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Tea Party Express spokesman: 'I love Media Matters'

I talked Thursday afternoon with the organizers of the Tea Party Express tour as they stepped on and off their stage. Some of my questions were about the media coverage that's dogged them since, really, their origins a year ago. Radio host Mark Williams, the spokesman for the group who appears in its ads, relishes in the hate he generated from TV appearances where he called Barack Obama a "citizen of Indonesia." From the stage, he told the crowd to watch him on Joy Behar's show, and to watch a clip of him debating MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan.

"I'm accustomed to being a pin cushion and a lightning rod," said Williams, pausing between appearances onstage to get some shade. "That's one of the things I bring to the table." His "gaffes" on TV, he argued, have been fantastic for the movement.

"I love Media Matters!" Williams laughed. "I've got to send them a case of champagne or something. Media Matters and Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC have done more to promote this movement, personally, in the last five or ten years, than I could ever pull off. When that kind of stuff goes viral, it starts the discussion. It brings the attention. It accomplishes the same thing that bouncing around the country for three weeks in a motorcoach accomplishes."

I pointed out to Williams that other tea party groups were promising to police the crowds and remove racist signs, but that signs questioning President Obama's citizenship were visible at this rally, and likely to end up on liberal web sites. "There's such emotional agony all the time!" he said. "They can't crack a smile."

What was the difference between those signs, though, and the sign-holders comparing George W. Bush to Hitler -- stuff that enraged conservatives in 2002 and 2003?

"You didn't have to seek them out. They were the overwhelming majority of the people." Williams pointed below a table, to his dog, which was taking a nap in the heat. "My little dog has had more death threats than any of those people. The American left is a bunch of thugs, and they use these stormtrooper tactics because they're so unhappy."

I also talked to Sal Russo, the longtime Republican strategist whose role in the Tea Party Express is a constant source of outrage for liberal blogs and some Tea Party organizers. The organization had welcomed Politico's expose on the group's origins, as a way for savvy Republican strategists to organize tea partiers and build campaigns against Democrats. Why?

"The reason it doesn't matter is because all the people who turn out don't give a" hoot, said Russo, "Pardon my French. But we were the first people to go in on the Massachusetts, Scott Brown, election. There was a group of bloggers that always criticize us. On election night, they were sitting around a table blogging and saying what a waste of time it was for Tea Party Express to spend all that money on TV ads when they were blogging for 60 or 70 people."

Critics, Russo suggested, were motivated by their lack of comparable success. "They don't do anything," he said. "Any new political movement attracts new people, a lot of malcontents. Some people are doers. Some people aren't."

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By David Weigel  |  April 15, 2010; 5:45 PM ET
Categories:  Tea Party  | Tags: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Joy Behar, MSNBC, Mark Williams, Scott Brown, Tea Party Express, United States  
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