Tea Party and the Right

Tea Party Think Tank Headed By Clarence Thomas' Wife Makes Common Cause With Militia Guru Larry Pratt

Listed among the friends of Virginia Thomas' new Tea Party think-tank is Gun Owners of America, headed by white-supremacist-friendly, militia guru Larry Pratt.

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Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has a new job, running a think-tank she founded to appeal to Tea Party supporters. Liberty Central, according to Kenneth P. Vogel, writing in Politico, "appears to be positioning itself as a hybrid think tank/advocacy group/campaign arm for the tea party movement."

Thomas herself explained it this way to Human Events magazine, Vogel reports:

“I’m getting to know the Tea Party groups and the new citizen activists,” Thomas told Human Events late last month. “What I think I can bring to the table is a connective (t)issue between the new people and the old people.”

On the Liberty Central Web site, visitors are urged to sign a "pledge to activism" that states the organization's commitment to small government, saying, in part:

In an effort to hold their government accountable to its constitutional limitations, many Americans have voiced their opposition to a “Big Government” agenda through protests and election upsets only to be blatantly ignored by many elected representatives,

Therefore, I pledge to be more informed and more active, and encourage others to do likewise, in order to maximize my impact and influence in preserving, protecting and promoting liberty, freedom, and limited Constitutional government in America.

Call it the Great Convergence, this coming together of old-guard groups and extremists under the Tea Party brand -- something perhaps that only someone close to a major power center in the U.S. government could pull off. Unlike grassroots Tea Party organizations that struggle for donations, Thomas got off to a quick start last year with two large donations, according to Politico -- one for $50,000 and another for $500,000 -- whose sources the group declines to disclose. (One imagines that for certain players on the legislative field -- especially those signing on to cases that might come before the high court -- saying "I gave at the office" to the spouse of a sitting justice might not come so easily.)

AlterNet took a spin through Thomas' Web site, to see if we could get a sense of who might be showing her some love. What we found was a cadre of groups listed as "friends" -- ranging from the typical Tea Party Inc. types, such as FreedomWorks, to the downright radical, like Gun Owners of America, led by executive director Larry Pratt.

In our ongoing chronicle of right-wing events, we last left Larry Pratt at the 2nd Amendment March on Washington, where he appeared to be calling for war against the U.S. government. The 2nd Amendment March wasn't really a march at all, but a rally on the grounds of the Washington monument of some 2,000 gun owners that took place April 19 -- the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing by self-styled militiaman Timothy McVeigh. (The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building took the lives of 168 innocents, including 19 children under the age of six.)

When Pratt took the stage on the grounds of the Washington monument about 15 years later, he could barely contain his ire for former President Bill Clinton, who was in office at the time of McVeigh's act of mass murder. On the day of the rally, Clinton published an op-ed that seemed to be aimed at the gun owners convening on the Mall in which he urged readers not to forget that McVeigh's act was born of the belief that government is the enemy. "[W]e must all assume responsibility for our words and actions beforethey enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged," he wrote.

At the gun rally, Pratt expressed his displeasure at Clinton's admonition, and at the attendance of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at an Oklahoma City ceremony commemorating the lives lost in the bombing. "I look around: it's so good to see all these terrorists out here," Pratt said to the gun activists. "Janet Napolitano, she figured, as governor of Arizona, that we didn't have a border problem, but she knows who the real enemy is. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And Bill Clinton's been runnin' cover for her, too. Watch out how you guys speak out there, you know, words can have consequences.

"Remember Oklahoma City?" Pratt continued. "Yeah, I do. And I also remember the Waco barbecue that your attorney general gave us. Thanks a lot...We're in a war. The other side knows they're at war, because they started it. They're comin' for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They're comin' for everything because they're a bunch of socialists."

Is Larry Pratt's anti-government "war" the sort of activism that Ginni Thomas, CEO of Liberty Central and wife of a member of the high court, would condone?

It is highly unlikely that Pratt's bitter rhetoric is a secret to Ginni Thomas. Pratt is no stranger to controversy. He's an unabashed supporter of the militia movement; his 1990 book, Armed People Victorious, is viewed by many in the movement as an inspirational text.

In 1996, Pratt was forced to resign his role as an adviser to Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign when it was revealed that, in 1992, he addressed a gathering of white supremacists in Estes, Colorado. Included on the roster of speakers that day were neo-Nazis and militia advocates, including Louis Beam, a former Texas Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who had taken his cause over to the Aryan Nation organization. The meeting had been called by Pete Peters, then leader of the Christian Identity movement, whose theology states that black people are subhuman and Jews are the spawn of Satan.

Pratt came to make clear his advocacy for unfettered gun rights. "The Second Amendment ain't about duck hunting," he told the crowd, according reporter Leonard Zeskind, reporting in Rolling Stone. Pratt explained that he bought his first gun during the 1968 riots that engulfed Washington, D.C., in the wake of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "If they'd had that assault rifle, so-called, for sale, and I'd seen that big old magazine there at the time, that's exactly what I would have bought," Pratt said, according to Rolling Stone.

Pratt represents a kind of pivot point between the right-wing extreme and the right-wing establishment. While Pratt is cozy with Howard Phillips, the Christian Reconstructionist founder of the Constitution Party, he's also friendly with former House Majority Leader Richard Armey, the chairman of FreedomWorks, the kingpin of Tea Party Inc. astroturf groups. Armey once served on the advisory board of the now-defunct Family Foundation, an organization founded by Pratt, that housed an anti-immigrant group, English First (which still exists). 

Ginni Thomas worked as an aide to Armey when he served in Congress in the GOP leadership, according to Politico. Today, Armey chairs FreedomWorks, the powerful Washington, D.C., organization that helped organize last summer's disruptions of town-hall meetings conducted by members of Congress about health care reform legislation. FreedomWorks also sponsored the stage program at the conclusion of last fall's 912 march on Washington, and an anti-health care rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol last spring. Ginni Thomas also worked with FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe when both were on staff at the anti-regulatory lobbying group, the Chamber of Commerce. Like FreedomWorks, in last month's GOP primary runoff for Utah's U.S. Senate seat, Thomas' Liberty Central endorsed Tea Party candidate Mike Lee (the only candidate Liberty Central has endorsed so far).

Gun Owners of America is hardly the only eyebrow-raising friend listed on Liberty Central's Web site -- just the most extreme. Also nestled amid the group of 32 largely establishment outfits such as the Hudson Institute and the National Taxpayers Union, is Concerned Women for America, which has been on an anti-gay tear for the last two decades, and ParcBench.com, which currently features a post alleging that President Barack Obama committed treason when he presided over a session of the U.N. Security Council last fall -- and that his administration won't prosecute violations of voting laws committed when white people are the victims.

Gun Owners of America frequently participates in lawsuits headed for the high court, and its attorney, William J. Olson, testified against the nomination of Elena Kagan to the bench of the high court at last week's Senate hearings. Likewise, Concerned Women for America also features an anti-Kagan post on the front page of its Web site. Not that people aren't entitled to their opinions, but it seems a bit untoward that the spouse of a sitting justice is running an organization that forges alliances with groups arrayed against her husband's next new colleague.

But more disturbing than that is the fact that Ginni Thomas, who shares her life with one of the most powerful men in the United States government, should use her social standing to recruit people to rage against the government in the company of the likes of Larry Pratt.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.