Right-Wingers' Big Day on Capitol Hill Proves to Be a Bust
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
It was supposed to be day of great drama in our nation's capital. Right-wing activists promised a captivating protest taken from a left-wing playbook, with Tea Party activists acting out the part of dying patients in the halls of Senate office buildings. And one of their stalwart leaders was to address a luncheon at the National Press Club -- an event that would have heralded the arrival of the Tea Party movement into the mainstream. Neither event came off.
The Tea Party Patriots' Senate event promised to be strangely reminiscent of Code Pink's guerrilla-theater "die-ins." The Tea Partiers even named their event "Code Red." Alas, with limited enthusiasm for such artistic tactics among the anti-Obama crowd, the plug was pulled on the die-in, and the activists simply lobbied their senators.
Dick Armey, chairman of the lobbying group FreedomWorks, which has been instrumental in the ginning up of right-wing protests against health-care reform, planned to announce the formation of a new political action committee at a luncheon meeting at the National Press Club. But Armey's speech to reporters was canceled for apparent lack of interest, allowing him time to get to address a Capitol Hill rally staged by Americans for Prosperity that looked small compared to last month's protest on the eve of the House health-care vote.
The die-in was apparently dependent on the assemblage of some 1,000 protesters called for by TPP activist Mark Meckler -- too tall an order for a morning call during the holiday season. More than 1,000 activists would later assemble on Capitol Hill for a rally, thanks to buses supplied by Americans For Prosperity, the other major astroturfing group that organizes protests against health-care reform. (Participants did have to pay a fee to ride.)
Yet, even in its attenuated state, the Tea Party activists' day on Capitol Hill had its moments.
Next They'll Put a Chip in Your Brain
I found the protesters assembled at a park that adjoins the Senate office buildings, where a couple from Charlotte, North Carolina, led a group in a parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that included references to "welfare for all" and "loss of liberty." The singing was accompanied by the waiving of signs on which key lyrics were hand-lettered.
Jenny Beth Martin, the former Republican consultant who leads the Tea Party Patriots group, led 100 or so of her troops to the Senate buildings, where they split up to visit their particular senators. I stayed with Martin, who hails from Georgia, trailing her contingent to the office of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a friend of the Tea Party movement. Along the way, I chatted with Nate, famous within the movement as a featured activist in "Tea Party: The Documentary," a film recently shown at a FreedomWorks event in Washington, D.C. Among Tea Party activists, Nate is one of a very few people of color. In fact, he was the only African-American in the Georgia contingent.
In the film, Nate confesses that he voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, a decision he now regrets. Obama, he said, promised to bring the troops home from Iraq, and not to have lobbyists in the White House -- both promises, Nate said, on which the president has reneged.
But really, Nate told me, his distrust of government goes back to the Bush years, and the passage of the USA Patriot Act, and the Real ID Act, which standardized identification requirements for state-issued drivers licenses, including a mandate that they include a machine-readable element, such as the radio frequency identification tags used in passports, known by the initials RFID. "That's what made me start paying attention to what was going on," he said, "because, being that I have Christian beliefs, Real ID Act, with the RFID tracking chip in it...was just one step closer to having the actual chip inside you."