This story was produced by HuffPost's Eyes&Ears Citizen Journalism Unit.
The Tea Party movement hopes to calm dissension in its ranks in time for an April meeting of what is being called the Patriot Caucus. The conference will take place the weekend of April 16 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania -- a site chosen to invoke the essence of George Washington, whose army held Valley Forge through the desolate winter of 1777-1778. Over that winter Washington lost over 2,000 men to such maladies as typhoid, jaundice, dysentery, pneumonia, and simple malnutrition. The Tea Party movement hopes for a more successful winter.
This is very possible. The Tea Party movement will use the next few months to develop and strengthen the bonds between its sometimes-warring factions, and, in fact, they have already begun. Four major groups have joined forces and pooled their resources, as evidenced by the top of the TaxDayTeaParty.com website. The result is the Patriot Caucus, a joint effort of American Liberty Alliance, FreedomWorks, the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition and Tea Party Patriots, the same groups working to plan a 2010 Tax Day Tea Party on April 15 -- one day before the Caucus. All four groups worked together this summer to support the Tax Day Tea Parties and the town hall protests but not in such a tight-knit coalition.
The Caucus identifies itself as not just another Tea Party organization but an "unbiased infrastructure" which will exist only to identify and facilitate communications between like-minded Tea Party groups. The Patriot Caucus Facebook group already boasts over 2,000 members. The group's oldest wall entry was posted December 4, but the Caucus itself did not "go live" for another four days, when their planning wiki went online. The founding conference will include "intense training, debate panels and general session special guests" as well as the first election of "the 155 delegation of the national Patriot Caucus." There's a [sic] in there somewhere.
Why start a non-organization to organize other organizations? Messaging, apparently. According to the overview published on the Caucus wiki,
"We believe a part of the problem is the fact that those who advocate in favor of one idea over another, or one effort over another, do so because of partisanship or bias for the group he/she is involved in. This, of course, is natural and expected. But it does us little good in the end.
As an example, there are constant emails floating around within the movement that say, "why is your group doing that when our group is doing the same thing?" These are perfectly legitimate emails and great questions. But the more important question is, why did the two groups not conference with each other before the plans were made? We can't fault a group for making plans. We can, however, fault the movement for not properly communicating about potential plans as they're brewing."
Another way to put this is that the Caucus is designed to keep all the various Tea Party groups marching to the beat of just one drum, with Eric Odom as the little drummer boy.
Odom is Executive Director of American Liberty Alliance, the logo of which sits atop ThePatriotCaucus.net, a website registered to Odom. As well as being a member of the Temporary Patriot Caucus Development Committee, Odom is a self-proclaimed founder of the Tea Party movement (though the Libertarian Party of Illinois and Ron Paul devotees would beg to differ). American Liberty Alliance worked hand-in-hand with FreedomWorks this summer to utilize the Tea Party Movement as a weapon against health care reform.
FreedomWorks is run by Dick Armey, former Republican House Majority Leader and the very epitome of partisanship. Armey was recently forced to resign his lobbying position at the firm DLA Piper when journalists pointed out that FreedomWorks tended to support causes which happened to intersect with the interests of certain DLA clients. On December 15, Armey was among the few who addressed the crowd at a woefully under-attended "Die In" organized by the Tea Party Patriots, in which protesters were supposed to flood Congressional offices in Washington en masse, then pretend to die as a result of government-run health care. Did it work out? Not so much. Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent called the die-in "very gentle" and estimated the crowd at upwards of "a few dozen." No dying-in is reported to have occurred. The event was organized by Caucus coalition partner Tea Party Patriots.
The Patriot Caucus wiki offers visitors a series of campaign resources, including a link to a sample press release that happens to be on dtv.gov - a project of the Federal Communications Commission. This, despite the Tea Party movement's antipathy towards the government. The campaign page also encourages potential candidates to start a blog at "blogovists.com", a twice-misspelled link which takes you to Blogivists, another Eric Odom operation which functions as a hub for conservative bloggers.
The event is advertised as taking place at the Valley Forge Convention Center. However, despite the event's heavy promotion on through Tax Day Tea Party, 73Wire.com and American Liberty Alliance, it appears that the Convention Center has no such event on their books. Megan Tomlinson, National Sales Manager, told the Huffington Post, "there was a group with a name similar to [Patriot Caucus] who called, and the matter was discussed, but nothing has been planned as of yet." Despite Odom hyping up the Caucus on 73Wire.com and TaxDayTeaParty.com and AmericanLibertyAlliance.com, and despite the support of Tea Party Patriots, Nationwide Tea Party Coalition and FreedomWorks, no one person or organization has yet to make reservations.
According to a post on 73Wire.com -- yet another Odom project, which purports to be the right wing's answer to the Huffington Post -- planners wanted the conference to be free. However, they felt required to impose a five dollar fee "because we had to expand the size of the venue and we wanted to try and minimize the risk of registrations that do not actually attend."
In a December 13 email to ALA's listserv, Odom wrote that "anyone can run for delegate of the Patriot Caucus." On December 4 Odom posted on TaxDayTeaParty.com that "There will be no charge for attending the three day event, but there will be a credentialing process." However, the Caucus registration page itself advises you to "not even bother" registering if you are "considering attending, but you're not quite sure yet." Other disqualifiers:
- You believe government has the ability to solve our economic problems
- You believe bailouts, either by Bush or Obama, are justifiable under certain circumstances
- You believe an incumbent who voted for the stimulus, healthcare and cap-and-trade legislation should be given a pass
- You're considering attending, but you're not quite sure yet (You need to be certain and we may ask for travel plans in February to ensure it)
- You believe the Twin Towers fell as a result of government involvement on 9/11 (ok this one is not real, but come on... let's not go there. Deal?)
- You are not willing to campaign like your life depends on it in 2010 and 2012
- You believe that taxes in place to support government expansion are ok
- You think we're all nutty