Before a crowd of more than 400 people, many of whom were well into their retirement years, William S. Morris III stood behind a podium flanked by American flags and declared that the United States was a gift from God that was currently under siege.
“Thank you for sharing with us a deep-seeded sense of patriotism for our country. And for sharing with us serious concerns about our nation,” said Morris, the chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle. “We at the newspaper are greatly concerned about these matters and we discuss them frequently and we write about them a lot. And that’s why we have established ROAR, a national website that will help bring us a sense of responsibility. A renaissance of our great responsibility.”
Just last week, Morris Communications hosted a “patriotic rally” at the Legends Club in west Augusta to promote its new initiative called ROAR: Renaissance of American Responsibility, which is headed by the Chronicle’s editorial page editor Michael Ryan.
ROAR was created to give citizens guidance on how to make this country stronger and a better place to live, Morris said.
“We hope that this website, locally and nationally, will get that done,” he said. “It is more than just a website. We hope it will be a growing movement for civics and civic citizenship that has made this country great. We hope it will bring back a passion for civic participation that demands less government and more government accountability.”
Earlier this year, Morris Communications — a historically conservative media company — announced it had designed this new website called roar.us that was built around the nation’s “foundational principles” of free markets, individual liberty, property rights and limited government.
Morris insisted the website was not about politics, but civics and self-governance.
“Believe me, we are not the only ones in the country that are concerned about the matters that we are talking about tonight,” Morris told the audience. “We will have ideas for ways that all of us can learn, strengthen, be better informed and, yes, help to save our country.”
“U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin summarized our current predicament well in a recent speech that he made at Hillsdale College. And I’d like to quote one paragraph of it,” Morris told the audience. “I’m quoting, ‘We all know the stories of how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. We forget in hindsight how unlikely it was that our forefathers would succeed. Many times defeat seemed inevitable.
“Yet that small band of patriot-statesmen achieved victory against a long-established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other, fighting hard at every turn, knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they or possibly any people would ever fight again for the great cause of self-government.’”
As most people remember, Ryan was the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president alongside presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
“Along with Congressman Ryan, I believe that we are in another period of great trial,” Morris said. “Whether we conquer this challenge remains to be seen.”
As soon as Morris mentioned Ryan, several people in the audience began whispering about Obama.
“If only Mitt Romney had won, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” one woman said.
In his speech before the ROAR crowd, Morris also discussed the national debt of almost $18 trillion.
“You know, it should be noted at this point that throughout history, all of history, every paper currency has eventually collapsed,” he told the audience. “The U.S. dollar does not get a free pass. Our government has too much debt and that could lead to a financial collapse.”
Whenever Morris talks about the nation’s debt, critics are quick to point out that debt is something his company knows a great deal about.
In 2010, Morris Publishing Group emerged from bankruptcy after completing a formal debt restructuring plan.
Basically, Morris managed to convince lenders in 2010 to cancel approximately $278.5 million principal amount of senior subordinated notes plus accrued and unpaid interest in exchange for $100 million of new secured notes.
It was a pretty sweet deal considering the company was in debt more than $417 million at the time.
But Morris was wise and hired the legal counsel of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, LLP, a law firm with a highly-regarded bankruptcy practice, to help broker its debt restructuring plan.
“A recent poll showed that over 65 percent of our people believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction,” Morris told the audience. “Fortunately, folks, we still have a ballot box which allows us to make changes peacefully. Countries that don’t have ballot boxes do it with war and bloodshed.”
The ROAR rally was held exactly one week prior to the Nov. 4 election.
The reason Morris Communication created the ROAR initiative is to ensure people protect the timeless values of liberty and responsibility, he said.
“So we hope that you join with us and the million like-minded citizens in using this wonderful website, to make things better, to make our government more accountable and to correct these problems. That’s why we are here tonight,” Morris said as he ended his speech with the battle cry, “Let me hear you roar!”
The crowd burst into rousing cheers and applause, waiving their miniature American flags that were handed out at the door.
The elephant in the room
The night was filled with patriotic speakers including the highly-respected Major General Perry Smith, who served more than 30 years in the United States Air Force, and is now the author of six books.
The rally also included Gustavo and Laura Martinez, who recently became new citizens to the country after immigrating to this country from Venezuela in 1999.
Also in the lineup was ROAR blogger Jessica Hayes, who some may also recognize as the district director for Republican Congressman Paul Broun.
She served as Broun’s campaign spokesperson and press secretary from 2007-2012. Hayes also served as the campaign spokesperson for Republican Lee Anderson when he ran for Congress in 2012.
