Band of Brothers
I first met Chip Gerdes in Quincy, IL, at the 2009 9-12 Tea Party and I'm so sorry he died suddenly last week. That Tea Party rocked and Chip was a large part of that. He had secured a great line up of speakers: Andrew Breitbart, Roger Stone, Jim Hoft, and Glenn Reynolds, just to name a few. I shot the whole thing and posted it to YouTube. At forty YouTube videos and over 4 hours of footage, it was and remains the longest event I've covered.
The St. Louis Tea Party was becoming a media machine and Chip was instrumental in making that happen. He was a sort of special ops political operative who played a critical role between grassroots activists and established conservative media outlets. He wasn't really interested in the long format video work I was doing; however, he recognized I had some video production skills. As a result, he asked me to make a few short videos. I never asked to be paid and he never offered. It was for the cause.
I'd post the videos to an account he had set up and he would see that they got out. Today, that account is dark. Nothing's been posted to it in quite a while. I'm sure he had dozens of other accounts. He loved to troll the left.
Chip knew how to provoke a story, too. He knew how to confront the left effectively and get them to say something stupid. So, where I was useful for the occasional video airstrike, Sharp Elbows provided the ground assault that Chip loved so much. Perhaps their finest op was Sharp's "Jackpot Brother" hit on Rep Phil Hare.
And so ended Hare's Congressional career.
Sharp and I worked together on a couple of videos during the 2010 election cycle. He had a day job that kept him busy and driving around the St. Louis region so on a few occasion when I had gotten a tip about a Russ Carnahan event that day, I'd give Sharp a call. If he could get there, he'd stick a camera in Carnahan's face and drop-off his footage with me. I'd cut, title, and post what he shot so his evening blogging would be half done before he got home. Chip, Sharp, myself, and many others--Michelle Moore, Bill Hennessey, Dana, Patch, the Editor, Hoft, too name a few--we were a band of brothers.
How the Media Works
You have to understand that the media world has two parts: content creation and distribution. Bloggers like Sharp and myself are in the business of content creation--original reporting, opinion pieces, video of news-worthy events, etc. Distribution is what we all want. In-bound links from the Instapundit or Michelle Malkin are worth thousands of views and those views translate into advertising revenue.
What the establishment understands is that they don't have to do much content creation because every fourth grader is doing it for free. Therefore, they put all of their resources into distribution. The establishment owns distribution and they operate it like a spigot. Stories they don't like never get picked up. Stories that promote their viewpoint are seemingly re-blogged, retweeted, and liked on Facebook dozens of times.
Chip had fostered a relationship with grassroots activists, but he was paid by politicians. And the politicians best able to pay him were the ones in elected office: the establishment. Chip was one of their spigots.
It was early summer 2011. I remember it well. I got an email from Chip about a story that would be breaking later that day. Rebel Pundit had traveled to Indiana and had posted video of Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock's campaign manager going off. Chip was firing up a blogswarm against the Mourdock campaign. Chip was working--perhaps paid, perhaps volunteer, I don't know--for Mourdock's primary opponent, Dick Lugar.
A few weeks later, Dan Riehl posted a hit to Breitbart.com targeting Missouri Tea Party favorite, Ed Martin. Chip told me that he had written that hit, but Dan has always maintained that it was his work. I don't know. I do know that there's a symbiotic relationship between political consultants and the media whether that's the mainstream media, bloggers, or whatever. The consultants want stories that help their guy, but they don't want the campaign's finger prints on the story, so often the consultants and the media collaborate. Authorship really doesn't matter so long as the facts are true.
With the hit on Martin, I realized that Chip and I would be on opposite sides of most Republican primaries in the 2012 election cycle. That's ok. Primaries are family-feuds. I thought we would be able to patch it up afterwards.
The Tea Parties in Indiana had demonstrated state-wide grassroots organization at its finest. They developed the model that conservatives should adopt if they want to replace an establishment Republican. Indiana Tea Party leader Greg Fettig (video of how they did it) wrote the book on how they accomplished this: Tea Party on Safari.
They had recognized that the only way to defeat an incumbent was to have one candidate backed by all Tea Parties across the state running against that incumbent. If there were multiple challengers, then the grassroots vote would be split allowing the establishment candidate (Dick Lugar in Indiana) to win the primary. To create state-wide grassroots consensus, Indiana Tea Parties held a straw poll with representatives from all Tea Parties in attendance and they choose Richard Mourdock.
Chip knew about the Tea Party straw poll in Indiana and he sent Sharp to disrupt it. Chip was trying to discredit Tea Parties across Indiana with a video hit from Sharp that he thought would run on the St. Louis Tea Party website. He was playing one tea party off another in an effort to help establishment Republican Dick Lugar win re-election.
I really do not care which candidate someone supports in a primary, but if you foment blue-on-blue conflict, then you're a traitor to the cause. If you play one Tea Party off another in an effort to get an establishment hack like Dick Lugar re-elected, then you're a traitor to the cause. Chip, what were you thinking? You had helped build this awesome media machine in St. Louis and you wanted to use it to attack and discredit Indiana Tea Parties!? I've never been so embarrassed. Chip, why would you do that!?!
I would blog in support of Mourdock's campaign for the remainder of the 2012 election cycle. It was the least I could do for my Tea Party compatriots in Indiana.
The 2012 election is over. I've moved on. A few weeks ago, Ben told me that Chip still wanted to punch me in the face. I think he was still pissed at me over the Ed Martin-Ann Wagner kerfuffle, but that's a story for another day.
Smart Girl Summit
The last time I saw Chip was at Smart Girl Summit here in St. Louis a few years ago. I had my girls in tow. That was the only time Chip had met them. As they were playing in the background, Chip was telling me about the American Girl Doll store up in Chicago. He loved the place and he loved taking his daughter there. It was somehow easy to picture the big guy with his daughter by his side exploring aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf of pink and purple accessories for her American Girl Doll. He probably asked an attendant where he could find a toy SIG Sauer P230 and matching conceal-carry holster for his daughter's doll. He so loved to provoke a story.
This year, Smart Girl Summit will be held in Indy in early August. I'm planning to be there. I look forward to seeing my Indiana Tea Party friends. You guys showed the way in the 2012 primary and it was an honor blogging beside you.
Chip, it's been a wild ride and that's mostly your fault. Too bad you wont get to punch me in the face, but, who knows, maybe Ray will take care of that for you. I miss ya, man--you were the best frenemy I've ever had. Godspeed!