Astroturf Mobs Disrupting Town Hall Meetings

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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.

32 thoughts on “Astroturf Mobs Disrupting Town Hall Meetings

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

  12. 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. 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????

  14. Cops love paid security details, and a few persons escorted from the premises and, inevitably, busted for resisting an officer would end this practice tout suite.

  15. Want to throw a wrwnch into this tactic? Have security require town hall participants show photo ID. Out of state? You wait to be seated LAST on a space available basis. (And put the out-of-staters in the same area.) This is a town hall for the senator or congressman to discuss issues with voters from his district. I disagree with the suggestion of ‘VIRTUAL’ town hall. There’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting and it will be a sad day for democracy when atroturf disruptions eliminate that dialoge between the congressperson and the voter.

  16. @ Jamie: I didn’t say seniors were anti-government, just that certain numbers and attitudes seem to be indicative that they’re anti-health-care-reform. It was a blog post & I can’t recall where I saw it (if I come across it again, I shall set it aside), but my guess is that the genesis for the post came from this:

    Naturally, given that one of the many absurdities in the discourse about health care reform is that once health care reform kicks in, we can kiss Granny & Grampa goodbye because they’ll be sent to the knackers, senior citizens aren’t likely to be too sanguine about it all, are they? That’s some inspired thinking from the right, I must say…

    My own pov is that we desperately need a number of reforms in this nation or we will become increasingly marginalized. The only reason we haven’t been pushed off our lofty perch before now is our size. Our govt is bizarrely dysfunctional, with many elected officials being, quite literally, stupid and ineffective and not weighed down with the least knowledge of either Civics or US History. I think we need some sort of basic competency test for elected officials. (Even McDonald’s interviews several times, I believe. I realize that such a test would invalidate roughly 95 percent of all Republicans running, and they wouldn’t get through the interview process at McD’s either, most likely, but these are desperate times.) Anyway, obvious to most people with a brain, this country badly needs health care reform so that people get the care we need and we — people & businesses both — can stop bleeding money every time something goes wrong. Equally obvious is the Republicans disagreeing, since that’s what they do, but no one on the right has answered what they think should be done to mend a broken system. What happens when you have coverage and still your out-of-pocket expenses drive you bankruptcy? Is that fair? Life isn’t fair, right? But in the rest of the civilized world, when you lose your health, you don’t end up losing everything else, like we do. What about those who have no insurance? Do we just write them off as too lazy to live? That seems to be the accepted meme on the right and it’s as absurd as much of their thinking. What I’d really like is for someone on the right to offer a substantive plan that actually takes into consideration the people they’re supposed to be representing. But I do not think I shall live long enough to see any such thing.

    We need better politicians of all ideological stripe — Democracy is not made for one party rule. (& frankly I find modern day Dems to be very weak tea. The Repubs — eh, are you kidding me?)

  17. Zhak said: “we can kiss Granny & Grampa goodbye… That’s some inspired thinking from the right, I must say…”

    Actually, it is not “inspired” or made up…Oregon is leading the way:

    A Springfield woman’s doctor hoped a new chemotherapy drug would help her but the Oregon Health Plan told her the treatment was not approved. Instead, the state would pay for assisted suicide.

    • Oregon is leading the way

      Dear genius: Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington are not connected to the Oregon Health Plan. However, conservatives are pushing to let the states come up with their own health care reform.

  18. You can keep saying that the people attending town hall meetings and tea party protests are ‘orchestrated.’ That doesnt make it true. And to hear these claims from Dems who spoke at ACORN rallies, SEIU rallies and events is such a farce.

    I went to a Tim Bishop town hall meeting and I saw a group that were angry about the deficit. Many were farmers who were worried about the motors for the new tractors they might have to buy. They werent political hacks. they were worried about their health care and their livelihoods. And I didnt meet anyone who was in anyway affiliated with an insurance company. You can keep believing it if you like, but it is bs. If you think they are misinformed, then make that argument. Dont insult these people. They are much much more intelligent than the barely literates at shoppin centers hawkin BHO’s plans.

    I love that libs keep discounting these town hallers. Sun Tzu had some sage advice about ignoring and downplying your enemy.

    My concept of the purpose of a town hall meeting was for people in Congress to listen to their constituents. Let’em shuck and jive. Great for Repubs.

  19. Technically speaking, as an organised activity encompassing expressed threats of violence, it is terrorist activity. Far right legislation to put an end to far right activity, rather appropriate isn’t it. It really put’s itself right in the cross hairs as it does specifically attack normal democratic political activities and seeks through threats of violence to disrupt the democratic process. Hmm, how long before some of the end up in prison. So collect that evidence, use the net to collate and corroborate it and, pass it on to the FBI, they want to play, well so can you.

  20. You can keep saying that the people attending town hall meetings and tea party protests are ‘orchestrated.’ That doesnt make it true.

    You are right; saying something doesn’t make it true. However, the evidence says it is true.

    And to hear these claims from Dems who spoke at ACORN rallies, SEIU rallies and events is such a farce.

    Not parallel. ACORN, SEIU, and don’t pretend to be something they aren’t. Further, they don’t involve an orchestrated effort to intimidate and disrupt other citizens engaged in lawful assembly.

    Robert (comment above) is right. What the astroturf mobs are doing is turning into terrorism.

    I don’t doubt the people who have been duped by the insurance lobbyists into forming mobs and attempting to break up townhall meetings are genuinely angry and are not themselves being paid by the insurance companies, but are doing what they do out of conviction. However, they are still tools — and fools — and they are being duped.

