!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Jenny Beth Martin
Jenny Beth Martin was a participant or observer in the following events:
CNBC, a cable business news outlet, contacts “tea party” activisits looking for anti-health care reform protests that will be confrontational and violent enough to make good television. Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots organization, sends an e-mail to a “tea party” Google group that reads: “We have a media request for an event this week that will have lots of energy and lots of anger. This is for CNBC.… So, where are the big events this week and where can TPP best be represented on the news?” A group member, Pat Wayman, responds with a suggestion that CNBC sends crews to a health fair hosted by Representative David Scott (D-GA), where uninsured people can receive free medical care. “This one should be a riot! literally,” Wayman writes, and notes, “This is the congressman who got a swastika painted on his office sign last night” (see August 11, 2009). Wayman also includes a link to a right-wing Web site listing the Scott event. Martin will later deny recommending the Scott event or any others to CNBC for coverage, saying her group “does not endorse anything that incites violence of any kind.” She also notes that the e-mail list is unmoderated, and says, “I can’t moderate every single comment.” She will confirm that CNBC solicited an event with “lots of energy and lots of anger,” saying, “That was the impression that I received from them.” Later, Martin informs her organization that it will not become involved in Scott’s health fair. In an e-mail, she will write: “I have thought about this more and think it would be best to send a press release saying how we think the health fair is a perfect example of free market events. That we support free markets and the fact that in America we are compassionate and take care of the uninsured. Look at these businesses who are doing this without the government taking over our health care. I think TPP does not need to have a presence there. If the other groups want to do it, that is their prerogative. Right now Tea Party Patriots is under a ton of scrutiny and we need to make sure our methods are above reproach.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/12/2009]
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, political activist Virginia Thomas. [Source: Associated Press]In November 2009, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, establishes a new “tea party” organization she calls Liberty Central. (Some media sources claim that Liberty Central begins operations in January 2010.) She describes the group as intended to bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. “I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,” she says at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country. I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.” She also says she started the group because of her reaction to what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” The group also intends to work to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, and provide political strategies and “talking points” for conservative candidates. [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Commission, 7/1/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011] In May 2010, the organization officially declares itself open for business, launching a $27,000 Web site, and touting partnerships with a number of prominent conservative groups and the backing of prominent conservatives such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, whom Justice Thomas has called “my good friend.” [Politico, 7/6/2010]
Questions of Conflict of Interest, Ethics - Almost immediately, legal ethicists assert that Virginia Thomas’s role as the head of a partisan, openly political advocacy organization could taint her husband’s impartiality, especially in light of the Citizens United Court decision, in which her husband sided with the 5-4 majority (see January 21, 2010), that allows her group to accept donations and spend them without publicly disclosing information about them. The group could have benefited from the Court’s decision, and Justice Thomas’s decision could be seen as being influenced by his wife’s decision to start the group. Law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a Court historian, says, “I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics.” The expectations for spouses are not so clear, he adds, saying, “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it.” Legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, another law professor, says, “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse.” Moreover, the press learns that while the Court was deliberating the Citizens United case, Liberty Central received an anonymous $550,000 donation. Government watchdog organization Common Cause wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case, and wrote that “the complete lack of transparency of Liberty Central’s finances makes it difficult to assess the full scope of the ethics issues raised by Ms. Thomas’s role in founding and leading the group.” (The media later learns that $500,000 of the anonymous $550,000 donation for the organization comes from Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, who also hosts a fundraising event for the organization at his home. Crow once gave Justice Thomas a $19,000 “Frederick Douglass Bible” as a gift, and donated $150,000 to build a new wing named for Justice Thomas on a Savannah, Georgia, library that he visited frequently in his youth.) Common Cause also notes that Justice Thomas had failed to report on his financial disclosure filings his wife’s income over the last 13 years, prompting him to file amendments to the filings that indicated the sources, but not the amounts, of his wife’s income. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from the case.
