ACORN Behind Occupy Movement, Right Wing Media Charges

Unnamed "sources" claim that ACORN is somehow behind Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots.

A commenter has passed along a meme that’s going around: The discredited community organizer group formerly known as ACORN is secretly funding the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thus far, there’s next to no evidence for this assertion.

It turns out that the meme has actually been circulating in slightly less savory circles almost as long as Occupy has been in the news. Something called The Right Scoop offered “video proof that big labor has had it’s [sic] hands in these occupy whatever street protests from the beginning, despite what you may hear on the news” back on October 10th. FrontPageMag‘s Matthew Vadum (“Occupy Wall Street’s ACORN Rent-A-Mobs“) was on it October 13th. Richard Johnson of something called The Patriot’s Trumpet claimed on October 8 to have called it on August 23!

It took off in a serious way earlier today with a report (“EXCLUSIVE: ACORN Playing Behind Scenes Role in ‘Occupy’ Movement“) on the Fox News website.

The former New York office for ACORN, the disbanded community activist group, is playing a key role in the self-proclaimed “leaderless” Occupy Wall Street movement, organizing “guerrilla” protest events and hiring door-to-door canvassers to collect money under the banner of various causes while spending it on protest-related activities, sources tell FoxNews.com.

The former director of New York ACORN, Jon Kest, and his top aides are now busy working at protest events for New York Communities for Change (NYCC). That organization was created in late 2009 when some ACORN offices disbanded and reorganized under new names after undercover video exposes prompted Congress to cut off federal funds.

NYCC’s connection to ACORN isn’t a tenuous one: It works from the former ACORN offices in Brooklyn, uses old ACORN office stationery, employs much of the old ACORN staff and, according to several sources, engages in some of the old organization’s controversial techniques to raise money, interest and awareness for the protests.

Sources said NYCC has hired about 100 former ACORN-affiliated staff members from other cities – paying some of them $100 a day – to attend and support Occupy Wall Street. Dozens of New York homeless people recruited from shelters are also being paid to support the protests, at the rate of $10 an hour, the sources said.

At least some of those hired are being used as door-to-door canvassers to collect money that’s used to support the protests.

Sources said cash donations collected by NYCC on behalf of some unions and various causes are being pooled and spent on Occupy Wall Street. The money is used to buy supplies, pay staff and cover travel expenses for the ex-ACORN members brought to New York for the protests.

In one such case, sources said, NYCC staff members collected cash donations for what they were told was a United Federation of Teachers fundraising drive, but the money was diverted to the protests.

Sources who participated in the teachers union campaign said NYCC supervisors gave them the addresses of union members and told them to go knock on their doors and ask for contributions—and did not mention that the money would go toward Occupy Wall Street expenses. One source said the campaign raked in about $5,000.

The New York Post, a tabloid also known to be sympathetic to conservative causes, is passing the reports along in a story (“Ex-ACORN operatives playing role in ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement“) that’s a warmed over re-write of the Fox story.

So, we have unnamed “sources” telling an outfit known to be hostile to the movement that some people who once held high positions at ACORN are “now busying working at” the Occupy protests. In some cases, they’re allegedly getting the equivalent of lunch money and cab fare to do somethingoranother. And some homeless people are allegedly being given some walking around money. Additionally, some fundraising drive allegedly pulled in a whopping $5000!

None of this is implausible. It’s the kind of thing ACORN did and ACORN types would certainly be sympathetic to Occupy. For that matter, there would be nothing illegal or even particularly untoward about any of this. But it’s simply assertion without evidence from some “sources” whose identity we’re not privy to. Color me unimpressed.

The left tried to discredit the Tea Party in its early days, too, with charges that what presented itself as a grass roots organization was funded by the Koch Brothers and other organized libertarian outfits with Washington ties. While the insinuations were insidious–few of the protestors likely had any clue who the Koch brothers were–there was at least a basis in fact: the brothers Koch and those sympathetic to the movement very quickly got involved as organizers and helping to spread the message. Here, though, it just looks like a vague smear.

UPDATE: TO be clear, what’s in dispute here is the extent to which NYCC is ACORN by a new name and whether it is merely glomming on to a movement that it would naturally support or is “behind” it as a major organizer. NYCC’s Jon West posted this on the front page of their website on September 30 under the title Why We’re Joining #OccupyWallStreet:

It has been amazing watching #OccupyWallStreet grow over the past two weeks. As someone who has been involved in the social justice movement in New York for more than 30 years, it’s a rare occasion that I get to watch a movement like this develop from the outside.

Over the past several years, while the big banks have destroyed our economy and working people have fought to make do with less and less, the richest one percent of Americans continue to take of more of the pie.

That’s why I’m excited to announce that New York Communities for Change and many of our allies in community organizing and labor will be showing our support for #OccupyWallStreet next week.

