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Utilizing Public Airwaves, Media Mogul Murdoch Is Big Muscle Behind Fraudulent Astro Turfers

Burrowing inside the radical right's gathering of astroturfers and mouthpieces, AlterNet Reporter Adele Stan discovers what makes the anti-health reform machine tick.

As nearly 2,000 progressives made their way last weekend to Pittsburgh for the annual Netroots Nation conference, the right made its stand in the same town with a conference called RightOnline, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group that has gained notoriety for its involvement in organizing seemingly grassroots opposition to health-care reform.

Billed as a counterconference to the Netroots Nation gathering of bloggers and online activists, RightOnline convened at a Sheraton hotel, offering a few 101-level workshops on new technologies like Twitter and YouTube.

But the highlight of the conference was a red-meat program of speakers designed for a crowd of older activists who were hungry to hear myriad myths about the myriad forms of oppression in store for them if they don't stop the purportedly nefarious agenda of President Barack Obama.

"Great news to report," AFP policy director and FoxForum contributor Phil Kerpen told the crowd. "Our numbers are up; Netroots Nation's numbers are down; we are catching up to them online."

AFP claimed to draw 600 participants to RightOnline; Netroots actually drew about the same number of registrants as last year, according to conference organizer Raven Brooks -- about 1,900.

Americans for Prosperity is by far the slickest of the astroturf groups organizing disgruntled right-wingers of the "regular folks" variety into shouting mobs at town-hall meetings focused on health-care reform.

Sponsored in the past, according to SourceWatch, by the oil interests of Koch Industries, and a foundation headed by notorious right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife, AFP is wedding public fear about health-care reform -- fear it has done its best to stoke -- to a larger agenda embraced by ground-level activists that includes opposition to the cap-and-trade climate bill and Internet neutrality.

Indeed, AFP's exploitation of fears about health-care reform appear to be merely a means to a larger end.

Think these guys are appeased by the administration's talk of dumping the public health insurance option from the health-care reform bills currently working their way through Congress?

Phil Kerpen all but said he'd rather the plan be kept in the bill, the better to organize against.

"I'm scared that they're gonna take the public option out of this bill," Kerpen told the crowd, "and we're gonna be caught a little off-guard if we're not ready. Because, frankly, without the public option, it's not socialism anymore, but it's pretty close to fascism. It's a corporatist kind of thing. … So don't just focus on the public option. We have to kill this whole plan."

Not Your Father's Astroturf

Americans for Prosperity is, perhaps, the brightest and shiniest of the astroturf organizations responsible for the misinformed, disruptive and sometimes dangerous citizens who continue to turn up at town hall meetings conducted by members of Congress over the August recess. All count themselves as members of the Tea Party movement of anti-tax activists.

His activists tour the country in a big, luxury motor coach painted in red, white and blue, sporting the slogan, "Keep Your Hands Off My Health Care!" With its spiffy graphics and tech-savvy persona, the aesthetics of Americans for Prosperity are reminiscent of the Christian Coalition events and materials of the mid-1990s.

That's not surprising, given that AFP President Tim Phillips is a former business partner of Ralph Reed, who, as its executive director, brought the Christian Coalition to national prominence. Phillips and Reed continue to work in tandem.

Although Reed went on to ignominy for his involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scandal, he is now attempting a comeback with a new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition.