The FreedomWorks Coup that Almost Was


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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55 Responses

  1. Avatar Peter says:

    Armey and his aide were not arrested, why?Report

  2. Avatar Thoreau says:

    According to Mother Jones, the man with the gun is a retired DC cop who frequently serves as Dick Armey’s body guard:

    I’m not saying that’s the final word, but I’d like to know more. One alternate take is that Kibbe is the one playing dirty, telling tall tales to benefit his own side in this intra-party civil war. I don’t claim to know which is correct.

    FWIW, as a nominal libertarian my knee would be more likely to jerk in Kibbe’s direction, except I hate right-leaning libertarians who emphasize economic issues. So I have no dog in this fight.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Some thoughts:

    1. Once again, I think that conservatives manage to find the most Orwellian use of words imaginable. They have been doing this since the New Deal with the Liberty League. How can this group call themselves Freedomworks? What do they mean by Freedom? I suppose the answer is that they are all Calivinists and Freedom is the right to choose God’s will.

    2. Where does a non-profit get the money for an 8 million dollar buyout? This is a rhetorical question?

    3. Can anyone seriously imagine this happening at a liberal 501(c)(3)? Can anyone imagine Alyssa Rosenberg staging a coup at ThinkProgress?

    4. Let’s see if Kibbe actually promotes social liberty or will he be another libetarian that is all too willing to send social liberty down the river because he is already part of the established order. I somehow doubt it.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Once again, I think that conservatives manage to find the most Orwellian use of words imaginable.

      Perhaps, but there’s a pretty solid argument to be made that that honor goes to “liberals.”Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Can you tell when Orwell renounced his democratic socialism?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          To say that someone’s language is Orwellian means that he’s using words in a manner that grossly perverts their meaning, usually in a way that co-opts the positive or negative connotations associated with a word and transfers them to a thing which is different from, and often the polar opposite of, what that word has traditional denoted. Orwell’s personal political beliefs are beside the point.

          I was referring specifically to the fact that self-described “liberals” and “progressives” frequently advocate policies which are profoundly illiberal and anti-progress.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      “Can anyone seriously imagine this happening at a liberal 501(c)(3)? Can anyone imagine Alyssa Rosenberg staging a coup at ThinkProgress?”

      … yup. I know just the person to do it, too. But he’d be subtler about it, and there would be more hilarity.

      Some people enjoy driving other people insane.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I don’t know Ms. Rosenberg to have an assessment of whether her personality is such that she would be attracted to this sort of thing.

        I’ve had my own involvement with things like this, though. They’re extremely unpleasant for all involved, especially those in the crossfire who are asked to take sides. I felt awful for Jason when it was going on at his shop.

        But I see no particular reason why it should be limited to right-wing groups. Power, control, money, and fame are desired with great vigor all the way across the political spectrum.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          You are right. It is not limited to right-wing groups. I have seen this first hand at left wing groups but those groups were far from the mainstream and did not have the ear or attention of the Democratic Party. FreedomWorks is a major player in the Republican Party and national politics overall. Freedomworks can get covered by the mainstream media.

          There is a group of non-profit radio networks called the Pacifica Foundation*. They own 5 radio stations in the Bay Area, NYC, D.C., LA, and Houston. They are entirely listener supported and very-far to the left. I worked as a local election supervisor at the NYC station (WBAI) during one of their elections of board of supervisors. Control of WBAI is being constantly fought over by two factions. During my interview, my supervisor called these factions “the White faction” and the “Black faction”. The fighting between them seems to have existed since the 1960s (when WBAI was hip and relevant instead of forgotten and largely broke.) You are right about the unpleasantness.

          As for Ms. Rosenberg, she is a sweet and nerdy Jewish girl who self-described her taste for adventure as roughly calibrated to Liz Lemon levels. Dick Armey she is not but I suppose you can never tell.

          *My politics are probably center-right to conservative by Pacifica standards but this still makes me pretty liberal. I just took the job because it paid a good a month for 25 hours of work a week and this seemed interesting and doubable during my last year of grad school.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            were those factions actually racial/SES in nature? y’all have me curious.

            I know a guy who almost got a job in creative destruction of the local charity’s boards of directors (turned it down. why make enemies in your hometown?).Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Yes and no. The whole situation was very complicated and very messy.

