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- Diana Banister
- Steve Bannon
- Michael James Barton
- Ken Blackwell
- John Bolton
- Dan Bongino
- Jerry Boykin
- Matthew Boyle
- Catherine Engelbrecht
- Tom Fitton
- Mike Flynn
- Frank Gaffney
- Leonard Leo
- Anita MonCrief
- Sue Myrick
- Max Pappas
- Sandy Rios
- Lori Roman
- Austin Ruse
- Mark Tapscott
- Virginia "Ginni" Thomas
- Gayle Trotter
- Allen West
Groundswell—not to be confused with the sustainable energy and social justice groups of the same name—is an informal alliance of conservative activists, journalists, and policymakers reportedly founded in early 2013.
Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn first broke the story about Groundswell in July 2013. Citing memos and emails leaked to Mother Jones, Corn reported that members of Groundswell had "been meeting privately since early  to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for 'a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation.'" The group was reportedly set up as a "propaganda" outfit designed to sharpen right-wing messaging and counter a perceived preponderance of liberal talking points in the mainstream media.
Groundswell participants include a range of conservative activists who tend to be on the margins of the Republican mainstream. One leaked strategy document dating from March 2013 suggested maintaining "a balance of social conservatives, national security conservatives, and constitutional conservatives" among the group's membership. A skeptic of the group quipped that it amounted to "a B-list of extreme foreign policy hawks, social conservatives, anti-immigration activists, and voter ID proponents."
Among the key actors behind the group has been Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the spouse of conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a Tea Party activist in her own right. Other participants include foreign policy hawks John Bolton and Frank Gaffney; social conservatives such as Ken Blackwell, Jerry Boykin, and Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton; pro-gun activists like the Independent Women's Forum's Gayle Trotter; conservative journalists like Breitbart News reporter Matthew Boyle; and Capitol Hill Republicans like former Reps. Allen West and Sue Myrick, as well as an aide to Sen. Ted Cruz. The leaked strategy document indicated that members of the group have sought to "incorporate" right-wing outfits as the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, the Family Research Council, and the National Rifle Association. Former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was reportedly scheduled to address the group at one point.
Notably, alongside its crusade against "the left," Groundswell appears to position itself in conscious opposition to the Republican Party leadership in Washington. "The Speaker holds the control in the House," read one Groundswell communication complaining about the House leadership. "He controls committees, chairmanships, meeting rooms, etc. Conservatives sell out rationalizing their compromises will position them to advance their agenda through committee work. In reality they are being bought." Another commenter, reacting to a Republican National Committee report recommending a lighter touch on social issues, complained that RNC chairman Reince Priebus "is sending messages to the party [that] if we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us." Several Groundswell brainstorming sessions have concerned efforts to discredit GOP strategist Karl Rove.
Groundwell's work appears to consist primarily of strategy sessions, online and in person, designed to sharpen and develop the right's talking points on a variety of issues. Corn's report detailed efforts by group members to attack President Barack Obama for "putting politics over public safety," a phrase that subsequently appeared repeatedly in their writings on issues ranging from immigration to the federal budget. Among many other examples, group members have also discussed how to attack the Boy Scouts for deciding to include gay members, how to tar immigration reform (call it "ObamaGration," suggested one member), and how to de-racialize voter ID efforts often seen as attempts to suppress the votes of racial minorities.
According to Corn, “Often the material reveals the group's ideological excesses, such as a PowerPoint supposedly proving that John Brennan, the Obama national security adviser who has become CIA chief, is soft on radical Islam. In one post, Ginni Thomas encouraged Groundswell members to watch Agenda: Grinding America Down, a documentary that claims that progressives (including Obama) seek 'a brave new world' based on the 'failed policies and ideologies of communism' and that an evil left is purposefully 'destroying the greatest country in all of world history.' [And Voter ID activist Anita] MonCrief posted an email noting that the bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon were 'similar to Bill Ayers' Weather Underground nail bomb.'"
The group's more hawkish and conspiratorial elements surface more visibly in other discussions as well. In one email chain, members recommended accusing labor secretary nominee Tom Perez of favoring "Muslim Brotherhood organizations and Shariah" and of being "extremely antagonistic toward whites." One list member also mused that "John Kerry has family ties to Iran that opens [sic] the doors to blackmail and other national security risks. Kerry's son in law is an Iranian American with extensive family still in Iran."
Although it is not unusual for likeminded activists to hold such strategy sessions, the existence of Groundswell drew particular notice in the wake of the conservative fury over a liberal-leaning (if more mainstream) listserv called JournoList. Some commenters, like Salon's Alex Pareene, dismissed Groundswell's importance. "The conservative movement has this recurring tendency to create institutions and organizations based on what they imagine, in their fevered minds, that The Left is doing," he wrote. "And so now it only makes (tragic, hilarious) sense that some of the least intellectually impressive members of the conservative movement have banded together to create their own sad, weird parody of…what they imagined JournoList to be."
But others, like a writer for the progressive blog Crooks and Liars, disagreed. "What makes this group different from other messaging groups are the participants," she wrote. "Ginni Thomas, Allen West, Ted Cruz staffer Max Pappas, Frank Gaffney, True the Vote, Tea Party Patriots, Freedomworks, and many more. I know of no messaging group anywhere ever who has the ear and the bedroom of a sitting United States Supreme Court Justice, but this one has one, and she is one of the leaders of the pack."
"To be sure, there's nothing illegal or necessarily untoward about this kind of coordination," concluded Maddow Blog's Steve Benen. "But the fact that these folks feel the need to get together to plot and scheme, as part of their perceived 'war' with the left, explains quite a bit about the problems with much of the political discourse."