Tea Party’s pissed off at the Occupy Wall Street protesters because the media is more sympathetic to them then they are to the “Feed Me Seemore”/Glenn Beck crowd; by painting them in a more positive light.
Or maybe it’s the fact that the Occupy Wall Street people don’t have to resort to violence or racial slurs when it comes to laying down a message?
Or possibly, just possibly, the Tea Party doesn’t like competition–seeing how it doesn’t play well with others.
Tea party goes after Occupiers
The tea party isn’t about to make room for the new protesters on the block.
Big tea party groups have launched an attack against the Occupy Wall Street protests, challenging the line that the anti-corporate uprising is the “the tea party of the left.”
Tea partiers and their allies are looking to de-legitimize the protests circulating in the anti-Wall Street crowds, hunting for evidence of union ties, fringe rhetoric and bad behavior — ranging from news of arrests, to recordings of incendiary speeches, to tales of littering, drug use and debauchery.
They’re posting what they find online, like a photograph of a demonstrator apparently defecating on a cop car that has circulated widely, and are accusing the mainstream media of ignoring extremist elements.
Meanwhile, tea party groups are rallying their activist members by pointing to the new threat in pitches to raise money.
The tea party’s swift counteroffensive — which is remarkably similar to the left’s response to the fledgling conservative movement when it burst onto the scene in 2009 — suggests that the onetime rag-tag operation has matured and feels the need to protect its reputation as the nation’s leading grass-roots protest movement.
“The left is trying to create a counter force to the tea party, but it’s almost laughable that anyone is comparing the two, because they’re totally different,” said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express.
Brendan Steinhauser, campaigns director for FreedomWorks, evoked leaders of the civil rights movement in distinguishing the protests, saying the tea party’s tactics resemble those of Martin Luther King Jr., while the Occupy Wall Street protesters are more like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.
“They just seem really, truly very unhappy, angry,” he said of the anti-corporate protesters. Tea partiers, on the other hand are for the most part “kind of cheerful, happy warriors,” he said.
Like tea partiers, the occupy protesters see themselves as an anti-establishment uprising, spurred partly by the federal government’s bank bailout, but they also embrace a range of liberal causes.
“We’re both populist movements, but this is not an answer to the tea party,” asserted Kevin Zeese, an organizer of an anti-war group that has affiliated itself with the Occupy D.C. protests. “This has nothing to do with the tea party. We welcome them to come participate if they share our anger about economic insecurity.”
But some of the loudest voices in the tea party movement seem more focused on pointing out the differences.
The Tea Party Express emailed supporters a fundraising solicitation this week, featuring photos of tea partiers saying the pledge of allegiance and waving American flags juxtaposed to images of occupiers wearing ghoulish makeup, clashing with police and being arrested.
“Why can’t the media tell the difference between these two [sets of] photos?” read the email, imploring activists to “stand up to these comparisons and stand up for our principles,” and blasting the occupiers as “a disorganized unruly mob of shiftless protestors that has been reinforced by union and organized labor thugs.”
The Tea Party Patriots coalition of local groups also asked its members for donations in a Tuesday email, blasting the Wall Street protests. The subject line read: “Occupy Wall Street? They’re No Tea Partiers.”
Still, Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler said he didn’t consider the protests an imminent threat to the tea party’s place in American politics, pointing out that the movement has been credited with helping Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives last year.
“Occupy Wall Street may someday become a significant force in American politics, but they’re certainly not today,” said Meckler, adding that he’s been to a few occupy protests and found “that the mainstream of this movement is radically different from the mainstream of America.”
The so-called Occupy protests, which started in the New York City financial district before spreading to cities across the country, encompass a range of mostly liberal causes, including calls to end income disparity, global warming and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, some tea party organizers sympathize with a top occupy cause — opposition to the taxpayer-funded bailouts of the banks and financial sector — even if they disagree with some of the protestors’ preferred remedies. Other tea partiers take issue with the occupiers’ rhetoric or tactics, but have nonetheless remained mostly silent, with some convinced that engaging the occupiers could elevate and embolden them in much the same way the Democratic attacks did for the tea party.
“The more attention you give them, the more credibility you give them,” said Ned Ryun, president of a tea party organizing group called American Majority. The group helped launch a project to undermine this year’s Wisconsin union demonstrations by videotaping protestors’ embarrassing activities, but such steps aren’t necessary with the occupiers, Ryun said, explaining he’s argued against other tea party organizers’ calls for counter protests. “The more you read about [the Occupy protestors] and their behavior, the more it looks like they’ll implode on their own,” he said. “They’re not the tea party.”
When tea party activists first mobilized in 2009 in opposition to what they saw as runaway spending by President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress, they became exasperated by liberal efforts to portray the movement as a collection of right-wing extremists and racists who had been whipped into action by deep-pocketed corporate-backed Washington special interest groups who merely wanted to elect Republicans.
