- Activist with the Ruckus Society
- Worked as an undercover labor union organizer
- Creative director of MoveOn.org
Trained as a “workshop facilitator” by the Ruckus Society, Zack Exley is a political and technology consultant employed by ThoughtWorks, a global Information Technology consultancy. He is also President of the New Organizing Institute, which he co-founded in 2005. In addition, Exley administers the weblog Revolution in Jesusland, which seeks to blur the lines between the secular left and evangelical Christianity, and he writes for Arianna Huffington’s publication, the Huffington Post.
Born in December 1969, Exley grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, he went through a training program for radical union organizers run by the AFL-CIO and then took a job with the United Auto Workers. "For seven months, he worked undercover at a Michigan auto parts factory," wrote Los Angeles Times reporter Joseph Menn in May 2004. "The unionization effort there failed, but Exley later used a team of infiltrators to successfully organize large nursing homes in Minnesota."
Exley quit his job as a covert union organizer in 1998 and found work as a full-time computer programmer. In the course of his work, he began to notice websites such as Salon and Slate that were advancing leftist views with which he was in sympathy. Eager to find an outlet where he, too, could give voice to his political musings, Exley created GWBush.com, a website that mimicked the official internet site of Texas Governor (and soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate) George W. Bush.
Exley's Internet site featured bizarre articles purporting to have been written by George Bush and, as the 2000 election neared, images digitally doctored to depict Gov. Bush as a drunkard and a cocaine user. "It was totally Beavis and Butt-head," Exley later told the Austin Chronicle, "just a couple of guys bored and coming up with a way to get a phone call from the Bush people."
When Bush lawyers subsequently threatened to sue Exley for using copyrighted photographs digitally lifted from the official Bush website, and when George Bush described Exley as "a garbage man," the resulting publicity brought six million viewers to Exley's site and made the young programmer an overnight darling of the left.
Exley quickly exploited the opportunity by selling an array of products such as T-shirts and bumper stickers with slogans like: "Bush is a Punk Ass Chump"; "Imperialism: A Way of Life Worth Bombing For"; and "Capitalism: It's Great in Theory, It Just Didn't Work in Practice."
In 2002 Exley was hired by Wes Boyd, the multi-millionaire software creator, to work for the Berkeley, California-based MoveOn.org. Not long after Exley joined the organization, MoveOn.org launched a contest encouraging its audience to produce negative ads about President Bush. It posted on its website two of these ads that co-mingled images of Bush and Adolf Hitler, conveying a message that they were alike. Public outry over this smear prompted MoveOn to remove the images from its site. Exley himself refused to apologize, however, dismissing the complaints as "typical Republican bulls—t."
In 2001 Exley's book about radical labor- (and Internet-) organizing techniques, Trust the People, was published by the small Brooklyn-based leftwing publisher Soft Skull Press. This outfit also has produced such titles as Confronting Capitalism (a collection of essays by Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Barbara Ehrenreich, and other socialists); How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office; WakeUp, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from The Right (by Ted Rall); and Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President. Authored by Exley's friend James Hatfield (a two-time felon), the latter book made an unsubstatiated claim that Bush had been arrested for possession of cocaine but that his father (George H.W. Bush) later intervened to erase all records of the case.
After Democrats lost the 2000 presidential election and two years later lost ground in the congressional mid-term elections, Exley wrote on the short-lived new website AngryDems.com:
"Don't blame 9/11. Don't blame the Greens. And … don't blame the American people! Blame the Democratic Party leadership. [DNC Chairman] Terry McAuliffe is an idiot."
Exley himself soon became a Democrat operative. In 2003 he was employed to help develop the Web-based presidential campaign organization of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. After Dean's campaign fizzled out, Exley was hired (in April 2004) by John Kerry for an undisclosed amount of money to run Internet communication and organizing activities for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket.
In 2005 Exley directed Internet operations for the UK Labour Party's re-election campaign. He then moved on to his aforementioned ventures with Thoughtworks and the New Organizing Institute.