Tea Parties - Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Militia Impulse

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Tea Parties - Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Militia Impulse

19 October 2010
This section of the Special Report compiles opinion polling data, documents significant examples of racist vitriol on the part of Tea Party leaders, shows incidents where well-known anti-Semites and white supremacists have been given a platform by Tea Partiers, and analyzes the attempt by white nationalist organizations to find new recruits in Tea Party ranks.

Tea Party leaders have bristled at any mention of the racism, Christian nationalism and white supremacy that is a part of their movement. In several notable instances, people of color have been prominently put forward as speakers or entertainers at Tea Party rallies, as if to say: look, this is a racially diverse movement that wants to add more color to its ranks. Prominent among these few individuals has been Lloyd Marcus, previously mentioned in this report as a paid consultant of Tea Party Express.

Nevertheless, Confederate battle flags, signs that read “America is a Christian nation,” and racist caricatures of President Obama have been an undeniable presence at Tea Party events in both local communities and in Washington, D.C. The venom (and spittle) directed at African-American Congressmen during the health care debate carried an unmistakably racist message. It is not the contention of this report that all Tea Partiers are consciously racist. The evidence presented, however, speaks for itself.

Providing a Platform to Bigots

Tea Party leaders have promoted and provided a platform to known racists and anti-Semites on multiple occasions. Dale Robertson, the chairman of the 1776 who displayed the infamous “n****r sign,” for example, brought Martin “Red” Beckman on as a guest to the Tea Party Radio hour that he co-hosts with Washington state talk show host Dr. Laurie Roth.   Beckman has been known for over twenty-five years for his anti-Semitic writings and his defense of militias. In 1994, Beckman was evicted from his property in Montana by the IRS for refusing to pay taxes. He now resides in southwestern Washington State.[199]

While introducing Beckman, Robertson said, “Red’s a great guy. He’s been actually leading this fight long before I probably was even born. Red has written many books, one is Walls in Our Minds, another is Why the Militia. And so you’ll find that he agrees with you Laurie wholeheartedly that owning a gun is a constitutional right. And he is an authority on the Constitution and what the government has done to undermine our authority as citizens. It’s a pleasure to have him on board.”[200]

At the end of this program, Beckman promoted his book and noted that “Dale is talking about putting it on his website and I have no quarrel with that.”[201] Robertson added, “I’ve read his books, and they are a must read. Once you read them you’ll realize that we’ve definitely been deceived by our government and we need to do everything in our powers to take our nation back.”[202]

In a separate incident, Robertson endorsed Pastor John Weaver on the 1776 Tea Party Meet Up website. According to Robertson, “John Weaver is a very knowledgeable Christian leader who presents scriptural basis for Constitutional Rights. The Church has not exercised these rights and consequently is in decline. The Constitution is founded on the principal of God and a moral people, without either then the Church and the people of this land will fall victim to an oppressive government.”[203] Robertson also used this Meetup site to advertise an August 29, 2009 “family retreat” with Pastor Weaver in Magnolia, Texas.[204] The site also indicates that Robertson attended that retreat.

Weaver, of Fitzgerald, Georgia, has a sprawling set of connections to neo-Confederates and those preaching the so-called Christian Identity doctrine. He is the former Chaplain in Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.[205] He has spoken at “Christian Identity” gatherings in Branson, Missouri in 1998 and 1999.[206] According to this particular theology, Jews are considered a satanic force (or the incarnation of Satan himself), and people of color are considered less than fully human. By contrast, the white people of northern Europe are considered racial descendants of the Biblical tribes of Israel, and the United States of America is considered their “promised land;” a theory descended from a theology known as British-Israelism. Although Weaver describes his particular outlook as a variant of “Dominionism,” his essay, “The Sovereignty of God and Civil Government” was listed in a book catalogue published by the British-Israel World Federation. As such, this would place Weaver just one step to the right of the most radical forms of Christian fundamentalism.[207]

The list of out-front anti-Semites on Tea Party platforms includes an event in July 2009. One thousand people gathered in Upper Senate Park for a rally in D.C. A full line-up of speakers included representatives from several tax reform groups, FreedomWorks, and talk show hosts. Also on the platform that day was the band Poker Face, playing music, providing technical back up, and receiving nothing but plaudits from the crowd.[208] The band, from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, already had a reputation for anti-Semitism. Lead singer Paul Topete was on the public record calling the Holocaust a hoax, and writing and performing for American Free Press--a periodical published by Willis Carto, the godfather of Holocaust denial in the United States. According to Topete, “The Rothschilds set up the Illuminati in 1776 to subvert the Christian basis of civilization.”[209] Because of their bigotry, the band had been kicked off venues at Rutgers University in 2006 and a Ron Paul campaign event in 2007.[210] But they made it to the stage of the Tea Party without any questions asked.

