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Tea Party Nation (TPN), one of the national “umbrella” organizations that coordinate and promote local tea party events and groups (see August 24, 2010), holds a two-day Tea Party Convention in Nashvillle, Tennessee. Around 600 people attend, with another 500 or so attending only the speech given by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president in 2008. “America is ready for another revolution,” she tells the crowd. In a statement addressed at President Obama, she says the tea party movement is “about the people, and it’s bigger than any one king or queen of a tea party, and it’s a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.” A Harvard Crimson report describes TPN as an “eclectic mix of Ron Paul libertarians” and “George W. Bush social conservatives” who are “predominantly white and above age 50” and have a common “dislike of President Obama, the debt, future tax increases, and the bank bailout.” Some critics accuse TPN of profiteering from the convention; tickets cost $549 ($349 to just hear Palin’s speech), and Palin receives a $100,000 speaker’s fee, which she claims “will go right back to the cause.” Some prominent lawmakers, including Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), canceled their planned appearances at the event, saying that their appearance at such an event would conflict with House rules. (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; The Week 2/4/2010; Beth Rowen 2/9/2010)
Incendiary Rhetoric Opens Event - Speakers include Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan, WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, and Rick Scarborough, an author who writes of the impending tyranny of “activist” judges. Some of the topics discussed during the convention include: “Correlations between the current Administration and Marxist Dictators of Latin America”; “5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration”; “Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process”; and “Why Christians Must Engage.” The first speaker is former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who insults minority citizens and rails against the Obama administration. Tancredo says “illiterate” minority voters are responsible for putting Obama, “a committed socialist,” into office, and he goes on to say that perhaps literacy tests (see 1896 and June 8, 1959) and poll taxes (see February 4, 1964) should be reintroduced to ensure that candidates such as Obama never be elected again (see August 6, 1965). Tancredo says that the voters who put Obama into the White House “could not even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English.” Tancredo goes on to say: “The president and his left-wing allies in Congress are going to look at every opportunity to destroy the Constitution before we have a chance to save it. So put your running shoes on. Because I’ll tell you, I’ve heard we need a revolution. My friends, we already had it. We lost. I mean, what happened to us in that last election was a revolution.… This is our country. Let’s take it back.” Hilary Shelton of the NAACP later calls Tancredo’s remarks “the politics of denigration.” (National Tea Party Convention 2/2010; The Week 2/4/2010; Chattahbox 2/5/2010)
Rival Tea Parties Boycott Event - A number of rival tea party organizations and leaders asked tea party members to boycott the convention. One of those, organizer Shane Brooks, recently left TPN after deciding that the organization was too cozy with the national Republican Party. In a YouTube video, Brooks asked tea partiers to “boycott the National Tea Party Convention” and said: “[W]e will not allow Tea Party Nation or any group to achieve national leadership of this historic grassroots revolution by the people!… We must not allow the tea parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP.” Prominent Seattle tea party leader Keli Carender (see February 16-17, 2009) also decided not to attend after being listed as a convention speaker, telling an NPR reporter that she did not want the tea party movement to become too centralized. Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said that the $549 convention attendance fee was far too high: “Most people in our movement can’t afford anything like that. So it’s really not aimed at the average grassroots person.” TPN founder Judson Phillips told a reporter that the high fees would allow TPN to make a profit and “funnel money back into conservative causes” through a 527 group it plans to set up. TPN leaders refused to discuss Palin’s speaking fee. A local tea party member said skeptically, “The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business.” Another accused Phillips of being “someone who is trying to make a grab.” Others echo Brooks’s concerns that Phillips and TPN are attempting to “co-opt” the movement and become power brokers within the GOP. The Tea Party Express, an organization run by a small group of well-financed Republican consultants, is part of the convention, dismaying some more independent tea party leaders. One activist wrote in an online comment: “The tea party movement is about to be hijacked. TeaPartyNation.com organizers are hard lined GOP who use the proverbial veil of ‘conservatism’ to attract supporters.” RedState blogger Erick Erickson called the convention “scammy.” (Roth 1/11/2010; Roth 1/18/2010; Kissel 2/3/2010)
