Strange Bedfellows: Bloggers from the left and right team up with the ACLU to fight telecom immunity

The saying goes that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” and this axiom is especially appropriate to describe the new coalition that has formed to fight “telecom amnesty” legislation. So appropriate, in fact, that the group has adopted the phrase into its title.

Several left-of-center bloggers, Ron Paul activists, and the ACLU joined forces recently to wage a multi-phase offense against so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, several of whom are accused of acquiescing to the Bush Administration’s demands for telecom immunity. At the center of this war lies a new FISA bill reportedly being drafted by Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer — a bill that news reports say will include retroactive immunity to telecom companies that have participated in illegal wiretapping.

Rick Williams is a trial lawyer and was at the forefront of the online activism that formed around presidential candidate Ron Paul; he was part of the driving force behind the multi-million dollar campaign fundraisers that helped propel Paul into the national spotlight. He and his business partner, Trevor Lyman (who engineered the “money bomb” that raised $6 million for the presidential candidate in a 24-hour period), launched Break the Matrix, a social networking site aimed at harnessing the momentum of the massive online Paul movement. In a phone interview yesterday I asked Williams how this coalition formed.

“One of our members at Break the Matrix works in the media in DC,” he told me. “He was in touch with the leftist bloggers and he came to us saying that we should meet. So we started having some conference calls with the leftist blogs and we came up with the idea to form this group. The Ron Paul community has very strong shared values on constitutional rights — the left and Break the Matrix are on the same page when it comes to these civil liberties issues.”

Spearheading this group is Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, a former civil rights lawyer who writes frequently about what he calls “telecom amnesty.” Over the past six months he has already worked feverishly with other bloggers to run advertising campaigns against Blue Dog Democrats that supported the new FISA legislation proposed by the Bush Administration.

“Eventually the ACLU started getting involved as well,” Williams said. “They were participating in our conference calls because I think they saw the potential for a leftist group teaming up with the limited-government right. Glenn has been comparing us to an ideologically-diverse coalition that has formed in Britain to fight government expansion over there.”

Liz Rose, a spokesperson for the ACLU, told me today that it’s not uncommon for the special interest group to work with people from both the right and left on civil liberties issues. “In this case, a vote is coming up in Congress on this bad FISA bill and we need to convince the Democratic leadership not to go forward with what we think is an unconstitutional bill,” she said. “So this Strange Bedfellows presented itself as a great opportunity to get involved with the right and left who are against the bill. And eventually we’d collaborate on other civil liberties concerns.”

But as for what role the ACLU will play in Strange Bedfellows, Rose said this wasn’t yet clear. “It’s still the beginning,” she said. “The ACLU has been fighting the gutting of FISA nonstop since last July. I think honestly we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re up on the Hill lobbying. We offer talking points and reach out to our affiliates. With Strange Bedfellows, I think we’re getting a kind of new energy and renewed excitement online. I mean, we’ve been reaching out to bloggers for an entire year, but bringing in these Ron Paul supporters is a big deal.”

Matt Stoller, one of the founders of the popular Open Left blog, has been a part of Strange Bedfellows since its creation. In a phone interview today he told me that the ACLU’s resources will be a vital asset to the group’s political influence. “They do a lot of lobbying and so that’s pretty important,” he said. “Fighting telecom amnesty has been a major campaign of theirs. They sometimes do organizing work and they already have a base of supporters. They also have a good bit of credibility, and so I think they’re going to bring a lot of credibility to our group.”

Stoller pointed out that leftist bloggers and Ron Paul supporters have already been fighting telecom amnesty for months, so it naturally made sense for the them to join forces.

So now that the coalition has formed, how does it plan to fight the revised FISA bill? In a blog post today, Greenwald indicated that the group’s campaign will be divided in two phases. “Phase I [will] entail an immediate ad campaign aimed at three key Democratic enablers of this bill — Hoyer, Chris Carney, and Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow of Georgia,” he wrote. “The reasons for targeting Hoyer are self-evident and were set forth yesterday, and the campaign against Carney — who has long been one of the Blue Dogs spearheading the effort behind this bill — is already underway and will continue.”

Phase II, Greenwald says, “will involve a massive money bomb.” This large fundraiser will be utilized in a number of broader civil liberty campaigns to “oppose and punish those vulnerable members of Congress who continue to support the evisceration of our constitutional framework and core civil liberties, while supporting candidates and office-holders who meaningfully oppose that assault.” As for what these campaigns will be, the “dates and other details for that will be announced shortly.”

And lest one snicker at this ambitious proposal, consider the fact that the group has managed to raise $90,000 in just the first 24 hours of its campaign. This number indicates there is a growing unrest with civil liberties activists.

Whether this coalition will be able to harness that unrest remains to be seen. Williams, for his part, is optimistic.

“We think that having the grass roots people from the left and grassroots people from the right come together will be a very powerful tool,” he said. “These issues are not ones that are going to go away.”


