Rick Santelli made headlines a few weeks ago when he criticized President Obama's new housing plan live on CNBC. Millions of people saw him call for a "tea party" to protest the plan's supposed bailout of "losers" in danger of defaulting on their mortgages. In the wake of his impassioned rant, Santelli became a hero of sorts to Wall Street traders and economic libertarians throughout the land.
Like the fictional Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network, Santelli appeared to be a man suddenly unhinged by righteous anger. Beale famously shouted, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" on live television, and Santelli did similarly, railing against President Obama's interference with the markets.
But some people are now saying that Santelli planned the whole thing, with the backing of some powerful political operatives, as part of an elaborate project to attack the Obama plan.
Even at the time, Santelli's performance struck some observers as canned. Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture said it had a "faux" feel to it, and now Ritholtz reports that Playboy magazine has investigated the whole incident and concludes that Santelli appears to have planned his speech ahead of time in conjunction with some well-known right-wing political groups.
The main evidence that the whole incident was pre-planned is a website that popped up almost immediately following Santelli's performance: Chicagoteaparty.com, "the official home of The Chicago Tea Party." The site was registered in August 2008, and so existed long before Santelli used the phrase; it was registered by Zack Christenson, a Chicago-based political operative and radio producer. The Playboy article connects Christenson to various political projects, some backed by the immensely wealthy, far-right Koch family.
However, the individual who claims to run the tea party website just replied to the Playboy article, denying any connection to outside political groups or premeditated plan to attack the Obama housing plan specifically and government intervention more generally.
At this point, we can't yet know for sure what really happened with Santelli's rant. But it's safe to say that that there is more to Santelli's performance than a man spontaneously losing his cool as the cameras rolled. At a minimum, Santelli likely knew about plans for a protest going under the name of "Chicago tea party" before he rallied the traders on the floor in Chicago. What the connections really are and who else was involved remains to be seen.