July 25, 2013

There's Ginni Thomas in 2010, coyly telling Neil Cavuto that of course her husband doesn't object to her activism because he views law and policy differently. Four years and many awful Supreme Court decisions later, Mrs. Clarence Thomas rises up again, along with a cabal of high-level right wing conservatives who have declared a "30-front war" on just about everything.

David Corn's exclusive and long, juicy read at Mother Jones has many of the details, including a list of players and copies of communications sent to a Google Group earlier this year. This group calls themselves "Groundswell":

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell's "two front war" against Rove—a major clash on the right—clickhere.)

One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist. Other Groundswell members include John Bolton, the former UN ambassador; Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy; Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women's Forum; Catherine Engelbrecht and Anita MonCrief of True the Vote; Allen West, the former GOP House member; Sue Myrick, also a former House GOPer; Diana Banister of the influential Shirley and Banister PR firm; and Max Pappas, a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

That's quite a who's-who of conservative non-profit leadership right there. And these groups whined about being identified as actively partisan groups by the IRS? Really?

The group doesn't view their mission as mere messaging, either. As Corn notes, their March 27th meeting minutes had a clear statement of purpose:

The memo declared that the goal was not to merely ponder, but to be proactive:

What Groundswell is not is a room of note takers. The goal of Groundswell is to sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged. Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report.

At the March 27 meeting, Groundswell participants discussed one multipurpose theme they had been deploying for weeks to bash the president on a variety of fronts, including immigration reform and the sequester: Obama places "politics over public safety." In a display of Groundswell's message-syncing, members of the group repeatedly flogged this phrase in public. Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed titled "Putting Politics Over Public Safety." Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update "Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration." Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post called "Obama's Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety." Matthew Boyle used the phrase in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle's story on Twitter by tweeting, "Politics over public safety?" In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded "brownie points" to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the "politics over public safety" riff.

Now read that in the context of what we know about "The Fox Effect." This is what they do -- start with the bloggers and writers, move the message up the chain to the more "mainstream" online conservative media, and then Fox News picks it up. From there, we see the complaints that no mainstream media are paying attention, and so the other cable networks pick it up, and the next thing you know, the Sunday shows are all over it like no one's business.

What makes this group different from other messaging groups are the participants. Ginni Thomas, Allen West, Ted Cruz staffer Max Pappas, Frank Gaffney, True the Vote, Tea Party Patriots, Freedomworks, and many more. I know of no messaging group anywhere ever who has the ear and the bedroom of a sitting United States Supreme Court Justice, but this one has one, and she is one of the leaders of the pack.

Groundswellers are not partisan, however. They loathe Karl Rove as much as they do anyone, and he is one of their primary targets. A separate Mother Jonesarticle outlines their strategic war against Rove, which involves leadership by Diana Banister of the ultra-right wing strategy group Shirley and Banister, and more.

Another group leader is Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote. True the Vote is a group that was originally known as the King Street Patriots, that illustrious Texas voter suppression outfit, dedicated to making sure brown, black and poor people don't vote whenever possible.

Finally, how can we ignore Breitbart News, whose chief executive is an active participant?

Groundswell has forged a particularly close relationship withBreitbart. Matthew Boyle, one of Breitbart's more prominent reporters, has attended Groundswell meetings, used the group as a source for tips and a mechanism to promote his stories, and joined in its efforts to whip up coordinated bullet points to be deployed by conservative advocacy shops. In February, he tried to enlist the group to push astory he had written the year before at the Daily Caller, in which he maintained the Justice Department was in cahoots with the liberal group Media Matters to smear conservative whistleblowers and journalists. In a long note addressed to all Groundswellers—written at a time when reporter Bob Woodward was making (what turned out to be inflated) claims about Obama White House intimidating foes—Boyle said, "Figured this might be a good time to bring this story back up and see if there's a way to drive it."

Boyle said he was hoping to prompt congressional Republicans to launch an investigation. He contended he had only revealed the "tip of the iceberg" and shared his suspicion that many government agencies (State, the CIA, the Pentagon, the EPA, and more) were conspiring with "far left wing groups" to undermine conservatives in the media: "I think we can get at the heart of the Obama admin's weaknesses here." He explained: "Any evidence obtained would be more proof of collusion between the administration and the media and far left groups, while at the same time serving as evidence of whatever ridiculously moronic big government policies they're pushing are." Read on...

Journalism or activism? You make the call.

It comes as no surprise to discover there's a "vast right wing conspiracy." We all know that. But this group has powerful players who cross boundaries between high-level nonprofits, media, and government itself. There are some boundaries which should not be crossed, like the one that separates activism from Supreme Court opinions, for example. It's impossible to see the lines after they've been blurred by this group of activists and message-makers.

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