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Tea Party Inc.: The Big Money and Powerful Elites Behind the Right Wing's Latest Uprising

The Tea Parties are billed as a people's movement. But they wouldn't exist without the help of deep-pocketed billionaires.

This article was reported in collaboration with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Win or lose, the Tea Party movement will come away from next week's elections triumphant, having injected into the Republican Party a group of candidates pledged to the dismantling of government and wed to the religious right. Of the movement's dozen favored candidates for U.S. Senate, all are anti-abortion, and five oppose it even in cases of rape and incest. Among their number are Colorado's Ken Buck, who has compared homosexuality to alcoholism, and Nevada's Sharron Angle, who wants to demolish both the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. Major GOP players, from political strategist Karl Rove to former Bush speechwriter David Frum, have fretted publicly over Tea Party extremism, with Frum complaining of the movement's " paranoid delusions."

But it has now become clear that these Tea Party "outsiders" are all part of an inside game, a battle for control of the Republican party.

Though billed as a people's movement, the Tea Party wouldn't exist without a gusher of cash from oil billionaire David H. Koch and the vast media empire of Rupert Murdoch. Many of the small donations to Tea Party candidates have been cultivated by either Fox News Channel, a property of Murdoch's News Corporation, or the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired by Koch. The movement's major organizations are all run, not by first-time, mad-as-hell activists, but by former GOP officials or operatives.

Taken together, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks (another far-right political group seeded by the Kochs) and Murdoch's News Corp, owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal , form the corporate headquarters of a conglomerate one might call Tea Party, Inc. This is the syndicate that funds the organizing, crafts the messages, and channels the rage of conservative Americans at their falling fortunes into an oppositional force to President Obama and to any government solution to the current economic calamity. Groups such as Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, and the FreedomWorks-affiliated Tea Party Patriots; the bevy of political consultants for hire; and various allied elected officials can be understood as Tea Party Inc.'s loosely affiliated subsidiaries. The Web sites of FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party side projects of Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck* are linked with those of Tea Party Express and Tea Party Patriots, all of which in turn solicit support for Tea Party candidates.

The armies of angry white people with their " Don't Tread on Me" flags, the actual grassroots activists, are not the agents of the Tea Party revolt, but its end-users, enriching the Tea Party's corporate owners just as you and I enrich Google through our clicks.

Coming Out Party

Tea Party Inc. was on full display in our nation's capital in late August, when Glenn Beck gathered his angry white multitudes at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. The tens of thousands of Tea Partiers who showed up for this political revival were mobilized by untold hours of free promotion on Murdoch's network, while a related "Take America Back" convention, held the day before at Constitution Hall, was convened by FreedomWorks.

At that event, the crowd was treated to a trailer for a forthcoming film called Runaway Slave , narrated by Rev. C.L. Bryant, an African-American pastor from Louisiana identified as "a former NAACP radical," who made the case that liberalism is yet another means of enslaving black people.

"[I]n the black community," Bryant says in the film, "there's always somebody who's gotta keep them niggers in control." A photo of Jesse Jackson flashed on the screen. Then one of Al Sharpton. Some images flashed by so quickly that they were barely discernible. One was of a wriggling maggot.