30 April 2014

Michael Zarzano attended the December 10, 2011 statewide meeting of the Ohio Liberty Council, or as it’s popularly known, the Tea Party. As one of the early supporters of the movement and a leader of an affiliated “Patriot” group, Zarzano brought his videocarmera to the meeting on behalf of his Internet Media Services for anybody to watch. He claims he was completely surprised when he was grabbed by three males and forcibly removed from the meeting.


The Ohio Liberty Council not only barred Zarzano and his camera from their meeting, but they won a temporary restraining order against him on January 13 and on March 21 they won a preliminary injunction barring him from participating in the movement. The preliminary injunction issued by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas forbids Zarzano from “…entering, interfering with, and/or blocking ingress and/or egress to any meeting held by” the Ohio Liberty Council.


Zarzano had RSVP’ed to the meeting, assumed it was open to all Tea Party members and open to videotaping. He says he learned otherwise when he was physically assaulted by three men from behind and forced into a kitchen area with no exit. Not only did they smash his camera in the process, they also ordered him out of the movement, which he claims he helped co-found. Zarzano is a firm believer in “transparency,” and believes this is a founding principle of the Tea Party movement.


Zarzano’s attorney Cliff Arnebeck wrote in a brief that Zarzano regards the Ohio Tea Party movement as a “astroturf organization…fronting for the multibillionaire Koch brothers.” Zarzano, and approximately 15 others who attended the December statewide meeting contend that followers of Ron Paul and Libertarian influenced Tea Party activists are being forced out of the movement by “neo-conservative corporatists” that are opposed to transparency.


At the initial public Tea Party meetings in Ohio as reported by the Free Press, there was a noticeable Libertarian and Ron Paul for President wing of the movement. Arnebeck’s brief goes so far to claim that Zarzano wanted “…public exposure of the Tea Party movement as the target of the hostile takeover.” Arnebeck argues that the Tea Party movement is trying to infringe on the freedom of the press.


In an email obtained by the Free Press from Tom Zawistowski, President of the Ohio Liberty Council to its leaders, he wrote “I must tell you that this victory was hard fought and has come at significant expense.” Zawistowski cryptically goes farther when he writes: “It was all so complicated by the insertion of the attorney for Occupy Columbus who consulted with the attorney for ProgressOhio, in an effort to use Mr. Zarzano and friends to damage our organization and our movement.”


Zawistowski has called an emergency statewide meeting on March 31 because, “Testimony during the hearings exposed tactics and strategies that could threaten the very survival of all Liberty Groups in Ohio and around the nation.” Presumably this is a reference to discussion during the legal proceedings and hearings that suggested the Tea Party should reveal its funding sources.


The Liberty Council is a nonprofit corporation functioning as a 501(c)4 organization. The Ohio Liberty Council and its movement’s internal critics disagree on transparency and the issue of union-busting. The Magistrate’s decision noted that Zarzano “…wanted to attend the meeting because he is opposed to Plaintiff’s efforts to ‘bust unions’….”


Zarzano accused the Tea Party of “tyranny” when they refused to allow him to videotape. The Court decision reflects that “The Defendant admitted that his actions and behavior at the meeting were meant to bring to everyone’s attention the controlling pattern of leadership of Plaintiff in not allowing transparency in the Tea Party movement.” Zarzano argued that the actions of the Ohio Liberty Council “…violated the basic principles of the tea party movement.”


The Magistrate’s decision stated as fact that Zarzano was “frog marched” from the meeting, a term meaning “to seize from behind and roughly and forcefully propelled forward. A witness statement filed by Victor G. Smith with the Columbus Division of Police also claimed that he understood the December Council meeting to be an “open meeting.” He described Zarzano’s removal in the following way: “All three aggressively grabbed him and his camera, dragging him to the double doors at the right front of the room, the three committing assault and battery….”


The legal battle being waged by the Ohio Liberty Council against Zarzano is not over. A motion for a permanent injunction is still pending in the Common Pleas Court. Arnebeck argues that several key First Amendment rights are at issue here; not only Zarzano’s rights as a citizen journalist, but also his freedom of speech and rights of association.


Perhaps the most important issue in the dispute is the role of the Koch brothers and who is bankrolling this lawsuit against Zarzano and other critics of the increasingly non-transparent and secretive Ohio Liberty Council.


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Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the freepress.org and Columbus Free Press, and served as an expert witness on internet media on behalf of Defendant Michael Zarzano. He has also served as an attorney for the Columbus Occupy movement.