Period of Success - Liberty Central flourishes for a brief time, with Virginia Thomas assembling a veteran staff and forging relationships with conservative donors, with most of whom she and her husband had long, close relationships. Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, one of the over 30 state and national tea party groups that are listed as partners in Liberty Central’s affiliate network, says, “Her association with Justice Thomas clearly provides a level of credibility that others wouldn’t be able to have, just because of the beliefs that he has and the stands that he has on the different positions that align with our own.” Liberty Central’s connection with Justice Thomas, Graham says, “gets you to open the email, if nothing else, as opposed to some other one that you may not even open.” Liberty Central hires the services of CRC Public Relations, a prominent Washington communications firm that has garnered some $15 million in fees from a number of clients, including top Republican Party committees and the presidential campaigns or political committees of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, among others. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party lobbying organization also partnered with Liberty Central (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), says, “Ginni was able to raise the seed capital to have a real launch” because of her connections in small-government conservative circles. Kibbe says most people are unaware that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin calls Thomas a “mentor” for many tea party organizations, and says she helps these organizations “to navigate some of the waters in DC.… She’s been kind of a mentor, and when we had questions about things that we were doing, we bounced a few of the ideas off of her and also off of a few other people in DC just to make sure that what we were doing made sense.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]
Media Attention - In a June 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Thomas says she is sure “liberals” will “persecute” her just as she says they did when her husband was undergoing confirmation for the Supreme Court. “They’re after me now sometimes,” she says. “And so, we’re not going to be dissuaded. We are in the fight for our country’s life.” She and Hannity engage in a lively conversation about the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. She also promises to “watch for conflicts” between herself and her husband. In October 2010, the media reports that Virginia Thomas leaves a voice mail for former college professor Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the Court (see October 8, 1991, October 8-12, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991), demanding that Hill issue an apology to her husband. The voice mail says: “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.” The attention from the voice mail prompts more negative media attention, and some donors begin distancing themselves from the organization. (Virginia Thomas later admits that her voice mail message for Hill was “probably a mistake,” though she will call the media’s response to it “laughable.” She will call the message “an olive branch” she extends to Hill. For her part, Hill says: “I don’t apologize. I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony in 1991.”) [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Fox News, 6/8/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 10/19/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010]
Thomas Steps Down, Group Merges with Another Organization - In November 2010, Virginia Thomas steps down from her leadership post at Liberty Central. The group then merges with another, similar group called the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, an organization founded by ex-CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a largely discredited book “exposing” the “secrets” of the Clinton administration. Sources later tell reporters that Virginia Thomas sells off Liberty Central because it cannot raise the funds needed to support its large staff and high overhead. According to CRC spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll, Thomas will “take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions. After discussing it with the board, Mrs. Thomas determined that it was best for the organization.” However, Sarah E. Field, general counsel of Liberty Central, disagrees, saying: “There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time.… The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” Keith Appell of CRC tells a reporter that the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner “breached confidentiality” by reporting her conversation with Carroll. Gardner responds, “Everything I attributed to Caitlin Carroll comes from an on-the-record conversation we had by telephone this morning.” Within hours, Thomas files incorporation papers for a new political lobbying and consulting firm, Liberty Consulting (see February 4, 2011). [Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 11/15/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Liberty Central, US Department of Justice, Matt Kibbe, Leonard Leo, Obama administration, US Supreme Court, Sean Hannity, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Keith Appell, Stephen Gillers, Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, Jenny Beth Martin, Sarah E. Field, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Anita Hill, Amy Gardner, CRC Public Relations, Caitlin Carroll, Harlan Crow, Clarence Thomas, FreedomWorks, Carl Graham, Donald Rumsfeld, Common Cause, Conservative Political Action Conference
