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Gardner reports: "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."

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. (photo: AP)
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. (photo: AP)

Dick Armey's Attempted Armed Coup of the Tea Party

By Amy Gardner, The Washington Post

26 December 12


he 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. 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. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them.

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.

These and other new details about the near-meltdown at FreedomWorks were gleaned from interviews with two dozen current and past associates, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.

The disarray comes as the conservative movement is struggling to find its way after the November elections, which brought a second term for President Obama and Democratic gains in the House and Senate. Armey said in an interview that the near-meltdown at his former group has damaged the conservative cause.

"FreedomWorks was the spark plug, the energy source, the catalyst for the movement through the 2010 elections," Armey said, referring to the GOP midterm sweep. "Harm was done to the movement."

Stephenson, 73, declined a request for an interview. Matt Kibbe, the group's president, and Adam Brandon, its senior vice president, declined to discuss the issue.

"I don't comment on donors," Brandon said. "He's on our board, he's a board member like anyone else. That's it. I see him at board meetings."

Stephenson, a longtime but little-known player in conservative causes, is a resident of Barrington, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago known for its affluence and sprawling horse estates such as his Tudor Oaks Farm. He founded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 following his mother's death from bladder cancer, according to the for-profit company's Web site and his public remarks. Stephenson also holds investments in a broad portfolio of other businesses, including finance and real estate companies.

Stephenson has a passion for libertarian politics stretching back to the 1960s, when he attended seminars featuring "Atlas Shrugged" author Ayn Rand and economist Murray Rothbard, according to those who know him at FreedomWorks. Like Armey, Stephenson was an early supporter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the conservative lobbying group founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in 1984 that split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity 20 years later. The Kochs, known for bankrolling a variety of conservative causes, kept control of AFP, while Stephenson and Armey stayed with FreedomWorks.

FreedomWorks has been on a remarkable run in recent election cycles, growing its annual budget from $7 million to $40 million in just a few years and helping lead the tea party movement against Obama's agenda. The group was among several that rose up last week in opposition to a failed proposal from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise federal taxes on millionaires.

The group played a crucial role in ushering a wave of tea party candidates into office in recent years, staging rallies, hawking books and videos, and organizing media appearances with conservative personalities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

"I've enjoyed my association with FreedomWorks," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who defeated incumbent Bob Bennett with help from the group. "Matt Kibbe and Dick Armey endorsed me early in my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and they were a big help to me."

Despite such testimonials, FreedomWorks has struggled with accusations that it is an "astro­turfer" - a national organization of big-money donors that swept in to lay claim to an independent movement.

According to public records, FreedomWorks received more than $12 millionbefore the election from two corporations based in Knoxville, Tenn.: Specialty Investments Group and Kingston Pike Development. The firms were established within a day of each other by William S. Rose III, a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Rose, who could not be reached for comment, has said publicly he would not answer questions about the donations. But according to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the donations, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC.

Brandon, FreedomWorks' executive vice president, told colleagues starting in August that Stephenson would be giving between $10 million and $12 million, these sources said. Brandon also met repeatedly with members of Stephenson's family who were involved in arranging the donations, the sources said.

Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said.

"There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC," said one person who attended the retreat. "I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it."

Among other things, Stephenson wanted a substantial sum spent in support of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea party favorite and Stephenson's local congressman, several who attended the retreat recalled. Walsh garnered national headlines during the campaign when he questioned whether his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, was a "true hero." Despite internal misgivings about the value of the investment, FreedomWorks spent $1.7 million on ads supporting Walsh; he lost the race.

Two watchdog groups last week asked the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate the donations from the two Tennessee companies. The groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, say the arrangement could violate federal laws that prohibit attempting to hide the true source of a political contribution by giving it under another name. (Brandon declined to comment on the complaints, but he said the group's books were in order.)

Partnership Unravels

For years, FreedomWorks was headed by an unlikely duo: Armey, 72, the old-guard pol who wears a black cowboy hat even when he's not on his Texas ranch, and Kibbe, 49, who sports mutton-chop sideburns and has a passion for the Grateful Dead.

But the most important relationship appears to be the bond between Kibbe and Stephenson, who bridged their age gap through shared libertarian views and Kibbe's battle with testicular cancer a decade ago, Armey and others said. They said Kibbe, after being given a terminal diagnosis, was encouraged by Stephenson to get treatment at his cancer clinics; more than a decade later, they said, he is cancer-free.