  21. I propose that we give the same treatment to those who organize these meetings, or those who actually lead the disruptions. Can we find out who they are?

  22. So you just don’t get here do you? People are weary of socialistic medicine as they see it practiced in Europe and Canada. They reject collective ideas and you don’t know what hit you. Let’s hear for common folks who are protesting against socialistic ideas. More power to them

    • Actually, I wish Americans could see the national health care systems in Europe and Canada, not to mention Israel, Australia, and a lot of other places, instead of just hearing the lies and hysteria from the Right. Then the scales would fall from their eyes and they’d see the Right is lying to them, and embrace a national health care system.

  23. @ Doug Hughes

    Want to throw a wrwnch into this tactic? Have security require town hall participants show photo ID.

    In my state at least (Wisconsin), there was a movement to require photo ID’s to vote. That was quelled by Democrats with the cry of “Disenfranchising the poor who might not have the means to afford to obtain a state ID”, which was countered with funding in the bill to provide anyone without means a free photo Id, which was countered with more “poor disenfranchising”.

    Interesting now, the democrats are asking for photo ID’s for entrance to Town Hall meetings and yet nothing for voting. This cry for Photo ID entrances by Doug is being repeated else where, and I know of one upcoming Town Hall in Milwaukee that is going to require Photo ID’s. The hypocrisy is stunning, absolutely stunning.

  24. The hypocrisy is stunning. Can’t require an ID to vote… yet must provide an ID to attend a town hall.

    • The idiocy is stunning. Jason can’t answer my question. Ever read the Federalist Papers, pinhead? Or the Constitution? Can you define the relationship of a “congressman” and a “district”? Or do you want to destroy democracy of America?

      Answer the question or be banned for being stupid.

  25. So, you’re not only saying that the ONLY solution is to require ID’s to be shown – even after you’ve been shown the glaring and blinding hypocrisy from the left. Now, you’re threatening me to answer a question that has no bearing on my statement. Fine, here’s my answer, lest I be banned for being stupid, ask the meeting organizers to find a way to control the angry mob’s of partisan plants. They’re the experts at these things, I’m just a software engineer. I’m so sorry that no one can think of a better way to work with their people, then to simply control who enters… in a way that has been decried as unconstitutional when it comes to the actual act of voting.

    Hope you can take some time out of your utopia to realize that just because I completely disagree with you, and others here, doesn’t make me stupid. If you can’t, then C’est la vie, I’ll survive without you.

    • No, I’m not saying that the only solution is to require IDs to be shown. I asked you, nicely, to provide another solution. And you didn’t.

      ask the meeting organizers to find a way to control the angry mob’s of partisan plants.

      That’s what the photo ID solution is for. A U.S. representative is answerable to the people who vote for him. Meaning, the people who live in his congressional district. If the meeting is limited to people who live in his district, the crowd would be much more controllable and less likely to be a mass of “partisan plants.” However, if you don’t like the photo ID solution, we could have the voter rolls there and have everyone provide a signature, the way people do before they vote. How would that work for you?

  26. I came here pointing out that the suggestion to require photo ID has been tried before – to ensure 1 person 1 vote. That suggestion has been hammered to the public as disenfranchising voters by Democrats (in my state). And now that the tables are turned, and the Democrats are getting resistance to their pet projects, requiring ID’s is suddenly fine and dandy… For my efforts, I’m required to come up with an alternative? No, sorry, that’s not my job.

    Regarding your suggestion of voter rolls and signatures, I would be 100% fine with that, as it’s how we currently ensure that each person casts only one vote.

    Regarding if the meetings were limited to only the representative’s district, I would wager things wouldn’t turn out much differently. Remember, what you see in news clips and on you tube is in reality less than 5% of a town hall. All I’ve seen in a minute or two of some angry people venting, and nothing to indicate that it occurs for the entire duration. Your earlier link does not offer anything to change my mind, other than people might be coming from other locations, since they aren’t offered a town hall by their representative… certainly nothing to support the outlandish claims that they’re Republican plants or Union thugs.

    While I’m at it, Pelosi’s mock indignation at the turn of events here, is in stark contrast to her reactions when there were issues with rowdy people at town hall’s a few years ago… in fact, she stated that it was proof of democracy in action, and she fully supported people standing up and disagreeing with the Republicans. Yet more hypocrisy from that side.

    Personally, if it’s true that there are organizers out that are intending to only disrupt these town halls, then I’m disgusted with them. I’m not to that point yet, I still think that while there might be a small minority of trouble makers, most of the questions, shouting, applauding, and anger is honest and from the heart… on something that affects the entire nation greatly.

    • Elections are not a “pet project.” They are the foundation of our government. I’m all in favor of some kind of identification requirement as long as it isn’t burdensome to the poor and elderly, which some argue a photo ID would be. As it is there IS a means of identification at the polls, which is the requirement of a signature. In the past, various kinds of requirements (poll taxes and tests) have been used to keep some people from voting.

      There’s a big difference with people being excitable and rowdy and people behaving thuggishly to stop a meeting. This is what you don’t get. And while I’m sure people’s anger and fear is real, it is being stoked by professional liars in rightie media. Once again, corporate interests and lobbyists are seeing to it that the people’s interests are thwarted, and whether you like it or not, those people screaming about death panels and socialism at meetings are dupes and tools.

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