The ROAR website states that she is the former secretary of the Richmond County Republican Committee, a member of the Republican Women’s Club of Richmond County and, in coordination with the Georgia GOP, she recently founded the CSRA Minority Engagement in an effort to reach new voters and “significantly alter the state’s political landscape.”
At this point and time, she is the only other blogger for the ROAR website alongside its Executive Director Michael Ryan.
Ryan temporarily stepped away from heading The Augusta Chronicle’s editorial page this past year to concentrate on launching ROAR.
While addressing the ROAR crowd, Hayes that she loved the evening’s lineup because it reminded her that “America is full of so many beautiful people with just as many beautiful stories.”
“Whether we arrived here as first-generation immigrants or whether we are decendents of explorers, Native Americans, indentured servants or even slaves, we have this one thing in common: the very thread that weaves together our vibrant patchwork of stories, the thing that runs throughout our American narrative is that of freedom,” Hayes proudly said. “And I’ll stop right there. I’m going to address the elephant in the room.”
Hayes paused a moment and looked out into the audience.
“I promised my husband I would not embarrass him, but, John, I need you to stand up,” Hayes said, as her husband stood up and waved at the crowd. “Isn’t he cute? I think so.”
The crowd cheered, as Hayes continued to address “the elephant in the room.”
“So we are both frequently asked the very same question no matter where we go,” Hayes said. “And it’s funny because even my friends, I’ll have friends who know me for a year or two and I’ll still get the same questions, ‘What are you? What is your ethnic background?’”
The crowd chuckled at the questions.
“When we go to Mexican restaurants they start speaking Spanish to John,” she said, laughing. “So the most common guess that we get is that John is Latino and that I’m mixed. In reality, John is Sioux Indian and his mother is full Native American right off the reservation.
“And both of my parents are black. Just black.”
The audience, which was about 98 percent white, roared with laughter.
It was one of those moments that could only happen in Augusta.
“Now, historians try to tell me that the Declaration of Independence did not extend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the African Americans or the Native Americans,” Hayes said. “But they are not telling the entire story.”
She insisted the U.S. Constitution laid the groundwork for all people to be free.
“Yes, America does have a dark history of abuse and slavery that’s incompatible to the narrative of freedom. But then, that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it?” Hayes said. “That America has the narrative of freedom and, I don’t know about you, but I am filled with more gratitude than you can imagine that God has allowed for me to prosper in the land where my ancestors were enslaved.”
That is the message that Hayes said she will continue to send through her blogs on ROAR’s website.
As the crowd cheered, ROAR’s executive director and the keynote speaker of the night, Michael Ryan, took the stage.
“I do want to address the elephant in the room,” Ryan said, looking over at Hayes. “Jessica, my parents are both white. Just white.”
Ryan paused for moment as the audience again roared with laughter.
“Real white,” Ryan said chuckling. “And if you have ever seen me on a beach, you’d know.”
Only in Augusta.
Ryan’s real ROAR
As the crowd settled down, Ryan asked the audience, “Is this a great country or what?”
Applause and cheers exploded in the room again as people began waiving their American flags.
Unfortunately, Ryan said most people don’t properly appreciate what this country has to offer.
“You really have to leave this country on a foreign trip to really truly appreciate it, I think,” Ryan said. “Once Rotary sent me to Brazil in 1998 for an entire month and it was a wonderful month, but I got back in Dallas and I walked up to the passport lady and I gave her my passport and I said, ‘I am so glad to be back in the United States, I’d vote for Bill Clinton again.’”
Once again, the audience roared with laughter.
“She pulled the passport, gave it back to me and said, ‘Go back!’” Ryan said, laughing.
“I mean, you can’t make that up!”
Ironically, Ryan was the one who insisted in his own paper that the ROAR for America Rally was not going to be political, and yet, in less than two minutes into his speech he was already making jokes about one of the top leaders in the Democratic Party.
But Ryan didn’t skip a beat.
“You know what, it has become fashionable over the years to bash America,” he said. “It has become fashionable to look only at our imperfections as if nobody else has any. It has become fashionable to overlook our good points. It has become fashionable to reject and even ridicule wholesomeness, which is odd.
“Boy Scout has become a pejorative. ‘You are such a Boy Scout.’ Okay, fine with me.”
Ryan also scolded those who are trying to separate politics and religion.
“It has become fashionable to push God and faith out of the discussion,” he said. “It has become fashionable to think America is not exceptional. Well, I don’t know about you, but I think it is time for a fashion change.”