More insidiously, it is common for rank and file activists to use anti-Semitic rhetoric in their web postings. For example, one Hutchinson, Kansas woman, using the name “salthawkmom,” recently wrote a message on a Tea Party website reading: “An international cult, called the Order of the Illuminati-Cabalistic bankers and Freemasons control WORLD finances, their goal is to degrade and enslave humanity.”[211] The “Illuminati - Cabalistic” language is widespread among followers of the John Birch Society and more radical Christian patriot-types active in Tea Parties in the Midwest and South.

In another instance, in April 2009, the San Mateo, California Republican Party chairman was moved to comment on an anti-Semitic graphic used to advertise a Tea Party event, “we strongly condemn the use of anti-Semitic imagery in the promotion of a recent event.”[212]

Signs claiming that “This is a Christian nation” have been part of many Tea Party protests, and they were in particular abundance in September 2009 during the large demonstration in Washington D.C. This should not come as a surprise, since organizations usually associated with the so-called Christian right have been a part of this movement since the beginning. The American Family Association, for example, signed up more than 1,500 organizers to lead protests in their home towns during July 2009.[213]

Founded by the Rev. Don Wildmon in Tupelo, Mississippi, this organization was initially known as the National Federation for Decency. It organized boycotts of the sponsors of television shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” and “Roseanne,” in opposition to the supposed “anti-Christian” character of these programs. It sponsored a boycott of Disney because of its “attack on American families.” And it has otherwise attempted to make its narrow vision of Christianity the law of the land.[214]

Members of this organization continued to participate and lead Tea Party events into 2010. Notably, the president of American Family Association of Kentucky, Inc., Frank Simon, became a director of Tea Party of Kentucky, Inc., and ensured that Louisville Tea Party events had an anti-gay cast to them, according to local reports.[215]

Enter White Nationalists

Soon after the first set of April 15, 2009 events, Tea Party protests attracted members of white nationalist organizations and networks. As a movement, white nationalism has projected two slightly different visions of white supremacy. One goal is a United States of America in which white and black and other people of color are all resident, but white domination is complete and un-complicated by civil rights laws and voting rights for people of color. An alternative white nationalist vision is a whites-only republic carved out of the remains of a collapsed and dissected United States of America. Hard core white nationalists use terms such as “racial realist” and “self-conscious whites” to distinguish themselves from the majority of white people in this country, including those that simply exhibit racist or prejudiced opinions.

In preparation for Tea Party protests held on July 4, 2009, national socialists and other white supremacists created a discussion thread on Stormfront.org, the largest and most widely accessed of the many white nationalist websites.[216] While highlighting the distinction between themselves and the majority of Tea Partiers who were not self-conscious about their own racism, one person argued, “We need a relevant transitional envelop-pushing flyer for the masses. Take these Tea Party Americans by the hand and help them go from crawling to standing independently and then walking towards racialism.”[217]

Some of the posts in this thread had an almost cartoonish aspect, with elaborately construed pseudonyms and accompanying graphics--a number of which included pictures of William Pierce, the now deceased founder of the National Alliance best known as author of The Turner Diaries, a race war novel. Nevertheless, the Stormfront discussion board aimed at a highly conscious intervention. One group decided against wearing any gear with swastikas or other symbols of their actual core ideologies. They would carry Confederate battle flags and other more generic symbols of white protest. And they planned to hand out a leaflet with a relatively muted political message. Others had slightly different ideas. Several people said they would bring a variety of pieces of propaganda, with the intensity of racism apparent on a sliding scale. They would gauge the individual Tea Partier that they were talking with and hand them customized material accordingly.

In contradistinction, another messenger argued that there was no need to hide their core politics. “I distributed WN [white nationalist] literature at the last Tea Party in Phoenix,” they wrote. “I will be doing it again in July. This is the time and place. For those on a budget, I would suggest printing business cards with the web address of your group or organization. Keep it simple.”[218]

In this Stormfront discussion, a segment of white nationalists usually associated with the most outrageous neo-Nazi behavior acknowledged a shift towards a set of tactics more commonly employed by the Council of Conservatives Citizens (CofCC).