Yet, tea partiers are taking a page from the left’s anti-tea party playbook circa 2009, encouraging conservative activists to capture and distribute photos, video and information that could be used to portray the protesters as extremist or shiftless, as pawns of organized labor — or simply confused.
Despite their efforts to drive a critical narrative of the occupy protests, though, tea partiers mostly have been disappointed by the mainstream media coverage, particularly when compared with what they contend was highly negative early coverage of the tea parties.
Few of the photos, videos and intelligence gathered by conservatives have gotten wide play.
Steinhauser of FreedomWorks, a top tea party group, has been among the organizers encouraging activists to record and disseminate untoward behavior by liberals, but he says he’s been frustrated by the lack of pickup outside the conservative echo chamber.
“I’m not getting any media calls except from folks asking how we compare to the Wall Street protest,” he said, conceding that the approach he’s preaching to discredit the Occupy protests echoes that which the left used against the tea party.
“The means that we’re using are the same. The difference is that we don’t have ABC, CBS and NBC reporting all this stuff,” he said. “Part of it is that the left is more effective at it, but part of it is that the journalists appear to be in the tank. If this stuff was happening at tea parties, it would be the leading story on all the networks.”
The conservative media is rife with examples of what tea party groups would like to see in the mainstream press.
The conservative blog Powerline highlighted a Craigslist ad from the union-backed Working Families Party looking to hire organizers to staff the Wall Street protests for $350-$650 a week.
Michelle Malkin’s blog featured a conservative activist’s account of a sparsely attended — and rhetorically jumbled — Tuesday morning protest in Washington’s Hart Senate Office Building, at which six people were arrested, which Malkin concluded dryly is “how they measure ‘success.’”
Then there was controversial conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s Monday foray into the Occupy Wall Street crowd, for which he posed as a banker in French cuffs and tortoise shell glasses. It resulted in a video in which he interviews mostly disheveled protestors, one of whom says she doesn’t know what the protest is about.
The fiery ex-Fox News talker Glenn Beck, meanwhile, has become something of a clearinghouse for anti-occupy material, with his website, The Blaze, linking to all manner of stories that present the protests in less-than-flattering light, including a conservative watchdog group’s video of a group of tea partiers that “invades” the occupy protest in Washington.
Supporters of the Occupy movement deny claims that they’re resorting to violent or inappropriate behavior.
“The tea party wasn’t all that civil during the congressional recess of ‘09,” said Bob Master, a district legislative and political director for the Communications Workers of America. “There was a huge amount of anger and yelling and screaming and hostility, quite frankly much more so than the kind of nonviolent civil disobedience you’ve seen from the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
The Occupy protesters also are quick to minimize their connections to deep-pocketed labor unions, which the right has highlighted to call into question the grass-roots nature of the protests in much the same way the left alleged the tea party was false grass roots — or Astroturf — manufactured by big-budget major conservative groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.
Major unions have officially endorsed the protests and are providing legal and logistical support and encouraging their members to get involved, according to labor insiders. In New York, unions also have tried to provide political backing to protesters to try to fend off any efforts to evict them, said Master of CWA. And unions are looking for ways to further support the activists.
“I’m sure that folks are prepared to be extremely helpful,” he said. “But that dialogue, I think, is just beginning.”
Much like tea partiers in 2009, occupiers are on the lookout for perceived efforts to co-opt their protests, and union officials say that’s not what they’re doing.
“My sense here is that no one in labor has any interest in pretending that we’re leading it or that we can tell Occupy Wall Street what to do, or what they should do,” said Master of CWA. “I think it really is a much more humble approach.”
Harrison Schultz, an activist who has helped organize Occupy Wall Street protests, denied that the protesters have any leadership within their own ranks, much less from unions or Democrats.
“This is not a political movement, this is a social movement,” he said. “The fact that they support us is fine, but we’re not endorsing any political party.”
And some Occupy Wall Street supporters even assert there could be a natural alliance with the tea party.
“There is a lot of tea party interest in what we’re doing,” Schultz said. “Certain conservative outlets are trying to position us as the tea party of the Democrats in order to keep conservatives from crossing over and joining our movement.”
In fact, Chris Littleton, a leading Ohio tea party organizer, said some libertarians active in tea party circles were involved in the early planning stages of the Occupy Cincinnati protests, which Littleton said he is going to visit in the coming days before heading to New York to check out the Occupy Wall Street protests with another tea partier.
“We’re going to spend some time talking to as many people as possible and maybe even do a survey on a number of issues,” he said. “I’m quite sensitive to the types of frustrations that they’re expressing, though I think that the prescriptions” are different.
And, to the extent that there’s a bit of competition, not all tea partiers are shying away from it.
“I think the competition is good. I look forward to it,” said Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips.
He said the tea party stands to gain by tying Democrats who support the movement to the “lawbreaking of these groups and also the radical vision of these individuals of these movements, too.”
“For a long time, the left called us Astroturf and it was demonstrably untrue, so I don’t want to turn around and try to throw the same attack. I would much prefer to have the fight be over what we stand for.”