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The Tea Party’s strategy rested on a guerrilla campaign of chaos and sabotage designed not only to intimidate Democrats but also to disorient independent voters who might have supported health care reform. The Tea Partiers were convinced this would be an easy feat, since they believed the majority of the country was on their side — that they represented the “Real America.”
In March 2009, Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer signed on to a Birther bill proposing that future presidential candidates must prove their citizenship before becoming eligible to campaign. The Birther movement had found its voice in government and made an indelible impact on the Republican grassroots. By June 2009, 28 percent of Republican respondents to a Kos/Research 2000 poll said they thought Obama wasn’t born in the United States, while 30 percent “weren’t sure.” “Obama should be in the Big House,” Taitz shrieked to me, “not the White House!”
In September 2009, Beck relentlessly targeted ACORN, the Right’s new favorite hobgoblin, admitting that he intended to use the poor people’s advocacy group to distract his viewers from the health care debate. “Trust me,” Beck said, “Everybody now says they’re going to be talking about health care. I don’t think so.” (His statement was reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh’s scandal-mongering remark during the early Clinton administration: “Whitewater is about health care.”) Beck promptly cued up a series of hidden camera videos shot by conservative youth activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles inside ACORN field offices. In the videos, O’Keefe baited African-American staffers into making statements explaining that Giles, who claimed she was a prostitute, could obtain low-income housing. O’Keefe edited in images of himself clad in an outlandish pimp costume to create the impression that he was dressed that way during the meetings with ACORN; however, Giles later admitted her partner had lied about wearing his costume to further incriminate ACORN. In the end, ACORN was exonerated of all criminal wrongdoing while in a separate incident O’Keefe was arrested and charged with a federal crime after he and several conservative pals disguised themselves as telephone repairmen and attempted to wiretap phone lines in the office of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Like Ryan Sorba, O’Keefe and his posse were movement cadres paid and directed by well-funded conservative outfits; O’Keefe had been trained by the Leadership Institute, the right-wing youth group that nurtured leading lights like Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Jeff Gannon.