Astroturf Mobs Disrupting Town Hall Meetings

conservatism, Health Care

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Here’s the memo that Wolffe and Axelrod discuss in the video. It was leaked by a volunteer for FreedomWorks. Essentially, it’s a plan for manipulating stupid, fearful people to create the appearance of a huge, grassroots opposition to health care reform.

I had read news stories about mobs disrupting the town hall meetings of U.S. representatives, mostly Democrats. But this bit from Countdown last night was the first I’d heard that people were being bused around to disrupt the meetings. I’m not seeing much more about that this morning.

I surfed around this morning, and in a few news stories I found mention of a group called Americans for Prosperity doing at least some of this mob organizing. According to SourceWatch, AFP is an astroturf 501(c) organization established in 2003 and originally affiliated with Citizens for a Sound Economy. Citizens for a Sound Economy is a “think tank” established by the Koch Family Foundations, a major player in the right-wing think tank biz. Koch throws money at most of the big-name think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the Manhattan Institute.

Citizens for a Sound Economy? According to People for the American Way,

FreedomWorks was formed with the 2004 merger of Citizens for a Sound Economy, headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Empower America, co-founded by supply-side pioneer Jack Kemp, to push for lower taxes— especially on investment and inheritance— smaller safety-net programs, and fewer regulations on business and industry.

Essentially, in 2004 Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two groups, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, and the FreedomWorks part merged with Empower America.

SourceWatch says that FreedomWorks has been accused of being a “mouthpiece for hire,” taking on any cause it is paid to take on.

The smaller spinoff, AFP, does not disclose the identity of corporate donors (wanna bet there’s insurance company money involved?), but SourceWatch says AFP has received substantive grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

Last year AFP sponsored a hot air balloon cross-country tour with the slogan, “Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom.” Before that, they campaigned to oppose smoke-free workplace bans and cigarette excise tax increases (during which time it was learned AFP was getting money from big tobacco companies). Now it’s organizing protests of Democratic representatives to oppose health care reform and also “cap and trade” energy reform. As part of this, it has begun a “patient’s first” bus tour.

One suspects AFP is an astroturf-organization-for-hire. Special interest groups and corporations can pay them to organize protests against whatever reform they are trying to stop. Interestingly, there may be a connection between AFP and the infamous Mike Castle-birther lunatics episode, according to Think Progress. In that case, it seems the mob was supposed to protest Rep. Castle’s vote in favor of “cap and trade,” and it went off script.

Apparently the meetings are getting frightening. The Associated Press reports that after a recent meeting Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., needed a police escort to get to his car. If this continues, sooner or later somebody is going to be hurt. I say in the interest of public safety, town hall meetings could be held on the Web.

Update: See also —

FreedomWorks Orchestrates ‘Grassroots’ Movements To Serve Dick Armey’s Corporate Clients

More details on the “bus the mob” effort from Think Progress.

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  1. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 1, 2009 @9:55 am

    Irony alert: These are the same people who were against busing in the ’70’s!

    I’d like to know what we do about unpaid/paid agents bused in to disrupt town hall meetings. Any ideas? I can’t think of anything except making sure representatives are aware of it and are taught how to handle it. And to have police nearby to maintain the peace – and with that, we are causing our own police state. More irony…

    I think we can start to put a cork in the grand democratic experiment started in 1787. It’s done. And we are done for…

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 1, 2009 @10:21 am

    Wait! I just had an idea.
    As these people get off the buses, and approach the meeting, check for Medicare, Medicaid or Military health care recipiant’s. Also, find out if they are getting Social Security payments. If they are, tell them to STFU, get back on the bus, and go home, since they are already “SOCIALIZED” and have no say in the matter.
    I think that will eliminate a significant number of these stupid **********er’s.

  3. muldoon  •  Aug 1, 2009 @10:46 am

    Seeing’s knowledge is power, might help to read that Freedom Works memo at the beginning of town hall meetings and explain that, since the intent is to disrupt rather than inform, none of the behaviors listed in the memo will be tolerated. Shout outs will get you thrown out. Period. By preparing the audience for this kind of behavior in advance, when it happens it will be recognized for what it is–an attempt to prevent any meaningful discussion from taking place. At least that’s my take on it.

