Tea Party activist Becky Gerritson vs. Baron Coleman: An absurd fight against his First Amendment rights

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Becky Gerritson

Becky Gerritson is known by many for either her activism in the Tea Party movement or her unsuccessful run for congress against Martha Roby. Gerritson was one of the first tea party leaders I met when I moved to Alabama in 2013. She spoke at the launch of the Alabama Chapter for 60 Plus Association at my request. We’ve spoken at multiple events and rallies together since then. Up until now, I’ve known her to date to be a principled champion of small government and constitutional conservatism. 

One of the original tea party leaders Gerritson and her husband founded the Wetumpka Tea Party in 2009. She received national press following her emotional testimony to congress in her successful fight against the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS was proven to have targeted conservative groups including the Wetumpka Tea Party for delays in obtaining their tax-exempt status and her speech at the congressional oversight hearing was empowering to activists everywhere. 

Earlier this year it was announced that Gerritson had been hired as the new Executive Director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama.

Baron Coleman is a licensed attorney, political consultant and the co-host of the award-winning daily radio show News and Views. I’ve been a guest on his show around a dozen times. We don’t agree on everything. He uses language that’s a little harsher than I would but heck it’s his show and he’s consistent in his opinions. If he thinks you’re a sell-out for industry be it a one-time vote or a career choice he’s going to say you’re a “whore for them”. One of his favorite lines is to call individuals a “Globalist corporatist whore.” It’s kinda his schtick that and pointing out that “errrbody” listens to his show. 

He’s called me liberal and questioned my conservative values more than once; anyone who knows me, has read my editorials or has listened to me speak publicly would find that laughable. That’s the thing though, the show both is informative and entertaining. Baron doesn’t just tell it as it is, he tells it as he sees it. It is in fact not just news, it’s his views. 

So where do these two peoples worlds collide in a world that suddenly pits conservative against conservative? 

In a Facebook public post on his personal page, Baron Coleman wrote this:

Seeing the post and subsequent Facebook updates on the subject from him I reached out to him to see who and what this was all about.

My first response to learning it was Gerritson going after Coleman’s law license and livelihood was disbelief or dismay. Attempts to silence critics is a tool of the Left these days. This is not what I’d expect or anyone would expect from a conservative firebrand. 

Don’t like what someone has to say silence them at all costs. Harass those around them and pursue efforts to get them fired, treat them like lepers, black ball and ostracize them: The ways of Facebook, Twitter, keyboard activists from their mother’s basements.

This is not something constitutional conservatives do. I’ve said more than once, I support political speech and first amendment rights for all. In the face of the government or others attempting to stop or limit the free speech of someone speaking out against or protesting something I love or value, I’d join the side of those that others are trying to silence. For when we let our opponents be silenced we might are opening the door for our own voices to be silenced. The constitution is for everyone; our soldiers don’t go to the front line for those who agree with them on issues and speech. They go to fight and protect all. First Amendment rights aren’t just guaranteed for speech deemed by the masses as non-offensive. 

So then I had to believe that whatever Coleman said was really stinking bad, right? I mean to envoke such a strong anti-free speech reaction from a tea party rockstar and a well respected national organization and their state chapter? 

The back story is this: Gerritson, in her official role with the Eagle Forum, testified against the medical marijuana bill. Coleman, a supporter of the bill noted on-air in at least two different segments that he couldn’t believe Becky was going against the bill. He criticized her for spouting what he called “Big pharma” talking points and as is his style, he said she was acting as a shill and “Big pharma whore.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t try to convince you the idea that calling someone an industry “whore” is something I’d encourage but, and yes, there’s a but coming, it is a figure of speech that Coleman has every right to use. Yes, our constitution protects speech that not everyone likes. That’s the beautiful part of our nation and its founding documents.

If you’re listening to the radio and the host says or plays something you don’t like, turn the channel. Becky has spent the better part of the last decade in the thick of fighting for smaller government and constitutional protections. She is a public figure by definition and by choice. She chooses to step up to the microphone time and time again. This only sets up circumstances that from time to time will lead to others having opinions about her or as in this case her opinions.

This is politics and it’s not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. Would I like it if someone called me an industry whore? I don’t have to treat that as a hypothetical because it’s happened more than once, more than twice, probably dozens of times and that’s just the times I know of.

It’s a known job hazard working for 501(C)(4) groups whose donor lists are, rightfully so, not public record. Those opposing your views feel like you’re a shill or industry whore for those they’re against.

If I went after the livelihood of everyone who publicly said something offensive about me or made assumptions about the donors of the groups I’ve worked for I’d not have any time to work or be a mother. I’d spend all day every day for years to come in court. 

Should Coleman lose his bar license or even face sanctions for exercising his first amendment right of free speech, not even just speech but political speech?

I’m not a legal expert or a bar license expert. A simple google search of case law for lawyers and their individual rights to political speech looks like it favors, as it should Coleman’s rights. Insert a big, duh here.

I did call and get the rundown on how a bar complaint is handled and for the love of all that’s holy, that’s a process so detailed I’m not even going to attempt to explain it here. Suffice to say, I believe Gerritson and the Eagle Forum took things too far and filed an unwarranted complaint that I’d wager is dismissed.

The irony of all ironies is that Coleman’s remarks drew rebuke from Gerritson and Eagle Forum for two reasons. Reasons that they went on to address in letters to the station manager and advertisers of the channel and his show:

First, they felt his remarks amounted to “public character assassination.” Which might be taking things a little too far and a lot too seriously.

Saying someone is parroting the talking points of an industry, however colorful the language used in their argument, isn’t tantamount to life-altering comments no matter how you look at them. Is she going to be unemployable or otherwise affected for life because he criticized her position on this issue? Nope. I can vouch for that personally. As a former “Koch backed group” employee no one has said, “sorry can’t hire you because someone who opposed your views said something others consider offensive about you.”

The second thing the Eagle Forum is mad about is that he made an assumption that at some point in the history of their organization the group had taken money from the pharmaceutical industry. Even in the transcripts that Eagle Forum created and included in their correspondence to the radio station, you can read that Coleman said “someone at some point took money”. If you google, Eagle Forum and pharma, this is what you get, “Donald Trump’s Patent Chief To Speak At Right-Wing Fundraiser Sponsored By Big Pharma.” Wanna take a stab at which group the story was about? Yup, Eagle Forum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they did or they didn’t take Pharma money. 

I hate it when people play the guessing game of C4 money. I have been known to answer people who asked me who contributed to the groups I worked for that I wouldn’t answer about any single suspected donor with a yay or nay. I’d always say, I took donor privacy so seriously that if they (the inquirer usually a reporter or opponent) wanted to give to my group money I wouldn’t tell anyone. 

I doubt very seriously that Eagle Forum is ready to carry this bar complaint to the part of discovery and open up their donor records which brings me to my final point. This is much ado about nothing. Advertisers know who they’re advertising with. The station knows what they have with Baron as a host. The only ones who are harmed by this public feud is Eagle Forum and Gerritson. 

Before starting this article I reached out to Gerritson by text. Her response was, “No comment on advice from counsel.”  Not the most promising sign that this war is ending soon. A sad sign indeed. 

Correction July 31, 2019: I want to say that I made a mistake in not realizing that there are now two different Eagle Forum entities and I referenced the donors of the wrong one in the original piece above. That was my mistake and I apologize to my readers for the confusion. They are independent but both use the founders same and Eagle Forum in their title. I made a good faith effort in my research but did not go into the year’s longs court records about the use of the name. The article I linked to was for an event hosted by the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund.