“Training Manual” for the Astroturf File


So, what is “astroturf”?  As with most politically sensitive terms, it appears to have somewhat floating boundaries depending on the needs of the person using it.  Generally, it simply refers to activism that appears to be grassroots but is really supported by political organizations.  The boundaries, obviously, have to do with the necessary purity of the activity.

The early RI Tea Party activities were a classic example.  The national idea for a Tea Party movement spread organically, as far as I could tell.  In our state, Colleen Conley was not an activist.  She contacted the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI), which offered some organizational support (as a totally local and not exactly flush-with-cash operation), but most of the speakers (like me) were active people, but mostly not in a paid “professional capacity.”

Recent anti-Trump rallies seem considerably different, certainly in the extent to which there were professional activists behind it, both after the election and through professional preparation and organization behind the post-inaugural events.

Paul Sperry notes the involvement of former-President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action group, which includes a training manual for activists.  For example:

A script advises callers to complain: “I’m honestly scared that a known racist and anti-Semite will be working just feet from the Oval Office … It is everyone’s business if a man who promoted white supremacy is serving as an adviser to the president.”

I’m almost positive I’ve heard nearly that exact same phrasing from somebody, either in comments, on Facebook, or elsewhere recently, although I can’t find it now.  Whatever the case, to hear folks like Phil Eil talk, one gets the impression that left-wing “astroturf” qualification would require that every person in attendance must be receiving a paycheck.

With any group involved in popular sentiment, there will be some mix of financial backers, professional advocates, and people who are just believers in the cause.  I’d argue that the core quality of “grassroots” is that the believers turn to backers as needed to get things rolling, whereas with “astroturf,” the impetus goes in the other direction, with the established players deliberately riling up the crowds.  (One thinks of a complaint [language warning] from an activist/rioter, in which he notes that being arrested wasn’t a big deal because their “backers” covered bail.)

  • BasicCaruso

    “The national idea for a Tea Party movement spread organically, as far as I could tell.”

    lol, I don’t doubt that there were many, many sincere activists involved, but the Tea Party movement started with Santelli’s rant on corporate media and then was subsequently promoted and amplified by the Koch brothers (with known funding links to this site btw). That’s the opposite of organic except in the bizarro world of paid activists.

    The movement began when CNBC’s Rick Santelli called from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a bankers’ revolt against the undeserving poor. (He proposed that the traders should hold a tea party to dump derivative securities in Lake Michigan to prevent Obama’s plan to “subsidise the losers”: by which he meant people whose mortgages had fallen into arrears.) On the same day, Americans for Prosperity [one of several groups set up by the Kochs to promote their politics] set up a Tea Party Facebook page and started organising Tea Party events.

    Oldham’s film shows how AFP crafted the movement’s messages and drafted its talking points. The New Yorker magazine, in the course of a remarkable exposure of the Koch brothers’ funding networks, interviewed some of their former consultants. “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded [the Tea Party],” one of them explained. “It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud – and they’re our candidates!” Another observed that the Kochs are smart. “This rightwing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.”

    • Mike678

      Does attributing the success of the Tea Party to the left’s boogyman makes you feel better? Does it help you ignore the continued failure of the increasingly shrill and disconnected Dem party? Keep believing this tripe, because continued ignorance just helps the current administration.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Here is some “training” going on in RI

      • BasicCaruso

        Gasp! The fringe-right is funded by billionaires who exploit the legitimate rage of American voters? Inconceivable!

  • Northern Exposure

    And I’m certain that George Soros and MoveOn.Org aren’t behind this new “organic” protest. SMH!