When my friend Karoli at Crooks and Liars broke the the Mark Williams story by tweeting his "let's all infiltrate the SEIU, and do to them what they do to us" page, I immediately smelled a stunt and told her that I felt we should ignore it. Great reporter that she is, she basically agreed, but would still casually denounce it, and watch it for further developments.
Why would I say to ignore it? Because disgraced Teaparty blowhards like Williams are always looking to be heros on the right, and they come up with overly ambitious battle plans, or more often, these "punk the left" stunts all the time. While they're rarely very well executed, these ploys capture the narrative for many news cycles, often denying the left its own message traction when it needs some the most. (There are few events in modern times that have so awakened and galvanized the left (and Obama's base) as the Wisconsin budget crisis. And just in time.)
The relative success of James O'keefe and his ACORN stunt has brought forth a small battalion of these political pranksters and assorted opportunists, most of them incompetent, but all looking for a few minutes of fame, and any power they can squeak out over some Tea Party faction, if they can get it. To succeed at all, they rely mostly on luck, a very slow news cycle, a sloppy, but sympathetic corporate media, and an irrationally excitable left blogosphere and Twitterville.
Without those ingredients, most of their evil seedlings would sprout like a weed for about 15 seconds, and then whither and die from lack of planning, strategic coherence, or competent execution. When they do succeed, it's almost always the left giving them far more traction than they deserved. And of course, there are often cranks who do these things on the left, as well. And that fact, as it turns out, was more than relevant to what happened here. But more on this later.
Because as it also turns out, my instincts had nailed this one to a very wall that I suspected from the start. Today, Williams updated his new post, and gloated that it was a stunt. In typical uppercase stylelessness, he brags that:
Williams had merely taken some lefty flake's website from last year, and changed a few words around. He figured he could embarrass the left by getting them all worked up and spewing threats and profanity over what he would later reveal to be one of their very own tactics. And lookee here! He had the website printout to prove it!
At the same time, he fantasized, he'd drive all the organizers into a paranoid frenzy of distrust of one another, no doubt relying on the well established and entirely predictable left echo chamber to run wild with the story once he had planted his demon seed.
While he certainly did make a lot of noise, and rattle a few union people on email lists, it's arguable whether he embarrassed anyone on the left in any operationally meaningful way. But for his self-promotional purposes, and the sycophantic, lightweight drones he so often appeals to, it was an overwhelming success. More than a few channels on Twitter, and around the right-o-sphere are buzzing about Williams as the tri-cornered general he insists he is; an excommunicated Tea Party big dog who has delivered a wealth of new empty rhetoric and talking points to throw around when they need some. Any time the left brings up misspellings, violence, racism, holocaust references, or a wide number of other common outrages heard on the left about the Tea Parties, the freedom lovin', god fearin', constitooshunalist brothers and their 50 state spin machine will be armed and ready for 'em… you betcha. They will, almost in unison, blither forth with their usual conventional wisdom kibble like, "Oh, c'mon… Everyone knows the left does this stuff all the time. Hell, Mark Williams exposed that one, right?"
So fine, Williams's little ploy was marginally effective. It wasn't very hard—but he knew that it wouldn't be. All he had to do was lure a few noisy blogs with a fair Twitter following into his trap, and he knew they'd lose their shit and go batshit crazy as they so often do. In the 4 hours since Karoli tweeted it (but never blogged it), William's site had 127 retweets. Perhaps other bloggers felt Karoli had just missed the importance, rather than choosing to deliberately underplay it.
All it took was a few dozen well connected retweets using the #seiu and other Wisconsin related twitter hashtags, and Mother Jones, Huffpo, and a few other major league left blogs were all off to the races with the "SEIU being infiltrated by Tea Party" meme. An hour later, Mark Williams's page had over 1,000 retweets, and he was basking in the warmth of his own flowing semen. He had tossed a little chum in the water, and the link-baiting lefty sharks wolfed the bait and ran with it as one of the big stories of the day. By 9pm, it seemed like everyone but me was convinced it was the biggest story since James O'keefe broke into a phone closet. Ho hum.
The moral of this story for the Left? Stop the knee jerk reactions to predictably contrived set-ups and focus on our own message. Unless we do, we will never have nice things.
Note: I am not faulting anyone for retweeting what they see that they think is important. It's natural to punch the button when our friends pass things along. It's the bloggers and publications prone to link baiting who pass them along initially I have issues with. All too often they run around with their hair on fire without much regard for details or proportionality, nor care to pause long enough to let the facts of a story unfold. They just run with it because its in their interests to run with it.
And for the right? Step on the cockroaches like Williams—swiftly and forcefully. While they may get a lot of high-fives from the primitives who like to dress up in colonial outfits and scream 10th amendment clauses at passing cars, they also come up with really stupid stunts like this one that present a double-edged blade that can cut them to pieces. This stunt has already backfired on the national Tea Party. Why? Because any future "outrage" at progressive events will be easily dismissed as a set-up by one of the Mark Williams-type Poser Brigades. It will be such a common undercurrent of future narratives, it's easy to imagine the Tea Party Federation bosses once again hoping Mr. Williams will be texting while staring at his face in a hand mirror as he steps off a busy curb.
Well done, Mr. Williams. On second thought, don't consider this a morality tale that can be of any use to your contemptible efforts to ruin America for present and future generations.
Just consider it a splendid chance to present foot.