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Freedom Federation Leader: We Are Not The Tea Parties

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The morning session of the Freedom Federation Summit, like last night's event, was sparsely attended. The morning event at Thomas Road Baptist Church was on "Israel, the Middle East, and Military Readiness," and featured video addresses by Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Likud MK Danny Danon, who thanked evangelical Christians for their unyielding support for Israel (even as speakers here in Lynchburg emphasized the Christ-focused nature of both their domestic and foreign policy advocacy).

After the session was over, I asked Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University Law School and the head of the affiliated legal group Liberty Counsel, about the turnout. He said they had hoped for a larger turnout, but that it was difficult to turn out students on a weeknight (last night) and many people had other competing events, including the tea parties.

Still, despite many speakers last night lauding the tea parties, Staver was emphasized, "this is completely separate from the tea parties," and said that it had been the works even before the tea parties got off the ground. He said that the Freedom Federation was more about different organizations working in partnership "learning about each others’ core values and how to message and mobilize their constituences."

This is the new religious right: trying to be less white and male and old, and not focusing on one or two charismatic leaders who are the faces of the movement. It's more about sharing messaging and mobilizing and then sending different foot soldiers out to disseminate that message and mobilize new constituences.

One of those new constituencies is Latinos, as evidenced by Liberty's new "strategic partnership" with Sam Rodriguez's National Hispanic Leadership Conference. Rodriguez, who was once touted as a "new" and "centrist" evangelical, has clearly thrown his lot in with the religious right (some of which appears to be warming to his advocacy for immigration reform, although he is unclear on the specifics). Rodriguez delivered the convocation at Liberty's basketball stadium this morning, and that event was well-attended by several thousand students, although that is a mandatory thrice-weekly event. Many of the students appeared mostly unmoved by Rodriguez's fiery preaching about their generation instigating a new revival -- it seemed that they so regularly hear this sort of thing that they could chat among themselves or check their text messages while he was on the stage.

Staver emphasized that tea parties are about protesting, and the Freedom Federation is about messaging -- a distinction he suggested might explain the more intense media interest in the tea parties. Still, he insisted, these messaging and mobilizing gatherings will bear fruit when different organizational leaders (he pointed to Ron Luce of Teen Mania, who spoke last night, as a prime example), take that messaging to their own constituencies after the conference is over.

I asked Staver why Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition wasn't part of the Freedom Federation. "Ralph’s organiation is very much consistent with what we’re doing," said Staver. "We just had a meeting with Ralph this week. We’re going to be bringing in a lot more people and groups and organizations so this will grow in a big way."

Cross-posted from Religion Dispatches.