How Conservatives Found Twitter and the Evolution of '#TCOT' According to Tea Party Activist Michael Patrick Leahy

February 8th, 2010 9:27 AM

If you're a follower of conservative politics and also a user of the social networking tool Twitter, you've more than likely have noticed the use of "#tcot," for "top conservatives on Twitter" associated with certain posts that pertain to that subject matter. But it all didn't happen by accident. In the early stages, it was a concerted effort.

And most of it was because of the work of Michael Patrick Leahy, the author of "Rules for Conservative Radicals," which is a takeoff on Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." And as Leahy explained, the origins of the acronym ‘tcot' and its use on Twitter were the creation of him, an Orange County, Calif. software engineer and a 78-year-old Texas grandmother.

And Leahy, who is the third cousin of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., explained to a group assembled by Sandy Horwitt, author of an Alinsky biography, "Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky: His Life and Legacy" at a Washington, D.C. Chinatown restaurant on Feb. 4, how he got the ball rolling on the who "tcot" concept.

Audio Embedded Below Fold

"The left owned the Internet at that moment," Leahy said, referring to the time following the 2008 presidential election. "And there was one new technology in which they didn't own," "I'm a technology guy who understands how to make it work. I don't really understand how to create it, but I know how to use it. And I know potential. So I looked around and I had just gotten on Twitter - this interesting little technology. So I said maybe there's something here on Twitter," Leahy continued. "So I started -- of course the main theme here is, ‘Oh gosh, the Left dominates the Internet. We have no hope.'"

Leahy continued by explaining his quest to find conservatives on Twitter, which began by assembling a Web site with a list of conservatives ordered by the number of followers they had.

"So on Nov. 28, I manually put a list up of 25 people who I knew were conservatives on Twitter," Leahy explained. "I was like number five on the list, just out of curiosity. Well this is what people don't get about the world today - how interconnected the technology is and how you can create a community of like-minded people almost instantly. So what happened is, I put this list up, and I thought, ‘Well I'll update it tomorrow.' No - turns out conservatives were all over Twitter, but they were lonesome. They wanted to talk to each other. So conservatives -- and I ordered the list by the number of followers they had, right. So there was this prestige to being the number one top conservative on Twitter."

But what Leahy said he learned after that was his concept was very popular and immediately drew a lot of attention.

"So I got a Web site called Top Conservatives on Twitter and everybody wanted to be the top conservative on Twitter," Leahy said. "So I learned conservatives are competitive. They wanted to be the number one dog."

According to Leahy, after an exhaustive 36 hours of manually updating his list, a man by the name of Rob Neppell from Orange County, Calif. manufactured a list that updated itself automatically and still exists online here.

"There's a search capability where you can organize tweets by topic and so the way you do that is you go to, like Google, and you put a pound sign in and some symbols thereafter," Leahy explained. "[W]ell it turns out one of our little merry crew was a 78-year-old grandmother from near McAllen, Texas by the name of Beulah Garrett and she was a conservative and she spent all her days searching the Internet, that's what she did for stories about conservatism."

As Leahy explained, it was Garrett, who he described as a "marketing genius" that came up with the idea of "#tcot," for top conservatives on Twitter.

"Well guess, what - within 24 hours, ‘tcot' was the top trending hash tags on all of Twitter," Leahy said. "We came to dominate it so much they removed us from the top trends. Today, a year and a half later, if you want to see what's going on in the conservative world and you want to see the passion there, here's an easy way to measure it. Do a search, go to, enter ‘#tcot' and then count the number of Tweets that come over in every 10-minute cycle."

Leahy said during the day of the election of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., they had 30 tweets come over every 10 minutes. But he also contends during non-political events it remains one of the top hash tags on the social networking tool.