How the Tea Party Gave New Life and a Path to Power for Xenophobic Ultra-Right Extremists
In May 2009, I profiled a nutty 71-year-old border vigilante named Glenn Spencer, who had converted his ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border into a hi-tech militarized security zone packed with infrared cameras, aerial drones and motion detectors. His goal was to demonstrate to the feds how easy it was to stop illegal border-crossers, and he blew through his life savings to prove it. But Spencer’s reputation as a white supremacist and nativist meant no one heard his message in Washington; CNN’s Lou Dobbs was about the only mainstream media figure who took him seriously.
When I left his ranch back in 2009, I was sure that Spencer had reached the end of his line. His project had failed; Obama was heralding in a liberal future; the old geezer had nothing else waiting in the wings and nothing to look forward to, except spending his retirement in an isolated double-wide trailer.
So it was surprising to learn that Spencer was a big player in the Tea Party scene. Suddenly, no one in Arizona cared about his past associations with white supremacists. Instead, they were very keen on hearing his anti-immigration solutions. All of a sudden Spencer found himself hanging out with Arizona state senators, hosting GOP political events, speaking at rallies and rubbing shoulders with the creme de la creme of Arizona’s Tea Party beau monde. He was not only back in the game, he’s bigger than ever.
Yes, sir, Glenn Spencer got a new lease on life. And he owes it all to the good graces of those two enterprising brothers who founded and funded the Tea Party that rescued Spencer from doom: GOP kingpins Charles and David Koch. Thanks to their funding of the Tea Party movement, scores of washed-up white power activists like Spencer were brought back from the dead and reincarnated as proud patriots dedicated to defending the Holy Trinity of the American Republic: Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and the Free Markets.
A surprisingly thorough—and curiously ignored—investigation by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, found that a good chunk of the Tea Party movement’s High Command is made up of former leaders and active members of various border vigilante groups. For some reason the Minutemen, a loose collection of groups infamous for running armed patrols and bagging illegal crossers at the Mexican border, were present in particularly large numbers. Not only did the two leaders of the Minutemen Project segue directly into the Tea Party Movement via the TeaParty.org Web site, but the event organizer for the Tea Party Express—that’s the one that did those bus tours with Sarah Palin—worked as a former spokesperson for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
A member of that group was recently sentenced to death for the murder of a 9-year-old girl. With at least another dozen examples like these, one thing’s clear: border vigilantes didn’t just join up with the Tea Party movement. In many cases, they are the Tea Party movement. And that includes Glenn Spencer.
Journalist David Holthouse, writing in Media Matters, described Spencer’s new life at the center of Arizona’s ultra-racist Tea Party GOP:
Last August, more than 600 right-wing activists gathered for a Tea Party Nation rally on private land near the U.S.-Mexico border in Cochise County, Arizona. Fluttering in the desert breeze were hundreds of tiny American flags attached to a border fence of 15-foot-tall rusty poles.
Rally speakers included Tea Party candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives, as well as marquee names from Arizona’s anti-immigration movement. The headliner was Fox News favorite Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the swaggering lawman whose ski-maskeddeputies terrorize suspected “illegals” in controversial round-ups, and whose idea of a good photo op is the forced march of shackled Latino immigrants down a city street.