Speaking at the Center for American Progress last month, Phil Kerpen, the policy director for the right-wing astroturf group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), claimed that his organization doesn’t “engage the science” of global warming, but rather the economics of implementing measures to address it. However, appearing on CNN Monday night, AFP president Tim Phillips angrily challenged the scientific consensus on the threat of global warming pollution. The powerful tea party group helped sweep a wave of Republican climate deniers into Congress earlier this month, serving the economic interests of AFP’s founder David Koch, the right-wing billionaire pollution scion. In the CNN interview with Elliot Spitzer, Phillips argued that “Al Gore” and “the left” are guilty of “arrogance” for believing in global warming pollution:
SPITZER: Do you disagree conceptually there is such a thing as global warming that we have to worry about?
PHILLIPS: I think the science is far from settled. For anyone, including Al Gore, to say otherwise is arrogance. There are enough scientists out there and doctors out there saying hey wait a minute, let’s look at this thing more closely.” I’m not a scientist, I don’t pretend to be, but when I look and read, for the left to say, “Oh, the debate is settled.” Aren’t they the ones always wanting tolerance, open debate, dissent? They are quick to whack you down.
On Monday night, ThinkProgess hosted a film screening of Astroturf Wars followed by a panel discussion featuring the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, (Astro)Turf Wars filmmaker Taki Oldham, Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen, the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson, moderator and ThinkProgress editor Faiz Shakir, and myself. Responding to the vitriolic racism openly aired at tea parties and captured in Oldham’s film, an audience member asked Kerpen why he refused to acknowledge the possibility that dangerous propaganda could spur life-threateningviolence. Kerpen said he opposed racism and hate in the Tea Parties, but admitted that racists “might find a more receptive audience [at Tea Party rallies] because of all the paranoia and concern out there about government.”
In addition to the problem that Tea Parties are often open forums for neo-Nazis and white supremacists holding racist signs, I pointed out that Americans for Prosperity itself organizes events with proud bigots like Tom Tancredo and Jerome Corsi. Kerpen interjected, calling me a “full time conspiracy theorist,” and claimed that Americans for Prosperity had never held an event with Corsi and has no presence in South Carolina:
KERPEN: There is no problem we have a problem with extremism in this country. We have a problem with racism in our country, it goes back to our founding. Unfortunately, some of these people look at these Tea Party gatherings with all this concern about big government and think, this is where I ought to go to recruit. And perhaps they might find a slightly more receptive audience there because of all the paranoia and concern out there about government. That said, the overwhelming majority of Tea Party folks condemn racism. [...]
FANG: I applaud Kerpen for denouncing racism now, but it’s a problem when Americans for Prosperity funds, organizes rallies and their primary speakers are people like Jerome Corsi, who has written an entire book and has made a career out of accusing Obama of being a Kenyan, or — [Kerpen interrupts] Yes, you did in South Carolina.
KERPEN: We don’t have a chapter in South Carolina.
FANG: We can send this around to anyone who would like to see.
KERPEN: Full time conspiracy theorist here.
FANG: I think it was like April 19th of this year, you had an event with him. But also you’ve invited Tom Tancredo, had him as an official speaker. He says he wants to deport Obama, says he’s an illegal immigrant. A lot of these folks. [...]
According to the Americans for Prosperity website, there is a South Carolina chapter of the group, and it indeed helped sponsor a rally with both Tancredo and Corsi in Greenville, South Carolina on April 17th of this year (view a screenshot here). At this particular Americans for Prosperity rally, Tancredo called Obama a lying, taxing, foreign-born, anti-American socialist, who should be sent back to his “homeland” of Kenya. At the Americans for Prosperity rally, Corsi declared, “we have an undocumented president in the White House.” In fact, Americans for Prosperity has sponsored multiple events with racist figures like Tancredo and Glenn Beck. For example, earlier this year Americans for Prosperity leader Tim Phillips hosted another Tea Party rally with Tancredo in Arizona to support “Americans for Prosperity Hero of the Taxpayer” State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ), the sponsor of the racial profiling law SB1070.
A report, sponsored by the NAACP, chronicles the close relationship between racist hate groups and the Americans for Prosperity-supported Tea Party.
In September, ThinkProgress dissected how Glenn Beck’s successful character assassinationcampaign against former White House environmental adviser Van Jones was fueled by Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen, who had taken credit for notifying Beck of some of Jones’ past comments. On his Fox News show yesterday, Beck followed Kerpen’s lead once again, this time in an assault on net neutrality.
In a segment featuring Kerpen last night, Beck warned his audience that the Obama administration “just might be trying to take over the media.” “This is a big week, isn’t it, for freedom of speech?” Beck asked Kerpen, who said that it was because “the FCC on Thursday is going to decide what the future of the Internet looks like”:
KERPEN: It is a very big week because the FCC on Thursday is going to decide what the future of the Internet looks like, if it looks much like the past 10 years where you have private competition and pretty much people can do what they want on the Internet or whether we have a much, much heavier government hand. And they’re going to take the first step on that Thursday.
BECK: OK. I want to start just real quick – Net neutrality, because it happens on Thursday. This is that everybody should have free Internet, right?
KERPEN: Well, essentially. You know, they dress it up the way they dress up a lot of their things. They turn it upside-down by saying that evil corporations, phone and cable corporations are going to block what we can do block or we can say.
Beck then used net neutrality as a jumping off point to outline how he believed the Obama administration was trying to shut down freedom of speech. “You have a freedom of speech or the government. You can’t really have both,” said Beck. Watch it:
When he introduced Kerpen, Beck described him as “the chairman of Internet Freedom Coalition,” an alliance of conservative groups that opposes all taxes and regulations related to the internet. Kerpen’s group released a Beck-like conspiracy chart today that attempts to expose the so-called “Obama Information Control Hierarchy.” Hours before Kerpen appeared on Beck’s show, he pushed the idea that net neutrality is a threat to freedom of speech in his daily podcast, warning that regulation would lead to “a government-owned and controlled network” and eventual “content restriction” that would “decide that certain speech is out of bounds.”
Beck also appears to have no idea what net neutrality actually means. Science Progress aptly explained it last year:
At the most basic level, net neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet; all content on the Internet is equally accessible, and once a person pays for access to the Internet, they alone get to choose how they use it. This means that providers should not be allowed to block access to certain sites or applications, or charge different customers different amounts for services.
Kerpen, from whom Beck apparently cribbed his understanding of the concept, claims that there is no reason to be concerned about internet service providers blocking access or charging customers differenty. “Proponents of net neutrality rely on the scare tactic that big bad cable and phone companies will block access to Web sites and cause other mischief unless the benevolent federal government rides to the rescue, and soon,” wrote Kerpen on FoxNews.com earlier this month. “But they’ve been ringing this alarm for the better part of a decade and none of the horrors they warn us about have happened.” In fact, in 2007 it was revealed that Comcast had disrupted peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic on its network, leading to an FCC investigation. There was also an incident where “Verizon Wireless denied Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, access when the group asked to the carrier to allow Verizon customers to sign up for text-messaging alerts.”