Until this year, the partnership between Kibbe and Armey worked well. Armey's renown as a former House member drew media attention and crowds of conservative activists - most of them old enough to remember Armey's role in the Republican revolution in Congress in 1994. And Kibbe's youthful intellectualism drew a new generation of libertarian soldiers into the FreedomWorks fold. In 2010, the two co-wrote a book, "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto," that became a New York Times bestseller and a successful marketing tool for FreedomWorks, which collected the book's proceeds and used it to attract donations.

The partnership came to a crashing end when Armey marched into FreedomWorks's office Sept. 4 with his wife, Susan, executive assistant Jean Campbell and the unidentified man with the gun at his waist - who promptly escorted Kibbe and Brandon out of the building.

"This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council," said one junior staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. "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.'?"

By nearly all accounts, including from those loyal to him, Armey handled his attempted coup badly. Armey says he was stepping in because of ethical breaches by Kibbe and Brandon, accusing them of improperly using FreedomWorks staff resources to produce a book - ironically, named "Hostile Takeover" - for which Kibbe claimed sole credit and was collecting royalties. The use of internal resources for Kibbe's benefit could jeopardize the group's nonprofit tax status; the group denies any impropriety.

"This is not only about this one incident," Armey said. "But that one incident was a matter of grievous concern."

Armey also accused Brandon, Kibbe and other staff members loyal to them of squeezing him out of media appearances and management decisions while using his name to market the group.

Armey appeared out of touch and unsure of how FreedomWorks operated when he took over that Tuesday morning, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees on both sides who witnessed the takeover. Sitting in a glass-walled conference room visible to much of the staff, he placed three young female employees on administrative leave, then reversed himself when they burst into tears; his wife lamented aloud that maybe they had "jumped the gun."

In subsequent meetings, Susan Armey passed her husband notes that several employees assumed contained suggestions on what to say. According to a recording of a staff conference call provided to The Washington Post, Armey bewildered his audience by demanding more FreedomWorks support for Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican whose Senate campaign had already cratered after his comments about "legitimate rape."

"It was clear that under Armey's leadership, the organization as we knew it was going to be driven into the ground," said one junior employee.

Enter Stephenson, who agreed to the multimillion-dollar financial incentive to push Armey out and install Kibbe back at the helm.

The payments were necessary, several FreedomWorks leaders said, because Armey was threatening to sue over Kibbe's book deal.

"It was very clear to him that I would not work with Matt," Armey said, referring to Stephenson. "He felt that Matt knew the levers and understood it better than I did and was very urgent to reinstate that."

Brandon, back in the No. 2 spot as executive vice president, scoffed at the notion that the group is in trouble or that the dispute with Armey was indicative of a larger problem for the tea party. He said FreedomWorks has 2.1 million members, nearly 4 million fans on Facebook and a budget that has grown sixfold in five years. He also pointed to the elections of Senate conservatives Ted Cruz in Texas and Jeff Flake in Arizona as evidence of the group's electoral success.

"We doubled our budget, and we doubled our membership," Brandon said, referring to the group's growth since 2011. "That's how we ended up the year." your social media marketing partner


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+65 # WestWinds 2012-12-26 11:05
What a bunch of petty, little men; squabbling over the proceeds of a book deal when they have millions (each). Thank goodness so many of them are old and hopefully will do us the honor of leaving. Instead of worrying about humanity, these sycophants worry about book deals. How many lives have they ruined with their petty selfishness and corporate nonsense?
+38 # Douglas Jack 2012-12-26 11:49
These cowboy machos have such immaturity of being. Most of us understand that; each of us carry portions of truth. Each diverse perspective is important to our understanding of the whole. In order to collaborate we need to formally listen & discern areas of commonality & differences.

A parallel look at this madness of force over communication is found in Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America who threatens:

Mohandas Gandhi's 'Satyagraha' (Hindi 'truth-search') is based in developing 'dialectic' ('both-sides') perspectives together. Gandhi made a point of bringing together diverse perspectives in discussion. With both sides present, Gandhi would ask, "What are your best intentions & how can we help you fulfill these?" Gandhi included even British & Commonwealth occupiers (some Canadian) who had committed atrocities against unarmed picnickers & others on multiple occasions killing many thousands.

We've attempted to destroy 10's of 1000s of years of First Nation heritage even to this day believing in the lies which our colonial masters feed us. Tea Partiers are examples of those who partake in violence easily, believing whatever artificial power will say. We need to include TP formally in debate.
+28 # cwbystache 2012-12-26 13:09
I am a devotee of Gandhi, and I am also a working cowboy and I don't mean rodeo. Please, amigo, rethink gracing those thugs in the article with the noun, "cowboy".
+12 # Douglas Jack 2012-12-26 16:41
cwby, Thanks for your feedback as it will help me find more accurate terms. You are right that except for Armey's Black cowboy hat, he really isn't one & my complaint has little to do with livestock herders & more to do with folks who in ignorance try to replace formal 'dialectic' ('both-sides') debate with death causing bullying. I'll try to come up with more accurate terms. I can see by your user profile that; you are just trying to make a living.
+12 # cwbystache 2012-12-26 18:08
yes, the co-opting of "cowboy" by the least deserving of people to wear a hat like Armey's! I've resented that man for years, for a lot of other things. What a kind reply you wrote here, Douglas, I appreciate it and regret not having praised the rest of what your original said--was in the house for a short while at lunchtime and checking out the 'net.

