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Faces of the Tea Party (revisited): 'Occupy' protesters are 'mad at the wrong people'

In 2010, msnbc.com profiled nearly two dozen Tea Party activists in Indiana to learn about their concerns and motivations. At the time, many were getting involved in politics for the first time -- organizing groups, attending rallies, working phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods. We recently checked in with them to hear their thoughts on the GOP candidates for president and the newest protest movement in the neighborhood, Occupy Wall Street. 

James Cheng / msnbc.com

The Cosgray family pose for family portrait at their farm outside, October 2010, Monticello, Ind. From left, Nicole, 16, Rachel, 20, mother, Laura, 47, father Sam, 48, Tyler, 25 and his baby, Bella, 4 months old, Amanda, 24 and her husband, Alex, 26.

In between jobs, church and family responsibilities, the Cosgray family of Monticello, Ind. is deeply involved in their local White County Tea Party Patriots. Father Sam works at Caterpillar. His wife, Laura, works part-time at a local school.
What they’re doing now:

“We are still plugging away,” says Laura Cosgray of her family. “We are just talking to people, educating people.”
The White County Tea Party Patriots, which meets once a month, now has close to 350 members, she says.
In a general sense, she thinks the Tea Party has gained stature over the last year.
“(White County Patriots) had a float in a local parade. People were actually standing up, thumbs up, clapping," she says. “People in this country feel — they know — something is not right. I think they are feeling respect and appreciation” for the Tea Party.
The family’s commitment was recently recognized by their congressman, Rep. Todd Rokita, who treated the entire clan to a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., flying them to the capital in his private plane.
“Rokita has the conservative values and views and aligns himself with Tea Party philosophy,” says Laura Cosgray. “He told (our group) he wanted to take one Tea Party family from White County to show his gratitude.”
Looking ahead to 2012 presidential election:
“If I had to pick (a Republican candidate), I would be voting for Herman Cain. He’s not a politician; he’s a businessman who knows how to create jobs. I think he’s a straight shooter. He speaks for me. He seems like a genuine guy.
“I was really happy to see Cain was coming up in the polls. … I just didn’t know if he would gain any momentum. Thank goodness he has because we really think he is the best choice.
“I hope he stays the way he is… He’s much more conservative than the other ones. And he’s not a politician. We are really sick of politicians.  They are not going to get by with this rhetoric.”
On the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement:
The “Occupy” protesters “are mad at the wrong people," says Cosgray. "We’re not mad at the bankers… The Tea Party is mad at our politicians, our government. They are the ones that changed our country. I’m not saying there’s not crony capitalism —there is. … The real problem here is coming right from the White House and our Congress.”
Occupy protesters are “bizarre, very strange,” to Cosgray.
“I think (the Occupy movement) makes the Tea Party look a lot better. We’re not playing drums, masturbating on the street, or defecating on cars. I don’t think there’s anybody (out on the street) who is for American the way it was founded. They are like from another planet or something.
“The next time (Americans) see Tea Party groups holding a rally I think they’ll be, like, ‘Phew! Finally some people with common sense.’"

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Emery McClendon speaking at a rally in Indianapolis, Ind., October 2010

Emery McClendon, 59, works as a FedEx courier. He is disabled veteran, a founder of The Liberty Coalition in Fort Wayne, Ind. and a frequently requested Tea Party speaker.
What he’s doing now:
Since 2010, McClendon’s Liberty Coalition has joined forces with another local Tea Party group under the name Fort Wayne 9-12. “We had the same purpose, same goals," he says. "… I’m seeing that more and more around the country -- people saying, let’s do events together, share resources, share the costs.”
McClendon recently addressed Indiana’s Tea Party “convention” -- Hoosiers for Conservative Senate -- which threw support behind Richard Mourdock, in an effort to unseat Sen. Richard Lugar, a six-term Republican.
“Since Obama, (Lugar) has taken the opposite stance of everything he said he stood for," McClendon says. “We want to get someone in there and take conservative values to Washington D.C."
McClendon also is an avid writer, penning commentaries for distribution through conservative channels like Project 21 and through Facebook and Twitter.
On how the Tea Party has changed:
McClendon says the Tea Party in his area is active, growing and increasingly cohesive, but it has moved away from protests and public events.
“We are focusing on training and getting people educated, to explain what we stand for,” he said, speaking from a leadership training conference in Washington, D.C. “We’re teaching people to speak informatively about what we believe in and how to get the message out.”
McClendon says some of the people who came to Tea Party rallies have drifted away, but others have joined the movement.
“A lot of people got into the movement because they thought it was going to be rally after rally. It’s fun, I agree … but that’s not what the movement is all about. We decided we need to train people, make people more aware of what is going on, how to approach your Senator, congressman…. A lot of people dropped out because it’s a lot of work.
“There are a lot more Tea Party people attending hearings and committee meetings in Washington and statehouses. There’s more analysis of bills, letting people know (what’s in them). That’s all part of education.”
According to McClendon, the “birthers” who dispute President Obama’s citizenship, have been sidelined.
“I think they are a fringe group out there beating an issue. … You can talk all day about what’s on someone’s birth certificate, but is that going to create jobs, help our elderly or our soldiers?... Let’s concentrate on how to set America back on track.”
On the Occupy Wall Street movement:
"The only thing we have in common is that they are rallying. We rally for a purpose. ... They don’t know what’s really going down, because if they did they would be out picketing in front of the White House, and statehouses.
“If you read their signs they want everything. … If you take from the rich and, quote-unquote, give it to the poor, you take money from the people who have the means to create jobs and you shut this country down.
“... What Occupy Wall Street has done for the Tea Party is it has made us really focus in on our issues… and get our message out on how we differ and why it is important that we differ.”
On the 2012 election:
McClendon says he is friends with Herman Cain, a conservative who made a fortune running Godfather's Pizza.
"But," he adds. "I’m open to whoever wins the primary and we are going to stand behind that candidate 100 percent.” 

