At a Glance
Headquarters: Sacramento, California
Online members: none. 1508 listed donors.
Notable: Best known for the bus tours, leaders have unleashed vicious rants and explicit racism.
Tea Party Express was created in 2009 by a pre-existing conservative operation, Our Country Deserves Better Political Action Committee. This faction has conducted cross-country publicity-driven bus tours, as well as raised funds in support of Republican candidates. It is not a membership organization, and one thing that distinguishes the Tea Party Express from other national factions is that they are not attempting to build or support local groups.
Its initial chairman, Mark Williams, has repeatedly crossed the line from civil political discourse into vicious rants and explicit racism. Further, its leadership has clashed repeatedly with other Tea Party organizations, and has been most marked by public controversy.
Tea Party Express, and their parent company, the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, lack an online social network presence like the rest of the Tea Party Factions. As a Political Action Committee, the group has donors who give money, not members who can just sign up. This difference makes it difficult to draw direct comparisons to the other factions.
Though the Our Country Deserves Better PAC collected millions of dollars in donations during the current election cycle, the group has only reported 1,508 donors to the Federal Elections Commission as of June 2010.
While donors are disbursed around the country, there are many members in the organization’s home state of California and in Texas. The top ten cities for Tea Party Express donors are: Houston, Texas; Bethesda, Maryland; Dallas, Texas; New York, New York; Rancho Santa Fe, California; San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Scottsdale, Arizona; Hagatna, Guam; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Russo Marsh and Rogers
As of the time of this report, the chairman of Our Country Deserves Better PAC is Howard Kaloogian, a former Republican California State Assemblyman. Kaloogian ran a failed campaign for congress in 2006, although his opposition to the ban on assault weapons garnered the support of Larry Pratt’s Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund. (Pratt was one of the founding figures in the militia movement of the mid-1990s.)
The PAC’s “chief strategist” is Sal Russo, a California Republican political consultant who had run Kaloogian’s failed congressional campaign. Russo is a principal of Russo Marsh & Rogers, a public relations firm that also does business under the names Kings Media Group and Russo Marsh & Associates, Inc. The firm was hired by the California Republican Party in 1996 to help pass Proposition 209, the anti-Affirmative Action ballot measure. And it has been involved in a number of other GOP-affiliated campaigns.
In July 2008, the two men formed Our Country Deserves Better PAC (OCDB) “to champion the Reaganesque conservatism of lower taxes, smaller government, strong national defense, and respect for the strength of the family as the core of a strong America.”
In April 2009, a memo by the PAC’s coordinator Joe Wierzbicki outlined the project that would become the Tea Party Express. The memo suggests an initial gap between the Express group and other budding Tea Parties. “This will be a very sensitive matter that we will need to discuss in the coming days,” Wierzbicki wrote. “We have to be very very careful about discussing amongst ourselves anyone we include ‘outside of the family’ because quite frankly, we are not only NOT part of the political establishment or conservative establishment, but we are also sadly not currently a part of the “tea party” establishment ...”
The bus tour for which the Tea Party Express became known was actually a tactic recycled from the Our Country Deserves Better 2008 “Stop Obama Bus Tour.” After the loss to Obama, OCDB continued to support Sarah Palin, including running pro-Palin advertisements. Palin later returned the favor by headlining two events on the Tea Party Express III tour.
The Tea Party Express has had several re-configurations of its staff. As this report was going to press, Amy Kremer took over for Mark Williams as the chair of the organization. She had previously served as its Director of Grassroots & Coalitions. Before joining Tea Party Express, she had been a staff member of a different faction: Tea Party Patriots. Recruiting Kremer away from the Tea Party Patriots exacerbated tensions that existed between the two organizations. The Tea Party Patriots sued Kremer, and a Georgia judge decided that the defendant had to return control of the organization’s website, relinquish the use of the mailing lists and otherwise not take advantage of any inside information she might have gained while working with Tea Party Patriots.
Although Kremer has adamantly dismissed charges of racism in the Tea Party movement, she was quick to defend a July 2009 email featuring a racist caricature of President Obama sent to fellow Tea Partiers by Dr. David McKalip. A neurosurgeon practicing in Florida, McKalip’s action was later condemned by the Florida Medical Association. After the offending email surfaced and a controversy ensued, however, Kremer wrote to a Tea Party email list, “David, we all support you fully and are here for you. I can assure you of one thing and that is we will protect our own. We all have your back my friend!” McKalip was a featured speaker when a Tea Party Express bus tour stopped in Orlando, Florida the following November.
