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For many on the left, the idea that there was a spontaneous uprising of American patriots concerned by the out-of-control growth of our government has been bunk from the outset. We based that on the simple observation that there was an awful lot of awfully big money behind making sure that people went to teabagger rallies and that those rallies got a disproportionate amount of media attention. In a word, it was clearly astroturf. A new academic study confirms what we knew all along, and far more: "Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests."
Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry's role in driving climate disruption.
The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party's anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke. [...]
The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now "supporting the tobacco companies' political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws." Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.
The Kochs clearly hate clean air. The study also reveals that, as far back as 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE had well developed plans for creating a Tea Party, including a website under the domain name usteaparty.com, which is currently owned by FreedomWorks. The site was taken down in 2011. The study also reveals that the Kochs and their astroturf organizations are now working internationally, training activists in more than two dozens countries including Israel, Georgia, Japan and Serbia.
If there's a Rupert Murdoch-owned broadcast network in any of these countries to provide the kind of support Fox News provided to the astroturfers here, they'll probably succeed. Here's a question for American tea partiers now, though: Will they stick around if they find out they've been duped into being pawns for Big Tobacco and Big Oil?
Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 01:07 PM PST.