No place is more symbolic of that gross inequity than Wall Street and there is no better symbol for what all of us are working to achieve than seeing Zuccotti Park full of people who are ready to say that the American people are not going to take it anymore.

So, they’re hardly trying to hide their support. The question is whether ACORN is some sort of behind-the-scenes puppet master. And there’s as of yet no evidence of that.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    I’d like to claim credit for first addressing this in the other column, not that Jan noticed. Yay me!

  2. Jay Tea says:

    The left tried to discredit the Tea Party in its early days, too, with charges that what presented itself as a grass roots organization was funded by the Koch Brothers and other organized libertarian outfits with Washington ties. While the insinuations were insidious–few of the protestors likely had any clue who the Koch brothers were–there was at least a basis in fact: the brothers Koch and those sympathetic to the movement very quickly got involved as organizers and helping to spread the message. Here, though, it just looks like a vague smear.

    James, I’d argue your own quotes show the converse to be true:

    NYCC’s connection to ACORN isn’t a tenuous one: It works from the former ACORN offices in Brooklyn, uses old ACORN office stationery, employs much of the old ACORN staff and, according to several sources, engages in some of the old organization’s controversial techniques to raise money, interest and awareness for the protests.

    That’s a hell of a lot more direct connection to OWS than ever shown between the Kochs and the Tea Party movement. And the left is still pushing that argument.

    And don’t forget Adbusters — they’re in this up to their eyebrows, too.

    J.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    @Jay Tea:

    NYCC’s connection to ACORN isn’t a tenuous one: It works from the former ACORN offices in Brooklyn, uses old ACORN office stationery, employs much of the old ACORN staff and, according to several sources, engages in some of the old organization’s controversial techniques to raise money, interest and awareness for the protests.

    And the evidence this is true? Oh yes, “Sources”. Boy, that guy sure is all over this one, isn’t he?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Jay Tea: Adbusters’ link to this isn’t news; they’ve taken credit for and been widely credited for kicking this thing off.

  5. mantis says:

    Sources say Jay Tea blows goats.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    More impotent, irrelevant drivel from the Murdoch press. The days when anyone but imbeciles and loons paid attention to Murdoch’s “news.”

    It won’t work. It won’t matter. All it does is remind me of why I support Occupy.

  7. ponce says:

    So, they’re hardly trying to hide their support. The question is whether ACORN is some sort of behind-the-scenes puppet master. And there’s as of yet no evidence of that.

    Then why bring this nonsense up at all?

    Members of the right wing blogosphere seem inordinately fascinated by OWS to the exclusion of “real” event happening in the world.

    Is it because reality has a left wing bias?

  8. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: It’s a spreading meme that’s of interest to me. That’s pretty much my basis for topic selection.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    I’m sure that bin Laden is involved as well – he hasn’t been dead nearly as long as ACORN.

  10. Eric Florack says:

    Ah, but what and who is behind ACORN, again?

  11. Linton says:

    ACORN has become to conservatives what SPECTRE was to James Bond in the 60s flicks. Maybe they have a secret lair in a volcano in Japan somewhere.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This just in,… Acorn supported people who worked for a living but had no voice…. ergo, a movement that springs up around the same people is populated by the same people….

    And you are surprised? Shocked?? Amazed???

    HOW STUPID ARE YOU?????

    What I want to know, is why a guy with a million $ vote, is more important than the guy with 2 bucks in his pocket….

    Ya think the votes are for sale???? Really? Maybe???

    Wake up. Smell the roaches. You aren’t in the club.

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    That photo actually looks like a poster for a zombie apocalypse movie.

    In any case, I seriously doubt the remnants of ACORN are spending too much of their time or money on these OWS nitwits. ACORN’s bread and butter consists of registering dead people and felons to vote. True, ACORN also is in the business of ginning up turnout among union droids, inner city riff raff and other political cannon fodder for Democrats; thing is, however, the OWS freakazoids fall below the levels of ACORN’s target demographics. OWS zombies are way too dumb and far too stoned to vote. ACORN would know this. ACORN is not in the business of lost causes.

    Different but related topic: I suspect the overwhelming share of OWS funding is from CPUSA and affiliated socialist, communist and other anti-American groups. There’s a CPUSA feel to these activities. Plus the tactic of using college students and other young malcontents as marks and props is straight out of the CPUSA playbook. Not that it matters in the long run. These “protests” will be over as soon as the weather turns, regardless of how much money is grifted to support the cause. Over on Main Street nobody knows or cares about them in any event.

  14. Racehorse says:

    Someone needs to tell the OWS people that they can take off their costumes; Halloween is not until Monday.

