Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 29, 2014

I Went to Rand Paul’s Liberty School, and All I Got Was a Free Cup of Coffee

Screen Shot 2014 05 11 at 8.52.03 AM 398x445 I Went to Rand Paul’s Liberty School, and All I Got Was a Free Cup of Coffee

The view from the Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership training in on a recent Saturday — before I got the boot. (Christina Bellantoni/CQ Roll Call)

“You Owe It to Yourself to Learn How to Win,” Sen. Rand Paul told me in an email on Tax Day.

The message came with an invitation to attend a one-day political leadership school, led by an instructor with “years of experience running and winning campaigns and legislative projects in multiple state legislatures.” The course would teach how to pressure lawmakers and how to “work effectively” in the Capitol by getting sponsors for legislation.

I am fascinated by both the senator’s political ambition and his seemingly inherited ability to excite young people. And anyone who has listened to me speculate about the 2016 presidential campaign knows I believe the Kentucky Republican will appeal especially to Iowa caucus-goers, in addition to the voters up north who proudly “Live Free or Die.”

Critical to that happening is a grass-roots organization, a network of believers who can, as Paul put it in the email, “advance the cause of liberty.” Could the people attending this May 10 training in tiny Arbutus, Md., be activated to pound the pavement for Paul? What kind of person would devote an entire Saturday to the Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership?

The answer, it turns out, isn’t much different than other political events.

There was the local liberty leader running to be Charles County Commissioner president, the anti-abortion activist, the man challenging Maryland Rep. Andy Harris in a GOP primary, a young couple, several people from Baltimore and a guy whose cellphone ringtone was set to Coldplay’s “Clocks.” We make small talk over a carton of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee while waiting for the library to open at 9 a.m.

Spread out over a dozen tables in front of a projector screen under fluorescent lights as class gets started, the eager attendees say they are worried about Obamacare, Common Core education standards, free markets and high taxes, and they feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Harford County tea party activist Patrick McGrady gets things going around 9:15 a.m. by promising me and the 17 others in the room, “This will change your political destiny.”

Campaign for Liberty’s Michigan State Coordinator Tony DeMott is our day’s professor. He knocked on doors for ex-Rep. Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, and says his goal this Saturday is to give the group “the tools to beat up the bad guys” — metaphorically, of course. After all, DeMott says, politics is “confrontational by nature.” He tells us to read Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” and to pay attention to techniques used by political rivals, because technology is “ideologically neutral.”

The Navy veteran who built his name back home on right-to-work outreach and gun rights says the lessons will be “very, very simple,” and that some of the techniques he’ll share have been “around since Goldwater.”

The course will take us “from complete political novice to being the most dangerous political force in your state,” DeMott promises. Once we’ve completed their 8 hours, the foundation will give us access to “invaluable” strategy emails, he says.

DeMott is motivational in nature from the beginning, telling our crowd we have the ability to force change, and that sometimes state and local governments provide more opportunities to “fight back” on issues such as the health care law and even the National Defense Authorization Act. Our mission should be seeking roll call votes, he says, adding: “If you are not getting politicians on record, then you are not doing it right.”

I wish I could tell you more, but I got kicked out before my coffee even had the chance to cool off.

DeMott begins his presentation with a slide outlining his three rules: turn phones off, no texting and do not record.

When it comes time to introduce ourselves, I tell them I am Christina from Washington, D.C., and I am studying organizing techniques. Then I sit down.

That’s when the commotion starts. Two of the staffers planning the session whisper furiously at the back of the room. One leaves the room in a hurry, probably to do a quick Google search on the library computers.

An organizer returns with a piece of paper, and interrupts DeMott, who is just on a roll talking about local opposition to the Real ID Act. She announces she wants to see me and another attendee outside.

I had figured I would never make it in the door, so I actually was a little surprised, especially since someone else also was being called into detention. As I stood up, the organizer orders us, “Collect your things.”

It turns out the foundation had already refunded my $35 at 9:56 a.m., before the organizers even hauled us from the room. Outside, they tell the other guy the class is for conservatives only. He is protesting, saying that the fact his group backs clean energy doesn’t make him liberal.

Maybe he was an infiltrator. If so, he was sort of taking our instructor’s advice. (Early in the session, DeMott had admitted that conservative groups had “flat out stolen” the idea of including a line at the bottom of emails asking people to chip in $5 from MoveOn.org.)

I argue my case for awhile, but don’t stick around long enough to find out whether he is rightly feeling aggrieved.

For the record, Paul might have driven me there, but he isn’t really involved with the organization. I asked about it, but an aide wanted to talk about how he’s doing outreach to as many different types of groups as possible. Team Paul is tight-lipped about on-the-ground organizing, though staffers acknowledge this group is a “liberty-minded” network the senator could tap into should he run for president.

So, how had I ended up sitting at the tables with these true believers?

Showing up as a journalist at this sort of thing isn’t usually met with wide open arms. But I’ve done it before as a reporting tool. I was transparent about my identity and goals from the get-go, though I didn’t exactly wave my press badge around.

In 2006, I signed up for a MoveOn watch party for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” disclosing to everyone there what I was up to. I did it for both GOP and Democratic debate watch parties in 2008. If I didn’t already have plans, I totally would have tried to crash a Ready for Hillary house party this past weekend, and if I were in Texas, I’d see if I could spy on this Wendy Davis fellowship program.

The foundation’s registration email triggered an online survey gauging my position on the political spectrum on guns, recreational marijuana legalization, whether 9/11 was an inside job and union organizing. “Pre-emptive, unilateral military action is never appropriate policy for the U.S.,” read one of the questions offering a range of agree/disagree for answers. (I chose “neutral” on all but one of the 20 questions; when not allowed that option for question No. 17 about abortion, I answered honestly that I am pro-choice.)

