August 11, 2022
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CASEY: Whither the Roanoke Tea Party? | Govt and Politics

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Does anyone know what happened to the Roanoke Tea Party, which for a long time was the Roanoke Valley’s most vocal political activist group?

In case you hadn’t noticed, its denizens have been exceedingly quiet of late. They’ve barely made a pipsqueak, or a Tweet, or a Facebook post about anything since Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.

That’s unusual. We don’t have to go back that far to recall when members proudly showed up at Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meetings, warning that the United Nations was trying to take over land-use planning on Bent Mountain, via a globalist plot known as “Agenda 21.”

But now that we’re halfway through 2022, members of the group seem to have faded into the woodwork, or perhaps they’ve crawled back under some rocks. Have they shown their faces at any local government meetings lately? Like they used to, proudly and ignorantly?

Much remains unclear about the group’s current status, but let’s unpack what we do know.

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The Ramada Inn on Franklin Road, where the Roanoke Tea Party used to meet regularly, has closed. The city of Roanoke paid $3.6 million for that eyesore in April, and immediately announced plans to tear it down.

The Roanoke Tea Party Facebook page has 2,400 followers – but if you check it out, be careful not to confuse it with The Roanoke Teapot Party Facebook page. That pro-marijuana site has 1,081 followers.

The Roanoke Tea Party’s most recent Facebook post was made Dec. 21. It’s headlined by a single word, “Testing.” And though there’s no text whatsoever in the message, it garnered a few replies.

One features a doctored photograph of Donald Trump wearing a military-style jacket, a “Make America Great Again” cap and neither trousers nor underpants. The post achieved nine “Likes.”

At one time, the Roanoke Tea Party Inc. was a registered non-stock Virginia corporation, but that hasn’t been true for years. The State Corporation Commission website lists it as “Inactive” as of March 17, 2015. The record also notes: “Voluntarily terminated – cannot reinstate.”

The group’s Twitter account has been only slightly less dormant. As of Friday afternoon, the most recent Tweet by @roanoketeaparty happened more than three years ago, on Oct. 27, 2018.

The Twitter account has 1,380 current followers. But the last time one of its Tweets garnered a “Like” or a retweet was in 2016. And although the Twitter handle points users to the group’s website — RoanokeTeaParty.com — that page no longer exists.

The only way one can find its most recent iteration is by searching on the Wayback Machine, an internet archive that saves old pages. From that, we can tell the most recent post to RoanokeTeaParty.com occurred Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the 2020 presidential election.

At that point votes were still being counted, and the election had not been called for either candidate. Here’s the post:

“As we predicted and so did a lot of people, Trump won initially and now the work of harvesting the farmed absentee votes to take him down has begun. We have a lot to talk about and plan for. Join us Tomorrow, Thursday November 5th at 6:30 pm. We will meet at the Ramada Inn on Franklin Rd.”

Nowadays when one attempts to visit RoanokeTeaParty.com, the page automatically redirects to HugeDomains.com, a Denver, Colorado-based company that bills itself as the “the leading aftermarket for internet domain names.”

HugeDomains.com is asking $8,895 for the rights to the RoanokeTeaParty.com

Curious, on Thursday I emailed four questions to Greg Aldridge, who at one time led the group. (He may still; but that’s unclear.). Here are the questions:

“Can you tell me how that [domain-name loss] occurred?”

“Is the organization still going, or is that defunct, too?”

“If it’s defunct, what caused that?”

“Do you have a new meeting place?”

Aldridge responded quickly, but without answers. “Why do you want to know?” he wrote back.

I replied: “Because I’m writing a column about it.”

Aldridge responded again, “But why do you want to know?”

At that point I dropped the inquiry out of a measure of concern. The questions were simple, honest and straightforward. They weren’t intended to trigger anyone, if they had.

Aldridge seemed less inclined to let it drop, though. Friday, he replied again, unprompted.

“You want me to answer questions, yet you can’t give me a straight answer to a single simple inquiry?” Aldridge wrote.

“Come on dan. Are you really that pathetic?”

Perhaps my direct answer got caught in his spam folder, eh?

Many factors could explain Adridge’s reluctance to answer. One is simple embarrassment. It’s possible the recent and stunning growth of the populist, pro-Trumper QAnon movement has badly eroded membership in groups such as the Roanoke Tea Party.

QAnon’s belief system is far stranger. Some QAnoners believe JFK Jr. faked his 1999 fatal plane crash into the Atlantic ocean. And that he’s still alive, like Elvis, but remains in hiding, waiting for the right moment to emerge and become Donald Trump’s next vice-president.

I’m not making that up. Hundreds of QAnoners gathered in Dallas last November waiting for that moment. But it never materialized. Go figure.

Has QAnon’s craziness overwhelmed the Roanoke Tea Party’s ability to attract populist attention with its own less-weird platform? Or, have all the Roanoke Tea Party members deserted for QAnon? Alternatively, did Roanoke Tea Party members all head underground after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection?

All seem possible but much remains unclear.

Next I called HugeDomains.com, where I spoke to a nice fellow who identified himself as Ryan. He declined to give me his last name, citing company policy.

HugeDomains.com acquired RoanokeTeaParty.com in May, Ryan told me. He refused to divulge the price his employer paid for the domain.

Did Ryan know how the Roanoke Tea Party lost it? “No,” he said. Most commonly it happens when an owner fails to renew a domain name, he added. That puts it up for grabs, after a certain defined period.

HugeDomains.com set its asking price based on a pricing formula calculated via an algorithm, Ryan told me. Just one of those factors is the length of time the Roanoke Tea Party’s website had been up and running — from 2009 to 2022.

“That price seems a little high,” I told Ryan. “How much would you take for it?”

“We can talk about any offer,” he replied. “It would go to our review department.”

Friday, another guy at HugeDomains.com, Patrick, told me the least the company would accept is $8,050.

Which prompts an idea. Crowdfunding the purchase of the Roanoke Tea Party’s former website could be a lot of fun. Would any readers of The Roanoke Times be interested in contributing to such an endeavor?

Let me know in an email. If there’s enough interest maybe I’ll start a GoFundMe page to raise the money.

Whoever buys the domain will be able to control content on a new-and-much-improved Roanoke Tea Party website. And that’s a stage on which all sorts of mischief could happen. Just for starters, the new owner could change the background color from MAGA red to soothing blue.

Changes wouldn’t necessarily be limited to the color scheme, of course. The new proprietors could dedicate all of RoanokeTeaParty.com in honor of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — two of the Roanoke Tea Party’s favorite targets.

The website could even post a nice portrait of Donald Trump, in orange coveralls and behind bars. Or a full-throated endorsement of gun control. Or actual fake news, with headlines like, “Trump Co. to sell half-scale models of the Jan. 6 gallows brought to U.S. Capitol.”

I’d wager Roanoke Tea Party members would snap up those lawn ornaments faster than you can say, “Hang Mike Pence!”

Bonus! The new owners would control content on RoanokeTeaParty.com in perpetuity, provided they didn’t neglect to periodically renew its domain name.

Which would be pathetic, if it ever occurred.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter@dancaseysblog





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