This life is of course more than trying to make a living, I'm pretty passionately devoted to it and all that is under my care. The folks I'm immediately around are all great progressives and approve of my tax resistance. A lot of them are Quakers trying to build a new world, as Quakers have always done. The founder of the ranch was one of the three men who got the Sanctuary Movement off the ground, and we're all still completely mixed up with such Border affairs and issues. That founder has died now, but I ride with his wife on range. He has a write-up on wikipedia, see

There are many such people on these western ranges, but they can't be seen from the road, as some working cowboy poet said.
+4 # Douglas Jack 2012-12-27 00:37
cwby, I lived among pacifist Russian Dukobour, German Mennonite & English Quaker in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia for a decade from 1969 - 80. An old Dukobour friend George Podmorov who came over from Russia in 1899 at 5 years old, inspired me to bring my work back to the city where he believed that pacifism is most needed. George described how all three groups originally formed in their respective cities. As well all three groups missed-out bigtime by contributing to the displacement of First Nations rather than integrating with them as should have all respectful immigrants. From 65 years of UN study we now know that 3-dimensional Polyculture orchards of our indigenous ancestors worldwide are 100 times (10,000%) more productive for food, materials, energy & water-cycle than 2-D 'agriculture' (Latin 'ager' = 'field') The word 'farm' (French ''ferme' = 'contract of servitude by the serf to the aristocrat'). ''Pioneer' L 'pion' = 'pawn') The dice are loaded in our colonial system & the little guy isn't getting ahead.
+13 # sapereaudeprime 2012-12-26 11:50
Hardly anyone named here who wouldn't improve the appearance of a gibbet.
+54 # kalpal 2012-12-26 12:08
I not sure if it was he or another GOP jerk who said, Why should I care about the poor? No poor person ever gave me a job or paid my salary.

Dick Armey is by any measure an evil man. His wife is very much as evil as he is. Bringing in a an armed thug into an office to take over is likely an illegal act and should be investigated by the local ditrict attorney's office.
+15 # kelly 2012-12-26 14:19
They're too busy sending in the D.A. to investigate Meet the Press for a gun clip. If they don't intimidate you with guns, they intimidate you with other scare tactics.
+35 # MidwestTom 2012-12-26 12:44
There is simply too much money in politics. We need to raise the tax rates on anyone making more than $1.0 million, and we need a one time tax on balance sheet net worths, of at least 35% on anyone with a balance sheet showing a net worth of %10 million or more. If we don't do this we, and Congress, will be forever subject to the ruling super wealthy class.
+29 # Tigre1 2012-12-26 16:35
Please remember that in July the FBI released the report that there is between 23 and 32 TRILLION dollars in overseas bank accounts of fewer than 3,000 Americans. Do the math. The nation is not broke, the .02 percent are trying to kill the goose(YOU!)who lay the golden eggs.

That's 2 and 1/2 times the so-called national debt. Do the math on how much it divides into...and go buy a good rope and start looking for addresses. The T Poots know NOTHING of anger and redress...
+22 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-12-26 12:47
Welcome to 1935 & Blackshirts vs. Brownshirts: it’s all happened before & in very nasty places, though with less dollars & more gunshots.
+5 # robniel 2012-12-26 16:30
Next year the teabagger rallies will have signs showing Armey as a nazi.
+5 # dovelane1 2012-12-27 00:58
Could Armey reply by having a sign that reads "Takes one to know one!" ?

Seems like they are all Nazis in their own way.
+6 # DaveM 2012-12-26 13:05
I guess it gets pretty crazy in some of those smoke-filled rooms. Leading me to wonder just what the smoke is coming from.
+22 # Byronator 2012-12-26 15:17
Sulphur pits of hell, maybe? (Please, Lucifer take them all back!)
+39 # Archie1954 2012-12-26 13:14
I think these machinations are wonderful. They show the thin layer of legitimacy covering an organization involved in unethical, illegal and immoral objectives. When the criminal minds that run these corrupt groups fall out with each other they practice political cannibalism. This can do nothing but help the Democratic Party.
+31 # AMLLLLL 2012-12-26 13:17
This always amused me; a movement that purports to advocate for 'the people' but will defend the richest among us~ and I'm talking the top .1% ~ by declaring that taxes are evil.....hmmmmm . People such as the Koch brothers consider themselves as 'the People' and we are but their minions.
+19 # CharlieL 2012-12-26 13:26
It's a sad pity that the folks at Freedom Works were not following the appropriate NRA guidance on matters of security (i.e. everybody should be armed).

