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"Tea Party: The Documentary" -- Attending a Bizarre Movie Premiere for Right-Wingers in Washington

Presented by FreedomWorks, the front group that organized the 9/12 March, a new documentary on the tea parties attempts to suggest that the protests were spontaneous.

The movement's stars were out in force at the Washington D.C., premiere of "Tea Party: The Documentary." Before the Wednesday night screening, presentations by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Senator Jim DeMint and Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson of South Carolina, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia -- all Republicans -- got the half-full auditorium in the Ronald Reagan Building humming.

Price, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, presented each of the film's "stars" -- five movement participants characterized as "regular citizens" by director Pritchett Cotten -- with a plaque bearing the text of a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives thanking Tea Party activists for their participation in the September 12th march on Washington.

The film conveys the stories of five activists chosen to represent the movement's everyman and everywoman -- the kind of people who were motivated by Washington D.C.-based lobbying groups to shout down members of Congress at town-hall meetings in their districts this summer. "I think it's a compelling story," Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, told me after the screening. "Here's real people in it with real beliefs. It sort of debunks the whole astroturf thing."

What Astroturfing?

Kibbe apparently saw no irony in his comments, or in the fact that the premiere was sponsored by FreedomWorks, an organization chaired by Armey that's known as an astroturfing outfit for its campaign to foment discontent among those regular citizens nationwide. FreedomWorks was instrumental in orchestrating the disruption of town-hall meetings on health care reform called by members of Congress during the August recess. (You can find the FreedomWorks town-hall action kit here in a PDF file; this famous memo [PDF] on how to disrupt a town-hall meeting was distributed by the Tea Party Patriots Google Groups listserv, which was managed at the time by FreedomWorks staffer Florida State Chairman Tom Gaitens

Also involved in creating our summer of discontent was Americans For Prosperity, whose consultant, Joel Aaron Foster, wrote the script for the Tea Party documentary, and is listed as the press contact on the movie media kit [PDF]. Throughout the film, AFP's ubiquitous "Hands Off My Health-Care" signs, which feature a bloody handprint, bob up and down at Tea Party rallies. Despite circumstantial evidence that the two groups work together, I've never seen their two logos on the same event at the same time; they function like the alter-egos of some malevolent superhero. (UPDATE: FreedomWorks Press Secretary Adam Brandon told me that AFP was not invited to participate in the September 12 march because of AFP's support for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.)

"Tea Party: The Documentary" may not earn a nod from Oscar, but it's a slickly produced piece of cinema that will likely serve as an effective organizing tool for FreedomWorks and other like-minded organizations -- and make a bit of dough for its producers, Ground Floor Video, the company owned by executive producer Luke Livingston, and Riddled With Bullets, director Cotten's production company. Ground Floor Video is selling DVDs of the film. When you consider that 70,000 people came to the march, and tens of thousands more are involved in the movement, DVD sales could yield a pretty penny. This is, after all, a movement that purports to be all about capitalism.

FreedomWorks' Kibbe is quick to say that the film is an enterprise separate from his organization, though FreedomWorks is listed as a "contributor" to the film, as are Americans For Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express.

The film's everyperson stars all hail from the Atlanta area, which is also home base to Americans For Prosperity President Tim Phillips, whose last gig was as a partner with Ralph Reed in the Atlanta-based Century Strategies, an astroturfing and lobbying group implicated in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. The main characters are identified on screen only by their first names. There's Jenny Beth -- that's Jenny Beth Martin, a former GOP consultant, who leads Tea Party Patriots, a group that names FreedomWorks as a partner on its Web site. Dr. Fred makes an appearance -- that's Dr. Fred Shessel, vice president of a group called Docs For Patient Care that opposes health care reform, and a partner in Georgia Urology. William Temple, an historical reenactor, provides what comic relief there is in the film. Temple was chosen to lead the 9/12 March dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia, which he also donned for the premiere.