Mark Williams has a problem.
Williams is chairman of Tea Party Express, a leading organization in the Tea Party movement. The Express is operated by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, which is run out of the offices of Russo Marsh & Rogers, a Republican-affiliated strategy firm. Sal Russo, OCBD's chief strategist, has been a Republican strategist since Ronald Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial campaign. Even though other Tea Party groups consider the Express an Astroturf organzation, implying that it has corporate backers and lacks grass-roots support, it has organized three successful cross-country bus tours to oppose the policies of the Obama administration.
These tours garnered heavy media attention from Fox News and, eventually, CNN, and its most recent tour featured two appearances by Sarah Palin, one of which was dubbed the Conservative Woodstock. Sounds good. So what's the problem?
The problem, according to the rest of the Tea Party movement, is Mark Williams.
Williams has referred to President Obama as a Nazi, a half-white racist, a half-black racist and an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare fraud. In turn, much of the Tea Party movement has referred to Williams as a racist, a bigot, amoral, lacking any semblance of a conscience, deceitful, selfish, conniving, the Michael Steele of the Tea Party and, perhaps worst of all, a liberal.
Williams hasn't done much to help his image. Far from it. In May of 1997, he told an Idaho newspaper that his job in talk radio was "to make people listen so the ad people can charge advertisers a lot of money so I won't have to kill my own food or lift anything heavy."
The very next month he told the Albany Times Union, "What I do better than most is figure out which way the parade is marching, dash to the front and say, 'Follow me.' Nobody wants to listen to me rant and rave, they want to hear some kind of conflict."
Williams's career in radio stretches back more than 20 years. According to the New York Times, Williams worked in Arizona in 1987, where he used his radio pulpit to lobby for the recall, impeachment and arraignment of Arizona's Republican Governor Evan Mecham, who was successfully impeached on February 27, 1988. Mecham was the first governor to face impeachment, recall and indictment all at the same time, and also is responsible for eliminating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday in Arizona.
In October of 1988, the staff of XTRA-AM in San Diego stumbled across a memo to the staff of rival station KSDO-FM, written to inform them about changes in the XTRA lineup, specifically the addition of one Mark Williams. In a section called 'Dirty Tricks', the memo referred to Williams as "the Donald Segretti of talk radio." Segretti, a member of Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) pled guilty to and served four months in jail for a campaign of dirty tricks. One of these tricks was the forging of a letter from Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie's letterhead falsely alleging that fellow Democratic senator Henry Jackson had an illegitimate child with a 17-year-old. Segretti referred to his techniques as "ratfucking." The memo quoted an unidentified source from Phoenix, Arizona, where Williams had last worked, claimed Williams was "not extraordinarily bright or talented and capable only of going for the jugular," with "a very big ego which gets in the way of good taste and judgment on the air." The memo quotes Bob Christopher, program director of KTAR-AM in Phoenix, as saying, "I'm amazed Williams was able to get a job."
In 1993 Williams worked at WFLA-AM, where, according to former colleague Jon Grayson, he was the station's token liberal.
"After he got himself fired for going on the air drunk, he apparently got tired of bouncing from station to station while guys who sold out to the Rush Limbaugh clone theory of talk radio were staying put in relatively stable jobs," said Grayson.
"Now he's set himself up as this Tea Party guru," Grayson continued. "I wonder how many of his followers know that he's wearing a silver, Wiccan pentagram pendant under that conservative collar and tie. That is, unless he's given that up too as part of his 'transformation'. The Mark Williams I worked with used to spout the liberal agenda and rail (with my help) against the same people he's now leading. That, of course, after a day of smoking dope by the pool at his apartment complex in St. Petersburg. He was, needless to say, a lot cooler back then. This Tea Party act of his is just that -- it's an act. Mark Williams believes in one cause: the betterment of Mark Williams. He's a sellout, and not even a particularly good one. He's discovered that it's easy to sell flame-throwing books to drooling right-wingers, and is riding the image all the way to the bank."
Grayson is currently the host of Overnight America on three CBS radio stations: KMOX-St. Louis, WCCO-Minneapolis/St. Paul and KDKA-Pittsburgh.
Another KFLA colleague, Gabe Hobbs, corroborates Grayson's claim; "Mark Williams worked for me doing an evening talk show on WFLA in Tampa. And yes, he was a liberal." According to Hobbs, it didn't work out with Williams and he was let go. "I lost track of him until he was hired at KFBK in Sacramento many years later. That station happened to be one of the stations in my division at Jacor (later Clear Channel) and so I was sort of reunited with Mark and lo and behold he was now a conservative. Surprised me but hey, anyone can change their opinions for whatever reasons." Hobbs went on to work as a senior vice president of programming for Clear Channel Radio and currently runs his own talent management firm, Gabe Hobbs Media.