THAT would have been a much more interesting headline, and Armey might have ended up with 8 bullets, rather than $8M.
+26 # Working Class 2012-12-26 13:58
The best solution to this mess we call government is the adoption of a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. We need to clearly establish that money is not speach and the Founding Fathers clearly did not intend for corporations to have the rights of a person under the law. If this can be done, these small, petty wack-jobs will be stripped of there power over the 99%.
+20 # Pickwicky 2012-12-26 14:44
Money, warped minds, and ambition--it's an ugly, dangerous combination.
+16 # SundownLF 2012-12-26 16:08
Agree about a 28th Amendment - but will we be able, in the meantime, to get past this horrible (non)Supreme Court and their awful decisions? (And there is Scalia, comparing homosexuality, 'morally,' to murder! This man will have a vote on gay marriage, with no discussion of his being removed or recused.)

Yes, such an amendment might be our only hope to get out from under the thumb of the 1%.
-6 # Tigre1 2012-12-26 16:37
Find addresses. Buy GOOOOOOD rope. Visit.
+9 # David Starr 2012-12-26 16:41
Regarding Dick Armey's coup: In microcosm, I'm immediately reminded of a right-wing tyrant/group militarily overthrowing a Latin American government, like Honduras; or a Stalinist lite coup without using the "enemies of the people" label.
+13 # cordleycoit 2012-12-26 16:54
If you listen along the Potomac you can hear the gunshot of the Republican circular firing squads.
+10 # magdalen 2012-12-26 17:56
Has anyone noticed that all the featured articles, all of them, are by men?
+10 # giraffee2012 2012-12-26 18:18
And don't forget the Supremes who gave these creeps the power to spend $$$ to take over our government through the "TP" (ala GOP) - Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia - the latter 2 have openly supported Koch filled agendas and wine/dine with Kochs . . .

If one of them dies in the next 4 years then President Obama can break the RAT PACK and maybe (just maybe) we can have a few laws passed that uphold the intent of our liberty guaranteed by OUR Constitution!
+3 # FDRva 2012-12-26 23:29
Ironically, the Tea Party man on the street is a lot like the Occupy Wall Street man on the street.

They are not real big on hierarchy,

The Media made Armey, Freedom Works, Koch, et al the 'leaders of the Tea party.'

No one consulted the rank and file mostly anti-Wall Street populist conservatives who gave the Tea Party legs in 2010.

When the new Democratic president, Obama, in 2009 expanded Bush's banker bailouts--rathe r than re-enacting FDRs Glass-Steagall firewall--it drove these populists into the arms of Freedom Works, et al.

Note that when the Democratic Party could be reliably counted on to really take on Wall Street--the vast majority of these populist conservatives voted Democratic.

But the leadership of the Democratic Party today appears much more interested in Wall Street's campaign contributions-- and cosmetic reform-- than the votes of those old-school populists.

I am reminded of a long-ago quip by the late Ted Kennedy:

"The last thing this country needs is two Republican Parties."

It appears we have exactly that.

That the version headlined by Barack Obama won the last election is scarcely grounds for rejoicing.
+10 # GravityWave 2012-12-27 01:21
Just like that gang to glob onto an Ayn Rand worshiper, Stephenson.

I was in the Philosophy Department at ASU when Rand's books were at their peak of popularity. She was laughed out of the philosophy community because of the lack of credibility of her system of thought and the inadequacy of a thoroughly conceived and developed attempt at philosophical discourse. She was just trying to sell her fiction which wasn't very good either.

It has been easy to see for a while that the members of the Republican Party had grown a permanent dunce hat. So what I think is that it went down like this. The Repugs courted the Tea Party types, in desperation after their colossal fracking up of our economy. Then the Tea Partiers took over the Repug Party and found out about Rand, The TP then tried to convince each other and the rest of us that Rand is a thinker who also signed the Bill of Rights. The reason to do this was to make us give in to the idea that filling half of our citizenry with sick, starving, people is a necessity instead of an ideology. With this new found excuse/empowerm ent the Tea Party (read Repugs) even ran a Rand worshiper for VP. There is a word you guys really need to, make that two words, to get into your vocabulary--"re search" and "logic" then learn how they work together.

As for us, we have got to get some intelligence back into our leadership and education back into our populace.

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