Liberal columnist Joan Walsh denounces the racial and homophobic slurs hurled at Democratic lawmakers by tea party protesters during a rally outside the US Capitol (see March 20, 2010). She writes that while the tea party movement may have had its start in economic protests (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009, and February 19, 2009 and After), it is now “disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches.” Based on just what mainstream media reports say (ignoring reports on Twitter and blogs), Walsh writes that Representative John Lewis (D-GA) was called “n_gger” at least 15 separate times, incidents confirmed by Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) and Lewis spokesperson Brenda Jones. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) was spat upon; the perpetrator was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges. CNN’s Dana Bash personally heard protesters call Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) a “f_ggot.” Walsh describes Bash as seemingly “rattled by the tea party fury.” Walsh notes that Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, one of the lobbying groups funding the various tea party organizations (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), recently appeared on an MSNBC talk show to deny that the violence and verbal assaults common at tea party rallies are emblematic of the movement as a whole (Phillips was on to discuss a tea party protester taunting a man with Parkinson’s disease at a recent Ohio rally—see March 16, 2010). Walsh writes, “But such demurrals don’t cut it any more.” She notes that tea party leader Judson Phillips, speaking at the recent National Tea Party Convention (see February 4-6, 2010), denounced the racism exhibited at tea party rallies, but then endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo (see May 26, 2009 and May 28, 2009), who received loud cheers when he advocated that US voters be given literacy tests, a Jim Crow-era tactic to keep blacks from voting. Walsh says she wants to believe the tea party movement is populated by something other than old-school racists who coalesced to oppose the first African-American president. She notes that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) has criticized the slurs hurled at Lewis, Carson, Cleaver, and Frank, and went on to distance the Republican Party from the tea party frenzy, saying: “I think we’ve reached a tipping point here. I think the American people are rising up with one voice and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’” Walsh writes that Pence seems to blame Obama, Lewis, Carson, and their Democratic colleagues for the inflammatory rhetoric being hurled at them, “and ignore the role of GOP racism.” She goes on to note that Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) hung a “Don’t Tread On Me” sign over the Capitol Balcony shortly after Pence’s remarks, and reminds readers that Davis called Obama “that boy” in a speech (see April 12, 2008). (Walsh 3/20/2010) Days after the incidents outside the Capitol, tea party leaders denounce the racism and homophobia at the event, but deny tea party members were involved, and claim Democrats and liberals are using the “isolated” incidents to whip up anti-tea party sentiment (see March 25, 2010). Tea party leaders will also claim that reports of racist epithets and sloganeering among their members are invented by Democrats and liberals (see March 26, 2010).
The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) issues a comprehensive, multi-part report on the American “tea party” movement. The report is written by IREHR vice president Devin Burghart and IREHR president Leonard Zeskind, both accomplished authors and researchers. The report examines six national organizational networks which Burghart and Zeskind say are “at the core of the tea party movement.” These six include: the FreedomWorks Tea Party; the 1776 Tea Party (“TeaParty.org”); Tea Party Nation; Tea Party Patriots; ResistNet; and the Tea Party Express. The report examines their origins, structures, leadership, policies, funding, membership, and relations with one another. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Data Collection Methodology - The authors provide details of their data collection methodology in a separate section of the report. (Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Racism, Anti-Semitism Rampant in Many (Not All) Tea Party Organizations - The report explicitly notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to claim that all tea partiers are nativist vigilantes or racists of one stripe or another.” It shows that while tea party organizations, and many media outlets, paint tea partiers as concentrated primarily on “budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government,” in reality many tea party organizations are very focused on racial, nationalist, and other social issues (see January 14, 2010). The report finds: “In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.’ Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many tea partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the 14th Amendment.” Many (not all) tea party organizations open their ranks “to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots,” the report finds, and in many of those organizations, the racists and bigots have leadership positions. And, it finds, white supremacist organizations routinely attend and even present at tea party rallies, “looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy.” The report notes that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is trying to find money and support among tea party organizations to launch a 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The leaders of the 1776 Tea Party organization “were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project,” the report notes. Tea Party Nation has attracted a large contingent of so-called “birthers,” Christian nationalists, and nativists, many of whom display openly racist sentiments; some other tea party organizations have now distanced themselves from that particular group. ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest “umbrella” organizations or networks, are also rife with anti-immigrant nativists and racists; the Tea Party Patriots have openly embraced the idea of the repeal of the 17th Amendment (see April 8, 2010). At least one group, the Washington DC-based FreedomWorks Tea Party, has made some efforts to focus its actions solely on economic issues and eschew social or religious issues; those efforts have largely failed. There is a large and disparate “schema” of racist organizations and belief systems in America, the report notes, from Nazi sympathizers to “America-first isolationists,” “scientific” racists, nativists, “paleoconservatives,” and others. Generally, the more mainstream and less extremist racist movements and persons gravitate to tea party organizations. “[T]he white nationalist movement is divided between two strategic orientations: the go-it-alone vanguardists and the mainstreamers who seek to win a majority following among white people. It is decidedly the mainstreamers, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens… who seek to influence and recruit among the tea partiers.” The same can be said of militia groups: the more mainstream of these organizations are the ones taking part in, and recruiting at, tea party events. The two—racist and militia groups—have, of course, a heavy overlap in membership and belief structures. Tea party leaders and members tend to strongly dispute evidence that their fellows espouse racist beliefs. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Economic Beliefs Tied to Anger at Immigrants, 'Undeserving Poor' - The tea parties are most often characterized as anti-tax economic conservatives who oppose government spending; however, the report finds, “there is no observable statistical link between tea party membership and unemployment levels.… And their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the ‘undeserving poor.’” Many tea party members and organizations, including some of the movement’s most visible political leaders, are openly anti-immigrant. The House’s Tea Party Caucus, led by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has a significant overlap with the members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, led by tea party supporter Brian Bilbray (R-CA). The Immigration Reform Caucus has introduced legislation that would end the Constitution’s principle of “birthright citizenship.” The racist and anti-immigrant themes at play in many tea party organizations have dovetailed in these organizations’ attacks on President Obama as being a “non-American.” The report observes: “The permutations go on from there: Islamic terrorist, socialist, African witch doctor, lying African, etc. If he is not properly American, then he becomes the ‘other’ that is not ‘us.’ Five of the six national factions have these ‘birthers’ in their leadership; the only exception being FreedomWorks.”
'Nationalism' of Tea Parties - Most tea party organizations hark back to the Revolutionary War era and the Founding Fathers as their forebears, sometimes even dressing in 18th-century costumes, waving the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and claiming that the US Constitution as written should be the touchstone of all legislative policies. However, the report notes that their “American nationalism” is hardly inclusive: “[T]heirs is an American nationalism that does not always include all Americans. It is a nationalism that excludes those deemed not to be ‘real Americans’; including the native-born children of undocumented immigrants (often despised as ‘anchor babies’), socialists, Moslems, and those not deemed to fit within a ‘Christian nation.’” The report connects the tea parties’ concept of nationalism (see October 19, 2010) back to the “America First” ideology of Father Charles Coughlin, a vocal anti-Semite and supporter of Nazism (see October 3, 1926 - 1942). The report notes: “As the Confederate battle flags, witch doctor caricatures, and demeaning discourse suggest, a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism. Yet, it is not a full-fledged variety of white nationalism. It is as inchoate as it is super-patriotic. It is possibly an embryo of what it might yet become.”
Multi-Million Dollar Complex Heavily Funded by Right-Wing Foundations - The tea party movement presents itself as a loose confederation of ground-up, grassroots groups and organizations put together by principled citizens driven by their political and social concerns. However, the reality is that many tea party organizations are for-profit corporations and/or political action committees, with some equally well-funded non-profit corporations included in the mix. Collectively, they have succeeded at trumping the Democrats’ advantage in Web-based mobilization and fundraising.
