If you found yourself buying into the “spontaneous” statement made by Rick Santelli on the trading floor of the mercantile, looking at a “chicago tea party” flyer, or following CPAC — congratulations — you’ve just participated in the latest marketing campaign brought to you by Neoconservatism, Inc.
This style of marketing is called “astroturfing,” since the goal is to create the illusion of a grassroots movement where there is none. It’s propaganda, pure and simple.
Examining the astroturfing process of the Santelli — tea party — CPAC event sequence reveals a carefully orchestrated, pre-planned, top-down, marketing-driven stunt to make the far right look (1) like they can organize, and (2) that people actually care what they think any more.
A nationwide “tea party” grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.
But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?
What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.
It’s no secret that the right is playing catch-up when it comes to netroots and online organizing. I have no problem with anyone anywhere on the political spectrum making use of these new technologies, but I am concerned by how the far right is going about it: through fakery and deception. Front websites, fake facebook accounts, fake twitter accounts, 501(c)(3) organizations, and top-down decision-making characterize much of the online efforts of the political right.
The top 1 or 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans are fighting back against economic policy that they see as harmful to their interests. These aren’t men or women that you would meet in your neighborhood. They are people like billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the largest private corporation in America and the man behind such organizations as the so-called Institute for Humane Studies, the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, right.org, the Club For Growth, Reason Magazine, and the Cato Institute (founder).**
We are witnessing the continued propaganda offensive of big business and the mega-rich, and they do not suffer any blemish to their power or status quietly.
So today’s protests show that the corporate war is on, and this is how they’ll fight it: hiding behind “objective” journalists and “grassroots” new media movements. Because in these times, if you want to push for policies that help the super-wealthy, you better do everything you can to make it seem like it’s “the people” who are “spontaneously” fighting your fight. As a 19th century slave management manual wrote, “The master should make it his business to show his slaves, that the advancement of his individual interest, is at the same time an advancement of theirs. Once they feel this, it will require little compulsion to make them act as becomes them.” (Southern Agriculturalist IX, 1836.) The question now is, will they get away with it, and will the rest of America advance the interests of Koch, Santelli, and the rest of the masters?
(From the same article as above; emphasis mine. See? People do read Playboy for the articles.)
As with any form of media throughout the ages, the internet now faces the challenge of whether it will survive as a medium uncorrupted by the powerful. I believe that there is great promise for the online world to resist such corruption, but these neocon jokers are really putting it to the test.
* This playboy article was taken down sometime on the afternoon of 3/2/2009.
** Correction: I erroneously posted that Charles Koch was a founder of the John Birch Society. It was actually his father, Fred Koch, who was a founding member of the JBS. I apologize for the error.