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Tea Party protests refer to a series of demonstrations that arose in response to the Obama administration’s introduction and congressional legislation of economic stimulus package bill in 2009.
The theme of the Boston Tea Party has long been used in American political movements, especially by various conservatives and libertarian activists as part of Tax Day protests. The modern-day Tea Party protests emerged in 2008 with the worsening of American economic recession and subprime mortgage crisis in the late 2000s. In response to growing economic problems, the newly elected Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress introduced a stimulus bill formally known as 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which instantly sparked a bipartisan debate over the scale and scope of the bailout.
Tea Bag Campaign
On January 19th, 2009, business news site MarketTicker forum member Graham Makohoniuk (handle: Gmak) posted a casual invitation to “mail a tea bag to Congress and to Senate,” a grassroots lobbying tactic that had been attempted by the Libertarian Party in 1973.
The renewed idea of mailing a tea bag as a statement appealed to many others on the forum who were dissatisfied with the bailout proposal. Among those who agreed were the forum moderator Stephanie Jasky and the site founder Karl Denninger, who openly supported and promoted the campaign across the web with feature articles.
By February 1st, the idea of Tea Party had been picked up by conservative and libertarian-leaning blogs, discussion forums and through a viral email campaign launched by MarketTicker founder Denninger.
Beginning on February 16th, several organized protests backed by conservative advocacy groups took place in Washington, Colorado and Arizona, where hundreds of demonstrators showed up in downtown area to protest the extraneous “pork barrel” spendings that were listed in the stimulus plan.
Rick Santelli Video
The call for protests picked up momentum on February 19th, 2009, when CNBC Business News Network editor Rick Santelli criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages during a live broad cast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. During the broadcast, Santelli also raised the possibility of organizing a “Chicago Tea Party,” which was met by applause and cheers from the traders and brokers on the trading floor.
The CNBC clip was subsequently uploaded onto YouTube and gained one million views within 24 hours. The clip was syndicated through several cable news channels and political news blogs, from which emerged an online network of bloggers, journalists and activists under the banner of Tea Party. Websites like ChicagoTeaParty.com, TeaPartyPatriots.com and reTeaParty.com were launched immediately following Santelli’s speech to serve as hubsites for coordinating Tea Parties.
On Facebook & Twitter
On Twitter, Santelli’s on-air plea for action quickly resonated with many American Twitter users including several members of #tcot (short for “Top conservatives on Twitter”) community. Shortly after the first tweets about Chicago Tea Party protest, the idea became linked with trending Twitter hashtags like #teaparty, #sgp (Smart Girl Politics) and #dontgo (DontGo Movement) and had been retweeted thousands of times, according to a blog post by Brooks Bayne on Twitter reaction to Santeli’s rant. Conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin and Keli Carender also played significant roles in spreading the words through the blogosphere.
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Meanwhile on Facebook, Young Americans for Liberty NY State Chairman Trevor Leach created a Facebook page called “The Capitalist Chicago Tea Party--Rick’s Revolution” on February 19th and another Facebook page was launched by conservative advocate Phil Kerpen on February 20th for the same cause.
Soon, the “Nationwide Chicago Tea Party” protest was coordinated across over 40 different cities for February 27th, 2009. Various groups of demonstrators ranging from 40 to 400 participants turned up at Tea Parties held across the American cities, including in Denver, Houston, Lansing, Nashville, Omaha, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington D.C. From then on, protests have continued throughout the year and remained active in 2011.
Contract from America
Houston-based attorney Ryan Hecker launched Contract from America, an online project which called on people to suggest possible planks and vote for the best from the pool. Out of the original 1,000 ideas submitted by the visitors, Hecker reduced the list to 50 items based on popularity and then to a list of 21 the help of former House Republican Leader Dick Armey.
The final draft of 10 was chosen through a final online vote over the period two months and 454,331 votes were cast. The resulting document was posted online on April 12th, 2010.
Tax Day Protests
On April 15th, the largest number of tea parties to date took place across 750 cities in the United States. The Tax Day protests were widely promoted through conservative blogs and Tea Party hubsites as well as on Facebook and Twitter. The Fox News channel also provided coverage on the events as they happened on the day. The protests were also met by counter-protests expressing support for the Obama administration and criticisms of conservative activists copying the online tactics used during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Numerous Tea Party-themed items and apparel also sprang up on a number of online merchandise sites like CafePress and Zazzle, which brought in revenues in hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a Fox News report in April.
Teabonics refers to spelling and grammatical errors associated with members of the Tea Party movement, particularly the picket signs displayed during various Tea Party demonstrations.
On March 28th, 2010, Flickr user Pargon uploaded a set of photos under the tag “Teabonics.” The photos featured signs and banners with incorrect spelling and grammer from various Tea Party protests around the country, and were accompanied by the following description.
Operation Tea Spoon
In July of 2010, the Oregon Tea Party co-opted the Anonymous slogan “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” The phrase appeared on a number of Tea Party protest signs and bumper stickers and at one point as the official description on the Tea Party Patriots website.
By trying to use Anonymous as a political brand, the Oregon Tea Party evoked the wrath of Anonymous, resulting in a DESU-spamming raid on the Oregon Tea Party Facebook Page. In response, public access to Facebook was limited to invite-only and posted a message stating the following:
“Anonymous: we appreciate your resources and admire your tactics. You have taught us more than you know. As you requested, we are no longer using the Anonymous quote.”
The term “teabagger” emerged after a protester displayed a placard using the words “tea bag” as a verb. The label has inspired additional puns by cable TV commentators and comedians in reference to the sexual meaning of the term. It has been since used as a derogatory term to refer to conservative protestors.
2013 IRS Investigation
In May 2013, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service officials disclosed that it intentionally targeted a number of non-profit organizations with conservative agendas and Tea Party affiliations for extra scrutiny of their tax filings. On May 10th, 2013, Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS exempt-organizations division, released a statement saying the agency was “apologetic” for its actions, which she characterized as “absolutely inappropriate.”
Shortly after the release of the Treasury Department Inspector’s general report on May 15th, the U.S. political news blog Politico published a review of the official report highlighting the details of the IRS probe, which ranged from investigating the targeted groups’ Facebook and Twitter pages to requesting for printout copies and summaries of their literature and websites.