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The Search for the "Tea Party" Puppetmaster

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, April 14 2009

Perhaps even more mysterious than the question of who, exactly, was responsible for organizing last week's protests in Moldova is the question of who is behind tomorrow's planned "Tea Party" protests against, in the main, President Obama's economic policies and approach to shoring up the American economy. Many on the left have spent the last several days trying to peek behind the curtain to see who's lurking there. The Center for America Progress's Think Progress, for example, sees the national Republican Party and "a smorgasbord of far-right causes" as the puppetmasters. The just-launched (itself of unclear origins) is calling them the "Fox News Tea Parties." Paul Krugman calls them "AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects." Who's that, exactly? In a post titled "Who's in Charge?," The Atlantic's Chris Good has it as three groups in particular: Dick Armey's Freedom Works, the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and Don't Go. The last is particularly interesting here, as it was a grassroots effort, largely fueled by Twitter, that grew out of this summer's Republican House floor sit-in over energy legislation.

Over on the Next Right, Jon Henke is calling on Krugman to issue a correction. Astroturfing, he writes, is when you pay people to do what they wouldn't do otherwise; it's not when political organizing groups help to organize political protests. Indeed, some of the charges against the groups involved -- they're capitalizing on a political moment to, gasp, grow their email lists -- seem to be exactly what political advocacy groups do. And for a pretty network-savvy crowd, searching for the one true man behind the curtain like a curious approach. In the end, if tomorrow's protests actually demonstrate decent turnout, it might not matter. As one commenter on Good's post puts it, "Now that's odd because I have never heard of any of those organizations and I am attending a tea party."

If you're interested, keep an eye on the #teaparty hashtag on Twitter tomorrow.