Until this year, the partnership between Kibbe and Armey worked well. Armey’s renown as a former House member drew media attention and crowds of conservative activists — most of them old enough to remember Armey’s role in the Republican revolution in Congress in 1994. And Kibbe’s youthful intellectualism drew a new generation of libertarian soldiers into the FreedomWorks fold. In 2010, the two co-wrote a book, “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto,” that became a New York Times bestseller and a successful marketing tool for FreedomWorks, which collected the book’s proceeds and used it to attract donations.
The partnership came to a crashing end when Armey marched into FreedomWorks’s office Sept. 4 with his wife, Susan, executive assistant Jean Campbell and the unidentified man with the gun at his waist — who promptly escorted Kibbe and Brandon out of the building.
“This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council,” said one junior staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “So when a man with a gun who didn’t identify himself to me or other people on staff, and a woman I’d never seen before said there was an announcement, my first gut was, ‘Is FreedomWorks in danger?’ It was bizarre.’ ”
By nearly all accounts, including from those loyal to him, Armey handled his attempted coup badly. Armey says he was stepping in because of ethical breaches by Kibbe and Brandon, accusing them of improperly using FreedomWorks staff resources to produce a book — ironically, named “Hostile Takeover” — for which Kibbe claimed sole credit and was collecting royalties. The use of internal resources for Kibbe’s benefit could jeopardize the group’s nonprofit tax status; the group denies any impropriety.
“This is not only about this one incident,” Armey said. “But that one incident was a matter of grievous concern.”
Armey also accused Brandon, Kibbe and other staff members loyal to them of squeezing him out of media appearances and management decisions while using his name to market the group.
Armey appeared out of touch and unsure of how FreedomWorks operated when he took over that Tuesday morning, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees on both sides who witnessed the takeover. Sitting in a glass-walled conference room visible to much of the staff, he placed three young female employees on administrative leave, then reversed himself when they burst into tears; his wife lamented aloud that maybe they had “jumped the gun.”
Jumped the gun indeed. Of course, given the reality of gun-nut power-hungry conservatives, the idea that Dick Armey would lead an armed rebellion against the leadership of his own organization makes sense. Unfortunately for him, he seems to have read the Guidebook to Overthrowing Mikhail Gorbachev before doing so.