A progressive advocacy group has become the target of persistent threats over the past two weeks for its efforts to expose alleged criminal activity involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now the group, Velvet Revolution (VR), is asking the FBI to investigate the communications, which include explicit threats of violence.
VR launched stopthechamber.com 16 months ago in an effort to shine light on possible illegal activities associated with the U.S. Chamber and its director. Tom Donohue. VR's campaign began to gain traction as the November midterm elections drew near. President Barack Obama and members of Congress have raised concerns about the Chamber's receipt of foreign funds and questionable accounting practices.
Time magazine examines the controversy in its current issue. Writes Michael Crowley:
It's no great mystery what Barack Obama was doing when he accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of directing funds collected from overseas to a massive advertising campaign designed to shape the fall congressional elections. He wanted to remind voters that a powerful arm of corporate America is determined to derail some of the biggest elements of his domestic agenda. But he was also desperate to find some issue — even a contrived one — to inspire his cranky liberal base and avert a wipeout that could wreck the remainder of his term.
VR argues that the issue hardly is contrived. As pressure mounted on the Chamber, VR began to receive a mounting number of serious threats. Kevin Zeese, an attorney for VR, now is asking the FBI to investigate. Writes Zeese:
Specifically, over the past two weeks, these Chamber staff and supporters have escalated what appears to be a coordinated attack on our organization and staff through harassing emails and online posts making false accusations, many including explicit threats of violence and intimidation against our organization and its staff for seeking a DOJ investigation into criminal wrongdoing by Mr. Donohue and the Chamber. The Chamber itself is directly involved with this smear campaign against us through its press spokesman who is feeding well-known conservative media with opposition research paid for by the Chamber. The Chamber’ s high powered lawyers have also recently written at least three letters to various members of the media demanding that they not publish information about the Chamber’ s illegal activities, and defaming our organization and its staff. One letter was written to our public relations agent, Ilene Proctor. One was written to PR Newswire, and the third was written to the editor of Huffington Post. PR Newswire felt so threatened that it pulled a press release we had sent regarding the Chamber.
How are Chamber supporters reacting to VR's campaign? Not well, it appears. Consider some of the threats received through the VR Web site:
* “Leave the Chamber of Commerce alone, this is your only warning;”
* “You WILL be confronted and stopped... I am quite probably a member of the fasting (sic) growing group that is your direct enemy...;”
* “The more torture of Islamohitlerite babykilling Fascist pigs, the better. You should be with them;”
* “Your (sic) all on borrowed time. The real revolution will come to those soon;”
* “You peices (sic) of shit should all be fucking burned at the stake;”
* “Be careful what you ask for..;”
* “Bounty on your head. Beware;”
* “I dont (sic) make threats. Only promises. You better back the hell off;”
* “I will inform friends and family of your thoughts and movements;”
* “Keep this $200,000 ‘tip’ business going for the CEO of the Chamber and you will find yourself as the target.... You will only receive a limited number of warning (sic) --- this may be the only one --- before your punishment is delivered.”
* "Please let the world know who is behind this bounty offer so that they can be 'recognized' for their decision."
* "Try yourselves for treason againsst [sic] the U.S. and then we can hang you for your crimes against this country."
VR states in a press release that it does not intend to be pushed around:
"We have asked the FBI and Department of Justice to form a task force to investigate the thuggish tactics of the Chamber and its attack dogs," said Kevin Zeese. "We take these threats seriously and are determined to make sure that the FBI aggressively goes after those involved. The Chamber is using bullying tactics against us in an attempt to intimidate us against further exposes’ and cooperation with the FBI, which constitutes obstruction of justice. These illegal tactics are used by dictators, the mafia, and other criminals who have something to hide. The American people need to know that the Chamber is a ruthless enterprise that uses thugs, opposition research, extremist media, and high powered lawyers to attack non profit organizations. Congress members need to know that the Chamber is spreading smears about our organization and people associated with it rather than answering questions about its secret foreign funding, campaign financing violations and tax fraud."
This issue recently has been framed on the national stage as Obama vs. Donohue. But it all started with Velvet Revolution. Is it an important matter for progressives? Consider the words of Time's Michael Crowley:
But what's really inspiring the White House assault may be less obvious: turning out the Democratic base. For weeks, Obama has been warning disaffected Democrats that not voting on Nov. 2 will ensure Republican gains likely to squelch the liberal agenda. Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, says Democrats are showing signs of an enthusiasm surge. Others are more skeptical of the chamber bashing. "It's pretty thin stuff," says one Democratic strategist. But with few popular achievements to brag about before the election, invoking the specter of secret corporate money might be Obama's last, best hope of showing liberals that he's made the right enemies — maybe not abroad but certainly at home.