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Tea Party Patriots (TPP—see August 24, 2010), one of the most influential of national “umbrella” tea party organizations, announces the receipt of a $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. The TPP refuses to disclose the name of the donor. Two thousand eight hundred local tea party groups are eligible for money from the grant, and the TPP says it will distribute all of the monies by October 4. TPP’s Mark Meckler says: “This particular fund is intended to be applied for and spent by the [November midterm] election. The people who get the grants are required to spend them by election day.” TPP policy advisor Ernie Istook, a former Republican congressman, calls the donation “fertilizer for the grassroots.” Istook continues: “If you have a lawn, you water it, you tend to it, you weed it. That’s what’s happening here. And it is unique. I can’t think of anything quite like it happening before.” The TPP has said it will not endorse particular candidates for office, unlike another “umbrella” tea party organization, Tea Party Express and that group’s affiliated PAC. TPP official Jenny Beth Martin says the money is not to be used to endorse or attack individual candidates. Instead, she says: “What we’re doing is what our 2,800 local groups on the ground have been asking us to do. We’re not taking advantage of a loophole. What we’re making sure is that we support the local organizers on the ground.” Meckler adds, “We want to make sure people are out there voting for fiscal responsibility.” However, as the elections approach, tea party groups begin speculating where exactly the money is going. The TPP consistently refuses to disclose what groups receive money, or how much is disbursed. Dee Park of the Moore Tea Citizens in Moore County, North Carolina, is one who wonders about the money. “We wrote what we thought was a terrific proposal, but they didn’t fund it,” she says. No one from the TPP has contacted Park to inform her that her proposal was turned down. Appeals from other tea party groups asking for information about the money disbursement have been ignored—though the TPP regularly sends out appeals for more donations. Rhode Island tea party organizer Marina Peterson is in a similar position to Park; she submits a proposal for five groups in her area, but never hears anything from the TPP. Asked by a reporter if she knows who is receiving grants, she replies, “Wouldn’t we all like to know?” She says she was concerned from the outset about the anonymous nature of the donation, telling the reporter: “How do we know we want to take that money if we don’t know who the person is? What if it was [liberal billionaire] George Soros?” (see January - November 2004) Peterson says that every political organization, including the TPP and local tea parties, should be upfront and transparent about their funding. She recalls asking Meckler via email about the grant, and says that “[h]e went completely on the defensive when I asked him about it.” Meckler later tells Peterson that the TPP would not release information about the grant recipients to “shield” them from any controversy associated with the donation. Two groups do admit to receiving donations. The Chico Tea Party in California received $5,000, which it says it is spending on buying advertising on highway billboards. And the Nevada County, California, Tea Party Patriots received $10,000, which it says it is spending on billboards and newspaper ads. The Nevada County organization is headed by Stan Meckler, Mark Meckler’s father. The Chico organization says 12 groups in California have received money, though it does not disclose their names. Arizona tea partiers say they have used grant money to buy radio and billboard ads, but refuse to disclose amounts. And the TPP’s Florida coordinator Everett Wilkinson says his South Florida Tea Party received funding, but refuses to disclose an amount. Reporter Stephanie Mencimer writes: “This scuffle over the secret donation is symbolic of the internal conflict within the tea party movement. There are tea party activists who believe the movement’s rhetoric about transparency and accountability. But the movement also includes leaders and others who are willing to engage in and tolerate the funny-money games of business-as-usual politics. With the elections likely to enhance the political clout of the tea party movement, this tension between principles and practices is likely to intensify. After all, can tea partiers really claim they are ‘we the people’ when they are being subsidized by secret millionaires and guided by leaders who refuse to be accountable to those very people?” [Slate, 9/21/2010; Mother Jones, 11/1/2010] The donation is later shown to come from Republican financier Raymon F. Thompson, a former CEO who has provided Meckler and Martin with a luxurious private jet which they are using to fly around the country (see October 28, 2010).
