It’s rare that a tea party group ever has good things to say about Mother Jones, which most grassroots conservatives seem to view as the leading voice of pot-smoking godless communists. But Wednesday, the founder of the Nashville-based Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, sent out an email responding to a 3-part Mother Jones investigation of a rival tea party group, Tea Party Patriots, noting that we had uncovered some “unpleasant details” about TPP’s financial management. While many other conservative outfits and TPP loyalists have dismissed the allegations raised in the story as the work of the liberal media, Phillips takes them seriously, saying, “Just because they are liberal does not mean they are not right.” That’s about as close to a compliment as we’re ever likely to get from him.
The reason for the semi-kind words is that Phillips has also heard some of the “rumblings of dissatisfaction” from local tea party activists about problems with TPP management and has found them to be legitimate. He acknowledges that there is no love lost between the two groups, writing, “We have never appreciated their arrogance, their claim they are the ‘official home of the Tea Party movement’, nor the way they have treated people.” Phillips says that his group decided initially not to create its own local chapters for fear of causing more dissension in the movement by competing with TPP, suspecting that the tea party movement could only handle so many local grassroots groups. Instead, Tea Party Nation has stuck to holding (unsuccessful) conventions and managing a website. Meanwhile, Phillips writes, “we have watched Tea Party Patriots move from being a grass roots organization to being a slick, inside the beltway organization, indistinguishable from groups like Freedomworks.”
Phillips has been complaining for a while now that the tea party movement was going mainstream and turning into “Big Tea.” But now that it looks like TPP could be in trouble, Phillips has decided to jump into the fray and start some competing local tea party organizations to give local activists an alternative to TPP. The first one has already gotten off the ground at Brandeis University. And in these new groups, Phillips notes, Tea Party Nation’s national leaders will never ask for them to turn over their email lists—a direct jab at TPP’s unpopular practice of trying to vacuum up the contact lists of its local affiliates for its own fundraising purposes. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it’s virtually impossible to read anything on the Tea Party Nation website without logging in with an email address. But still, Phillips isn’t pulling any punches. Let the tea party civil war begin!