Resurrection of 'Ultra-Conservative Wing of American Political Life' - The report finds that the tea party organizations “have resuscitated the ultra-conservative wing of American political life, created a stiff pole of opinion within Republican Party ranks, and they have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.” The report finds: “The tea party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement by angry middle class (overwhelmingly) white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them. And they want it back.” Whom they apparently “want it back” from is from non-white Americans. The report notes that the tea party slogan, “Take It Back, Take Your Country Back” is “an explicitly nationalist refrain. It is sometimes coupled with the assertion that there are ‘real Americans,’ as opposed to others who they believe are driving the country into a socialist ditch.”
Three Levels of Structure - As with most entities of this nature, there are three fundamental levels to the “tea party structure.” Some 16 to 18 percent of Americans say they have some sympathy with tea party ideals—these citizens, numbering in the tens of millions, form the outer ring of the structure. The next ring as an ill-defined group of perhaps two million activists who go to meetings and rallies, and buy literature. The core is composed of some 250,000 heavily involved members who take part in the Web-directed activities of the tea party organizations. The report focuses on this group as the hub of what it calls “tea party nationalists.” As time goes on, the tea parties continue to add members to their ranks. The Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet are, at this time, experiencing the fastest rate of growth; the report notes, “This would tend to indicate a larger movement less susceptible to central control, and more likely to attract racist and nativist elements at the local level.” The tea parties as a whole will continue to wield their influence on American political and social debates, though the tea parties may begin to splinter as some members move into the more structured Republican Party apparatus and others move towards the more extremist white nationalist organizations. The report does not include local groups not affiliated with one or the other of the national networks, and the ancillary organizations that have worked alongside the tea parties since their inception. The report notes some of these ancillary organizations as Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty (see August 4, 2008), Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the National Precinct Alliance, and the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). The report also notes the existence of the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After), but does not count that as a separate network, and goes on to note that after the 2009 9-12 rally in Washington (see September 12, 2009), many 9-12 groups joined a tea party organization. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Response - Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, responds to the release of the IREHR report by saying: “Here we go again. This is typical of this liberal group’s smear tactics.” Phillips does not cite examples of the report’s “smear tactics.” (Thomas 10/19/2010)
The campaign of presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts, acknowleges the influence of the Koch brothers (see July 3-4, 2010 and August 30, 2010) on Republican politics and the “tea party” movement. According to an internal campaign memo, the Koch brothers, particularly David Koch, are the “financial engine of the tea party” even though Koch “denies being directly involved.” The memo explicates the attempts that Romney and the campaign have taken to secure the support of the Koch brothers, including a January 2011 meeting between Romney and David Koch at an elite club in Manhattan, and an August 28 meeting that was canceled because of Hurricane Irene. David Koch publicly endorsed Romney for president in 2008, and one of Romney’s first major campaign fundraisers for the 2012 race was held at Koch’s mansion in the Hamptons. Political strategists acknowledge the success the Koch brothers have had in getting dozens of far-right candidates elected to Congress in 2010 and creating a network of tea party members who can help Romney secure the 2012 presidential nomination. Strategists have also noted Romney’s lack of support among many tea party members and organizations, and the likelihood that Romney will fail to capture the 2012 Republican presidential nomination without tea party support. “In many national surveys, Romney has had difficulty breaking 25 percent in support and that’s because [tea party] conservatives are suspicious of him and doubt his commitment to their issues,” says the Brookings Institution’s Darrell West. “He’s courting the tea party because he needs them to win.” But that support is far from certain. Judson Phillips, the co-founder of Tea Party Nation, says: “Our vote is split up among so many candidates—none of whom are Romney. Romney’s problem with a lot of tea party voters, myself included, is at this point I don’t know what he believes and I don’t care—because even if he tells me, ‘When I get to the White House I’m going to be fiscally conservative,’ he will probably change his mind, depending on which way the political winds are blowing.” Romney has a reputation as a “flip-flopper” who has changed his mind on a number of key issues, and a closet moderate who once supported abortion rights, the 2008 government bank bailouts, gay rights, and gun control. (Peterson 11/2/2011; Fang 11/3/2011)
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