In a sharp break with the Republican Party, tea party activists tell Newsmax they have launched a Web site accusing Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele of trying to "hijack" the grassroots-conservative movement for his own political purposes.
The Web site is named SaveOurMovement.com.
Everett Wilkinson, the Tea Party Patriots coordinator for Florida who also serves as a member of the organization's national leadership council, gave Steele both barrels in an exclusive Newsmax interview Tuesday afternoon.
"I think Michael Steele has shown a pattern of arrogance with his own party by having speaking tours, by having a book come out, where he should be focusing on the issues of his party. He's not, he wants to run a publicity campaign," Wilkinson tells Newsmax.
"In this case, he wants to hijack the tea-party movement to promote his own name, rather than focus on the issues facing his party," he says.
Steele would be well advised "to remove the plank out of his party's own eye on fiscal responsibility before he tries to take on the tea party," Wilkinson added.
Other national tea party leaders echoed Wilkinson’s criticism of Steele.
Jenny Beth Martin, a leader of the Tea Party Patriots, which helped organize well-attended rallies in Washington last September, told TPMmuckraker in an email that her group is not involved with the Steele pow-wow, and disavowed other efforts to work closely with the GOP.
"One hundred percent of our local coordinators are committed to our core values of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets over any particular political party," said Martin, according to TPMmuckraker.
Robin Stublen, another leading activist, called Steele’s move "a back door attempt by the RNC to put their "stamp" on the movement that welcomes all conservatives regardless of political party."
The tea-party broadside is in reaction to recent GOP moves that activists see as threatening to their independent identity.
The GOP recently triggered alarm bells among the tea-party movement's loosely organized national leadership by establishing a Web site that leverages off the tea-party movements growing popularity: TeaParty.gop.com.
The site allows visitors to create an e-mail "postcard" to President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The text of the e-mail to those leaders:
"I do not believe that it is patriotic to pay more taxes. And I do not approve of the $1.4 trillion in new taxes, $636 billion in higher energy taxes, the staggering redistribution of wealth and wasteful spending you are prescribing as a cure for the economic crisis.
"To hold the Democrats in Washington accountable for their record tax, spend and borrow schemes, I am sending a virtual tea bag to protest your plans to raise taxes on every American this Tax Day."
The GOP site, which invites users to select one of four "virtual tea bags" to accompany the e-mail, states that over 30,100 post cards have been sent so far. The site carries the notice: "Paid for by the Republican National Committee."
The RNC site relies on the movement's signature issue, an April 15 protest over taxes. But what touched off Tuesday's war of words was a meeting widely billed in the media as a pow-wow between tea-party movement leaders and RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
That confab, involving Steele and about 50 grassroots-conservative activists Tuesday, was organized by Karin Hoffman. Hoffman is founder of DC Works for Us, an organization in South Florida that appears to share many of the objectives of the tea party movement. Hoffman is not considered a national tea-party movement leader, however – although the event was broadly portrayed that way to the media.
"The tea party movement is not involved in this," Wilkinson tells Newsmax flatly.
Given that in her promotion of the event Hoffman did not suggest tea-party groups were participating, Wilkinson and other tea-party movement leaders are blaming Steele for the misunderstanding.
"We feel Michael Steele is intentionally trying to hijack the movement, because he's been aware of the national tea party leaders," Wilkinson says, "and he's been advised of our stance regarding the GOP and the tea-party movement, that our intentions are not to be involved with a specific party -- specifically the GOP -- but rather to influence public policy in order to secure our mission."
To further emphasize that the RNC's imitation is not considered the sincerest form of flattery, the SaveOurMovement.com Web site also will have an e-card mechanism. But this one will send a letter of protest to Steele and the RNC.
"We'll be sending a message to GOP leaders, and specifically to Michael Steele, that we don't appreciate him trying to hijack our movement," Wilkinson says.
In part, the confusion over whether Tuesday's event represented an official tea-party activity reflects the decentralized nature of the tea-party movement itself. In recent months the tea party groups have struggled to formulate a unified message and control their branding, given the movement's apparently lack of centralized control.
Wilkinson tells Newsmax that two other domain names, ValuesNotParty.com and PolicyNotParty.com, will redirect users to the SaveOurMovement.com site.
The RNC did not immediately respond Tuesday to a Newsmax request for comment.
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