NJP’s Olson Interviews Kenneth Gladney on the Tea Party Express
This is a NewsJunkiePost Exclusive
It was 38 degrees and the cold desert wind was blowing down from the Sierra foothills. I was in Hawthorne Nevada, an odd town of a few hundred shabby houses guarded by chain linked fences, every one with a vicious dog. This place is an odd backwater of Americana, with a strong ethnic mix brought by the nearby military bases that guard the largest ammunition and ordnance depot in the nation. A perfect place for an explosive interview.
The Tea Party Express had rolled into town. For those who been turned off by politics since the right wing jacked up its negativity after Obama’s landslide victory, the original Libertarian Tea Party protests have been increasingly taken over by the Republican Party and its propaganda ministry at Fox ‘News’. The Tea Party Express represents the latest incarnation of this conquest for political purposes, as it is directly sponsored by the Republican political action committee called ‘Our Country Deserves Better’. Many libertarians who have not yet been purged from the movement have condemned this, even expelling Amy Kremer, one of the founding members of the movement who was a speaker at today’s event. There is a growing rift between Libertarians and Republicans in the Tea Party movement, and this bus tour is the cyst on the anus of this division.
The Tea Party Express Event
There were 2 identically painted busses and half a dozen personal vehicles in this brigade. They gathered at Veteran’s Park which showcases a howitzer, and started the show in the late afternoon on this cold, cloudy day. All together, attendance was around 45 brave folks with hard nipples, including ~20 support staff who mixed themselves in with the crowd.
The event itself came off as a bit of a variety show, with 4 speakers, 2 politicians, 4 singers, and a Mariachi band. OK, I’m joking about the Mariachi band, but considering the artificial atmosphere, it might have fit in very well. The rhetoric was fairly typical for Tea Party events, with a strong condemnation of the bailouts, taxation, Obama’s ‘socialism’, and a strong flavor of Christian patriotism. The same right wing distortions of reality were present as well, from claiming 1.2 million attended the Tax Day Tea Parties (the most reliable estimates put the figure around 300,000) to calling Obama voters racist.
What was atypical about the Tea Party Express was the blatant pro-Republican angle. One speaker claimed the GOP has “traditionally been the party of moral values…sound fiscal policy…and patriotism” when reality has proven their hypocrisy on all three. Another carried a personal message from Jim DeMint (R-SC) telling people in the crowd to write letters to their congressmen asking them to stop health care reform. Specific instructions were given to hand-write these letters instead of typing and printing them out, which actually falls in line with the Tea Party strategy of appearing more grassroots with tables with large boards and markers where people can make their own signs (with suggestions offered) instead of pre-printed signs. The speaker went on with the message from DeMint, “Everyday we stop health care reform is a victory for the Tea Party movement!”
Overall the hour-long show came off as a bit forced, with the staff trying unsuccessfully to whip the crowd into a frenzy.
After the last speaker, the shivering crowd began to disperse. Most of the performers gathered around the concessions table to try and sell things and give autographs, although I did not notice one thing sold or signed. This was however, an excellent opportunity for me to stop taking photographs and notes, and attempt to snag a brief interview with someone. I chose one of the speakers, Kenneth Gladney.
Background Behind Gladney’s Celebrity Status
The corporate front group FreedomWorks led by the former House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) had previously taken over the central role in organizing Tea Party events from libertarians. Although at first this was just a general scheme to make the appearance of popular discontent with Obama, they tipped their cards when they sent their members out to disrupt town hall discussions on health care reform during the summer break of congress. It had now become apparent that they were just generating an angry group of people willing to hit the streets to derail any progressive reform they and conservative media told them to.
Either way, the directive was clear, the directive to the Tea Partiers was this: “Rattle Them, Stand Up, And Shout!” as revealed by a leaked memo obtained by Talking Points Memo. And rattle them they did. Angry mobs of people began arriving at these discussions and the result was a complete stifling of discussion from non-confrontational folks who were just there to share their views and learn. The natural cause and effect was obvious here, and more vocal proponents of reforming our health care system started showing up as well, creating a potentially dangerous tension.
During one event in St. Louis, this explosive gas found a spark. Right Wing internet sites such as the Drudge Report began disseminating a video of an uninsured black ‘conservative activist’ who had been beaten by ‘union thugs.’ His name was Kenneth Gladney, and he quickly became the sweetheart of the Tea Party movement.