Kremer’s blog, “Southern Belle Politics,” is filled with calumny for the president, including repetition of the (false) charge that he is not a natural born American, “There are many reasons that I don’t like Barack Obama, including his healthcare plan, tax policies, and his big government and socialist programs that will be initiated through his massive tax and spend policies. However, more importantly than the reasons listed above, I truly do not think Barack Obama is eligible to be President of this great country. If he is eligible and really doesn’t have anything to hide, then why not just produce the vault copy of his birth certificate and put the issue to rest?”
On staff of Our Country Deserves Better PAC as a “spokesperson,” and as a peripatetic pop-up figure at Tea Party events, is Lloyd Marcus from Deltona, Florida. Marcus, who describes himself, parentheses included, on own website, as a “(black) Unhyphenated American, singer/songwriter, entertainer, author, artist, and Tea Party patriot.” The African-American entertainer supported the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. He is also president of the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of Color, (which later changed its name to the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of ALL Colors). The group is focused on ridiculing and opposing the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country. According to FEC records, Marcus received over $21,000 in consulting fees from Our Country Deserves Better PAC between March 2009 and May 2010. He consistently defended the Tea Parties from any charges that racists exist within its ranks, including during the period when Mark Williams served as head of Tea Party Express.
The initial vice chairman of the PAC and chairman of the Tea Party Express was Mark Williams, a radio talk-show host and a past director of the National Association of Talk Show Hosts. According to Williams, Tea Parties are “gatherings of people who believe in America and while maybe not knowing the Constitution verbatim nonetheless are still well schooled on its spirit, and they are gathering to Take Back America, One Tea Party at a Time.
Mark Williams has referred to President Obama as a Nazi, a half-white racist, a half-black racist and an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare fraud. He has stated, “it is time for not just Republicans but all Americans to regroup and stage our own coup. That’s right, ‘coup.’” Williams abruptly announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the Tea Party Express on June 19.
Tea Party Express Bus Tours
Unlike the other groups, Tea Party Express was designed at the beginning as a campaign vehicle to attack “politically vulnerable” electoral candidates. The memo drafted by Wierzbicki also explains to potential donors how the OCDB PAC – Tea Party Express would establish bus tours to “defeat Harry Reid,” “defeat Chris Dodd,” and “defeat Arlen Specter.”
Reliance on mailing lists of existing right-wing groups to kick-start the Tea Party express efforts. The memo discusses renting the mailing lists of other right-wing groups, including Newsmax, Human Events, Townhall, WorldNetDaily, and others. Expenditure reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission confirm that OCDB/TPE has paid $187,340 to NewsMax Media, $93,800 to Human Events, and $36,206 to TownHall.com.
The need to “buttress our ‘authenticity’” by using locals was also discussed in the memo.
The first Tea Party Express bus tour started in Sacramento on August 28, 2009. The tour crisscrossed the country, holding events in several cities in Nevada and Texas, as well as in multiple places in the Midwest and Mid-South before arriving in Washington DC for the September 12 March on Washington. These rallies gathered support for the Tea Party movement generally, as well as finding new contributors to the political action committee. The October after that first tour, the group officially filed with the FEC to change the name of the PAC to the Our Country Deserves Better PAC – TeaPartyExpress.org.
A second tour, entitled “Tea Party Express II: Countdown to Judgment Day,” kicked off in San Diego on October 25, and again included multiple stops in Nevada and the West before heading South through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. It concluded in Orlando, Florida on November 12.
As the second bus tour concluded, the attention of Our Country Deserves Better PAC -Tea Party Express turned to a special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat left open by the death of Ted Kennedy in August. Hoping to make the election a referendum against health care reform, the PAC pumped in direct contributions of $348,670 in support of Scott Brown, a relatively unknown Republican state senator. On January 20, 2010 Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley. Whatever the reason for Brown’s election, to Tea Partiers, this was the “Scott heard ‘round the world’” and Tea Party Express was quick to take credit for the victory.
The following February, Tea Party Express was expected at a convention held by Tea Party Nation, but pulled out, creating a bit of a rift between the two groups.
