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Fake Teabaggers Are Anti-Spend, Anti-Government: Real Populists Want to Stop Banks from Plundering America

The tea parties are AstroTurf -- fake grassroots. But there is a real movement growing against corporate greed and government malfeasance.

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The Tea Party initiative improved on the AngryRenter.com model by diversifying its AstroTurf assets. Rather than put all its efforts into one vulnerable strategic entity, FreedomWorks distributed its campaign across a network of smaller, seemingly independent blogs and sites. If one was outed as a fake, the rest of the machine could deny affiliation and survive.

But what reeked of AstroTurfing on the Internet also reeked on the street, when protests hit over 30 cities across the country on Feb. 27.

In Santa Monica, Calif., the crowd was no bigger than the kind that mills around taco trucks at lunch hour. Other locations reported the same pathetic tally. In Cobb County, Ga., which should have been teeming with outraged freedom-loving, small-government activists, turnout was only marginally better.

It was clear that this grassroots movement was meant as a TV-only event. In the following days, as our article generated controversy about who really backed the Tea Party, FreedomWorks came clean and admitted to staging the whole thing. Santelli, the movement's own larger-than-life hero, published a lawyer-crafted statement on CNBC's site renouncing his role in the rebellion and throwing himself at the feet of Obama.

It was a crushing and humiliating blow to see the movement's leader buckle so quickly, as if Adams had rushed to King George's palace, three-pointed-hat in hand, and threw himself at the monarch's mercy. To add to the humiliation, Santelli's appearance on the Daily Show was canceled, and his employer, CNBC, soon became the laughingstock of the American network TV world.

The Tea Party movement looked like it was dead in the water. But what seemed to be another failed FreedomWorks project came back one month later with a vengeance.

FreedomWorks is now running the show completely out in the open, coordinating a vast and confusing army of Web sites, selling Tea Party merchandise (with proceeds going straight into FreedomWorks' coffers) and tapping Republican celebrities for speaker slots. Fox News will provide around-the-clock, coast-to-coast coverage of today's Tea Party event. (The network's newest star, Glenn Beck, will hold a $500-a-plate fundraiser for the cause before zooming over to a tea party scheduled to take place at the Alamo in San Antonio.) Last week, Newt Gingrich, former Georgia congressman and Speaker of the House, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced they'll keynote tea parties of their own in Texas and New York.

The Tea Parties have gone large — and they've gone populist. Today's Tea Parties are sure to dwarf the duds of February. Somehow, a movement that was exposed as a fraud has persevered and morphed into something that is channeling and redirecting legitimate concerns about Obama's handling of the financial crisis.

To understand what the Tea Parties are really about, timeline is everything. The Tea Parties were never about the little guy's fight against big government or Wall Street. FreedomWorks did not uncork Santelli while the government was bailing out the banks. The FreedomWorks machine was idle while Citibank and GE pocketed their billions. (The latter, incidentally, is a big donor to FreedomWorks). Freedomworks kicked off its anti-tax, anti-spending movement only when the government announced it would give money to regular Americans to help avoid a wave of housing foreclosures.

How did the right-wing get people behind its absurd and unpopular economic platform of tax cuts, deregulation, status-quo health care, slashed entitlements and leaving homeowners to the wolves?

Enter the AIG-bonus scandal and a steady trickle of news about the mismanagement of the bailout billions and the corrupt backroom cronyism that has guided the whole process, from the Henry Paulson era straight into the Larry Summers/Tim Geithner era. These developments, all under liberal Democratic governance, enraged a lot of people and muddied the waters of outrage — and policy.

 
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