Indiana Tea Party Groups gun for GOP Institution: Sen. Lugar

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Anna Kroyman and Jack Van Valkenburg at a diner in Monticello, Ind., October 2010. Anna and Jack are founding members of the White County Tea Party Patriots.

Anna Kroyman, 62, is founder of the White County Tea Party Patriots. She runs a distribution company from her home in Monticello, Ind., which she shares with boyfriend Jack Van Valkenburg, 66, a retired Chicago police officer.
What she’s doing now:
Kroyman gets as many local, state and national candidates as she can to speak at local Tea Party meetings, even when the candidate has little hope of winning them over. 
“We’ve had the Democrats, the Libertarians and the Republicans," she says. "I invited every presidential candidate to come to speak to our group in White County.”
None of the GOP presidential candidates made a showing at their rural Indiana Tea Party meetings, but they heard back from the Romney campaign and Newt Gingrich provided DVD answers to questions submitted by members of the White County Tea Party Patriots.
The group also hosted Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who has largely lost favor among this conservative contingent. But she was determined to keep it civilized.
“One (Tea Party member) got up with three pages that he was going to read to Lugar,” says Kroyman. “I said, 'No. You get two minutes, one question.'… We told Lugar that he couldn’t filibuster either. … You gotta be brief.”
This group distanced itself from a statewide Tea Party effort to rally to unseat Lugar, and replace him with Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdack. Kroyman says she didn’t think the state group should call the shots for all the Tea Party members. She also did not like their tone.
“There was no dignity to anything they were doing. This is a sitting senator,” she says. “Tea Parties should be about education, not manipulation and persuasion.”
On the Tea Party today:
The White County group’s membership has changed in the past year, Kroyman says.
“The people who have drifted off are much more radical and think that we should be doing more — more fighting, more getting out there, and more ranting and raving. I’ve told them they needed to start their own group.”
She is also frustrated with members who focus primarily on social issues.
“Like abortion, gay marriage. I say, are you kidding me? Are these the most important issues in America? That’s the small stuff. Look what’s happening in this country. We need to elect a leader. The most important issue is restoring exceptionalism -- someone who doesn’t apologize for this country, and is strong on defense.”
Though its makeup is shifting, she notes that the group is still growing.
“That’s why I hate it when people say the Tea Party is fizzling out. No it's not! It’s reorganizing.”
On the 2012 election:
Kroyman says that she initially found none of the GOP candidates especially appealing, and was disappointed that Sarah Palin is not among them.
But now she supports businessman and lobbyist Herman Cain, for three reasons, she says: his “business common sense,” his positions that align with the Tea Party, and because "he is not a politician."
“Has my position changed since these four sexual harassment cases have surfaced?” she asks, anticipating the question. “No, it has not.”
“None of this has been proved to be fact, including the most recent graphic accusations. ... This new attack is 15 years old and prepared by Gloria Allred ... a known liberal activist who did damage to Meg Whitman in the last election and likely believes she can manipulate this election as well.
In any case, she says, Cain is the best candidate, "because he is a conservative candidate with solutions that can actually work. He is the most viable candidate and could certainly beat Obama, which is exactly why he’s under attack.”
On the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement:
“When they first got out there in September I saw lots of folks that were much like us. Older folks, family folks, working people making the time to be heard. They were drawn by the same feelings of frustration that Tea Party people were drawn by more than two years ago. Something is drastically wrong with our country and it needs fixing.”
“Occupy Wall Street raised people from their couches that the Tea Party could not raise…," Kroyman concedes, though she thinks government, not Wall Street, is the proper target for their frustration. But she says the movement has changed recently.
“About a month into (the Occupy movement), the folks with common sense had already gone home. What remains are the anarchists and general ne’er-do-wells. They have no message, no knowledge, no purpose and no sense of right or wrong. It’s already escalated into severe violence in Oakland with 10 police officers injured, 500 arrested.
“I’m not sure why (cities) are permitting these fierce activities to continue. … I think it’s cruel on their part to let this go on until someone gets killed, and surely that’s where it is headed.
“The good that surfaced … is that the folks that went home are now paying very close attention.” 

