Questions continue to arise regarding who, exactly, is behind the Occupy Wall Street movement (as you know, the Blaze has explored this subject a number of times already).
Considering the framework behind the mass protests, it's virtually impossible to ignore that progressive groups are likely heavily involved in the movement. This is especially true as the days go on and unions and other special-interest groups dig their nails into a movement that holds a great deal of potential political power.
ACORN, one of many groups that have created angst among conservatives, seems to be finding its way back into the headlines once more. While the organization's leaders claim that it has been disbanded, evidence seems to suggest the contrary. In fact, ACORN may be re-branding and some charge that its new chapters are heavily involved in helping to organize the protests.
Last week, a reader sent the Blaze some intriguing e-mails he's been receiving from an Orlando, Florida-based group called "Organize Now." He explained that he originally signed up to receive updates from ACORN back in 2009 (before the group shuttered).
While e-mails from ACORN have stopped, this new group -- Organize Now -- has begun e-mailing him, touting Occupy Wall Street and asking recipients to support the movement. Here's a portion of the text from a recent message he claims to have received (from Organize Now):
You are the 99%.
Think about our nation’s historic unemployment rates and what it means to raise a family or sustain one’s self with zero income.
Now, realize that this is the moment in which all of that can change.
People are gathering across the nation, including in Orlando to speak out about the social and economic injustices we have endured for far too long. Occupy Orlando is standing in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the 99%.
Now, here's where things get interesting. The e-mails are coming from a woman named "Sheena Rolle." Her official title presented at the bottom of the e-mail messages we've reviewed is "head organizer." It's important to remember that this reader claims to have never signed up for Occupy Orlando and Organize Now e-mail updates (he assumes that the ACORN e-mail list is now being used to promote Occupy Orlando).
Considering the coverage the Blaze shared with readers earlier this week about allegations that ACORN is involved in Occupy Wall Street in New York, we decided to investigate Organize Now to see if, indeed, it has ties to ACORN.
Groups like JudicialWatch have been tracking what they see as a re-branding of ACORN for months. After all, discovering these connections and understanding what's going on beneath the surface is paramount. While ACORN claimed that it was shutting down back in 2010, JudicialWatch wrote the following in a report entitled, "The Rebranding of ACORN," this past August:
...evidence clearly suggests the following:
- New and existing ACORN “spin-offs” are alive and well and will surely continue to flaunt state and federal laws in a blatantly partisan effort to register people — eligible or otherwise — who will vote for the reelection of Barack Obama and other liberal candidates across the country in 2012. In the words of Bertha Lewis, “these new entities are carrying on ACORN’s work of organizing low- and moderate-income folks… [We have created] 18 bulletproof community-organizing Frankensteins that they’re going to have a very hard time attacking.”
- Tens of millions of dollars in ACORN’s funds and other assets are unaccounted for. This is currently being investigated by the Louisiana attorney general’s office and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, as well as Judicial Watch
The document goes on to profile ACORN-related groups, recapping how these new entities are masquerading under new names and titles. Among the groups mentioned, JudicialWatch claims that Organize Now -- the same organization cited by our tipster -- is, indeed, connected to ACORN. Here's a screen shot from the report (see number four):
The address (although not the URL -- which is not an active web site) matches the information in the e-mail that was sent to our tipster. So, we've established, at least according to JudicialWatch, that there is a connection between Organize Now and ACORN. But what about Sheena Rolle, the woman who has been sending the e-mails out in support of Occupy Orlando?
In a 2008 article by the Miami Herald, Rolle is referred to as "a special project director with ACORN." In another piece by WLPG (circa 2009), she is, again, referred to as an ACORN staffer. A progressive blog indicates, yet again, that she worked for the leftist group. Here's a screen shot from a health care town hall meeting she apparently organized alongside a staffer from the SEIU:
On Thursday, a media report on WBDO.com describes a woman named "Sheena Rolle" as being "of Occupy Orlando" (we assume, clearly, that this is the same woman). See a screen show, below, as she was interviewed about recent arrests at the protests (in the video interview, she is described as an "Occupy Orlando Protester"):
Now, it's possible the Rolle has simply moved on to work with a new group (Organize Now) and that she is assisting this totally ACORN-unrelated organization with her community organizing skills. That's, of course, an option that must be highlighted to be entirely fair in covering this story.
However, here's another oddity: The domain name -- OrgNow.org -- is registered to a "Stephanie Porta." As early as 2003, at least one media report shows that a woman by this same name was an ACORN staffer in Florida.
In a 2009 Sun Sentinel article, Porta is described as a "Florida organizer for ACORN" (in the piece, she comments about the infamous pimp and prostitute video scandal that brought the organization down in the first place). And there's a 2010 article by PolitiFact that identifies Porta as "ACORN's former Florida director." In this particular piece, she claims that the group's Florida offices have been shut down since 2009. While it's possible there's another woman named "Stephanie Porta" who just so happened to register the domain, it's doubtful.
Then there's Tamecka Pierce, another individual who has deep connections to the defunct group. In 2009, ACORN's former leader Bertha Lewis discussed Pierce in an in-depth article for the Huffington Post (Lewis used her story in the article to push for health care reform).
JudicialWatch's Sean Dunagan tells the Blaze that Pierce was formerly the state's ACORN president. ACORN founder Wade Rathke has even written about her on his blog. Without fail, in August 2011, a press release on the Organize Now web site identifies Pierce as the president of Organize Now. Another coincidence? Probably not.
Despite these very odd factoids, a Twitter account that appears to be Porta's contains messages that dismiss recent allegations connecting ACORN and the Occupy protests (potentially ironic if coming from a former ACORN employee). Here are a few of the tweets that have been sent from this account over the past few days:
Among the links mentioned above, is an article from Media Matters for America. In it, the leftist group dismissed reports by Fox News, the Blaze and other media outlets that seem to showcase some bizarre patterns of former ACORN staffers embedding themselves in the Occupy movement. Media Matters writes:
Led by Fox News, right-wing media have claimed that ACORN is playing a "behind [the] scenes role" in Occupy Wall Street, alleging that the group New York Communities for Change (NYCC) -- which is led by a former ACORN official -- is paying people to join protests and collecting money to fund OWS activities. But NYCC has flatly denied these claims, and ACORN -- which has been a right-wing media bogeyman for years -- disbanded in November 2010.
The point that Media Matters appears to be glossing over is that, as JudicialWatch has noted, there seems to be a rebranding campaign going on. Of course, one could argue that all of these former staffers are simply finding one another because of the closely-knitted nature of the community organizational movement. But this seems unlikely.
Now, let's circle back around to our tipster, who purportedly never signed up for Organize Now e-mails, but magically began receiving them. Remember, he was on the ACORN list previously. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to wonder if ACORN's Florida e-mail lists were turned over to Organize Now. Of course, this is conjecture -- however the facts seem pretty compelling.
The only lingering question is: Who's funding Organize Now? Stay tuned for more.