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NAACP Report Details Tea Party Racism

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This post first appeared on Open Left.

If the past is any guide, there's going to be a wave of protestations, followed by grudging, modest, but real actions to reduce the influence of overt, outspoken racists in the Tea Party movement. That's what happened after the NAACP passed a resolution last July condemning outspoken racist elements in the Tea Party and calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate such  elements.  Now, the NAACP has gone further.  It has just released a report-- "Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions"--documenting racist influences in the Tea Party movement from a variety of angles.   The report was conducted for the NAACP by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, and written by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, Vice President and President, respectively of IREHR. It focuses attention on six national Tea Party organizations--FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, ResistNet Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, and Tea Party Express-each of which is the subject of a separate chapter.  And, as David Neiwert writes at Crooks and Liars:

The heart of the report is the section titled "Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Militia Impulse, which includes some previously overlooked facets of the movement and revealing details:-- James von Brunn, the white supremacist who killed a Holocaust Museum guard last year, posted on Tea Partner Express partner websites.
-- Mark Williams, former chairman of the Tea Party Express, not only wrote racist screeds, he made death threats against President Obama,
-- Billy Joe Roper, a member of the ResistNet Tea Party who also happens to be the founder of the overtly racist White Revolution organization, indulging in "Nazi glamorization" with his eulogy for William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the notorious race-war blueprint.

We also get "profiles of troubling Tea Partiers," including Roan Garcia-Quintana, a South Carolina Tea Party member who the report says belongs to the largest white nationalist group in the country; Karen Pack, another Tea Party member the report says is linked to the Ku Klux Klan; and Clay Douglas, a Tea Party member from Arizona the report says has pushed "militia-style 'New World Order' conspiracies" and "hard core anti-Semitism."

The report also integrates some survey data about Tea Party supporters' attitudes. For example:

  • Tea Partiers are more likely than white people generally to believe that "too much" has been made of the problems facing black people: 52% to 39%,
  • Of those who strongly disapproved of the Tea Party, 55% agreed with the statement that black people were "VERY hard working." Of those who strongly approved of the Tea Party, only 18% agreed with the statement that black people were "VERY hard working."
  • 68% of the Tea party "approvers" believed that if only they would try harder, then black people would be as well off as white people. That number fell by almost half, to 35%, when the "disapprovers" answered it.

One can get a very good feel for scope, content and seriousness of the report from the first few paragraphs of the introduction, which reads as follows:

Tea Party Nationalism is the first report of its kind. It examines the six national organizational networks at the core of the Tea Party movement: FreedomWorks Tea Party, 1776 Tea Party, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, ResistNet, and Tea Party Express. This report documents the corporate structures and leaderships, their finances, and membership concentrations of each faction. It looks at the actual relationships of these factions to each other, including some of the very explicit differences they have with each other. And we begin an analysis of the larger politics that motivate each faction and the Tea Party movement generally.The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Parties' self-invented myths, particularly their supposedly sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes and the power of the federal government.

Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues. In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama's birth certificate 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 Fourteenth Amendment.

Tea Party organizations have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots. Further, hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protestors towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy. One temperature gauge of these events is the fact that longtime national socialist David Duke is hoping to find money and support enough in the Tea Party ranks to launch yet another electoral campaign in the 2012 Republican primaries.The leading figures in one national faction, 1776 Tea Party (the faction more commonly known as TeaParty.org), were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project. Tea Party Nation has provided a gathering place for so-called birthers and has attracted Christian nationalists and nativists. Tea Party Express so outraged the public with the racist pronouncements of its leaders, that other national factions have (recently) eschewed any ties to it. Both ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest networks, harbor long-time anti-immigrant nativists and racists; and Tea Party Patriots has opened its doors to those aiming at repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment and the direct election of United State Senators.

While Tea Partiers and their supporters are concerned about the current economic recession and the increase in government debt and spending it has occasioned, there is no observable statistical link between Tea Party membership and unemployment levels. Readers will note a regression analysis on this question done last January specifically for this report. 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."

