My Biggest Regret of the Tea Party Movement

It was 2010. St. Louis was the epicenter of the Tea Party movement.

Tea Party Patriots picked St. Louis to host the Gateway to November rally under the Arch. Unlike our rag-tag events, this one would be professional all the way: live music with Sounding Fathers, speakers you heard of before the movement began in February 2009, and real security.

The guest speakers began rolling into town on Friday the tenth. As one of the hosts, I offered to meet them at the Hyatt downtown. It was a long night.

I hadn’t met most of the crew, but I did know Mike Flynn of and Scott Boston. And my buddy Ben Evans was there.

It took of thirty seconds to become friends with Andrew Ian Dodge and his wonderful wife Kim. For the rest of the evening, we plotted insane things to make Sunday’s event memorable and crazy. We wanted a feature that would make people say, “huh?”

Andrew Ian Dodge leader of the Tea Party in Maine.

Andrew Ian Dodge

I can’t remember whose idea it was or when it hatched, but the concept was simply brilliant. When my turn to speak rolled around, Andrew, dressed in his customary black, would walk onto stage just ahead of me. And he’d have a goat on a leash.

Yeah, I said goat. On a leash.

I would do my shtick without looking at the goat or at Andrew. I’d play it straight, as if Dodge and the goat were part of my personal security force–or some avant-garde symbolism that the most penetrating minds could not solve.

“Let them make up their own story,” I remember Kim or Dodge saying.

We realized most of the live crowd would miss it entirely. But the TV cameras would catch it. CNN would find it irresistible The left would play up big, ascribing their own meaning to the animal and its dark presence onstage with a co-founder of the St. Louis Tea Party.

“He’s crazy,” they’ll say. “It’s some sign to the right-wing conspirators to launch a killing spree,” announces a confident and satisfied Michael Holmes on CNN.

That was the goal: virality. Get people talking. And we figured the libertarian crowd would get a kick out of it.

The next night, Saturday, a friend of ours actually rounded up a goat! He brought it downtown to our guest reception. Everything was ready to go. Until . . .

Until someone a bit more media savvy spooked me.

“It’s supposed to be hot tomorrow, Bill. The animal rights people will tear you apart if anything happens to the goat.”

Then more voices of reason chimed in.

“What if the crowd scares it and it has a heart attack?”

“What if it breaks loose and hurts someone. There’s gonna be a lot of kids and old people there.”

“What if . . .”

I didn’t have much time to deal with this. I realized I’d need someone to bring the goat to the stage just before my appearance, then take it to a safe, cool place immediately after. But everyone I know would be at the event. And they’d want to stay there.

So I punted. I wussed out.

“Ed,” I said to the guy who secured the goat, “never mind.  I’m sorry, but they’re right. This could ruin the whole event.”

I did have Andrew Ian Dodge walk onto the stage with me and stand there silently, wearing dark sunglasses. It was an honor to have him there. It was an honor to meet a man who was willing to do something crazy for a cause only minutes after meeting me.

I still regret my decision to strike the goat from the scene. Andrew and Kim and everyone else who thought it would work were right, I’m convinced. My cowardice was wrong.

I guess I thought I’d get another chance to do something crazy with Dodge Ball–something so crazy it kicked the whole liberty movement into a new gear.

But time was not on our side.

Andrew Ian Dodge passed away on Friday. With his death, liberty lost a creative and defiant soldier, the kind who would solve problems in war by simply running straight into the enemy, expecting their shock to still their weapons until he’d planted the charge and returned safely to press the detonator.

I regret, and I’m sorry, that I denied him his head-on, defiant dream of tending a goat at a tea party.

Angela and I and the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition pray for his rapid entry to paradise and for peace and comfort to his wife Kim and their families.

For more fine tributes, see Andrew’s Facebook page.