Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET with response from the AFL-CIO.
FreedomWorks, the conservative "free-market" organization that has unapologetically rallied protesters at health care town hall meetings, paused its movement against President Obama's health care plans today to instead take aim at its liberal counterparts.
Liberal groups are responsible for the hostile, threatening phone calls FreedomWorks has been receiving, the group says, and it is taking an unusual tactic -- issuing an open, facetious "apology
" to left-wing groups -- to make that point.
FreedomWorks says it has been unfairly blamed for the hostility that has cropped at town hall meetings and that its "apology" is a part of its strategy to bring more attention to its own ideas for health care reform -- like tort reform and allowing consumers to purchase insurance across state lines.
Opponents, however, say there is no organization behind the calls to FreedomWorks -- while pointing out that there has also been hostility
against liberal groups and unions, like threatening phone calls
against the Service Employees International Union. Furthermore, they say, the apology is simply another distraction from the real health care debate.
FreedomWorks' tongue-in-cheek release apologizes for the group's "apparent ignorance of the fine art of political discourse." It then links to 10 hostile, profanity-laced voicemails FreedomWorks has received recently. The group alleges the liberal grassroots group MoveOn.org and the union AFL-CIO are responsible for the "phone call blitzes."
None of the recordings make any reference to either group, but FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon said that the organization received many such calls before it occurred to them to start recording them -- and in those earlier calls, some people identified themselves with AFL-CIO or MoveOn. Many calls, Brandon said, were from the same phone number.
"Self-identification and the fact that they were coming from an auto-dial makes it seem orchestrated," he said, adding that "a lot (of callers) have the same script."
Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn, responded, "We have never, nor would ever, have our members call FreedomWorks. We prefer to have our energy focused on passing health reform."
She said MoveOn condemns any kind of aggression or violence.
"We've never seen our members partake in that," she said. "They are polite and respectful to the best of our knowledge."
AFL-CIO spokesperson Amaya Tune similarly said, "The AFL-CIO in no way condemns violence or threats of violence and has no knowledge anyone from our organization making threats."
Meanwhile, FreedomWorks maintains that it also condemns violent behavior, even as some have criticized the group for mobilizing crowds that become hostile. In a group of hundreds or thousands, Brandon said, a handful of people may get out of hand.
"Never, ever have we advocated any kind of disruption," he said. "We're getting criticized for giving our people paper when we put out policy points."
While FreedomWorks may not advocate disruptions, its "apology" to the left is a distraction, Hogue said.
"This is another tactic the groups on the right are using to distract form the debate," she said. "It seems to me these guys are afraid of honest discourse because they know the majority is on our side."
Brandon said the "apology" is not meant to distract but, in fact, draw more attention to the policy points its small, little known organization is advocating for.
"We're doing everything we can to raise our voice," he said. "This is David against Goliath."
In fact, Brandon said his organization is modeling its diffuse, grassroots strategies after those used by MoveOn.
"We are actively working with people to create their own independent groups -- we're not looking to control them from Washington," he said. "Our goal isn't to own the debate, our goal is to educate people and have the grassroots control the debate, and MoveOn did that pretty effectively. We've learned from their organization."