How tea party pioneer Mark Meckler found real hope and change you can believe in
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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.
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.
What’s happening to you spiritually at this point? I’m meeting people who—by what they profess to me, by who they are, by what they do—are devout Christians. They are powerful people who seem personally unaffected by their own power. They have a humility about them that is missing in a lot of the other powerful people I’m meeting around the country. They’re actually walking the path, and I’m impressed with that, because it’s different than what I was taught in college.
‘If you’re a Jew ... you believe it would be a betrayal of your heritage to become a Christian, but when you learn the true history, a completely different door opens.’
Anyone particularly influential? Tim Dunn, a West Texas self-made millionaire, self-taught theologian. We started talking Christianity and restoring the Judaic heritage of Christianity, and as a Jew obviously that resonates with me. If you’re a Jew, you hear there’s an absolute schism and the Jews go one way and the Christians go another way, but you don’t know anything about Paul, or that these were all Jews who now believed that the Messiah had come. As a Jew you believe it would be a betrayal of your heritage to become a Christian, but when you learn the true history, a completely different door opens.
Edith Schaeffer wrote her great book, Christianity Is Jewish—but a lot of people who see that still hold back because the thought of leaving behind a community and alienating parents is too much for them. How did you take the final step, and how did your parents take your conversion? I came to a time where on my scale of logic it made more sense to believe than not to believe. I got to the point where I felt foolish in not believing. Everything I read, everything I saw in the world around me, every sign pointed me to believing in Christ. My dad is an atheist and I respect his decision, and my mom believes in a higher power, but has no specific religious beliefs. It’s tough for my dad, but they’ve both been fantastically accepting.
And in God’s providence you may be leading them. Well, if you believe in the Big Bang you have to believe in magic, because there was nothing and now there’s something, and it’s like pulling the rabbit out of the hat—it’s magic. The logical question you have to ask yourself is, “Do you believe in magic with, or without, a magician? Which is more logical?”
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