In the end, I put 100 extra miles on my Honda, and gave up sleep on a Saturday morning. I still think the exercise was worth it as we report on grass-roots organizing ahead of the midterms and members of Congress eying the White House.

And the coffee wasn’t bad.

  • http://americansforpetraeus2012.org JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

    I’m guessing you went there to rabble-rouse like a good little Marxist does at liberty,not anarchy,meetings. Shame…you will never know true freedom because if you’re feeding at the trough of liberal left’s talking points,you shall always be a puppet . Of course you’ll disagree so what’s the sense or use ?

    • Nicholas DeLuca

      Johnny, Openness is a characteristic of the democratic process. Liberty is based on knowledge, and trust . The TP apparently does not believe so. It is information and knowledge that sets you free . Secrecy, willful ignorance and stringent ideological orthodoxy are characteristics of political corruption and fascism .

    • CTD

      Bleah – if you want to hurl invective, there are plenty of people inviting it. Just look at the Atlantic’s online ‘business’ blogs. Heck, go and look at Christina’s other posts, which might actually express opinions (I don’t know)?

      I’m a libertarian curious about the FACL program and would have been interested in a story about it, whatever the slant. I can read past the slant.

  • Andre Leonard

    That’s not a course on liberty. Liberty is free.. This was another scam..

  • http://marketsharescorp.com/ Nick10

    “an instructor with “years of experience running and winning campaigns and legislative projects in multiple state legislatures.” That’s Rand Paul for you. Not the brightest penny in the jar.

  • George Alfano

    Those people organizing this are miserable people. They have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee but no Dunkin’ Donuts. I live hundreds of miles from the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.

  • D.C.J.

    Wow, Christina Bellantoni you had that correct. Paragraph 24, Line 2, “as a reporting tool.” That you show yourself to be. Sounds like you may be a knuckle head wrench, or should that be “wench?”

    • TheNate

      Well, at least she’s not a “nut” like you.

      • D.C.J.

        TheNate; Oh my. Don’t be such a “Tommy Tough Nuts.” Now go climb your Obama issued Rubber Rope some more. Yaawwnnn.

        • TheNate

          Try again, D.C.J., only this time don’t be stupid and incoherent. I know it may take all night to think of something intelligent, but do your best and I’ll bear in mind you’re trying something new this time.

          • D.C.J.

            1-800-Wah-Bu-Lance!!!!

  • Mark Hammel

    While some Western success has been due to capital, the liberty that unleashes its citizens’ ingenuity and courage has been more important.

  • Manny G

    I have a really good recommendation of a website I just found called Traders Superstore, just do a search for them he should be able to find them. I recommend these guys because there course material is top-notch and their support is the best I’ve ever seen on the Internet. These guys take seriously teaching people how to trade and I’m very happy to recommend them to anyone interested in learning to trade for themselves, it really is a very lucrative business.

  • YONATAN C

    THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS DECLARED WAR ON THE POOR AND UNEMPLOYED IN OUR COUNTRY. THEY HAVE BECOME SO DISCONECTED FROM THE PEOPLE THAT THEY HAVE NO CLUES AS TO WHAT IS HAPPENING OUT IN THE “REAL WORLD”. MILLIONS OF UNEMPLOYED FAMILIES HAVE SUFFERED BECAUSE OF THEIR LACK OF COMPASSION AND HUMAN DECENCY. SINCE LATE LAST DECEMBER, MORE THAN 2.6 MILLION AMERICANS HAVE BEEN WITHOUT UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS, BECAUSE OF THE REPUBLICANS “PARTY POLITICS”, AND POLITICAL AGENDA, THE REPUBLICANS HAVE HELD THE MUCH NEEDED EXTENSION BILL “HOSTAGE” FOR POLITICAL LEVERAGE, AND PARTY AGENDAS. THEY HAVE LACKED COMAPSSION AND COMMON DECENCY, BY USING THESE UNEMPLOYED FAMILIES AS BARGAINING CHIPS, TO GET THEIR BILLS PASSED IN RETURN IN THE SENATE. THEY HAVE DRAGGED THEIR FEET FOR THE PAST FIVE MONTHS, CAUSING DELAY AFTER DELAY, IN THE HOPES OF MAKING IT IMPOSSIBE TO EVER HAVE THE EXTENSION BILL PASSED. NOW, IT’S THE END OF MAY, AND THEY ARE NOW SAYING THAT IT’S NOW TOO LATE TO PASS THE BILL. THEY KNEW THIS FROM THE START, AND THEY DELIBERATELY MADE SURE IT WOULD BE TOO LATE. MILLIONS OF THESE FAMILIES HAVE FACED EVICTIONS, HOME FORECLOSURES, BANKRUPTCY, AND HOMELESSNESS, AND THEY COULDN’T HAVE CARED LESS. THE REPUBLICANS HAVE BEEN A HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT TO THEIR “FORMER” REPUBLICAN CONSTITUENTS. THEY HAVE SHOWN THE WORLD FOR WHOM THEY REPRESENT AND WORK FOR, AND IT’S NOT YOU OR ME. THEY REPRESENT PEOPLE LIKE THE KOCH BROTHERS, AND BIG CORPORATIONS. YOU KNOW, THE ONE PERCENT AT THE TOP. I HOPE THAT ALL THESE MILLIONS OF HURTING PEOPLE WILL MAKE SURE NOT TO VOTE REPUBLICAN IN THE COMING ELECTION. THEY’RE NOT WORTHY OF OUR VOTE

  • Fargo Wells

    The More We Know. The far more we don’t.

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