Introduction

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Introduction

10.19.2010
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.

{jb_quoteright}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) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy. {/jb_quoteright}One temperature gauge of these events is the fact that longtime national socialist David Duke is hoping to find enough money and support 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 increased government debt 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.”

The Tea Party movement as a whole is a multi-million dollar complex that includes for-profit corporations, non-party non-profit organizations, and political action committees. Collectively they have erased the advantage that Democrats once enjoyed in the arena of internet fundraising and web-based mobilization. They 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.

A quick look at the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), reveals a significant level of overlap with the enforcement-only House Immigration Reform Caucus led by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA). More, a number of these caucus members are also sponsors of a bill sitting in committee that would end birthright citizenship, H.R. 1868.

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.

The oft-repeated Tea Party call to “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.

The Tea Party phenomenon exists at about three levels of agreement and commitment. Several national opinion polls point to support for the Tea Parties running at approximately 16% to 18% of the adult population, which would put the number of sympathizers in the tens of millions. That would be the outermost ring of support. At the next level is a larger less defined group of a couple of million activists who go to meetings, buy the literature and attend the many local and national protests. At the core is the more 250,000 members in all fifty states who have signed up on the websites of the six national organizational networks that form the core of this movement. Tea Party Nationalism focuses on this core of the movement.

It would be a mistake to claim that all Tea Partiers are nativist vigilantes or racists of one stripe or another, and this report manifestly does not make that claim. As this report highlights, all of the national Tea Party factions have had problems in these areas. However, of the national factions, only FreedomWorks Tea Party, headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area, has made an explicit attempt to narrow the focus of the movement as a whole to fiscal issues--an effort that has largely failed, as this report documents.

Nevertheless, the impact of President Barack Obama’s election, and the fact that the First Family of the United States has ancestors who were once the property of white people, has had an effect. It is not direct and mechanical, like a cue ball hitting the nine ball into the corner pocket. But it is identifiable nonetheless. Consider, for example, the incessant depiction of President Obama as a non-American. This theme began among those who regard him as a non-native born American who should not rightly (constitutionally) hold the presidency. 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.

A look at the graph counting Tea Party numbers over time shows that the organizations are continuing to grow. The different factions are not all growing at the same rate, however. The Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet, the two national factions with the most diffuse, locally-based organizational structures, are experiencing the fastest rate of growth. 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. Simply put, the Tea Parties are not going away after the mid-term elections, and they can be expected to have a continuing impact on public policy debate into the future. It should not be expected, however, for the Tea Party movement to have the same organizational configurations for the indefinite future. At a minimum, some sorting out process is likely to occur--including a major segment of Tea partiers who move in to the Republican Party apparatus, while others shift closer to the white nationalist movement.

The contemporary white nationalist movement was created in the 1990s, as a realignment of forces brought the Klan-national socialist dominated white supremacist movement together with elements formerly associated with Buchanan-style conservatism. This type of nationalism is akin to the ethnic nationalism of the post-Soviet era in Yugoslavia, and differs significantly from the post-World War Two anti-colonial national liberation movements in southern Africa and elsewhere.

In this instance, "scientific" racists, America first isolationists, anti-immigrant nativists seeking to maintain a white demographic majority, neo-Confederates, and a strain of so-called paleo-conservatives melded with Holocaust deniers, Posse Comitatus-style militia groups, Aryanists, white power skinheads, and white citizen council-types to create a single if not seamless white nationalist movement. These are all self-conscious racist ideologues, as opposed to those who exhibit unconscious racist attitudes. While this movement's goals are often divided between those who want to carve a whites-only republic out of the United States and those who work for a return to the pre-Brown decision, pre-civil right legislation era, one and all seek the establishment of total and unquestioned white domination. Toward these ends, the 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 discussed in this report, who seek to influence and recruit among the Tea Partiers.

Similarly, it is the more mainstream-oriented militias that most interact with Tea Party organizations. Militias are organizations of men and women with weapons, who create a command structure based on rank, and often engage in paramilitary training with the presumption that they

will fight an enemy to be named later. For justification, they search in the Second Amendment, as well as in the ideas of the 1980s-era Posse Comitatus. That Posse Comitatus based itself on the arcane doctrine of a "sovereign" form of citizenship for white Christians, with rights and responsibilities that are presumed to be superior to that of those who they call Fourteenth Amendment citizens--all non-Christians and people of color. The Posse's form of "state" citizenship predates the "national" citizenship of the Fourteenth Amendment, and it is this state citizenship, coupled with the Second Amendment, that creates their justification for militias. Otherwise these groups might otherwise be regarded simply as private armies. As noted in this report, there are several militias that regard themselves as Tea Party organizations.

A word about Tea Party nationalism qua nationalism. Despite the fact that Tea Partiers sometimes dress in the costumes of 18th century Americans, wave the Gadsden flag and claim that the United States Constitution should be the divining rod of all legislative policies, theirs 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 "common welfare" of the constitution's preamble does not complicate their ideas about individual liberty. This form of nationalism harkens back to the America first ideology of Father Coughlin. 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.

In this report, please note the maps. Each traces the geographic location of the members, the relative size of each one of the locations, and provides a stunningly graphic overview of the size and scope of the Tea Party organizations.

This provides the most accurate assessment to date of where each of the faction's strength lies, and when combined with other data not included in this report could help future analysts gather information about the Tea Parties' potential electoral impact.

All of the local groups that are not affiliated with one national network or the other are outside the scope of this report. They await further examination and analysis in the future. Similarly beyond the reach of this report are the many ancillary organizations that have contributed to

the movement since its inception, including: Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity, National Precinct Alliance and the John Birch Society. Also not included in this report was an analysis of the various national 9-12 groups. The 9-12 formations lack the same sort of

national structure present in the Tea Party movement. The national 9-12 formations are important peripheral forces, but as organizational actors they do not appear to play a notable role in the internal movement infrastructure. Moreover, much of the 9-12 group momentum was co-opted by the Tea Party movement. Following the 9-12 rally in 2009 in Washington, D.C., many local 9-12 Project groups hitched up with one or more of the national Tea Party factions.

A note about the methodology and techniques used to gather the data for this report.[1] During the past twelve months, we’ve employed a variety of investigative reporting techniques to study the Tea Parties to keep up with the expanding and ever-changing dynamic of the movement.

The authors of this report read through the Tea Party literature—from movement produced books like The Official Tea Party Handbook and Taking America Back One Tea Party at a Time, to electronic publications including emails, electronic newsletters, articles, blog posts, and tweets written by Tea Partiers. We also watched many hours of online video of Tea Partier and Tea Party events. For firsthand accounts, IREHR staff and volunteers attended Tea Party rallies, conventions, and meetings from Washington DC to Washington State. We also talked with numerous Tea Party activists.

To follow the money, the authors dug through government documents and databases, including corporate filings, IRS forms, court cases, campaign finance reports, and unemployment statistics. We utilized computer-assisted reporting to collect additional data and help make sense of it all.

The authors of this report also did a thorough scan of secondary sources, including the exceptional reporting that has already been done on the Tea Parties. We also analyzed the considerable amount of polling that’s been done on the Tea Parties.

It was IREHR's goal to provide new data and analysis and to add something of use and value to the growing literature on the Tea Party movement. Upon reflection, we think the following pages do just that.

Last modified on 09.09.2011
Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Devin Burghart is IREHR vice president.

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