Just two weeks later, however, Tea Party Express held a rally at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Washington, D.C. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is an annual conference for conservative activists and politicians. Tea Party groups played a significant role at the 2010 CPAC conference, including a rally stop by the Tea Party Express bus. Also in attendance at the 2010 CPAC convention: the far-right, conspiracy mongering John Birch Society--the first time in the thirty-seven year history of the conference that the John Birch Society was a conference sponsor.
A third round of the bus tour was launched on March 27 with a big rally in Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid’s hometown). The Tea Party Express III again visited towns in Nevada, trying to drum up opposition to Senator Reid, before winding across the country.
Along the way, the Tea Party Express announced the endorsement of additional candidates, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. (Bachmann and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee had followed Tea Party Express’ lead and pulled out of the Tea Party Nation convention in February). The tour concluded again in Washington DC on April 15, to coincide with the Tax Day 2010 Tea Party protests.
On April 15, Tea Party Express announced their endorsement of Sharron Angle in the Republican US Senate primary in Nevada. On April 25, they rolled out two television ads and a radio spot in support of Angle. On May 11, they ran a full-page newspaper ad in support of Angle. On May 16, TeaPartyExpress.com featured a Tea Party Express $150,000 “Money Bomb” in support of Sharron Angle. Within a week, they were more than halfway there, raising $80,910. Sharron Angle came from behind to win the June 9 primary.
On May 4, 2010 Tea Party Express jumped into the anti-immigrant fray, supporting Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 with an online petition.
One of the official partners of the Tea Party Express is Free Republic, which identifies itself as “an online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web.” It is an important space for the birthers and racist. One of those posting material on Free Republic claiming that President Obama had no birth certificate was James von Brunn, the white supremacist who killed the guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC on June 10, 2009. This website has also posted racist attacks on the Obama family. In July 2009, after Obama’s eleven-year-old daughter Malia was photographed wearing a t-shirt with the peace symbol, a Free Republic thread featured racially charged comments about President Obama’s wife and children, using racist epithets and terms like “Ghetto street trash.” The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured that caption, “To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make Monkey sounds.”
On the front page of its website, Free Republic advertised the Tea Party Express Bus Tour. (The Free Republic web page also features links to Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet). Free Republic’s Kristinn Taylor serves as a bridge between Free Republic and the folks behind the Tea Party Express. He has also worked for the anti-immigrant vigilante group Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, and has spoken at Florida Tea Party events. He does not get along particularly well with factions other that Tea Party Express, however. In a March 22, 2010 article entitled “Freedom Works Willing to Throw Tea Party Under the Bus to Appease Democrats, Media” on Free Republic, Taylor wrote: “Freedom Works...latched onto the Tea Party movement last year is now threatening to abandon the grassroots movement in the face of a propaganda onslaught by the Democrat party and the media."
Interaction with other Tea Party Factions
Several Tea Party factions have been official sponsors of the Tea Party Express Bus Tours at one time or another. FreedomWorks participated in the first Tea Party Express Bus Tour, but not the third round. It was scheduling, however, that kept Dick Armey off the bus. Even though aware that some factions are upset with the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks staffer Brandon Steinhauser noted that, “I actually think the bus is a really cool thing.” ResistNet not only sponsored a bus tour, the organization’s national director, Darla Dawald, was listed as part of the Tea Party Express “team.” Although Tea Party Nation also supported a tour, Tea Party Express cancelled a bus appearance at the Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville.
After a conflict arose over Tea Party Express’ pre-primary endorsement of Sharron Angle, an email from Tea Party Nation explained, “The folks over at Tea Party Express are our friends. They were kind enough to invite Tea Party Nation to join them at the huge event in Searchlight, NV and we believe their hearts are in the right place, just not their strategy.” The Express faction’s Amy Kremer was a presenter at Tea Party Nation National Convention in Nashville.
No official sponsorship relations exists between Tea Party Express and the 1776 Tea Party faction, but 1776 Tea Party president Dale Robertson noted that members of his group traveled to Nevada for the kickoff rallies of the third Tea Party Express.
By way of contrast, Tea Party Patriots dubbed Tea Party Express the “Astroturf Express,” because of its ties to establishment Republicans and a lack of support to local groups, Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, told Politico, “We’ve worked hard to distance ourselves from the Tea Party Express because of their close affiliation with the Republican Party, the Republican establishment and their PAC.”
