Beginnings

Was The Tea Party Born in This Dominatrix’s Indiana Fetish Dungeon?

In 2007, a battle with Indianapolis authorities over the legality of her basement fetish dungeon drove Melyssa Hubbard to political activism, and founding the Indiana Tea Party.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

“On top there is the Goddess Diana,” she had finally revealed to me. Having just picked me up from a cafe in downtown Indianapolis, we were now parked solemnly facing the nearby Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Pointing to a silhouetted figure crowning the towering structure, she elaborated, “the great goddess worshipped in ancient Ephesus in the Bible was installed very purposefully in this spot by the Freemasons.”

“My entire experience—and a lot of it was supernatural—led to the discovery of the great archetype Goddess Diana.”

I sat nodding reservedly beside my hospitable instructor. This information, esoteric and cockeyed, ought to have been alien to me, but it was perfectly familiar. I had, after all, read it in her book.

***

I first met Melyssa Hubbard about a year prior to this rendezvous at an Indianapolis brewery about a mile from where we met this evening.

I was in town to write about the launch of a nationwide network of regional meetups organized by conservative noisemaker Breitbart News, on the heels the Trump campaign’s recent rise to a lead as impervious as it was unanticipated.

Breitbart had all but hitched themselves to the Trump Train, and I had hoped to capture what I thought would either be an improbable weather-vane for the Republican Party or, at least, a snapshot of insulated right-wing ephemera.

It would ultimately be both.

Apocalyptic lamentations of the loss of national identity, invitations to condemn CNN and hermetic D.C. elites, and vivid anecdotes conveying the gravity of border violence and mass immigration were the dominant themes propounded by the speakers.

But the most lasting impression was made by a dialogue shared between myself and a woman who flagged my attention on my way out.

“I like your outfit,” Hubbard said in passing, with a detached listlessness that could have meant sarcasm. She introduced herself, “My name is Melyssa, I founded the Indiana Tea Party.”

Hubbard didn’t look like the Tea Partiers I’d been acquainted to through various media segments covering the massive rallies years earlier. And unlike the morose orators who had just taken the stage, my interlocutor evinced a frisky, free-spirited demeanor, tempered by a natural nonchalance.

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Authoritatively donning a black fitted blazer and leather boots, Hubbard bore the appearance of a dissident art teacher.

“I was a dominatrix for many years,” she interjected, snatching relief from my stiff small-talk. “That’s how I got involved in this whole thing.” She quickly filled in the blanks, explaining that a battle with the city over her the legality of her basement fetish dungeon drove her to political activism.

“I founded the Indiana Tea Party,” she repeated. “But I’m no longer involved now that it’s been co-opted.” Co-opted, she meant, by Republican Party elites.

The backstory, she pressed, was detailed in her memoir, amusingly titled, Spanking City Hall: Dominatrix to Political Activist. As I signalled my exit, she pulled a copy from a small bag of Spanking City Hall hardcovers and assigned me my travel reading.

***

“I am not rich,” Melyssa Hubbard (formerly Donaghy) reminds me, more than a few times, as we drive down her picturesque Meridian-Kessler street, each time pausing before clarifying: “I’m comfortable.”

It’s the neighborhood where the governor’s mansion is located—a site of local political significance not just for its tenant but in that it’s where Hubbard first earned repute as a right-wing activist.

In response to a slated property tax increase in 2007, Hubbard, at the time a tenderfoot “Fair Tax” volunteer, organized a protest at the foot of the mansion. Between 300 and 400 peeved taxpayers showed up, eventually spilling into the street and halting traffic. Governor Mitch Daniels ordered a reassessment by the end of the month.

Hubbard gave me a brief tour of her Indianapolis, much of which included “arts district”-centered haunts including divey taverns, punk-ish clubs, and trendy restaurants.

Steeped in this community years before her political vocation, she is credited with marrying the art scene to the fledgling fetish underground by throwing an elaborate Halloween gala advertised as the “Erotic Arts Ball.” Her ties to this scene today, however, are all but severed. “I was sort of the ‘it girl’ that year,” she said.

“I never wanted to be a pro domme, the universe wanted me to be a pro domme,” Hubbard exhaled after a brief interregnum of silence.