  15. Peterh says:

    Ah heck….why stop there….ACORN has such a resonating cord to the ears of wingnuts that I think it might be appropriate now for them to just issue a blanket statement…..ACORN laid the groundwork for the crucifixion of JC and helped a Muslim get elected President…..everything in between is incidental in comparison…..

  16. jan says:

    So, they’re hardly trying to hide their support. The question is whether ACORN is some sort of behind-the-scenes puppet master. And there’s as of yet no evidence of that.

    Who knows if there is a single puppet master, or multiples of such. However, ACORN is definitely part of the mix, now under the guise of NYCC. But what a mix of people it is! CAIR of NY, American Nazi Party, American Communist Party, Move-on.org, a variety of white supremist groups including an endorsement by David Duke, SEIU and all the other big name labor unions and activist groups are only a short list of OWS participants.

    I really can’t recall such a potpourri of people gathered together with their own set of special interest complaints. In the meantime you have the administration fully supporting OWS, while at the same time garnering the most money from Wall Street in political donations, as well as holding million dollar fundraisers in Hollywood and elsewhere, complaining about the rich, as they hold their hand out to be greased by the rich.

    Then you have the filth being created at some of these OWS locations, violence, drug sales and usage. It’s actually turning into a circus gratifying and highlighting opportunists and low-lifes, all in the name of a good-intentioned cause gone askew.

    It’s not only sad, but also surreal!

    @Ben Wolf:

    I’d like to claim credit for first addressing this in the other column, not that Jan noticed. Yay me!

    The credit is all yours, Ben.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    It still amazes me that so many on the right will buy into any boogeyman story their leaders tell them, and I mean ANY. ACORN is such an inoffensive and unlikely a target for vilification and yet it worked extremely well with plenty on the right who will scream the name like it’s a curse.

    It’s like making people afraid of Mr. Rogers.

  18. john personna says:

    They didn’t count on Herman Cain and Cancer Man.

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    The right can’t accept that OWS has no puppet masters because conservatives thought tends to be hierarchical, or authoritarian. In their minds there simply must be someone at the top running things; the lower classes couldn’t possibly pull of something like this on their own.

  20. Nikki says:

    @jan: Ok, I’m really calling parody on this one. That was some over the top snobbery. A thing of beauty.

  21. Jay says:

    I think it would be news if left wing organizations weren’t trying to get in on the ground level. This doesnt diminish OWS, just like the Koch brothers didn’t diminish the TP.

  22. Liberty60 says:

    @jan:

    Then you have the filth being created at some of these OWS locations, violence, drug sales and usage. It’s actually turning into a circus gratifying and highlighting opportunists and low-lifes,

    Ah, cruel, wicked, Jan!

    I know, on some level, that you are merely teasing me with this, toying with my inner liberal demons-

    That the lurid Cirque de Acorn, its sex and drug-fueled parties are but merely figments of your imagination/ fantasy and yet , like a helpless moth to a flame I am still compelled to go out to my local Occupy event to see for myself, clad in naught but bodypaint and Guy Fawkes mask, a bottle of absinthe in hand.

  23. Pete says:

    @mantis: Nice adult response. I’ll bet this/my response to mantis gets mega “thumbs down” and is hidden while the infantile post by mantis gets 8 “thumbs up” and is celebrated. James, I’m afraid you have turned the asylum over to the inmates.

  24. Hey Norm says:

    Weak Tea = FAIL

  25. jan says:

    @Liberty60:

    Liberty60, I put in the word ‘some’ in referencing the OWS sites, so as not to use a broad brush, as they are not all on the decadent side. The one in Venice CA, for instance, while meager in size was just a protest, when I went by it, not a magnet for attracting the problems other sites have done. According to another poster here, the SF one was pretty mild and orderly as well.

  26. jan says:

    @Jay:

    I think it would be news if left wing organizations weren’t trying to get in on the ground level. This doesnt diminish OWS, just like the Koch brothers didn’t diminish the TP.

    The general message is still valid. But, the actions, signs, and negative political affiliations of demonstrators can distract from the original point of this protest, and actually turn others away from it, IMO.

  27. ponce says:

    It’s a spreading meme that’s of interest to me. That’s pretty much my basis for topic selection.

    And OTB’s numbers are suffering for it:

    http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=sm8drjjoyner&r=36

    Maybe is time to get back to grown up subjects?

  28. Neil Hudelson says:

    Being labeled ACORN is simply what happens to any moderately successful left-leaning political organization. Three of the last five campaigns I worked on got labeled as such. Essentially, if you are doing something right, you’ll get labeled ACORN. (I won four of the last five campaigns…but guess which three had the widest margin. Yup. The ones “funded by ACORN.”)

  29. Ben Wolf says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Are you a campaign consultant?

  30. Neil Hudelson says:
  31. Neil Hudelson says:

    @ponce:

    The drop off also coincides with the time Zels-man and the Other Loonies (great band name) were kicked off. It’s hard to project why a site loses eyes based on one subject matter.

