koch's Citizens for a Sound Economy. He also happens to be chairman and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance.
John Tillman serves on Sam Adams Alliance's board of directors along with O'Keefe. Tillman also served as president and COO of Sam Adams Alliance during its "start-up phase". Before working at Sam Adams Alliance, Tillman served as president and director of Americans for Limited Government, also during its start-up phase.
Some of the organizations affiliated with RecessRally.com also have a history of media-driven campaigns for conservative causes.
Let Freedom Ring, for instance, is helmed by Colin Hanna, a Philadelphia-based former commissioner. According to its website:
Let Freedom Ring was formed to counter the attacks of anti-conservative groups on patriotic candidates as well as attacks on the important issues of our day - those that affect the core of our society: the family, marriage, the economy, energy, abortion, health care and foreign policy, to name just a few. We also work to keep our constituents and the media informed about what our founding fathers' intentions were and how history shapes laws and our culture today.
Hanna is the man behind a grisly ad featuring planes hitting the World Trade Center in order to drum up support for the Iraq War. The group also worked on a documentary about the faith of George W. Bush, Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Zell Miller. Let Freedom Ring is supported by, among others, John Templeton Jr., the wealthy son of a famous investor. Templeton co-chaired the Faith and Values Steering Committee for Republican candidate Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign and supported Proposition 8 in California, banning gay marriage.
The backers of these groups have known and worked with each other for years. Including many political elites from right-wing American politics, the connections behind RecessRally.com seem to demonstrate less a spontaneous groundswell of government opposition than a synchronization of populist outrage with old-school conservative campaign strategy.
Read full coverage detailing the various parts of the Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement:
- Tea Party Patriots
- Tea Party Express
- Americans for Prosperity
- American Liberty Alliance
- Sam Adams Alliance
- American Future Fund
- The Media
Follow Dawn Teo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dawnteo