Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a "30 Front War"

Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative activists and journalists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives-and Karl Rove.

SOURCE:, 2013-07-25
This page last modified: 2022-02-10 14:42:18 -0800 (PST)

  • Article by David Corn. Additional reporting by Kate Sheppard.

  • "We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time."

  • "If we lose on immigration, we lose on every other issue. They key to defeating this bill is Sen. Rubio."

  • A Groundswell memo noted, "Terms like, 'GOP,' 'Tea Party,' 'Conservative' communicate 'racism.'" They proposed an alternative: "Fredrick Douglas Republican."

  • "If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. [RNC chair Reince Priebus] is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, 'don't go Old Testament.'"

  • "It's amazing how much we are accomplishing on so many fronts," the Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott wrote to fellow Groundswell members.

  • Sheryl Kaufman, communications director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine, chimed in: "'OBAMAGRATION'-I love it!! Communicates the similarity with Obamacare."

    Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington -- including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner -- has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation," according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

    Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell -- including aides to congressional Republicans -- cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell's "two front war" against Rove -- a major clash on the right -- click here.)

    Meet the participants in Groundswell

    One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia "Ginni" Lamp Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist.

    Other Groundswell members include:

    Among the conveners listed in an invitation to a May 8 meeting of Groundswell were:

    Conservative journalists and commentators participating in Groundswell have included Breitbart News reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton.

    Groundswell has collaborated with conservative GOPers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Cruz and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a leading tea partier. At its weekly meetings, the group aims to strengthen the right's messaging by crafting Twitter hashtags; plotting strategy on in-the-headlines issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, and the sequester; promoting politically useful scandals; and developing "action items."

    A certain amount of secrecy cloaks Groundswell's efforts. Though members have been encouraged to zap out tweets with a #GSW hashtag, a message circulated to members of its Google group noted that the role of certain advocates should be kept "off of the Google group for OPSEC [operational security] reasons." This "will avoid any potential for bad press for someone if a communication item is leaked," the message explained. (The Groundswell documents were provided to Mother Jones by a source who had access to its Google group page and who has asked not to be identified.)

    Washington is full of coalitions that meet to coordinate messaging and strategy. For two decades, conservative strategist Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has held his now-famous Wednesday morning meetings for a broad spectrum of Republicans, including conservatives opposed to gay rights and abortion rights and those who favor them, as well as GOPers on different sides of the immigration reform debate. Groundswell, which meets at the same time as Norquist's group, appears to be a more ideologically pure version of the Norquist confab, and its emergence -- given the prominent role of Ginni Thomas and the participation of journalists -- prompts several intriguing questions.

    Critics have contended that Thomas' work as a lobbyist opposing Obamacare posed a conflict of interest for her husband, who would rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform initiative. (Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court minority that favored striking down the law.) And Common Cause has maintained that Justice Thomas had a conflict of interest when he participated in the Citizens United case because his wife at the time was running a conservative nonprofit fighting the "tyranny" of President Barack Obama that would benefit from removing limits on such groups' spending and fundraising. With her involvement in Groundswell -- which zeroes in on contentious issues that come before the high court, including voting rights, abortion, and gay marriage -- Ginni Thomas continues to be intricately associated with matters on which her husband may have to render a decision. Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

    The participation of journalists in coordinating messaging with ideological advocates and political partisans raises another set of issues. Conservatives expressed outrage when news broke in 2009 about Journolist, a private email list where several hundred progressive-minded reporters, commentators, and academics exchanged ideas and sometimes bickered. (I was on Journolist, mainly as a lurker.) The late Andrew Breitbart once offered $100,000 for the full Journolist archives and denounced it as "the epitome of progressive and liberal collusion that conservatives, Tea Partiers, moderates and many independents have long suspected and feared exists at the heart of contemporary American political journalism." The Groundswell documents show conservative journalists, including several with Breitbart News, colluding on high-level messaging with leading partisans of the conservative movement.

    How Groundswellers Win "Brownie Points"

    Notes prepared after a Groundswell meeting held on March 27 detailed the group's mission and origins:

    The memo declared that the goal was not to merely ponder, but to be proactive: