Fireworks and firearms at FreedomWorks

Fireworks and firearms at FreedomWorks
Fireworks and firearms at FreedomWorks
Associated Press

It’s been a few weeks since David Corn first reported on the behind-the-scenes drama at FreedomWorks, a powerful and well-funded right-wing organization, including the ouster of Dick Armey, who departed with an $8 million payout. We’ve since learned that allegations of wrongdoing and legal threats have intensified, and Corn obtained a memo from Matt Kibbe, president of the group, accusing board members of mounting a “hostile takeover.”

But to appreciate just how out of control things have become at the Tea Party group, take a look at this remarkable piece from Amy Gardner.

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone – with a promise of $8 million – and the five ousted employees were back.

Like Josh Marshall, I noticed some chatter overnight about Dick Armey leading an “armed coup” at FreedomWorks, but it never occurred to me that the phrase was being used literally.

But it was. In early September, Armey marched into FreedomWorks’s office with his wife, his executive assistant, and an unidentified man with a gun. Matt Kibbe, the group’s president, and Adam Brandon, its senior vice president, were “promptly escorted” out of the building.

“This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council,” a junior staff member told the Washington Post. “So when a man with a gun who didn’t identify himself to me or other people on staff, and a woman I’d never seen before said there was an announcement, my first gut was, ‘Is FreedomWorks in danger?’ It was bizarre.’ ”

That sounds like a perfectly good adjective under the circumstances.

We’re also learning, by the way, about some of the mysterious financiers behind FreedomWorks’ operation.

The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.

The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood…. In the weeks before the election, more than $12 million in donations was funneled through two Tennessee corporations to the FreedomWorks super PAC after negotiations with Stephenson over a preelection gift of the same size, according to three current and former employees with knowledge of the arrangement. The origin of the money has not previously been reported.