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Profile: Stephanie Mencimer
Stephanie Mencimer was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer publishes an article on one Washington, DC-area “study group” of the Constitution as sponsored by a local “tea party” organization. Such “study groups” have “mushroom[ed]” in number across the nation, according to Mencimer’s fellow Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum. The study group Mencimer examines was held in Woodbridge, Virginia, “a hotbed of tea partiers and anti-immigration Minutemen,” Mencimer writes. The group is led by Rick Dalton, a volunteer from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Dalton travels the country lecturing and leading “study groups” about the Constitution for tea party organizations around the country. Mencimer writes: “Many tea partiers believe the country’s economic and political woes are a direct result of Washington abandoning the Constitution, which they believe calls for an extremely limited federal government that does not concern itself with matters like bank failures or health care reform. They’ve turned to the founding document with the fervor of evangelicals seeking inspiration from the sacred texts of the past.” [Mother Jones, 5/2010; Mother Jones, 9/2010]
Connection to Radical Reinterpretation of Constitution, Fox's Beck - Many tea partiers, including Dalton, look to a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution as espoused by the late W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon who told people he was an aide to then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. In 1981, Skousen published a controversial book, The 5000 Year Leap, a controversial reinterpretation of the Constitution that in recent months has been promoted by Fox News talk show host and tea party icon Glenn Beck; Beck wrote the foreward to the new edition of the book, which has achieved bestselling status. Skousen is the original founder of NCCS. Dalton is a graduate of George Wythe University, an unaccredited institution founded by Skousen protege Oliver DeMille, and a teacher at the unaccredited Heritage Academy charter school in Mesa, Arizona, a school largely attended by formerly homeschooled children. Dalton’s instructional presentation at the Woodbridge seminar is largely derived from Skousen’s teachings; some of the participants are clearly conversant in Skousen’s works and can recite from his workbook The Making of America, which Dalton uses in the presentation.
Constitution a Divine Instrument - According to Skousen, the material in the Constitution stems directly from information given by God to Moses. That, according to Skousen, makes the Constitution something of a divine work. Skousen taught that Northern Europe was settled by one of the “lost tribes of Israel,” and that the Anglo-Saxons, the descendants of this “lost tribe,” kept the teachings of Moses alive for thousands of years until their descendants emigrated to America and incorporated Moses’s wisdom into the Constitution. Mencimer calls Skousen’s “lost tribes” teaching “a piece of historical poppycock that has long held traction in the white supremacist movement.”
Racist, 'Capitalist' Teachings of NCCS - NCCS has gotten into trouble in the past over imparting pro-slavery and other racist ideology in its works; Skousen’s The Making of America incorporates material from a 1934 essay by slavery apologist Fred Albert Shannon, who wrote in part, “If the pickaninnies [a racial slur referring to African-Americans] ran naked, it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school, they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.” In his Woodbridge seminar, Dalton criticizes slavery, but skips the Constitutional amendments referring to slavery and civil rights for minorities. Instead, he teaches that the Constitution protects the capitalist “free market,” and “proves” his contention by saying that the early Jamestown settlers starved because they were “Communists” until a new “HDIC—head dude in charge” took over and saved the settlement by using Biblical and free-market capitalism to provide a new and distinctly American direction. Dalton tells the participants that Karl Marx invented the income tax (Mencimer notes that it was actually first proposed by William Pitt the Younger, a conservative British lawmaker). According to Dalton, the federal government is subverting the Constitution by spending federal monies to buy or build any structures outside of forts, magazines and arsenals, dockyards, and post offices. “What about national parks?” he asks. “Think of all that land that could be put on the rolls and generating taxes!”
Interviews - Mencimer interviews a number of participants during the lunch break. Construction inspector Robert Jeffery tells Mencimer that he does not believe in gun law restrictions, saying that the Second Amendment is all the “concealed carry permit” he needs. He says Dalton’s teachings prove to him that the nation must return to “the founding principles to understand where the country had gone off track.” Ken Vaughn, who leads the Northern Virginia branch of the 9/12 Movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), says he became interested in the Constitution study groups after the Obama administration began “bailing out firms that had no right to be bailed out. I think that made people wake up and look at our debt and think, ‘Maybe we need to make changes.’” Ann Hardt, a Mormon, has three of her homeschooled children in tow, and tells Mencimer that she uses Skousen’s educational materials to teach her six children history. She is a veteran of the NCCS seminars and a tea party member. [Mother Jones, 5/2010]
Entity Tags: Kevin Drum, Fred Albert Shannon, Ann Hardt, Ken Vaughn, W. Cleon Skousen, Stephanie Mencimer, National Center for Constitutional Studies, Rick Dalton, Robert Jeffery, Mother Jones, Glenn Beck
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
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]
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