  4. Steve M.  •  Aug 1, 2009 @11:39 am

    The first president of Americans for Prosperity was Nancy Pfotenhauer, later a senior economic adviser to the McCain campaign. The current president, Tim Phillips, runs a PR firm with Ralph Reed. (Source links here.)

  5. dyedinthewoolliberal  •  Aug 1, 2009 @11:48 am

    I saw this first hand at a Rep. Gene Green meeting in Houston Tx. I talked at length to one of them who had been convinced that her child’s profound autism had been caused by an evil government/drug co. conspiracy that didn’t care who they hurt and then investigated themselves. Had to admit that I saw a kernel of truth in what she said. We ended the conversation with total agreement that campaign finance reform was central to taking back our democracy. The other thoughts she shared were that she had worked her but off (am beginning to hate that phrase) to take care of her son, had maintained health insurance at serious sacrifice to her family, and believed every one else should do the same with their bootstraps. Another person was totally convinced that income tax, medicare and whole safety net was unconstitutional. Another that since I wanted health care for everyone, I should be willing to buy her a Cadillac. And on and on. A funny thing happened. We had a petition for single payer that we passed around. One of the ‘Birthers’ asked me for a pen. I told him I was very surprised he didn’t have his own and that I had none to share. (knew he was going to write something un-helpful on my petition. ) I think the irony was lost on him. We have many more of these in district this month and are busy planning how to get our message out better over the roar.

  6. biggerbox  •  Aug 1, 2009 @2:11 pm

    Sending thugs around to disrupt political meetings and threaten officials who are opposed to their platform?

    Do they outfit them in brown shirts, too?

    What the hell is wrong with these people?

  7. zhak  •  Aug 1, 2009 @2:30 pm

    Seniors are the ones who think that the quality of their health care will decrease if health care reform goes through. They’re also the least likely to access to the web. If Town Hall meetings moved to the web, I think it would reinforce the “they’re squeezing us out” mentality that seems to be growing amongst the senior folks.

    I do agree that this is all very dangerous — and when it hits the fan (which it will) these organizations will be disingenuous about the level of their incitement.

  8. James  •  Aug 1, 2009 @3:45 pm

    If this continues, sooner or later somebody is going to be hurt.
    Do you mean like a liberal might be voted out of office for supporting a bill to control the weather?

    You wouldn’t be threatening people now would you Mahatma?

  9. maha  •  Aug 1, 2009 @3:53 pm

    (James’s comment left up just to show how twisted these people are. I discuss public safety; he sees a threat.)

    No, dear, it’s Prosperity for Americans, FreedomWorks, and similar right-wing organizations actively inciting angry mobs that are threatening people.

    Do learn to read. There’s a lad.

  10. Swami  •  Aug 1, 2009 @4:12 pm

    Do they outfit them in brown shirts, too?

    LMAO…. 🙂 Back in the late 60’s police departments were famous for having their resident undercover hippies toss a barricade through a plate glass window so that they could unleash their baton wielding thugs on anti-war protester. So I guess the modern GOP isn’t concerning themselves with originality,but rather focusing on effectiveness in disrupting political dialog . If it works…ya work it!

    I thought that the Birthers pulled a brilliant stroke with their “spontaneous” standing for the pledge of allegiance .. Patriotic peer pressure never fails to deliver.

  11. grelbr  •  Aug 1, 2009 @4:33 pm

    Heh heh. This is a trick learned from the Wobblies decades ago. Payback is best served cold, but this one is frigid.

  12. jamie  •  Aug 1, 2009 @5:26 pm

    zhak, Where did you get the info that the seniors were the anti government generation. I always thought the boomers were the neo-con group. Maybe we shouldn’t throw stones.

  13. dyedinthewoolliberal  •  Aug 1, 2009 @8:41 pm

    I wish someone would explain HOW medicare savings are to be made. My understanding is that the savings is from better fraud control, better reimbursement for outcomes not procedures, promoting best practices etc. It is being heard by the seniors, “you are not going to get the treatment you have in the past’ and while that is technically truth, ‘you will get better treatment for less money’ is the point, right????

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