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AstroTurfing: What It Is and What It Isn’t.
Written By : Jimmie Bise
August 16, 2009

I’ve noticed there seems to be some confusion in the MSM and elsewhere about the meaning of the word “AstroTurf” when used to describe the town hall meeting protests we’ve been seeing the past couple weeks. I’ve seen the word used to describe everything from bussed-in ACORN members to ad-hoc gathering organized by ordinary folks on Twitter. What I haven’t seen, though, is the term used to describe actual instances of AstroTurfing.

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A little history is in order. The term AstroTurfing came about to describe efforts to make a protest look like it came from the grassroots (i.e. unorganized groups of ordinary folks who’ve come together in more or less an impromptu manner). It became commonplace in the last election when professional AstroTurfer David Axelrod became a top adviser to the Obama campaign. Jim Treacher was the first to really dig into Axelrod’s operation and you can get a good chunk of background on what he was doing in this post.

You can see from the links that the common element to all these AstroTurfing efforts is dishonesty. Whether it’s a group of people paid to represent themselves as concerned citizens, keyboard jockeys paid to infest blogs with fake “concern troll” comments, or manufactured memes propagated by left wing blogs from a central source, AstroTurfing is predicated on deceit.

That is different from what has been happening at town hall meetings, no matter what Jazz Shaw says. What seems to confuse people is the presence of money and top-down organization. But neither of those, by themselves or even together, mean that AstroTurfing is at work. They do indicate there’s some pretty heavy community organizing going on and that should be familiar to most of us since our President is the Community Organizer-in-Chief, You’d think that our professional journalists would have studied up on the subject given how much attention he’s brought to the profession, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Let’s be clear. The protesters you’ve seen opposing Obamacare generally aren’t AstroTurfers. Indeed, there is no evidence at all that Obamacare protesters have done any AstroTurfing. The supposed gotcha memo that the left waved around like a bloody shirt a couple weeks ago (before Mary Katharine Ham showed their outrage was more fake than Lindsey Lohan’s lesbianism) wasn’t an AstroTurfing effort either. It was good-old grassroots activism, just like our President used to do, except the guy who wrote the memo wasn’t actually paid to be an activist. The Tea Party movement is a grassroots movement, even though they have some semblance of organization.

To be fair, though, the people bussed in by ACORN or the SEIU aren’t AstroTurfers either, so long as they’re wearing their matching t-shirts and are there voluntarily. That’s community organizing the way the left has done it for a long time. Sure, it involves a lot of money and well-oiled message machines, which means it’s not really a true grassroots movement, but it’s not dishonest either.

A protest only becomes AstroTurfing when people are purposefully portray themselves to be something they are not. So the guys at this rally who had no idea what their signs said because they didn’t speak English qualify. So does this woman who represented herself as a doctor but was in reality an Obama delegate brought there by another Obama campaigner. The President himself is guilty of the practice, using plants in at least two of his restricted town hall events.

It’s important for us to get this right. There is grassroots organizing, big-money traditional community organizing, and AstroTurfing. They are all entirely different things and only one of them should be condemned as harmful to our democracy.

Jimmie runs The Sundries Shack and is a contributing writer to the American Issues Project. He is also an amateur musician, an aspiring composer, an unrepentant geek and would love you to pay his blog a visit. This post is cross-posted there.

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