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Mark Meckler
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Mark Meckler

Transforming power

Q&A | How tea party pioneer Mark Meckler found real hope and change you can believe in

Issue: "What price conscience?," April 19, 2014

Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, was one of the founders of the tea party movement. He’s now working to bring about a Convention of States that could be a step toward amending the U.S. Constitution to rein in big government—but in front of students at Patrick Henry College I asked him about things more fundamental.  

With what beliefs did you grow up? I was a secular Jew and went to college with no beliefs about religion. I never attended a church or a synagogue. 

You took some religious studies courses as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. What effect did they have on you? I came away a militant atheist, really. In those classes they teach you everything bad that religion has ever done on planet Earth.

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You were an English major: What was your favorite book? Atlas Shrugged. 

In law school you had a blue mohawk? There’s no picture—thank God. You meet in law school everybody you ever wanted to be the class president at your high school, and they’re all trying to conform to some ideal of what a law school student should look like. My pushback was one day to walk downtown to a punk rock hair dresser and ask for a blue mohawk. About three-quarters of my teachers refused to look at me after that. 

When you went for interviews at corporate law firms, did you have your blue mohawk? No. I’m a rebel but I’m a practical rebel, so no tattoos.

Did you get married straight out of law school? Yes, and a year after law school ended up in a really nasty divorce. My parents are now married 53 years, thank God, so I had great role models and expected to be married my whole life. Going through this divorce was very dark, and that’s part of what started to turn me to faith.

Two years after the divorce you remarried. God put her in my path for multiple reasons—I think one was to help me heal. She was a person of faith.

How did her religious beliefs affect you? She was a devout Christian. We decided she would practice her way, I would not practice my way, and kids could make their own choices. That was a terrible mistake on my part.

So you’re pursuing your law career in northern California, not involved in politics at all, and then what happens? The tea party movement happened. I had been very frustrated, and somebody told me, “Hey, you need to look at these pages on Facebook. These people are holding a protest.” That inspired me, and my wife is from Boston originally so the idea of a tea party appealed to her. We organized a protest five days later in Sacramento, with signs like, “Show me a good government program, I’ll show you a unicorn”—and 150 people showed up.

Then what? I’m a networker by nature and so started calling people in California who had done one of these events: “What did you do? What worked? Did you have as much fun as we did?” I became the de facto coordinator for California because everybody knew me, so somebody in San Diego would say, “Who do we ask about this?” and they would say, “Call Meckler, because he called me.” Then I started calling around the country, and we came up with the idea of a tax day, April 15, tea party. We started promoting this on Facebook, and by the end of the week 150 people were asking, “Can you list our event on your web page?” By April 13 we had 850 events listed on the website.

Lots of people turned out. Twenty thousand in Sacramento, and so on. Afterward a few of us said, “We can’t stop.” We formed an organization called the Tea Party Patriots to be the go-forward grassroots organizing mechanism.

It grew, but at a certain point the leadership has a division, and you were out. What happened? By February 2012 the organization has grown incredibly. At that point we had raised in a previous 12-month period almost $14 million. We had a bigger fresh email list than The Heritage Foundation. But from my perspective the organization was moving further and further away from the grassroots group it was supposed to be. The organization was starting to play Washington politics. The leaders were going to fancy parties. I was saying on TV, “We’re not partisan,” but the organization at the board level cut a check for $250,000 to a Republican organization. That was when the parting of ways happened.

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