As he looked out into the audience, Ryan called for people to act “sovereign.”
“I have been flirting with the idea of getting a bumper sticker that says, ‘Have you acted sovereign today?’ ‘Has your little, snotty honor student acted sovereign today?’” Ryan said, chuckling. “But really, acting sovereign is not acting high and mighty and it is not acting with an attitude. It is excepting the fact that we have the right to self determination.”
As Ryan peered out into the audience, he insisted it was time for people to “believe in American again” because it is an exceptional country.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our forefathers risk everything to bring forth on this continent the new nation conceived in liberty and they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” Ryan said. “You know, their challenges and the risks that they took were far greater than ours today. Surely we can muster that same pledge to each other.”
The crowd jumped to its feet, clapping and cheering for Ryan as he stepped off the stage.
What’s in a hashtag?
It’s clear, Ryan definitely has his local supporters and followers.
But Morris has packaged this ROAR initiative as a nationwide movement. While the website is less than a year old, it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. And with only two bloggers, Ryan and Hayes, there isn’t much content.
Just last week, the Metro Spirit’s own Insider column suggested the real reason behind this “civics initiative” is to sell additional online advertisement. A media promotion disguised as patriotism.
The fact is, Morris Communications is a media company with 12 daily newspapers, 36 radio stations and numerous magazines across the country. If the company wants to get the word out about the ROAR website, it has the resources.
But when Ryan announced the website and ROAR initiative in some of Morris Communications’ daily papers this past July, many readers in those regions were less than thrilled.
On July 3, one day before Independence Day, Morris Communications posted a video on many of its daily newspapers’ websites about ROAR along with a short description of the initiative.
After it was posted on the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s webpage, the criticism started flying.
One reader posted, “Unfortunately, their website reads like a right-wing pukefest. They may have diverse faces in the video and laud words like liberty and freedom, but there is no doubt that this is a conservative group that is opposed to anything related to the federal government.”
Another reader posted, “How self reliant was Morris, the AJ’s parent company, when they filed for bankruptcy?”
When the Morris-owned paper Amarillo Globe-News ran an editorial about ROAR on July 8, it was also not well received by some readers.
“I have pretty well given up on even commenting on local editorials, but can’t overlook this one,” one reader wrote. “It is distressing to me that the local editor and local publisher are carrying editorial policy water for a very right-wing Tea-partying corporation in Georgia. I would expect that editorial policies in the Texas Panhandle would be generally conservative, but I think they would be much better and more appropriately represented by local ownership than they are by the current cast of characters.”
Another reader wrote, “Not just a newspaper, but a right-wing propaganda machine. What a bang we get for our buck.”
It seems Ryan and Morris Communications may have their work cut out for them if they want ROAR to take off nationally.
But Ryan is definitely trying to get some attention.
It’s obvious from ROAR’s Twitter page.
Several of the Tweets include the hashtag #tcot.
What does that mean, you ask?
The hashtag is reference to the “Top Conservatives On Twitter.”
But ROAR is supposed to be an apolitical movement, right?
According to a recent article in International Business Times, the use of #tcot is a term that “provides a way for conservatives in particular and Republicans in general to locate and follow the tweets of their like-minded brethren.”
The article states that #tcot is also a reference to “an influential list of those so-called top conservatives,” which is maintained at the website, Top Conservatives on Twitter.
The top conservatives listed on the website are former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, radio personality Duane Patterson, Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity and radio talk-show host Glenn Beck.
“Many conservative users of Twitter tag their posts with #TCOT to ensure that folks who may be interested in their take on politics will be able to find their tweets,” the International Business TImes article states.
Why would an apolitical movement created to promote civics and “responsibility” in America need to use the hashtag #tcot?
As ROAR’s Rally for America came to a conclusion with the entire audience singing “God Bless America,” William S. Morris III returned to the stage.
He thanked the crowd of more than 400 people for attending the rally, calling it an “absolutely wonderful turnout.”
“Finally, I want to ask for your participation, guidance and help,” Morris said. “I hope that you will go to this website. I hope you will look at it. I hope you will learn from it. I hope you will suggest to us anything that can be added. If you know something, if you hear something that can contribute to it and make it better, write Michael a letter or write me a letter. Email us. Let us hear from you.”
That’s the only way this country will turn itself around, Morris said.
“I think we can make it better,” Morris said, waiving to the crowd. “God bless America and God bless you!”
God bless us, everyone.