Entity Tags: George Soros, Everett Wilkinson, Dee Park, Chico Tea Party, Stephanie Mencimer, Stan Meckler, Tea Party Patriots, Ernest Istook, Mark Meckler, Marina Peterson, Jenny Beth Martin, South Florida Tea Party, Raymon F. Thompson, Nevada County, California Tea Party Patriots
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Excerpt from the opening credits of ‘Fire from the Heartland.’ [Source: Adrienne Royer]A new political film from conservative activist group Citizens United labels President Obama a “gangsta,” and compares him to a Chicago mobster. The film, titled Fire from the Heartland: the Awakening of the Conservative Woman, is ostensibly a celebration of conservative women, but spends much of its runtime attacking Obama and his administration’s policies. The film is written, directed, and co-produced by Stephen Bannon, who co-founded the National Tea Party Federation in April in part to combat charges that tea party organizations promote racism (see June 30, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The film profiles 15 female conservative politicians, pundits, and tea party activists, including Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, S.E. Cupp, Dana Loesch, Michelle Easton, Sonnie Johnson, Jenny Beth Martin, Michelle Moore, Jamie Radtke, Deneen Borelli, Janine Turner, and House members Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Bannon says that the goal of the film is for moderate and independent women viewers to watch the film and then say, “[T]hese women are not the crazy harridans they are portrayed as on TV.” The film quotes African-American conservative Sonnie Johnson, the president of the black conservative Frederick Douglass Foundation, as saying, “If you come from the street… you know Obama has a lot of gangsta in him.” Johnson, a prominent member of Virginia tea party organizations, is using a slang term for “gangster,” indicating that Obama is similar to African-American street criminals who belong to gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods. Johnson’s characterization is echoed in the film by Bachmann, who says, “This administration has embraced something called gangster government.” Bannon juxtaposes the two women’s comments with black and white footage of African-American gangsters with guns. One segment of the film shows a convenience store clerk being robbed at gunpoint; reporter Garance Franke-Ruta writes that “the narrative makes clear the man with the gun embodies the government.” [Plum Line, 9/24/2010]
Entity Tags: Deneen Borelli, Sonnie Johnson, Stephen Bannon, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Ann Coulter, Dana Loesch, Michelle Moore, S.E. Cupp, Michelle Easton, Janine Turner, Jamie Radtke, Garance Franke-Ruta, Michelle Malkin, Cynthia Lummis, Michele Bachmann, Jean Schmidt, Jenny Beth Martin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin aboard ‘Patriot One.’ [Source: Tea Party Patriots / Mother Jones]Some tea party activists question recent trips flown by Tea Party Patriots (TPP) officials Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin. The use of a luxury passenger jet (dubbed “Patriot One” by Meckler and Martin) has been provided by a wealthy donor whom Meckler and Martin refuse to identify. Meckler and Martin are flown in the jet to tea party and TPP events around the nation, telling the assembled event-goers that they are “flying for freedom” and “landing for liberty.” The two officials are accompanied by, among others, an Atlanta filmmaker who documents the trips and posts videos on the TPP’s Web site. Reporter Stephanie Mencimer says the videos “show the tea party leaders traveling in the style of Wall Street investment bankers… hardly a humble display of the usual tea party thrifty pluck.” Georgia tea party member William Temple writes an angry column for the conservative news site the Daily Caller demanding accountability from Meckler and Martin, in which he states: “So what is with Tea Party Patriot’s junket ‘round the nation? Have Tea Party contributions been so forthcoming that they are financing this massive airlift campaign in the skies from sea to shinning [sic] sea, culminating on the west lawn of the nation’s Capitol on November 2? And it is a massive airlift of Pelosi proportions! [Temple is referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.] More than 30 flights: starting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on October 21, with two to four flights daily, while accompanied by a ‘gotcha’ film crew to document Jenny Beth and Mark Meckler’s every arrival and departure with on-the-spot interviews as they hob nob with Tea Party Patriot local organizers.… The films are then shamelessly posted on the Tea Party Patriots Web site, and emailed nationally (using their national bank of emails), always with the proverbial admonition reminding the brain-dead that the tea parties are for ‘fiscal responsibility, constitutionally-limited government, and free markets.’ (Huzzah for fiscal responsibility!)” Mencimer and the publication she writes for, liberal magazine Mother Jones, use publicly available information to determine that the owner of “Patriot One” is Republican financier Raymon F. Thompson, a former CEO of the semiconductor company Semitool. Thompson recently sold his interest in Semitool for $364 million. The airplane is a 1982 Dassault Falcon 10, a French-made aircraft similar to a Learjet, that seats four to eight people. The Falcon 10 is registered to Eagle III, a private company in Kalispell, Montana, an area featuring a number of tea party groups as well as armed militia activities. Eagle III is owned by Thompson, who owns a diner in Kalispell. The Falcon 10 was formerly leased by Semitool through Eagle III—in essence, Semitool was leasing it from its CEO. Thompson and his wife have been major GOP donors for at least 15 years, donating over $130,000 to an array of Republican candidates, including militia member and neo-Confederate Derek Skees, currently running for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives. Thompson is also a heavy contributor to the Heritage Foundation, which features TPP board member and former Republican Congressman Ernest Istook as a “distinguished fellow.” Thompson recently hosted a fundraiser for Senator John Thune (R-SD). Meckler has complained that a rival tea party “umbrella” organization, the Tea Party Express, is not a real grassroots organization as he claims his TPP is, saying: “They try to portray themselves as some sort of grass-roots movement, but they are a classic example of what those on the left would call Astroturf. They are fake, they’re not from the grassroots. These are longtime Republican political activists with their own agenda.” Mencimer speculates that a recent anonymous $1 million donation to the TPP which has gone largely untracked (see September 21 - November 1, 2010) may have come from Thompson. [Daily Caller, 10/26/2010; Mother Jones, 10/28/2010]
A group of tea party-affiliated organizations, including the lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the Tea Party Patriots, the Heritage Foundation, the Buckeye Foundation, American Majority, and the far-right, extremst John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), hosts a two-day event called the “We the People Convention.” The event is designed to help raise money and awareness for Republican political candidates, in part through the auspices of the Ohio Citizens PAC. Some 88 area tea party groups in the Ohio Liberty Council are the local sponsors; the attendance is estimated at around 300 people. According to the organization’s Web site, “The purpose of the convention is to provide educational programs that will help all citizens participate in self governance as provided by the US and Ohio Constitutions by participating in the governance of their township, village, municipality, state, and country.” The convention includes “breakout sessions” that give information on “start[ing] your own Patriot group in your home town, or strengthen[ing] your existing group.” According to a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’s Devin Burghart, the workshops advocate the dismantling of public education, Social Security, and Medicaid; the banning of labor unions; and voter suppression efforts against non-white voters. Burghart writes, “A hard look at this conference provides an invaluable window on the way the tea party movement works against even the most minimal efforts to promote the common good.” Many of the workshop presenters engage in what Burghart calls overtly racist jargon, including accusations that blacks who receive government assistance “have no souls” and President Obama is “not American.” Global warming is a fraud perpetuated by socialists to obtain control over private enterprise, one workshop asserts, with global warming advocates being compared to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Another hosted by John McManus of the JBS claims that the Federal Reserve system is a Communist front group, and calls for a return to a gold- and silver-based monetary system. McManus also leads workshops that claim American Democrats are colluding with American neoconservatives to build a “one-world government,” a “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) that would oppress whites and institute “global socialism.” Matt Spaulding of the Heritage Foundation tells listeners that they are the current equivalent of the Revolutionary War-era patriots, and the enemies of America are the “elites” and “progressive liberals” who intend to subvert American democracy. Progressive liberalism, Spaulding says, is an outgrowth of German Nazism. He cites what he calls “Obamacare,” the 2009 health care legislation bitterly opposed by many tea party groups, as an example of the Obama administration’s drive to “socialize” America and undermine constitutional law. At the welcoming ceremony, tea party spokesman Tom Zawistowski, the incoming president of the Ohio Liberty Council, tells the audience that the Obama administration is a “professional army” of socialists intent on overthrowing the Constitution. Zawistowski tells the assemblage that only they, the heirs and successors to American Revolutionary War figures such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, can stop Obama and the “liberal agenda” from destroying America as it currently exists. Vendors sell anti-Obama literature and bumper stickers, along with information on how to purchase weapons engraved with “We the People Convention” and selected phrases from the US Constitution. “[W]e do not hate Obama because he is black,” he says, “we hate him because he is a socialist, fascist, and not American.” While Zawistowski claims that tea parties have no affiliation with Republican politicians, Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots hosts a luncheon where she cautions listeners to avoid voting for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and instead consider voting for another Republican, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). [We the People Convention, 7/2011; Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 9/16/2011]
Entity Tags: Tea Party Patriots, Tom Zawistowski, Willard Mitt Romney, Ohio Liberty Council, Ohio Citizens PAC, John F. McManus, Matt Spaulding, Michele Bachmann, Barack Obama, Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation, Jenny Beth Martin, Devin Burghart, American Majority, John Birch Society, Buckeye Foundation
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.