So what do you get when, after thirty years of looking the other way, someone finally comes calling on the most wealthy corporations in the US to pay their taxes?
One result is a lot of unimaginative, dishonest shills moving to protect and obscure these corporate deadbeats by engineering fake grassroots campaigns – and getting caught doing it.
On August 3rd 2008, the Internet domain name chicagoteaparty.com was registered by right-wing Chicago asshole Zack Christenson. Christenson is producer of “Extension 720” on WGN Radio, also known as “The Milt Rosenberg Show”. Zack and Milt’s work is pure WGN: colorless cluelessness for caucasians and Cubs fans. For reference, picture a fat white woman from Orland Park moaning into a call-in telephone about how she’s “worried” (it doesn’t matter what about) and you can safely skip tuning in to AM 720 in Chicago. Far from being a hotbed of New Media literacy, WGN’s signal follows the suburban, Republican-voting families who fled Chicago neighborhoods in the 1970s. Its broadcasts range from eye-crossingly dull celebrity tut-tutting to reluctant and clumsy how-tos on ancient internet phenomena like eBay, email and eHarmony. Ars Technica it ain’t.
So when Christenson registered the chicagoteaparty.com domain name in August (here’s the domain record proving the date), we can be pretty certain it wasn’t on his mind to launch an original website based on his own ideas. For one thing, Zack has no ideas, as his puddle-deep personal blog clearly demonstrates.
The domain did become a focal point when, six months later, on February 19th 2009, CNBC floor reporter Rick Santelli characterized people behind on their mortgages as “losers” and raved on the air “we’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party [to protest the idea that tax money should be used to help mortgage payers facuing foreclosure in the economic crisis]”
Either Christenson’s domain registration is a coincidence, or he and Santelli are two marginal media figures in a far-flung group of right-wing shills for tax-cheating mega-businesses who were caught launching a fake-grassroots campaign to whip up anti-taxing anger and raise sympathy for multi-billionaires who now face the prospect of paying taxes like everybody else does.
It’s true that some people and businesses in the top 2% of wealth in the US would rather pay to make people angry about taxation than just pay their taxes. And it’s also true that those people get help from toads like Christenson and Rosenberg on a regular basis. But who might be writing the checks this time around?
As it turns out, reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine did the research and connected the dots in the domain name and Santelli campaign to the Koch family, owners of Koch Industries, the largest private corporation in the US. As such, it is a family desperately interested in stopping efforts to collect taxes due from its thirty-year run under the chummiest government business interests have enjoyed since the 1920s, and has funded fake-grassroots campaigns in the past through its funded organization Freedom Works.
What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.
As you read this, Big Business is pouring tens of millions of dollars into their media machines in order to destroy just about every economic campaign promise Obama has made, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. At stake isn’t the little guy’s fight against big government, as Santelli and his bot-supporters claim, but rather the “upper 2 percent”’s war to protect their wealth from the Obama Adminstration’s economic plans. When this Santelli “grassroots” campaign is peeled open, what’s revealed is a glimpse of what is ahead and what is bound to be a hallmark of his presidency.
Let’s go back to February 19th: Rick Santelli, live on CNBC, standing in the middle of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launches into an attack on the just-announced $300 billion slated to stem rate of home foreclosures: “The government is promoting bad behavior! Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?! This is America! We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.”
Almost immediately, the clip and the unlikely “Chicago tea party” quote buried in the middle of the segment, zoomed across a well-worn path to headline fame in the Republican echo chamber, including red-alert headlines on Drudge.
Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.
And for posterity, here’s a paste of the domain reg record for chicagoteaparty.com:
849 N. Franklin
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Domain Name: CHICAGOTEAPARTY.COM
Created on: 03-Aug-08
Expires on: 03-Aug-09
Last Updated on: 03-Aug-08
Domain servers in listed order: