For almost a year, tea party and other conservative activists working through a group known as Unite in Action, have been promoting the first "Liberty XPO and Symposium" in DC at the swank Omni Shoreham hotel. They billed the event as the "largest conservative training event in history!" Hoping to tap into the thousands of tea partiers planning to march on the Capitol on the anniversary of last year's huge 9/12 national taxpayer's march, organizers promised lots of great speakers, training sessions on grassroots politicking, and book signing events from conservative luminaries. But from the beginning, the event has had some troubles. Last month, organizers were still begging for $40,000 to help pay for the event. Then they decided to make the tickets to the event free, a sign that they were getting desperate for people to attend.
Apparently, the fundraising didn't pan out, and neither did the attendance. In front of the registration desk today was a big poster with a handwritten fundraising thermometer that read, "Did you know? People just like you have taken out loans to pay for this event? Please! Help us repay them." A big bucket labeled "United We Stand" invited people to drop in some cash. The goal? $30,000. Things were almost grimmer in the exhibit hall, which at 9:30 this morning was virtually empty. Tim Cox, the founder of Get Out of Our House (better known as GOOOH), who was manning a booth in the hall, said that the attendance had been horrible. He was surprised, too. "They've been really promoting it," he lamented.
Even one of the new B-list stars of the right-wing talk circuit, Anita MonCrief, spoke to a near-empty room this morning. MonCrief is the former ACORN worker now embraced by the right as a "whistleblower" who helped bring down ACORN. (ACORN fired her in early 2008 for putting personal expenses on a Project Vote credit card.) Now working with American Majority, the conservative precinct training outfit that's started a new voter registration project, MonCrief was there to give activists pointers on how to run a voter registration drive and to keep tabs on liberals who might be up to no good in their own registration efforts. Among her tips: "Everything goes back to the secretary of state." MonCrief noted that secretaries of state are the secret key to who votes and who doesn't, which is one reason that billionaire liberal George Soros has focused on them. "Has anyone ever heard of the 'Secretary of State' Project?" she asked conspiratorially, referring to a Soros-funded effort by Democrats to elect friendly election officials in key battleground states. She warned darkly about the coming move to push for universal voter registration, a horror that might allow convicted felons, illegal aliens, and second-home owners from Ohio to vote at least once and maybe twice. "This is a threat to our electoral system," she warned, noting at the same time that there are no serious legislative efforts in the works to bring it about. It's the kind of stuff that tea partiers would normally eat up. Alas, few of them were on hand to see it.
Former GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes garnered a bigger draw, moderating a panel on "trumping the race card" in which he did most of the talking. (Tea party organizers seem to have a real fondness for showcasing black people who hate liberals at their all-white events. MonCrief is also African-American.) Without irony, the woman introducing Keyes said that he is such a towering conservative figure that WorldNet Daily recently tried to host a debate over the Constitution with Keyes but after a month of searching, couldn't find a single person who was willing to debate him. Once he started talking, it was pretty clear why. Keyes droned on about how science says there is no such thing as race and seemed to imply that it was some sort of media invention. Eventually, he got around to introducing some of the other panelists. The session should have been renamed "Four Black People in America Who Didn't Vote For Obama" to better reflect the content. Panelists Kevin Jackson, author of The Big Black Lie, Fox News regular Lisa Fritsch, and K. Carl Smith, the "ConservativeMESSENGER," all took turns bashing the president and the sheep who voted for him, the NAACP, and of course, the media. They expressed their devotion to God and their sense that if it weren't for the media, racism really wouldn't exist in this country.
Naturally, unlike those stooges at the NAACP, these black conservatives love the tea party. Smith even went so far to compare the tea party movement to the abolitionist movement, where "white people are helping work for the liberation of black." This comment got lots of applause from the nearly all-white audience, which seemed ready to pat themselves on the back. But then Keyes launched into a tirade against none other than Sarah Palin, the mama grizzly of the entire tea party movement. There were gasps from the crowd at his heresy. People seemed to recover, though, when he went on to bash John McCain as a big-time phony and back stabber. Finally, he shut up and let folks head off to "lunch with the founders"--i.e., a bunch of Revolutionary War re-enactors.
Later, the activists who made the trek to the Omni Shoreham today for the XPO seemed almost uniformly interested in a session sponsored by Arabs for Israel entitled, "A Mosque: A seat of Government Under Sharia." While this time there was a big crowd in a small room ready to listen, the speaker was more than an hour late. The tea partiers waited patiently, but I finally left. (No word yet on whether Nonie Darwish, founder of www.formermuslimsunited.org, ever did show up.) But before I did, a woman next to me helped explain why the XPO seemed so empty: the buses were just getting here. She had come from Alabama today along with her tea party group. She had flown, but most of her compatriots were coming by bus, which had just arrived. Most of them were coming for the weekend to participate in the big 9/12 march scheduled for Sunday by FreedomWorks, the advocacy group headed by former GOP House Minority Leader Dick Armey. The XPO started on Thursday, thereby missing the big crowds by a couple of days. The Alabama contingent was, however, planning on attending the "March on DC" tomorrow, which is also sponsored by Unite in Action. Flipping through the conference program, the Alabama tea partiers discovered with delight that Morgan Brittney would be on the lineup. Brittney, you may recall, played Katherine Wentworth on the 1980s soap opera/Larry Hagman vehicle Dallas. "She looks great!" the woman noted. It was a Dallas kind of crowd, what there was of it.