Tea Parties Racked By Infighting, Confusion and Dissent
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The tea party movement is not just a political juggernaut -- it's also become a big business. That quickly became clear following last September's unexpectedly enormous rally in Washington organized by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, the event that helped put the movement on the map. With crowd estimates ranging from 75,000 to 2 million, the rally was such a hit that conservative activists are planning a sequel this year. A bunch of them actually. And these competing events have led to confusion and infighting among the tea party faithful. The conflict has reached such a pitch that Glenn Beck weighed in with a plea for unity on his radio show Thursday. "I don't care who started it," he lectured. "We must come together."
If nothing else, conservative activists will have plenty of opportunities this summer to publicly vent their frustrations with the Obama administration. On the afternoon of September 12, FreedomWorks plans a repeat of last year's march on the National Mall. Another group with ties to Beck's National 9.12 Project has decided to get in on the action as well, putting together a three-day extravaganza that weekend that includes a "liberty XPO" at a swank DC hotel and a march on the Mall on the 9 th anniversary of 9/11. Then there's the " Restoring Honor" spectacle planned by Beck himself for the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, on the 47 th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the same spot. That rally will be followed the next day by yet another protest march, this one sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots.
Despite the many offerings in the works, this may be one case where competition won't lead to a better product. Some activists fear that the smorgasbord of events -- and the fighting about them -- will dilute the impact of a single rally and divert precious resources away from where they need to be: in local elections. Bemoaning all the dissention, Darla Dawald, director of ResistNet, a social networking site for "patriots" recently lamented that "the movement is caught up in a tsunami of egos, nasty attitudes, manipulation, criticism, and pseudo leaders."
The march controversy got its start last year, when tea party groups stunned the Washington establishment by arriving en masse for FreedomWorks' mega rally on the Capitol lawn. The event landed with such impact that a couple of days after the march, FreedomWorks' state and federal campaign director Brendan Steinhauser applied to the US Park Service for a permit to do it all over again in 2010. What he didn't know was that other people had the same idea, namely activists associated with the 9.12 Project Beck started last year, when he called on viewers to launch a new conservative movement. (Hundreds of local 9.12 groups sprung up as a result.)
Among those activists was Beck's ex-sister-in-law and the administrator of his 9.12 Project, Yvonne Donnelly. She made a beeline to the Park Service on the first business day after last year's March to apply for a Mall permit for the entire weekend of Sept. 11, 2010. Then, in November, Patrick Jenkins, the president of the National 9.12 Project, created a new organization called Unite in Action to manage the newly christened "March on DC" and related events. UIA claims to be an umbrella group for a host of "liberty" organizations, including the militant Oath Keepers, Beck's 9.12 Project, ResistNet, and others.
Its plans for the "March on DC" weekend are grand. The three-day extravaganza "by the people and for the people" has all the trappings of a corporate trade show, and for good reason. Among the organizers is Christine Drawdy, who owns a Florida-based company called One-Step Promotions & Incentives, which specializes in trade shows and travel promotions. According to UIA, its show is "modeled after conservative political conferences but with a purely grassroots flare." Yet the group is hardly charging grassroots prices. The cost to host an event during the expo starts at $30,000. Renting a booth goes for anywhere from $1500 to $7700. Entry to the event itself runs $50, though a premium package allowing access to VIP receptions and banquets is a steep $250.