In her memoir she writes, “I saw a power exchange as an emotional connection with another person,” adding, “For me it is a form of self-possession. The creativity channel makes me feel as if I’m composing a symphony.”  

But she was too good at her job, and at a time before Indianapolis harbored any semblance of an “alternative” edge, too exotic for her surroundings.

Crime reporter Jack Rinehart was accompanied by a news crew when he peered into the windows of the Hubbard residence in 2004. He hoisted a folder in the air, displaying to those at home the city of Indianapolis’s lawsuit against Melyssa Hubbard, citing sexual torture and the complement of a minor zoning infraction.

“There are some dommes who are hookers,” Hubbard imparted to me, “and the city has a right to investigate anyone that they think is doing something illegal.” But Hubbard hadn’t done sex work. She’d been offered, but refuted the rationale. “You do realize if I have sex with you that makes me your submissive?”

One of her paying masochists turned out to be an undercover cop, alleging to have been “forced to get down on his hands and knees and kiss Donaghy's boots and feet“ and “subjected to a degrading conversation.”

“I turned him into the slut he wanted me to be,” Hubbard admitted of the session, detailing an experience with a suspiciously overbearing first-time client unrelentingly attempting to steer the session toward sex. “He would’ve arrested me on the spot,” she noted. “But he didn’t arrest me because I wasn’t breaking any laws. I was basically a performance artist.”

Mayor Peterson held a press conference the following morning, pledging to extinguish the scourge of adult businesses contaminating chaste Indianapolis. Hubbard jostled her way into the crowd, daggering him with questions and pledging to Spank City Hall.

The presiding Marion County judge dismissed the city’s case in Fall of 2007.

***

Hubbard invited me into her charming Meridian-Kessler home and showed me old news clippings and photos from the height of her anti-tax antics.

She shuffled to a photo clipping of 500 Indianapolitans convened around a supersized ball of white fabric decorated as a giant tea bag.

Stuffed with the protesters’ with tax assessments, the crowd dunked the oversized teabag into the Broad Ripple Canal.

The article, dated July 28, 2007, was one of the earliest to employ the “Tea Party” designation—months before Congressman Ron Paul’s “Boston Tea Party moneybomb” and over a year before the election of Barack Obama.

Hubbard opened a folder and showed me photos from the pro-Trump “Daddy Will Save Us” art show in that took place in New York in October.

“Look at this,” Hubbard grinned, opening a picture file of disgraced former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos posing with Spanking City Hall in a tub of blood.

“They’re provocateurs,” Hubbard conceded, but “I’m a provocateur.” Hubbard had last been in New York the previous year as a featured Liberty Fest 2015 speaker. Here, as well as at the Washington, D.C. “Deploraball” extravaganza in January, however, she was an admirer in attendance.

“I didn’t even know what the Tea Party was,” Hubbard said, laughing, of the time of the governor’s mansion demonstration.

But she recalls overhearing a conversation from within the crowd when one exasperated voice exclaimed, “We need a Tea Party!” Hubbard had decided that, since she’d thrown parties her whole adult life, “if the people want a party I’m going to give them a party.”

But it wasn’t for another few months until the paddle-wielding patriot would finally taste her self-affirming moment of revenge.

“Welcome to the biggest upset in Indiana political history,” Greg Ballard, the newly elected Republican mayor, touted shortly after incumbent Peterson conceded defeat.

By a shocking 51%-to-47% margin, the no-name Republican arguably won the first electoral “Tea Party” victory three years before the momentous 2010 Congressional midterm wave.

In recognition of her organizing, Hubbard was awarded a Sam Adams Alliance Tea Party Award from the now-defunct eponymous conservative nonprofit.

The Meridian-Kessler dominatrix keeps a low profile today, but is leisurely mapping out a few new projects. She plans on writing a screenplay adaption of Spanking City Hall, for example, and is devoting her next book to catechizing “the Goddess Diana mythology.”

Hubbard explained to me that her notoriety, however brief and locale-contained, was buttressed by a burgeoning mood for revolt that she serendipitously latched on to.

But as my Indiana acquaintance drove me to my bus stop, I couldn’t resist pondering the opposite: that the timeline of Hubbard’s Tea Party antics suggests the mighty conservative revolt that had stormed into the national spotlight by 2009 was, in fact, birthed in a kinky fetish dungeon in Indianapolis, Indiana.