Last week, when tea partiers weren’t chatting online about Glenn Beck’s mega-rally at the Lincoln Memorial, they were cyberventilating about the threats tea party umbrella group FreedomWorks is supposedly facing from angry left-wingers. FreedomWorks told more than one reporter that a growing number of death threats received by the organization is forcing FreedomWorks to spend precious GOTV funds on an unexpected move to a “high-security” building across D.C. from their current headquarters near the FBI Building.
But the reporting on the move left out the fact that FreedomWorks’ change in location also comes at the end of the group’s existing lease, and — according to one source familiar with FreedomWorks’ real estate deals — their new headquarters offers them cheaper rent than their current home. And despite reports of increased threats, the group won’t be moving until months after the election is over.
“I’m not saying we think something’s going to happen today or tomorrow,” FreedomWorks spokesperson Adam Brandon told me last week. “It wasn’t that there are new threats that we’re specifically worried about.”
Brandon said that with his name so often published in the media, his office often receives the most nasty calls. Most, he said, are harmless — along the lines of the idiotic, as was the case when Geico ad voiceover actor Lance Baxter famously called in during the height of the health care debate. Others, he said, are more ominous.
“The ones with the heavy breathing, the reference to guns — that’s not cool,” Brandon said. “One guy said, ‘If I have to pick up a gun to defend my country, I will.”
Other calls suggest the threats against FreedomWorks are coming from the left, Brandon said.
“One voicemail I got was from someone who said she was a ‘Rachel Maddow fan,’” Brandon told me. “She attacked our politics, said, ‘Honey, we’re learning about our second amendment rights, too.’”
“You worry about one person with a screw loose” after calls like that, Brandon said.
“People call and say we don’t like the president because he’s a black man,” Brandon told me (he also said that charge was ridiculous). “If someone thinks the whole thing is based on race and you’re angry, you could maybe want to be a martyr to the cause.”
Nasty phone calls and less-than-subtle threats, of course, are nothing new to groups like FreedomWorks. Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn, told me that his staff receives “a steady stream of profanity-laced and sometimes threatening email from right-wingers.” Sometimes MoveOn staff take security precautions, like informing police of threats, before staging public events, Ruben told me.
Brandon said that as bad as things are now, he expects them to get worse for FreedomWorks. “My guess is after the election it’ll be even more contentious,” Brandon said.
As for the headquarters move — which right-wing blogs trumpeted as the latest round of media hypocrisy when it comes to the tea party movement — Brandon confirmed what my source told me about the timing of FreedomWorks securing a new headquarters. The group’s lease is set to expire in February 2011, and it will then move to its new home in the same building near the Capitol that hosts studios for C-SPAN, Fox News and NBC.
Brandon said he didn’t know if the rent was lower, as my source had said. “I would assume [it’s higher],” Brandon told me. “Every indication that I have is that we’re moving to a much better location.”
He also said that the building is more “secure,” though I wasn’t able to suss out what made the new location more secure than FreedomWorks’ current home. Both have 24-hour security guards and access only by keycards. Nevertheless, Brandon said FreedomWorks didn’t want to leave its old home but had to in order to protect its staff.
“We would have preferred to stay where we are,” Brandon said. “We love it here.” But he said concerns over security required the group to find a new home — but not until after the elections.
“We want to step it up,” Brandon said of security at the FreedomWorks HQ. “We wanted to find the most secure building possible.”
“If we could move into the White House, we would,” he added. “Then again, in two years maybe we will.”