Here's a chart showing the lack of connection between unemployment levels and Tea Party membership mentioned above:

The report also calls attention to the substantial overlap between  Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus in the House, the anti-citizenship "House Immigration Reform Caucus" and co-sponsors of a bill to try to repeal birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment:

The link between the Tea Parties, anti-immigrant politics and birthright citizenship shows up in Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. Founded in July 2010, the Tea Party Caucus quickly grew to include fifty-one representatives, all of them Republicans.....Notably, forty-two of the fifty-one are also members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus in Congress-the grouping of the most steadfast opponents to any reform legislation that would include a pathway to citizenship for those without proper papers. In a second count, thirty nine of the Tea Party Caucus members are also co-sponsors of H.R. 1868, the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009. This bill, currently sitting in a House committee, would end birthright citizenship in the United States for the America-born children of parents without papers. It would present a direct constitutional challenge to the Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the Civil War to guarantee the citizenship rights of the newly-freed slaves and their children.

But also well worth noting are remarks by Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, in the forward to the report--the only part the NAACP was directly responsible for.  Reflecting on the response to the NAACP's earlier call for the Tea Party to rid itself of racist elements, Jealous took note of the hostile, even threatening responses of some, but juxtaposed that to other responses as well, indicating a hopeful, if guarded expectation that this sort of measured confrontation with the truth and challenge to take corrective action could produce positive results over time.  Here is part of what he wrote:

This July, delegates to the 101st NAACP National Convention unanimously passed a resolution condemning outspoken racist elements within the Tea Party, and called upon Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use white supremacist language in their signs and speeches, and those Tea Party leaders who would subvert their own movement by spreading racism.The resolution came after a year of high-profile media coverage of racial slurs and images at Tea Party marches around the country. In March, members of the Congressional Black Caucus reported that racial epithets were hurled at them as they passed by a Washington, DC health care protest. Civil rights legend John Lewis was called the "n-word" in the incident while others in the crowd used ugly anti-gay slurs to describe Congressman Barney Frank, a long-time NAACP supporter and the nation's first openly gay member of Congress. Local NAACP members reported similar racially charged incidents at local Tea Party rallies.

At first, the resolution sparked defensive, misleading public responses from the usual corners.

First, Tea Party leaders denied our claims were valid. Then Fox News repeatedly circulated the false claim that we were calling the Tea Party itself racist. Then their commentators and other media personalities said the Tea Party was too loosely configured to police itself. Local NAACP volunteers and staff members around the country were barraged by angry phone calls and death threats.

Yet, amid the threats and denials, something remarkable began to happen: Tea Party leaders began to quietly take steps toward actively policing explicitly racist activity within their ranks. Before the end of July, the Tea Party Federation had expelled Mark Williams, then-president of the powerful and politically connected Tea Party Express for his most recent racially offensive public statements, a move they had previously refused to make. The move was significant for three reasons: 1) it proved wrong those national leaders and news personalities who said the Tea Party was too loosely configured to insist its leaders act responsibly, 2) it sparked a rift among Tea Party leadership between those who are tolerant of racist rhetoric and those who would stand against it, and 3) it showed our resolution was having an impact. Soon after, Montana conservative Tim Ravndal was fired as head of the Big Sky Tea Party Association after local media  published messages posted to his Facebook account that appeared to advocate violence against gays and lesbians.

In the midst of all this, Tea Party leaders moved quickly to take on a communications strategy typical of corporate crisis public relations. A "Uni-Tea" rally to promote Tea Party diversity was hastily organized, while FreedomWorks launched a "Diverse Tea" web initiative to spotlight pictures of nonwhite Tea Partiers. There was a Tea Party leadership "race summit" facilitated by Geraldo Rivera....

These are welcome first steps. They promote diversity and acknowledge the inherent perception problem that plagues the Tea Party....

This report, from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, serves as a cautionary reminder that Mark Williams is not unique within Tea Party leadership circles and that ties between Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist groups endure.

Jealous may be a bit overly optimistic in the short run, I'm afraid.  But the NAACP has been around a whole lot longer than Tea Party.  And odds are it will be around a whole lot longer into the future as well.

This is not a battle to be run away from, to be minimized or ignored.  This is a battle to be joined---and to be won.  It is a battle that we have won before, and a battle we shall win again.

It is a battle for the soul of America.  And we are America.

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