Cain maintains innocence, blaming 'Democrat machine'

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Emily Daniels canvassing for a local Republican in South Bend, Ind., October 2010

Emily Daniels, 19, is a sophomore at Bethel College in South Bend, Ind. As a Republican she has attended some Tea Party events, and was generally aligned with their conservative views.
What she’s doing now:
In addition to carrying a full college course load, Daniels is president of the Republican Club at Bethel, “educating students about what is going on in the world around them, how these things will affect them, how they can get involved and ... make a difference. We also try to make politics interesting and fun for your average student."
 Daniels' club has held voter registration at Bethel, a private Christian school, helped out a local campaigns and organized campus appearances by local and statewide candidates.
Coming up, they are planning a pro-life political action night and a campus-wide initiative to write letters to American soldiers serving overseas.
“In the long term, I want to see my generation knowledgeable about what is going on in their communities and world so that we can stand for what we believe in and become leaders as we head out from college into the real world.”
Daniels says her views of the Tea Party haven’t changed since a year ago, when she described Tea Party members as “people who actually care and want to be involved in the Republican Party ... and want to make sure they keep promises and really represent the people
Today, she says: “People are still upset at the failed policies of Democrats, and at Republicans who don't stand up for conservative common values."
She remains undecided on which GOP candidate she favors.
On the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“The protests are about many things and I really haven't had (a chance) to look into beyond the media spin." ... Their principles, she says, referring to documents published by the movement, are "antithetical to the values of the Tea Party.
"Students in my club aren't buying the things (Occupy protesters) say — including one you might think they agree with: lessening of student loan debt. … We believe that we are responsible for our own debt and paying for our own college education, not the government (or other taxpayers) and we don't see why we should pay the student loans of others who were perhaps irresponsible in taking student loans."

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Pastor Donald Nunemaker poses for a portrait at his home in Plymouth, Ind., October 2010.

 

Don Nunemaker, 62, Plymouth, Ind., retired Air Force officer and part-time pastor, is co-founder of 'We the People,' a Tea Party-affiliated group in Marshall and Fulton Counties.
What he’s doing today:
“We the People” still meets monthly, and Nunemaker says membership has more than doubled to about 300 since we last spoke to him in fall of 2010. But the group’s approach has changed.
“Charging out to D.C. to take part in a protest is not high on our priority list,” he says. “Now we are harassing our elected officials as much as possible. We will email or call (House Speaker John) Boehner, R-Ohio, at the drop of a hat if we see something we don’t like.” For instance, he says, “We did not want to see that debt ceiling raise. … All it does is encourage more spending and less thrift.”
How the Tea Party has changed:
In 2008, Indiana Tea Partiers got burned when they fielded two candidates against establishment Republican Rep. Dan Coats. Coats won with 40 percent of the vote because his opponents split the protest vote.
“That was a good lesson to learn,” says Nunemaker. “If you don’t come at this unified, somebody else is going to jump in there who you don’t want.”
This time, most are united behind conservative Richard Mourdock to unseat long-time Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, now considered a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by many residents in the movement.
On the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement:
Nunemaker says the new movement has “nothing” in common with the Tea Party movement.
“They may be protesting the bailouts, but from a socialist approach,” says Nunemaker. “We protest them because it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Mainly, Nunemaker says, he says he feels “amused” by the protesters he has seen on TV. “They gave me the impression they had no idea why they were there.”
Even so, he keeps an eye on it: “We watch it in case there’s something emerging that we might want to pay attention to.”
Looking ahead to the 2012 elections:
Nunemaker favors pizza tycoon Herman Cain as GOP candidate because he sees Cain as a Washington outsider (despite his history as a lobbyist for the restaurant industry.) He also likes Cain’s business background, and his flat-tax proposal.

Until the election comes a bit closer, Nunemaker says he and many fellow Tea Party activists are focused on their jobs and families. He and his wife, Susan, recently adopted a 5-year-old girl, Liga, from an orphanage in Latvia.

Nonetheless, “The Tea Party is not in a state of dormancy,” he says. “But we’re not all hyped up yet like we were in the last election. … We’re staying active and staying informed. If something needs our attention we will jump on it.”

Read Faces of the Tea Party (revisited): Part One

See the original Faces of the Tea Party slideshow or Tea Party Photoblog

See PhotoBlog posts on Faces of the Occupy movement in New York City and Seattle

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