              The “black” faction was largely African-American. However, they also had some New York Jews and some people of WASP-Scandanvian background, and some Asians.

              The “white” faction was also pretty diverse but probably largely white and Jewish. There were Black-Americans aligned with the white faction.

              Socio-Economics are harder to guess. I think most people in all factions were old 60s radicals who never became yuppies. Most of them probably lived very precarious economic existences. There were some exceptions though. The unofficial leader of the white faction was a well-to do business man who kept his youthful politics. There were also some old-school academics (tenure and everything) who had decent socio-economic lives. Others were of the “teach a class” here and there kind of academics.

              In the black faction, there was one person who was an accountant and she and her husband owned a townhouse in the city and seemed to have an upper-middle class life. Others I am not so sure about.

              The factions absolutely hated each other. The one concession I got was when a woman on the black faction admitted she really would like to talk to a guy on the white faction about his work in science. Then she added that this was verbotten.

              Now watch the Internet deduct who I am and come in and denounce me for my performance as a poor elections supervisor. Both factions saw me as tool/pawn of the other faction. It was a learning experience but not in a good way.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            No need to apologize for your politics.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          The thing is that “crossfire” is ordinarily a metaphor, not a real possibility.Report

  4. Avatar Anne says:

    NewDealer I know #2 was rhetorical but per Gardner’s article

    “The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

    Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.”Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Some of the female employees burst into tears when they were told to hit the road

    Did Armey accuse them of stealing post-it notes?Report

  6. Avatar Will H. says:

    I’ve yet to see any information as to what capacity Armey served on the board.
    Pertinent, to some extent, should he serve in the position of treasurer; which I believe incurs personal liability in the same manner that a general partner in a limited partnership has liability (which is actually what the witch-hunt for Tom Delay was all about).Report

  7. Avatar ktward says:

    I haven’t yet read Gardner’s piece. I absolutely will, though.

    Meanwhile, it seems like it’s been weeks ago already that I learned about this FW brouhaha. But I became aware of the Armey/Kibbe infighting at FW from another direction that was largely apolitical. Well, it started out apolitical.

    Armey received his $8MM in hush-until-Nov.7 money not from FW, but from the personal coffers of one of FW’s board members, Dick Stephenson. Stephenson also happens to be the founder and chairman of Canter Treatment Centers of America, a private and for-profit enterprise.

    I am caring for aging parents. One of them is undergoing treatment for cancer. And nearly every day my vulnerably gullible folks are treated to well-crafted TV ads from CTCA. Consequently, I’ve had to do some serious digging about the efficacy of their treatments (out of five centers, all are variously wishy-washy). But right from the get-go, just on principal it bothered me that CTCA is a private, for-profit enterprise.

    Now we know where some of CTCA’s profits are going.Report

    • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

      Now we also understand the brave principled stand Freedom Works takes in opposing Obamacare.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone would even consider CTCA, having nothing to do with Stephenson’s ideo-political bent. And near as I can tell (they equivocate), CTCA doesn’t accept Medicare, even though out seniors are the hardest-hit demo when it comes to cancer.

        But even if -especially if- refusing Medicare patients isn’t a dealbreaker, there are big-hitter cancer treatment hospitals with demonstrably better outcomes than CTCA. Regardless of what Peggy says.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Now we also understand the brave principled stand Freedom Works takes in opposing Obamacare.

        Yeah, it’s always been kind of a mystery to me how they opposed Obamacare when every other conservative supported it.Report

  8. Avatar ktward says:

    Edit: Cancer TCA. Not Canter. But it is the kind of typo that makes me giggle. Maybe it’s the former equestrian in me.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Horse dung is very valuable to gardeners; doesn’t burn when it’s fresh. Can be used without composting.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        Holy cow.

        I’ve never been much of a gardener beyond the few easily cultivated herbs I’ve deemed precious in my kitchen. (I suppose there was the time I tried to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and did something wrong. But that’s a story for another time …)

        Anyhoo. Once upon a time, in my previously referenced equestrian youth, I cleaned out horse stalls. I had no idea the stuff was, er, valuable.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          It’s a gift; particularly when you consider the effort required to clean those stalls.

          And something I remind myself of when faced with that other type of Horses Ass, which this post and your funny keyboard slip bring to mind. Most of what falls from the HA is not pleasant, but some if it, at least, is useful.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            There’s a coworker who has horse property. I aim to raid her dung heap when I load up the raised bed in the spring.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Do you have a place where you can pile it to compost? If so, get as much as you can, use some in your beds and pile the rest, reapply mid-late summer. The problem with horse dung is also it’s blessing; it doesn’t cause nitrogen burn, so it also doesn’t have as much nutrient.

              And if you can pile it, there’s a potential problem of flies; there are excellent organic controls. For many years, my mom raised horses, and when they began using nematodes, the fly problem went away.

              Some days, I wish stuff like this would also work on political organizations.Report

  9. Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    So a guy walks into an office, brandishes a gun and demands $8 Million.

    There’s a legal term for that act.

    No wait, don’t prompt me.Report

  10. Avatar ktward says:

    Reading Gardner’s piece now. Just read this bit:

    Among other things, Stephenson wanted a substantial sum spent in support of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea party favorite and Stephenson’s local congressman, several who attended the retreat recalled.

    (LOL seems inadequate.) Ahahahaha!Report

  11. Avatar ktward says:

    So, Stephenson isn’t just a cash cow, evidently he’s been quite the little activist. I had no idea. But I can’t help but wonder if Tea Party rank-and-filers are really all that concerned about this drama, assuming they’re even aware of it. Or ever become aware of it beyond some random sketchy recollection.

    Meanwhile, looks like Armey is securing himself a seat in the right field’s persona non grata section, which he surely deserves but probably isn’t too bothered about. After all, he’s 72, and his wrinky arse now has a sweet little pension for the next 20 years thanks to Stephenson. Not bad for a day’s work.Report

    • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

      I expect that section to get a lot more crowded.

      What we are witnessing is a collision between the interests of the Wall Street and the interests of the Main Street/ Tea Party wings of the conservative movement.

      I honestly don’t know who will come out on top.Report

  12. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This is a delightful story, because all those that love to hate ‘The Village’ are taking delight in this quintessentially Village story.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      I don’t think many cocktail partys in Chevy Chase involve loaded weapons.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        We can always hope, can’t we?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        The salacious* & prominent (right there in the sub-lede) gun details is exactly what made this piece a Village story, feeding into the Village’s fear of Men With Guns**.

        *”gun-wielding assistant” is quite evocative isn’t it? But evokes in most people something slightly different than the fact (stated in the previous sentence) that he had a holstered weapon at his hip. I don’t think Gus Haynes would have let that adjective through.

        **’cept if they’re The Troops(TM) overseas, but that’s just the other side of the ignorance coin – undue adulation vice irrational fear.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          (actually, what made the piece a Village story besides the fact that it about Washington insiders was “most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely”. So it’s probably almost entirely a bit of score settling – *the* Village parlor game).Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            All it would take for Armey to become the media darling of the Left is to perform an abortion in the parking lot of this place; preferably on a 12-yr old immigrant (who speaks little or no English).
            Then he would be a Champion of Human Rights.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Dick* Armey would never stoop to such a Gruesome Deed. Surely he would delegate it to his Benefactor, that Dog-Leech Dick** Stephenson, a Hors’y Type whose wealth was Garner’d from Desperate Cancer Patients.

              Contra vim mortis non crescit salvia in hortis, we are told, no Herb groweth that saveth a man from Death, but money groweth in plenty from those approaching it, harvested by Dick Stephenson, who hath Compound’d from it a salve efficacious enough to mend Dick Armey’s wounded pride, Slather’d thereupon by Goodwife Armey, mentioned previously. We may be sure the Filthy Lucre passed first into her hand for I do not believe Dick Stephenson’s Taboo Structure permits the application of his own salve to Man Parts.

              * Ne’er was a Christian name so aptly foreshortened!
              ** De integroReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Oh, Sir, do read the Head-Line on Mistress Gardner’s Artical: FreedomWorks tea party group nearly falls apart in fight between old and new guard. It seemeth to me that Dick Armey and his Armed Assistant, for all their Blustre and Blunderbussing, were led about by the will and purpose of Goodwife Armey.

          If we are to take away any Moral or Lesson from this Horrid Episoad, it surely is this: the Tea Party can be Led About by its Members when those Stiff and Obdurate Pricks are in the grip of their wives.Report