Think of it as a parable for our time – a study in irony that is as much a revelation of personal self-blindness as it is a gruesome post mortem of what happens when pride twists itself into a Mobius Loop. We see it employed over and over again, usually by liberals and Democrats but occasionally also on the part of the Unhinged Right – in the present case a gaggle of Jacobins doing their damnedest to animate the lifeless trope that the Bayshore Tea Party is a cult and that Barbara Gonzalez and Bob Gordon are a latter day duet of Queen Antoinette and Jim Jones. Ah, projection: thy name is Wee Willy Winky.
It comes as no surprise that the caretaker of this absurd and defamatory meme is none other than Bill Winkler, New Jersey’s answer to a question nobody asked. His latest masterpiece is a broadside directed against the Bayshore Tea Party that ultimately boomerangs with predictable consequences (someone please get him some ice and a suture kit…STAT).
To better savor the delicious irony served up by the Wee One, I urge you to visit the web pages of cultwatch.com, an organization dedicated to identifying and monitoring cults worldwide. There you can find a serviceable guide to cults and the behavior characteristic of them. For the purposes of this discussion, let us examine five characteristics of cults and explore how each of these relates to the Bayshore Tea Party:
Charismatic Authoritarian Leadership – One of the obvious defining characteristics of a cult is the hierarchical nature of the organization: at the top of the pyramid may be found one or more charismatic leaders who control the organization with an iron fist.
The leader or leaders claim to possess esoteric knowledge or experience and claim to be the authoritative voice of the deity or cause the cult represents. Questioning or contradicting the leader or leaders is viewed as a sign of ignorance, stupidity or outright rebellion and usually dealt with in a harsh and punitive fashion.
Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the BTPG knows that its leadership is not so much charismatic as energetic and to suggest that Barbara Gonzalez and Bob Gordon rule the organization with an iron fist is to merit a fit of laughter. As I noted in my introductory piece on the BTPG,
Unlike most other Tea Party groups governed by an established hierarchical order (i.e., president, vice-president, secretary, etc.), BTP has maintained the strictly small-letter “d” democratic nature of its organization, with no fixed power structure and therefore, no official “leader.”
That said, there can be no question that Barbara Gonzalez is acclaimed by the membership of the organization as its unofficial leader, thanks largely to all the time she spends on its behalf. Nevertheless, decisions involving the major activities, governance and finances of the BTP are made by popular vote at the group’s monthly meetings – without the middleman deliberations of committees or executive councils. Think of New England town meetings in colonial America writ small in Middletown, New Jersey and you will get a pretty good picture of how the Bayshore Tea Party functions.
Information Control – Cults carefully control information that contradicts their particular dogma or agenda; this is usually accomplished by presenting only their belief system and denying access to any information that can serve to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the followers.
Anyone who has been to a membership meeting of the BTPG or is familiar with the operation of this organization knows that such meetings are open to the public and that attendees are free to say what is on their minds. Open and forthright debate of all issues is encouraged and members are urged to explore all avenues of information – including sources that contradict or are even hostile to the Tea Party movement.
Relationship Control – Cults are careful to monitor the people or groups with whom their members come in contact, making sure they are not exposed to experiences, ideas or concepts that are deemed dangerous to the mission of the cult and inimical to the well-being of the membership.
The Bayshore Tea Party encourages its members to bring the evangel of the Tea Party movement to all their fellow Americans – well aware that the mission will necessary involve coming into contact with people and groups whose agenda is diametrically opposed to that of the Tea Party. Indeed, the BTPG even invited a teenage socialist who is a candidate for Monmouth County freeholder to one of its meetings. On another occasion, members of the BTPG worked side by side with volunteers of Rep. Frank Pallone – a notorious liberal statist – to clean up a local beach. Cults simply don’t engage in this behavior – unless Winkler is prepared to argue that the BTPG is a crypto-socialist cult. If so, I suggest he have himself fitted for a straight jacket.
Exclusivism – Cult leaders will tell you can only be “saved” (or can only be successful) in their organization alone. No other organization has the truth, all others miss the mark. So it is not the belief system that decides your future, but the belief system AND your membership with that particular group.
