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Mark Williams, the monkey god and the 'controversy' game

At the April 15 Tea Party Express rally in Washington, I talked to the group's spokesman -- the star of many of its TV ads -- Mark Williams, and asked whether his knack for saying outrageous things about Islam or President Obama's citizenship was good for his cause.

"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 10 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."

Yesterday I got an e-mail from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, blasting Williams for calling Allah a "monkey god," based on stories from TPM and Media Matters that linked to Williams's blog. And this raises a question that comes up more and more as I cover this stuff. If Williams says, explicitly, that he want to say controversial things to get more attention, are liberal Web sites and CAIR aiding him by writing about the controversial things he says? Because he's been doing this for a year, and his punishment has been multiple media embeds on the Tea Party Express, frequent guest spots on cable TV, money flowing into the group's PAC for House and Senate candidate -- basically, all good things. At some point you have to ask whether liberals are being played for suckers by reporting on every "outrage" from a low-profile figure who wants to outrage them.

By David Weigel  |  May 20, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Islam  
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