  1. Paul Sunstone Says:

    Thank you for an great post, Simon! I’m curious who else you think will soon join this Coalition? Is EFF already in? Also, do you have any idea — even a very rough idea — of how many blogs are involved now?

  2. Simon Says:

    Paul, I’m pretty sure it’s fewer than a dozen bloggers sitting in on the conference calls. I believe EFF is involved.

  3. Carol Gee Says:

    Thanks for your e-mail tip. Congratulations on a very good post. Your interviews bring the kind of freshness of original news that sets you apart from other bloggers. Besides you are a good writer.
    I have been writing about foreign intelligence surveillance, national security, jihad and civil liberties since 2005 at South by Southwest, under the label “civil liberties or security.” (feed: I have found that readers from the military, NSA, the House and Senate, as well as people in Pakistan, Iran, etc. occasionally visit my blog, but so far no black vans in front of my house.
    I am bookmarking your site and will add it to my blogroll. Peace.

  4. Cujo359 Says:

    Hi Simon. I added a quote from this article to mine. You’ve found an interesting angle on this – the motivations of the players.

    I think you’re right in that earlier comment – the conference call is for the bigger bloggers and some other organizations. Either that, or they know my distaste for conference calls and didn’t bother to invite me. ;-)

  5. Jim Says:

    “Liz Rose, a spokesperson for the ACLU, told me today that it’s not uncommon for the special interest group to work with people from both the right and left on civil liberties issues.”

    So the Constitution, the First and Fourth Amendments, and civil liberties are now a special interest group?

  6. Simon Says:


    Please look up the definition of “special interest group,” also known as an “advocacy group.” I think you will find the ACLU is considered one.


  7. Sam K Says:

    Forget laws, it is time for many, many impeachments. Impeach every criminal gov’t official for constantly violating our rights:
    They violate the 1st Amendment by opening mail, caging demonstrators and banning books like “America Deceived” from Amazon.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns during Katrina.
    They violate the 4th Amendment by conducting warrant-less wiretaps.
    They violate the 5th and 6th Amendment by suspending habeas corpus.
    They violate the 8th Amendment by torturing.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting 2 illegal wars based on lies and on behalf of a foriegn gov’t.
    Support Dr. Ron Paul and save this great country.
    Last link (unless Google Books caves to the gov’t and drops the title):

  8. SocraticGadfly Says:

    So, what do you do about Obama cutting a campaign commercial for a Blue Dog Dem… a primary campaign commercial?

  9. Gordon Says:

    Regarding special interest groups, it has become a fact that ordinary citizens now comprise a “special interest” group of their own, with the mission to assert the nation’s agenda in competition against the corporate, political, and social special interest groups traditionally associated with the designation.
    PS – Simon, I linked to your Strange Bedfellows interview at AchievingOurCountry after receiving your email tip. thanks.

  10. karen marie Says:

    i never donate to any political campaigns/groups.

    today i donated to ActBlue to stop the FISA/telecom immunity.

    when people like me start donating, you know there is unrest.

    as i ran my errands today and asked the various people i came in contact about this, the public seems to be entirely and unfortunately unaware of this issue.

    i’m not a drinker but today i decided a nice big glass of moose milk was in order (orange-flavored vodka mixed in to softened vanilla ice cream, or your flavor of choice, refrozen, stirred, refrozen, then consumed) so i bought myself a new bottle of vodka and a tub of ice cream. it’s going to be a long sad weekend.

  11. Shelly Says:

    Is there any way to listen in on the next conference call or get a copy of the one that has already taken place? I would like to publicize this in my podcast, if possible, unless it’s all secret stuff.

    As for the public being entirely unaware of this — you are right. And not even the pro-Obama people are all aware of this. I’m in a group that is completely oblivious to FISA and what this means, but they are for whatever Obama wants to do with it. I had to explain…. . It’s really amazing.

  12. Simon Says:

    Shelly, I think Greenwald has a link somewhere on his blog on how to get involved with the group. As to whether the conference calls are top secret, two of the three interview subjects were pretty open about them. Matt Stoller, from Open Left, met my questions about the calls with “What’s the point of this question?” but then lightened up when he seemed to conclude I wasn’t asking for nefarious reasons.

  13. Georgie Mae Smith Says:

    It is very hard for young people, who have no expeariance, with a war that threatens your very existence, such as WW2, To understand the need for secrecy.
    Only this week, an American Soldier, was shot in the back, as he was boarding a military plane.The enemy spy network, had succeeded in hideing an enemy combatent in that group. And so a great American died.
    Every person who has access to secret information, makes it easier for the enemy to gain secrete information.The result is that Americans will die.The result is that double Agents who are simpathic to our cause will die,

  14. johnrobert Says:

    Good information. Thanks Simon.

    I remember a while ago, as libertarian disgust with the neoconservatives was getting serious, there was talk in the blogs about libertarians dumping the Republicans and trying a new, “liberaltarian” coalition with the Left. Looks like it might actually be happening.

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