But to execute it, to turn it into something somebody would actually want to watch, he'd need some help.

Chapter 5: Make a Name for Yourself — And Protect It
All of the members of Jackson's team tell nearly the same story of how they came to work for him. It goes something like this:

The team member (usually white, usually sharing Jackson's belief that the black community has been screwed by its liberal leaders but unable to speak up without appearing racist) finds the Black Sphere online, either through a Web search for "black conservative" or because he or she has seen Jackson on TV, and reads Jackson's blog entries.

Jennifer Silverberg
The politician who inspired Kevin Jackson, Ronald Reagan.
The politician who inspired Kevin Jackson, Ronald Reagan.

Inspired, the team member sends Jackson an e-mail. Jackson responds with a phone call, which lasts several hours and uncovers some skill — writing, say, or radio engineering — that could help Jackson spread his message. Initially all these people are volunteers. Eventually, as Jackson senses that their projects might yield some money, he begins paying them on a freelance basis.

None of them has been working for Jackson longer than a year. Though most of them live in places other than St. Louis, Jackson keeps close tabs on them via phone and Internet, calling as late as midnight or as early as 5 a.m. They don't seem to mind. "He's a perfectionist," says Robbin Frazho, a graphic artist who's working to get Jackson speaking engagements on the conservative-college circuit. "Everything is clean and in order and aboveboard. I love that about him."

The adoration verges on messianic — a favor Jackson repays by closely monitoring his staffers' interaction with the press. The man has an image to protect, particularly after the Loudon dustup.

"It was unfortunate there was so much badmouthing early on," Jamie Allman says of the spat. "It was one reason I delayed having him on the air." Like everyone else in Jackson's orbit, Allman clams up when pressed for details. "It's like high school: people getting catty, talking negatively," he says. "I never got that from Kevin. I try to keep a healthy distance from that Peyton Place thing going on within the grass-roots movement."

Tucked safely behind a screen of his supporters, Jackson occasionally needles his enemies via the Twitter equivalent of spitballs. Sometimes they're aimed at people he knows — like Loudon — but more often they zero in on people whose attention he wants to attract: better-known counterparts on the left such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Marc Lamont Hill, a self-described hip-hop intellectual who once worked at FOX News and is now a professor at Columbia University.

"I've never read his work," Hill claims. "I disagree with his general principles. He has delusions of grandeur. That's the sense I get anyway, based on his attack. He wants to draw attention by attacking people and waiting for a response."

Responds Jackson: "I have zero interest in him except for spanking him in public. Marc Lamont Hill may be more well known, but in a year he'll be seeking me out."

Mostly Jackson has been seeking attention through more direct channels. Thanks to his team, the Black Sphere has grown from a homely blog into a professional-looking website. He has made it a point to never say no to any media request, even if he finds himself in the demoralizing situation of speaking to a mostly empty parking lot (and a female George Washington) in Tinley Park. At next week's rally, he may have an audience of 3,000.

Sometimes that can-do spirit pays off. One day this past March, Jackson debated with MSNBC anchor David Shuster whether Tea Partiers had vandalized Democratic campaign offices and spat on members of the Congressional Black Caucus. To an unbiased observer, the exchange appeared inconclusive, with Jackson and Shuster spending most of the three minutes shouting over one another, demanding proof of the Tea Party's innocence (Shuster) or guilt (Jackson).

Nonetheless, video of the interview went viral, and conservative websites heralded Jackson as a hero who dared to speak truth to the power of the mainstream media. The video clip still has a place of honor on the Black Sphere homepage.

Lately Jackson has been taking on other projects that link his name with those of better-known black conservatives like Alan Keyes, once Barack Obama's opponent in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, now a conservative agitatior. Three months ago both took part in the National Black Conservative Press Conference, a media event organized by Lloyd Marcus to publicly refute the NAACP's accusations that the Tea Party is racist. Jackson and Keyes also serve on the board of Break the Bonds of Tyranny, an organization that raises money to support black conservatives running for office.

But his biggest coup to date came when he secured a fellowship at the Robert J. Dole Institute. Unlike its namesake, the institute declares itself proudly bipartisan, and every semester it invites two fellows, one liberal, one conservative, to lead political study groups for students and interested members of the community. This fall Jackson takes possession of the institute's wood-paneled classroom on alternate Tuesdays to discuss the history of black conservatism in America.

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