The BTPG stands for and preaches a simple agenda that relies on the Constitution of the U.S. as a guide to reducing the size of government, lowering taxes, eliminating excessive regulations and maximizing personal liberty and prosperity for all Americans. It does not claim to be the arbiter or authority of either the Tea Party message or the core values of the conservative movement nor does it explicitly or even implicitly pressure its members on these issues. People are as free to depart the ranks of the BTPG as they are to join it as their beliefs or their consciences direct them.
Fear and Intimidation – Fear of reprisal is a palpable characteristic of cult members who dread that a misstatement or wrong step will bring down upon their heads the wrath of the leadership.
Those who question, criticize or dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy or agenda of the cult are dealt with swiftly and harshly, usually through an escalating scale of gentle pressure, aggressive pressure, intimidation, isolation, polarization and eventually persecution – usually involving an organized campaign of character assassination and defamation.
I can find no evidence – apart from the fevered insistence of Wee Willy, his one-man cohort at the bogus NJCRLC and his fellow inmates at the CNJ Madhouse - of the BTPG engaging in this conduct with regard to a wayward member. Generally, those who find themselves in profound disagreement with the group simply walk away from it, usually with no hard feelings.
A reasonable person has no difficulty concluding that the Bayshore Tea Party is not a cult. But what of other groups in the conservative movement? Can the case be made that it is Conservative New Jersey – and not the Bayshore Tea Party – that has the characteristics and attributes of a cult ? You be the judge:
While the leadership is anything but charismatic, it certainly is iron-fisted. Dick Zuendt runs a tight ship; as the self-anointed arbiter of what is and is not conservative, he is incapable of admitting error, brooks no dissent in his ranks and is quick to retaliate against anyone or anything he believes has offended him – much like the very charismatic and equally iron-fisted Lonegan, who has acquired a reputation over the years as an egomaniac with a paper-thin skin who is quick to punish those who buck his authority as the self-anointed leader of Movement Conservatism in the Garden State. Just ask Chris Smith – who strayed from the reservation earlier this year – or the Bayshore Tea Party, who refused to participate in Lonegan’s “Let’s Punish Chris Smith” tour.
CNJ is also very careful about controlling information and makes a point of refusing to link to any individuals or sites that it holds in enmity. It is also notorious for its exceptionally poor journalism: speculation, hearsay and insinuation coupled with spectacularly faulty logic routinely substitute for factual data and primary sources of information. Likewise, CNJ routinely engages in relationship control – handing down decrees on those individuals and groups with whom it deems conservatives may or may not interact or associate. The most glaring example of this is the furor they raised over the visit of a teenage socialist to a membership meeting of the Bayshore Tea Party. What makes the issue so ironic is the fact that, but for CNJ’s caterwauling, the meeting would have faded into distant memory. By raising it as an issue, they gave the young socialist candidate more publicity than he could ever have hoped to purchase.
The exclusivity of the CNJ crowd is also uncomfortably palpable: one is either with them or against them. Stand with them and you are a beloved ally worthy of praise; oppose them and you are vilified as an enemy of conservatism and a traitor to the republic. This “with us or against us” policy is enforced through a regime of fear and intimidation and nowhere is that more plainly seen than in the case of the Bayshore Tea Party.
Starting in February and March and then escalating throughout the spring and into the summer, CNJ isolated and polarized Bayshore while vilifying and defaming the group with a ceaseless barrage of distortions, innuendo, insinuations and outright lies. Maintaining a firm control over information, CNJ shut out or shouted down any opposing viewpoints and scrupulously ignored any facts or evidence that either proved them to be mistaken or served to exculpate Bayshore.
And while all of this this was unfolding, not a peep was heard from Steve Lonegan or the amorphous leadership of the Conservative movement – including Michael Doherty – which likewise appears to have a rigid, tightly controlled agenda that brooks no public dissent or contradiction. I found this out the hard way while writing for Right Direction: after posting an article in which I expressed disagreement with Alison McHose’s proposed legislation to nullify federal Obamacare legislation the outcry to David Larsen was so loud and sustained that I resigned the next day to spare him any more grief.
If there is cult activity in any of this nonsense, its enablers are not in the Bayshore Tea Party. Rather, they dwell in the cyberspace spider-hole known as CNJ – itself a zealous attack dog in the service of a much more powerful cabal that has expressed an unblinking determination to make the Tea Party movement a handmaiden of its agenda.