The Council of Conservative Citizens, headquartered in St. Louis, with its strongest chapters in the South and Mid-South, is the largest white nationalist organization in the country and the group most active in the Tea Parties. A direct lineal descendant of the white Citizens Councils that fought to defend Jim Crow segregation during the 1950s and 1960s, the Council of Conservative Citizens promotes the idea that the United States is or should be a white Christian nation; and that Barack Obama and black people generally oppress white people. The Council does not itself advance the same kind of bald anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that motivate national socialists like those at Stormfront.org, although there are hard-core anti-Semites throughout its ranks and leadership.

In a sign that the Council’s low key intervention in the Tea Parties was holding sway within the white nationalist universe, one Stormfronter wrote, “I think the CofCC approach of representing whites without being able to be portrayed as racist boot wearing Nazis is the best approach. As a non-CofCC member, I believe they have one of the most effective approaches.”

Through its periodical tabloid, Citizens Informer, and its website, www.cofcc.org, the Council of Conservative Citizens both led and promoted Tea Party protests. In Mississippi, the organization advertised a “Mississippi Tea Party” at Flowood City Hall on March 9, 2010; a “Mississippi for Liberty March” at the state capitol on April 17; and the Upper East Mississippi chapter sponsored a Halloween Tea Party at the Tippah County Courthouse, in Ripley on October 31, 2009.[219]

In Florida, the Florida West Coast chapter distributed three boxes of tabloids as well as an unknown number of membership applications at a Sept. 12, 2009 Tea Party in Crystal River attended by about 1,500. Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) spoke at that event. At a Citrus County Tea Party attended by 4,500 people on January 16, 2010, the same chapter “worked [the] crowd,” and passed out two boxes of its tabloid and 250 Council business cards.[220]

Despite these and other similar actions, the Council of Conservative Citizens remained ambivalent about the Tea Parties ultimate goals. On the positive side, one of the organization’s leaders wrote, “the fact that hundreds of thousands of white people got up the nerve to oppose the government [was] astonishing.” On the other hand, he noted, the “negative tendency that plagues Tea Party activism...to deny the racial dynamic empowering the movement.” He concluded that, “The future of this revolution, if that is what it is, depends on white zealots.”[221] Little talk of taxes and budget deficits intruded into this analysis.

One of the most zealous white nationalists visible in Tea party circles has been Billy Joe Roper, Jr. A former Russellville, Arkansas high school teacher, Roper was an enrolled member of the ResistNet Tea Party. He is also running a write-in campaign for Arkansas Governor.

Roper’s views are unabashed. A one-time leader of the National Alliance, an organization dedicated to the creation of an all-white country and the requisite expulsion and/or murder of Jews and people of color, he continues to idolize its founder, William Pierce. Pierce authored The Turner Diaries, a race-war terror novel carried around by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Roper became the group’s deputy membership director in 2000 and worked out of its headquarters in West Virginia. When Pierce died in 2002, Roper issued a statement saying, “I promised him [Pierce] that I would do my best to spend the rest of my life making sure that one hundred and one thousand years from now, White children are taught his name right along with George Washington’s and Adolph Hitler’s, as one of the great men of our race.”[222]

Roper’s sentiments did not change, but he went home to Arkansas and founded his own organization, White Revolution. One of White Revolution’s rallies was held in Topeka, Kansas in May 2004, to protest the anniversary of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed Jim Crow segregation in education. At that protest, which included Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, Roper carried a sign that read: “Not Separate, Still Not Equal.”

Roper remains the leader of White Revolution even as he uses his governor’s race as a bid for more support. According to a “Campaign Trail Report” posted by Roper, he met with Tea Partiers in Baxter County over one weekend in May. In Mountain View he was introduced to a crowd at a folk music concert “as the candidate of choice for patriotic Arkansans with traditional conservative values.”[223] At a July 4, 2009 Tea Party event in Russellville, Roper’s crew held signs opposing “illegal immigration,” handed out leaflets stating general principles and then came back after the Tea Party disbanded to have a protest of their own. Roper’s ResistNet member page was the site of a continuing discussion he has with other members of the Tea Party group.[224] But the reception that he has had from the Tea Partiers has been ambiguous. In some instances he has been shunned, in others he finds what he is looking for--a few young people to recruit to his cause.

