"What kicked off the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups?"
Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner raises an interesting question. "The Treasury Department's Inspector General apparently knows but the rest of us cannot. His report on the scandal includes three timelines of events, but in each case, the first item in the timeline has been redacted."
"The mystery date was apparently February 25, 2010," he concludes from reading the reports. "...The reference to February in both appendixes indicates something particularly noteworthy happened then in the evolution of the IRS's policy. What was it?"
On the theory that media reports might have been involved (since the agency says media reports led to the end of the special scrutiny of Tea Party and other conservative groups in February 2012), I went back and read through some of the national newspaper coverage on the Tea Party groups in mid-to-late February of 2010.
There was a big David Barstow piece in the New York Times on Feb. 12, 2010, examining the political aspirations of Tea Party and other groups: "Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right." Within the first five paragraphs, it mentions the Tea Party, the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, Friends for Liberty, Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, described as "a new player in a resurgent militia movement." As the Times described it:
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.
These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.
Loose alliances like Friends for Liberty are popping up in many cities, forming hybrid entities of Tea Parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal -- a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain....
The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure. Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What's more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party. (emphasis added)
It's a really long and interesting piece, and worth a read as a reminder of what the Tea Party movement looked like earlier in its development, when it was a more fiery force.