  32. jan says:

    @ponce:

    And OTB’s numbers are suffering for it:

    It’s hard to say why a site’s traffic decreases. For instance, according to another poster (I think his name was Bain), it’s because OTB has taken on a more left wing slant.

  33. lunaticllama says:

    Quick! To the barricades: some liberals might want to exercise their constitutional right to vote!

  34. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s a spreading meme that’s of interest to me. That’s pretty much my basis for topic selection.

    Contra Ponce, I think this is a really important sort of meme to think our way through. And to try and do some comparison work to the Tea Party.

    Both definitely started out grass roots and both have been subsequently accused of astro-turfing. The big divergence is in who/what is accused of pulling the strings. Its interesting that with the Tea Party, fingers are pointed to specific individuals and/or the faces of organizations (the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey). And it’s clear that there have been some organizations set up to profit from the entire Tea Party movement.

    With OWS, with it’s anti-corporatist and anarchistic bent, we see nebulous organizations begin fingered (Acorn and the Communist Party). In part this might be the case because this is an audience that doesn’t appear to be as easily directly, commercially marketed to. It may also be because of the cagey way they have approached putting out a public face. In part that was set by Ad Busters, which to my knowledge, hasn’t given many (if any) interviews since this began. I have to also wonder how this might tie into lessons learned from Assange and WikiLeaks.

  35. c.red says:

    ACORN… or Illuminati !!!

  36. Scott O. says:

    @ponce: @mattb: Jan has contributed frequently to this site. I think she has earned an article inspired by her insanity.

  37. ponce says:

    It’s hard to project why a site loses eyes based on one subject matter.

    Yeah, but OTB’s fascination with OWS has become more embarrassing than Andrew Sullivan’s fascination with Sarah Palin’s uterus.

  38. john personna says:

    The linkage to ACORN is obviously desperate, and it is more funny than everything.

    But if you are the sort that jumps at the sight of ACORNs, riddle me this: OWS is surprisingly anti-Federal Reserve. Why is ACORN anti-Federal Reserve? As traditional liberal apparatchiks, I’d think they’d be pro-centralization?

  39. john personna says:

    BTW right wingers are probably arguing under the mistaken belief that everyone is afraid of ACORNS, when it is actually a fringe hot-button.

  40. Rob in CT says:

    Booga Booga!!

  41. john personna says:

    A good article on what OWS is really about:

    Crony Capitalism Comes Home

    And of course that creates an opportunity for those on the right who are also opposed to the “crony” part. (Any argument of the form “they can’t be against it, because we are,” being a complete fail.)

  42. john personna says:

    Here is another non-ACORN driver for OWS:

    Why the current revenue model of higher education is in trouble

    Wages for young college graduates in steep decline.

  43. john personna says:

    Another non-Acorn link … a very good I am the 99% by Felix Salmon

  44. ponce says:
  45. MM says:

    @Pete: Jay Tea is not an honest actor and should not be treated as such.

  46. Davebo says:

    The discredited community organizer group formerly known as ACORN

    Defunded, not discredited. How many ACORN members are currently on probation?

    As oppossed to a young guy with a hidden camera and a truly silly pimp outfit. And who paid his $1,500 fine again?

  47. James Joyner says:

    @Davebo: Oh, as I’ve stated many times, not only was that enterprise fraudulent the entire Breitbart empire is suspect because of repeated violations. But we’ve got enough repeated problems with ACORN to see that was horribly run and rife with corner cutting and questionable conduct. Sometimes, both accuser and accused can be sinners.

  48. El Cid says:

    ACORN was such a powerful evil force that it is even more dangerous when it doesn’t exist.

  49. El Cid says:

    @James Joyner: We’ve got enough repeated problems with ACORN which would have existed or been alleged in any other nationwide organization working in poor and minority communities, including defending housing rights, living wages, registration, and the right to vote.

    But, oh, we can’t be sure — because they were the only ones doing so, but, since, you know, they weren’t perfect, pffft, oh well.

    Maybe someday some other, and entirely bureaucratically perfect, organization will arise to do the same thing nationwide, and hopefully some set of brief and bullshit charges won’t get an entire Democratic establishment to defecate in their own pants and still run to condemn (and/or defund) the only such organization helping organize and register to vote the sorts of people who would vote for Democrats.

  50. James:

    You’re wrong about almost everything. You have no understanding of ACORN or its tactics which I have documented exhaustively in my book, Subversion Inc.

    You also thought John McCain’s boneheaded stunt in which he suspended his campaign was a great idea: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mccain_suspends_campaign_to_work_on_the_economy/

    Perhaps you should do a little bit of research before writing your next column,