The competition and conflict between the two groups also revolved around money raising issues. “When people donate to Tea Party Express,” Tea Party Patriots noted, “they think that they are donating to a tea party, because they don’t read the fine print at the bottom of their e-mails that says it is a PAC. And that hurts the local grass-roots tea party organizers, since a lot of that is actually taking some money away from them.”
There was also a growing consensus among Tea Party Patriots that Tea Party Express was giving all Tea Parties a bad name, prompting Tea Party Patriots to issue a rare press release stating, that it, “wishes to confirm that it does not directly or indirectly support or endorse any activities of Our Country Deserves Better, the political action committee (PAC) responsible for the ‘Tea Party Express’ bus tour conducted from 8/28 through 9/12 of this year, and an upcoming tour recently announced.” At the heart of the matter was the litany of offensive comments made by Mark Williams, the Tea Party Express chairman at the time. “Williams’ antics play into the hands of mainstream media attempts to paint the Tea Party movement as a racist, radical fringe,” the statement noted.
During the NAACP’s 2010 annual convention, Tea Party Patriots’ prophecy became a fact in concrete evidence.
Mark William In His Own Words
In 2009, Mark Williams of Tea Party Express self-published a book entitled It’s Not Right versus Left, It’s Right versus Wrong; Exposing the Socialist Agenda. He republished the book in 2010 as Taking Back America One Tea Party At A Time. Any understanding of the Tea Party movement must include some knowledge of what Williams has written, if only to show that his racism and bigotry were articulated and well known in Tea Party ranks, long before he was forced out of the Tea Party Federation in July 2010.
In a chapter entitled “Some people should not vote,” Williams claims that voting is not a right nor is it an absolute duty of citizenship. Rather, he write, “Sometimes the best choice for the rest of us is if some of us don’t vote at all.”
Williams writes that it’s an “open secret that Mr. Obama is improbably a native-born citizen of the United States.” Another statement that places Williams firmly among the so-called birthers who echo similar views. Further, he declares, “That Obama was elected largely because of his pigmentation is not a difficult conclusion to reach given the void in Obama’s words where substance should dwell.”
“The sweet Irony of the potential first black president instituting a modified slavery is not lost on me. I say ‘modified’ because while Africans could not quit their ‘jobs’ in the cotton fields, you and I are still free to quit ours and be supported by the remaining fools who chose to participate, or starve, our choice – at least for now.”
“So-called Obamacare is essentially a version of eugenics, even genocide or perhaps an ethnic cleansing – or all three, it all depends on how it is implemented, evolves and who controls it.”
“The Chosen One’s cult is remarkably unlike their Dear Leader. He – as his running mate Joe Biden so famously said; is a “clean and articulate one.” They - unwashed, inarticulate, and brutish, are his future Schutzstaffel, to be used in the continuing Kristallnacht being waged against independent thought. He pits race against race, class against class, Americans against America. (My use of German is not unintentional).”
“Obama – Reid – Pelosi & company exist as an elite corps of parasites that send their leftovers down the food chain to those forced into dependence by programs and usury taxation created for the express purpose of being an army in waiting”
“Barack Obama and his followers embody the Seven Deadly Sins; pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. ... The man and those around and allied with him are driven by a narcissistic pride that allows no room for being wrong in his worldview, nor does it allow room for facts to derail his increasing, angry determination to not be disputed. He and his kind derive power from the exploitation and feeding of his followers’ envy, greed, sloth, and gluttony. Where the President deviates from garden variety liberalism and ventures deep into the depravity of authoritarian socialism is the sin of wrath.”
“I am not going to go into a painfully detailed 1,300+-year history of the 7th Century Death Cult we call “Islam” and how it came to be. Suffice to say that the story involves lots of bisexual men who are oddly homophobic and a psychotic pedophile, who coughed up this twisted and violent ideology during seizures in the desert, augmented by an inbred paranoia and an imposed ignorance acquired and reinforced over the centuries. The details of how my assailant came to be my assailant really do not concern me; I just want him contained or dead.”
Mark Williams latched onto this issue around the Islamic center in lower Manhattan months before many of his colleagues. In May, when blogging on the issue of the cultural center, Williams averred that Muslims worship “the terrorists’ monkey god.” (After being widely lambasted for the stupidity of the statement, he eventually apologized to Hindus for the remark. No apology to Muslims was offered).
He also wrote that “Islam is a dangerous and savage culture that must either be tamed to live among us or be excluded to the wild corners of the Earth.”
Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Devin Burghart is IREHR vice president.
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