Exclusive: Anti-Tea Party group founder deflects ‘astroturf’ accusations
It started off just weeks ago as a Facebook page to challenge the Tea Party’s message. Within two weeks it enticed over 22,000 “fans,” hundreds of volunteers across the nation, a mention from The Associated Press, and uncorroborated accusations from conservatives of being an “astroturf” operation.
TheOther95.com was founded this month by writer and messaging consultant Marco Ceglie and a few of his friends after they grew frustrated with the “free ride” the media has given the Tea Party movement, which he described as a “fringe group” receiving undeserved credence.
“Their passions are being manipulated and harnessed to serve a very narrow political agenda that may not necessarily be their own,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ceglie said of the Tea Partiers in an interview with Raw Story. “People are really being urged to think with their emotions and not with reason or logic.”
On tax day, the groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s volunteer activists swarmed Tea Party protests in dozens of states with signs mocking the fundamental premise of the movement, displaying large posters (among other signs) that read: “The Other 95% say thanks for our tax cuts, Obama!”
Taking note, RedState.com co-founder Erick Erickson wrote a post Sunday speculating whether “the Obama administration is behind a new anti-tea party website called The Other 95,” labeling its actions “right out of LeninÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s handbook, forget Alinsky.”Ã‚Â The theory was elevated on the conservative blogs Instapundit and Riehl World View, though none were able to offer proof.
Ceglie dismissed the allegation, calling it “unfounded” and part of a “fishing expedition.” Though he has worked as a freelance consultant for nonpartisan progressive organizations in the past, Ceglie declared that he and the group’s founding members are “not at all” affiliated with President Obama or the Democratic establishment.
“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never met George Soros,” he quipped. “I wish I had some of his money but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take that much money to create a Facebook group and some signs. These right-wingers are trying to discredit us for their own gain.”
Members of The Other 95 did, however, praise Obama and promote his campaign logo while counter-protesting at tax day rallies.
The Tea Party, initiated a year ago, has billed itself as an organic grassroots movement seeking to promote conservative values such as low taxes and restrained spending, having captured the attention of many prominent Republican leaders and conservative luminaries.
Last week Ken Vogel of Politico reported that a key aspect of the movement, the Tea Party Express bus tour, was conceived and assembled by a GOP political consulting firm as a way of boosting the party’s electoral prospects. One of its largest financial benefactors, FreedomWorks Inc, is run by Dick Armey, a former Republican congressman and corporate lobbyist.
“Look upon yourselves,” Ceglie responded to his pro-Tea Party critics, claiming that if people question what the “real motivations are behind this movement, and on whose behalf are they fighting, I think its premise will fall apart.”
Just a few friends talking politics
It has yet to be determined whether The Other 95 will achieve its goal of dismantling the Tea Party movement, but it didn’t begin with any lofty ambitions.
“It literally came about as an email thread,” Ceglie said in the interview. “Some friends and I were talking about politics. We see these Tea Party people on the news every night for a year. My girlfriendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a Republican and even sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like, ‘who are these people’?”
“And I’m like, what happened to the other 95 percent of the country who arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t extremists and who want practical solutions to real problems?” he said.
The group has aimed at exposing a peculiar contradiction of the Tea Party movement Ã¢â‚¬â€œ its protest of tax increases under President Barack Obama, even though taxes have fallen for 95 percent of working Americans since he took office. A CBS/New York Times poll revealed in February that just 2 percent of Tea Partiers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and 12 percent of the nation Ã¢â‚¬â€œ was aware of this fact.
“So we decided to create a Facebook page highlighting that fact,” Ceglie said. “And one thing led to another, and we said letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s have a sign, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s go down to the mall. And it ballooned from there.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Tea Partiers have forcefully protested new spending programs and growing deficits under Obama, but they weren’t around to fight against his predecessor’s George W. Bush’s profligate spending and unprecedented growth of national debt.
“That wasn’t an issue with this crowd because they had a Republican in office,” Ceglie said, alleging many of its members are “love it or leave it Republicans” who are “insincere” when they claim their motivations are policy-related.
He predicted that one way or another, the Tea Party movement “is going to poof, disappear, like every other fringe movement disappears” because even if their electoral goals are fully achieved, “our country wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t turn into their conservative utopia.”
Ceglie described the mission of his group as penetrating the left-right framing of political discourse, saying that while the group’s future is unclear, it will welcome individuals of all ideological stripes to discuss “positive and constructive” solutions to the nation’s problems.