If you haven’t been following the story of Louis Marinelli’s defection, he was the engineer behind the National Organization for Marriage’s “Summer For Marriage” Tour and worked as a high-ranking staffer within the organization. Until last week, when he defected via an interview on the queer activism blog Good As You:
Having spent the last five years putting all of my political will, interest and energy into fighting against the spread of same-sex marriage as if it were a contagious disease, I must admit that it is hard for me to put the following text into words let alone utter them with my own voice. Whether it is an issue of disbelief, shame or embarrassment, the one thing that is for sure is that I have come to this point after several months of an internal conflict with myself. That conflict gradually tore away at me until recently when I was able to, for the first time simply admit to myself that I do in fact support civil marriage equality for all.
Now the former staffer is claiming NOM’s President Brian Brown instructed him to set up a system to reward those who clandestinely spread anti-gay propaganda for the organization with points they could redeem for fabul-ish prizes:
I was instructed to create a point system to reward the propagandists. Everything they do will be tracked and NOM plans to reward them. In the future, when this team gets off the ground, NOM intends to use the technology behind Mr. Brown’s ActRight conservative activism website to facilitate tracking, create a competitive atmosphere between the propagandists and allow them to redeem the points they earn in a variety of ways, including lunch with Mr. Brown himself.
Far from grassroots operation if you’re rewarding them with prizes and an all-inclusive lunch with the President of the organization. It’s appropriate for NOM though, considering the fact that those who do support them and spew their hate and rhetoric are completely comfortable doing so through a computer screen.
This isn’t a simple matter of astroturf – NOM has frequently denied that they hold any animus against queer people and that their concern is only for the “institution of marriage.” It is a smart strategy – they get to line their pockets with money from donors who they’ve hoodwinked into believing they are a credible organization, distance themselves from accusations that their activism is based on queer hate, all the while maintaining in court that the discriminatory legislation they champion isn’t motivated by constitutionally impermissible moral disapproval.
NOM isn’t the only group setting up such propaganda teams – contractors for the United States government have been developing much more sophisticated “Persona Management Software” – software that would allow a relatively small number of operators to create the illusion of a groundswell of public opinion. United States Central Command insists that this technology is not being used on the American public, stating that it was “not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.” But as corporations and entities within the US begin developing and refining their own “sock puppet” software, we may reach a point where legitimate grassroots activists can’t be heard above the chatter of manufactured astroturf.