There was only one problem, as the facts of the situation began to emerge after the initial hysteria, it turns out that was not the whole story. From the dark, grainy video it is difficult to ascertain exactly what was going on. Much of the confusion is about who was actually injured during the altercation. As it turns out, the black man on the ground as the video begins, and later who gets off the ground holding his shoulder is actually Reverend Elston McCowan, the man who Gladney is accused of punching in the face prior to getting dragged to the ground by SEIU members. You can judge for yourself in a frame by frame version of the video here.
Whatever the case may be, Kenneth Gladney was no longer selling merchandise at a local event. He was now standing in front of me at the Tea Party Express, and I was compelled to ask a few tough but friendly questions.
The crowd was quickly thinning out, and most had gathered at the tables hawking book, buttons, and banners. Kenneth Gladney was back where the show had taken place, and was helping the support crew clean up the speakers and stands. In all fairness, I should have identified myself as a reporter for NewsJunkiePost, but being a godless bleeding heart, virgin-sacrificing, terrorist-loving, puppy-slaying progressive, the convention of formality is alien to me.
I was burning with questions, but approached cautiously, not sure how exactly what I would say. It was obvious that I only had a couple of minutes before they would board the bus, so knew the interview would have to be brief.
Ole Ole Olson- Mr. Gladney, I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions.
Kenneth Gladney- Yeah, sure thing. [finishes bundling up the microphone cord and setting it aside]
Before we could start talking, a mid 40’s blond well wisher came up to shake his hand and a few friendly words were exchanged. Then he turned back my way. Knowing this interview would only be a few minutes long, I jumped right into the tough questions with little foreplay or lubrication.
Ole Ole Olson- It’s good to see you’re out of the hospital and healed up. How do you respond to those that say you punched a reverend before the SEIU union members took you down?
Kenneth Gladney- [Smiles and turns head] Look, let me tell you what happened. I was just there selling flags. One of them tried to take a couple of them away, then when I took them back, they got all pushy with me. So I took the guy [reverend] down, and the others shoved me to the ground and started kicking me in the head. Then when the police arrived, he got up and walked away, pretending he had nothing to do with it, acting like he was all hurt.
Ole Ole Olson- Are you pressing charges?
Kenneth Gladney- Yeah, I want this prosecuted as a hate crime. I was just there selling my stuff, trying to make a buck.
Ole Ole Olson- I bet the compensation is decent here. Are you getting paid for participation in the Tea Party Express?
Kenneth Gladney- Hey, I’m out here because this is what I want to. Did you see my picture on the back of the bus?
Ole Ole Olson- No, I didn’t catch that.
Kenneth Gladney- Yeah, they’ve got all of us on there.
A young, chubby guy with severe acne who had been observing then approached a bit closer to shake hands with Mr. Gladney and heap praise upon him. A frail looking older woman carrying a ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag (one of many that were being passed out), quickly followed. After shaking hands, she went on a wicked little rant about Union and Acorn thugs attacking Patriots at every Tea Party event. “It’s like they are trying to start violence” she said. She continued by expressing her frustration at the reception Beck’s 912 DC event had, and finished her thought abruptly with “I don’t understand why people don’t like us”, and walked away. Her tirade naturally led me to my next question as Mr. Gladney turned back my way.
Ole Ole Olson- What do you think about the criticism from the Tea Party Patriots about the Tea Party Express?
Kenneth Gladney- Yeah, what’s up with that? [looked at me with a blank expression]
Ole Ole Olson- I guess they think this is supposed to be a libertarian event and it is being hijacked by Republicans.
Kenneth Gladney- I don’t know about that. [another blank expression and awkward moment of silence]
At this point, the speakers and entourage of the Tea Party Express began to wrap things up with the dwindling crowd that remained. It was a fitting time to end the interview. I thanked him for his time, and walked down to the ordnance museum.
The follow up questions that could have been asked always come to mind after the discussion is over. In a more prepared situation and personal setting, it would have been good to press him on such points as to whether he was volunteering his time on the Tea Party Express, or whether there was some form of financial compensation involved and who threw the first punch. As it stands, we make the most out of what life offers us, it was bitterly cold, and some people were starting to take notice of my squirly questions.