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Powder Keg? Glenn Beck Groupies, Oath Keepers and Tea Partiers to Collide with Black Family Reunion

What will happen when thousands of Tea Partiers likely toting offensive signs come into contact with attendees of the annual Black Family Reunion?
 
 
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What do you get when you mix thousands of tea partiers with tens of thousands of black families on the National Mall? We'll find out on September 11.

While the planning wasn't intentional, tea partiers and Glenn Beck groupies will get a chance to really make good on their protestations that their ranks aren't polluted by racists. That's because conservative activists, some affiliated with Beck's 912 Project, have organized a big march and rally on the Mall on the very same day, and in virtually the same place, as the National Black Family Reunion. Started 25 years ago by civil rights icon Dorothy Height, the reunion was created to showcase the strengths of the black family. In the past, it has drawn as many as 250,000 people over two or three days. This year, the event will be a one-day "mega-fest" on the Mall between 7th and 14th Streets NW.

Blocks from where Al Sharpton will be leading the prayer breakfast kicking off the reunion, Unite in Action (an umbrella group for some 40 tea party, 912, and other "patriot" organizations) plans to occupy the Mall between 3rd and 4th Streets NW. From there, activists will march down Constitution Avenue to the Washington Monument, essentially sandwiching the Black Family Reunion. Given tea partiers' propensity to show up at rallies with offensive anti-Obama signage, the set-up has all the makings of a powder keg.

In DC last month, Glenn Beck's followers mixed fairly peacefully with civil rights marchers, who had come to counter-protest what they saw as Beck's attempt to co-opt the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." But Beck's event was far tamer than the UIA rally promises to be. (Whereas organizers of the Beck rally banned signs, activists are throwing a sign-making party the night before the UIA march.)

Also potentially inflammatory will be the presence of the Oath Keepers, a rally co-sponsor. Dubbed the new face of the militia movement, the group -- whose members tend to view Obama as an enemy of the state -- is focused on recruiting current and former military members to pledge to disobey orders they find unconstitutional. The group's prominent members include "Sheriff" Richard Mack, a militia hero who co-authored a book with the white supremacist Randy Weaver. Addressing another gathering of "patriots" in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, recently, Mack told the crowd, "My dear friends, I pray for the day that the first sheriff in this country [is] the one to fire the shot heard 'round the world and take out some IRS agents!" "March on DC" organizers were briefly touting Mack as a potential speaker at the march, but he appears to have been supplanted by Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers' founder.

In late August, when I first spoke to Shiba Freeman Haley, the event producer for the National Council of Negro Women, which sponsors the Black Family Reunion, she had only just learned about the tea partiers' plans from DC officials. She wasn't concerned initially, because the officials told her that the tea partiers had yet to secure permits to march on the Mall. But when I informed her the event seemed to be going forward, she expressed fears about the potential for conflict -- especially, she noted, because this won't be the first time that reunion attendees have had to share federal space with sign-wielding tea partiers and "patriots."

Last September, tea partiers marched right through their reunion, Haley says, adding that she had no advance warning that the tea partiers would be there. "Some of their signage could have [incited] our people." As it was, she says, "Everybody was really cool. They may not be this year."

 
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