BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY A word of warning: The story you are about to read is neither fair nor balanced; just true. The other night I snuck into the Tea Party, like a spy in the House of Glenn Beck Love, and nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. You know about the Tea Party movement, right? The populist jihad—sponsored by Fox News, FreedomWorks, the Taliban wing of the Republican Party and the rest of the Dick Armey—that’s putting the RIOT back in PATRIOT. They’re white as hell and they’re not gonna take the 2008 presidential election anymore. It’s all the rage, and judging by the buzz on the Internet, there’s quite a lot of rage in this region.
There’s The Pennsylvania Tea Party Coalition, The Loyal Opposition, The 912ers, Independence Hall Tea Party Association, Citizens for Constitutional Government, The Thomas Jefferson Club, The Kitchen Table Patriots, PA Tea Party Patriots and the Valley Forge Patriots. The party is holding a candidates forum next week at the Crystal Tea Room in Center City and pretty much every Republican running for higher office in Pennsylvania is expected to show. There’s also a national Tea Party convention this week at Opryland in Nashville, where Sarah Palin is the featured speaker (her fee: $100,000). It’s closed to the press, so my original plan was to infiltrate one of the area Tea Parties like a liberal narc, gain their trust and try and tag along to the convention, find out what they were hiding and drop the dime. Then at the last minute they opened it up to the press and announced plans to televise the convention. Plus, they were charging $560 to get in, so I decided to think nationally and act locally.
As far as I can tell, there is not much Tea Party activity going on in Center City Philadelphia: All the action is out in the suburbs and exurbs. So I crashed a meeting of the Delaware County Patriots, an organization based in nearby Media. I elected to go incognito because the Tea Party people don’t much cotton to Huffington Post -reading, NPR-listening, latte-sipping media types like yours truly. It’s a crowd with little demonstrable patience for opposing views or dialogue with the enemy, but if some skinny white kid can dress up like a pimp and bring down ACORN, at the very least I can pretend to be all Fox-News-in-the-head for a few hours to find out what these people are so darn mad about.
To pass for a Tea Party type I needed to make some changes—these people may be crazy-mad, but they ain’t stupid. I needed to look more like I live in the suburbs and less like I hang out at The POPE, and so goodbye skinny black jeans and Timberlands, hello dad jeans, Adidas sneaks and ball cap. I debated shaving off the indie-rock beard, but decided it would give me a faintly Unabomber-esque countenance that just might tickle the Tea Partiers’ anti-gummint bone. Next, I needed an alias since my name is too easily Googled-back to an unmistakably liberal paper trail. To keep things simple, I decided to just add another ‘n’ and drop the last ‘a’ on my surname: Valanni. Easy enough to remember, but different enough to throw off Google, plus I could simply claim poor penmanship if my true identity was somehow detected and things turned ugly.
I also needed a new Gmail account to go with my assumed name. I elected to go with JGalt@gmail.com, a tip of the hat to John Galt, the benignly self-interested protagonist of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, one of the sacred texts of the Tea Party movement. The one hitch I ran into was vastly underestimating how long it would take to scrape the frickin’ Shepard Fairey Obama bumper sticker off the back of my car. With time running out I said ‘fuck it, we’ll do it live!’ and jumped on I-95, setting the controls for the mouth of the right wing lion, hoping against hope my tender liberal ears could withstand its mighty roar. MORE
RELATED: Republican partisans — aided by lobbyists and corporate front groups — are exploiting the legitimate feelings of anger and distrust among many struggling Americans. These operatives and profiteers, many of them experienced public relations professionals, have set up sophisticated social networking portals and online solutions to control the flow of information within tea party organizations. As gatekeepers to ostensibly open forums, these political operatives and profiteers have been able to set the political agenda of the tea parties and hand out marching orders. And tea party profiteers are making millions cashing in on the movement. They are selling tea party support to candidates and policies which continue the legacy of Bush-era unregulated capitalism and corporate bailouts.
The profiteers say that the original American revolutionaries cast their tea into the Boston harbor as a simple rejection of taxation, so the modern tea party movement should similarly reject increased financial regulations, health reform, and taxes on the rich. But the history tells a different story. Boston revolutionaries rejected subservience to the East India Company, a British-run international corporation. They cast the tea into the harbor as a symbolic message to say that their taxes should go back into the American community, not subsidizing the profits of London elites and foreign corporations. Now, Republican tea party profiteers are trying to exploit the movement, pushing them to oppose policies which would actually liberate the middle class and crack down on international corporations. Despite the populist rhetoric, the profiteers see the tea party movement as a pool to extract fundraising dollars and volunteers for Republican campaigns. Indeed, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, himself a former lobbyist, has said that he has an “expectation” that tea partiers loyally toe the Republican line. MORE