In 1997, while at WGY-AM in Albany, New York, Williams caused controversy by calling Palestinians "tree-swinging savages." At the time, Williams described himself to Albany's Times Union as "a fiscal conservative and a social liberal" who supports gay marriage. "Parade magazine did a rundown on where Colin Powell falls on issues and we were lockstep on almost every issue,'' Williams told his local newspaper.
Later however, Williams' changed his views. In a November 9, 2009 exchange, CNN's Anderson Cooper asked Williams "Can't you have a liberal Republican or a moderate Republican?" To which Williams responded, "Liberal by definition is an enemy ideology to this country."
Also, after Proposition 8 passed in California, revoking the rights of gays to marry, Williams wrote in his blog that California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who promised to fight the proposition, had "tossed his oath into the garbage and in an outright lie he maintained that the Constitution 'protects' the 'rights' of homosexuals to marry."
Williams also has a tendency to refer to his opponents as "faggots". For example, on January 27, 2008, Williams wrote that citizens of a Vermont town which was voting on issuing arrest warrants for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were "genetically defective, circus freak, tiny cranium, hairy-arm-pitted female & faggot alleged male biological train wrecks who totally make the argument for forced Eugenics." In December of 2007 he called former President Jimmy Carter a "creepy little faggot."
In a March 3 email, directed at Williams but also sent to a list of leaders of Tea Party Express, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, Move America Forward, Russo Marsh and Freedomworks, former OCBD-PAC Political Director Kelly Eustis tore into Williams for walking off the set in the middle of an interview with Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC:
I've been laughing all day at this. Don't try to turn this as though MSNBC was against you and you had to walk off... clearly you already know what that channel is about. You played it up. Or is because Mark is a friend of Keith Olbermann? A little Bill Clinton connection coming along? Oh-oh! Can't answer a simple question from lame MSNBC host? C'mon... do you, or do you not, allow racists at tea party rallies? A quick answer would be that "they would be asked to leave." Is that so hard?! Jeez. Grow a set rather than grow a further ego. There are a few crazies at every rally but that means showing that they don't belong. Deal with it... Mark, for future reference, don't put a corny half-assed looking cover of your upcoming book and the Tea Party Express III logo in the background... that's just cheap, and quite frankly made it easy for you to be kicked off. Did you guys make it with Microsoft Paint?
On March 5, 2010 John Ziegler, executive producer of Media Malpractice and one of Williams's former associates sent another email out to the same list of recipients. The author of the email did not mince words. The tirade begins:
You, Mark, are a complete and total fraud, and you are ripping off the Tea Party movement for your own gain while making it look bad to the mainstream in the process. "I don't know if you are indeed a racist (I, like others who know you or have read your blog posts, suspect that you are), but I do know that you are no conservative and you are very bad for the cause. On top of that, you are one of the very worst human beings I have ever encountered." The author went on to claim, "Mark was a Pro-Clinton, anti-impeachment, anti-military, pro-drug bleeding heart liberal who told lies about and regularly mocked George Bush and the Bush family... Keep in mind, it is Mark's fraudulent politics (I have no idea what his real beliefs are and I don't think he does either) that you should be worried about. It is his completely [sic] lack of any semblance of a conscience that should really trouble you. The Mark Williams I know is simply amoral and, especially based on what I have heard from the inside of TPE, he is milking the organization simply for his own personal financial gain and aggrandizement.
Eustis told HuffPost, "Mark Williams is one thing on-stage and on television, but when out of the spotlight he is not the 'conservative Tea Party leader' he's known as on Fox News. He preaches working hard and paying taxes when he hasn't had a real job in years since he was fired from his radio talk show. People like Mark, racist bigots, have infiltrated the movement and are giving it a bad name. Williams went from radio station to radio station -- Florida, New York, California, etc. -- and was never able to keep his job that long. He hasn't been in radio for many years and only sits in when stations do not have any one else. [OCDB-PAC Coordinator] Joe Wierzbicki continuously gives Mark bonuses for going on television and buys a large amount of books from him in order to sell on-the-road. If not for that, Mark would not have money -- and that goes for other speakers/performers on their tour as well."
When asked for a response to this new information regarding Williams, Sal Russo of OCDB-PAC said, "Mark is a radio talk show host and has a huge following... Each of our speakers, members, etc. have their own individual opinions and are free to express them." Russo also referred to himself as "the ultimate decision maker on staff" at OCDB-PAC, in case there was any doubt about who's responsible for Williams still having a job.
When asked to comment on allegations made here, Williams replied, "Everything you want to know and more is in my book."