After a Kansas City Star report on Roper’s Tea Party efforts, and a Little Rock television news report, Tea Partiers in the region denied that they even knew him.[225] ResistNet pulled down Roper’s website, and Roper lost his ability to use the Tea Parties as a launch pad for his electoral campaign. He did not abandon, however, his write-in efforts nor did he stop describing his efforts to win votes from Tea Party supporters.

David Duke’s embrace of the Tea Parties reveals less about the Tea Parties than it serves as a reminder of the former Klansmen’s never-ending opportunism. He used the Internet to broadcast a ten minute video speech, “Message to the Tea Party.” Duke began the “message” by paying homage to the Tea Parties and the “Founding Fathers,” and ended with his usual roundhouse attack on “the Zionists” (meaning Jews). Over the decades Duke has switched organizational allegiances as new openings emerged for him, but he never abandoned his core national socialist ideology.

Most recently, Duke had spent time flitting across the globe: In France, Duke had his picture taken with Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant Front National. In Russia, he turned a 1995 meeting with Zhironovsky into a spot at a 2002 “anti-Zionist” conference in Moscow. In November of that year, he spoke at a meeting in Bahrain. He reappeared in Iran in 2006 for a Holocaust denial conference where he thanked President Ahmadinejad for his “courage” and “foresight.” And in 2009, the once and future Republican, David Duke, was unceremoniously expelled from the Czech Republic (although the charges were later dropped.)

Duke’s announcement that he will use a year-long speaking tour to gauge potential support for another campaign in the Republican presidential primaries (in 2012) should not be understood as anything more than a declaration of his perennial search for contributions from new followers. He is quite unlikely to repeat anything near the successes he has had in the past, when he won a majority of white voters in two statewide Louisiana elections. It is, however, one more sign that hard-core white nationalists regard the Tea Party movement as a reservoir of racists, and as potential supporters of a more ideologically defined white nationalism.

The actions of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the Stormfront.org posters and other white nationalists need be understood, in aggregate, as one measure, among many, of the Tea party movement’s political characteristics. Together they point to a truth many Tea Party leaders will not want to acknowledge.

Richard Mack and Militia

Local groups affiliated with Tea Party Patriots that described themselves as militias included the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, the Billy Hill Militia in Oklahoma, and the now-defunct North Coast Militia.[226] Other Tea Party Patriot-affiliated groups actively promoted militia formation. The Pocatello Tea Party, for example, promoted the “Ten Reasons Why We Need a State Militia.” Among the reasons given, “Cultural subversion, corruption, and dissolution,” (including “Pluralism” and “multiculturalism”), “invasion by illegal immigrants,” “Schemes aimed at overthrowing the Declaration of Independence,” and “a staggering burden of governmental financial liabilities.”[227] In Springfield, Missouri the 9-12 Tea Party group advised followers to join the SW Missouri militia.

Other signs of the militia impulse include the omnipresence of Richard Mack at Tea Party-related events--not just those of the Tea Party Patriots mentioned earlier.

A former Graham County, Arizona sheriff (1987-1997), Mack first became prominent in 1995, after he sued the federal government over enforcement of the Brady Bill. During the mid-1990s, he became a popular speaker on the militia circuit. Indeed, he spent so much time outside his own county, that he was defeated in a primary election in 1996 and lost his office. Mack wrote, or co-authored, two books during that period, arguing militia-style that, “proponents of the New World Order are entrenched and moving forward aggressively with their plan.” In Mack’s view, Satan is acting through conspiracies every day. And like other Christian nationalists, he wrote, “The court-imposed separation of church and state is a folly, a myth, a lie.” Further, in language reminiscent of segregationists in the 1950s and former Tea Party Express boss Mark Williams when he wrote about the NAACP: “The Reverend Jesse Jackson types and the NAACP have done more to enslave Afro-Americans than all the southern plantation owners put together.”[228]

In the current period as a member of Oath Keepers, Mack presents himself as a defender of the constitution, in terms similar to that he used in 1990s, and the supremacy of the county sheriff over all other law enforcement agencies. He is not talking at these Tea Party events about fiscal policy, taxes and the national debt. He is talking about “states’ rights.” Yet, he is one of the most popular speakers on the Tea Party circuit.

A coalition of Tea Party groups in four California towns, calling themselves the North Valley Patriots, sponsored an engagement with Mack in January 2010; he returned on July 10.[229] The Silver City-Grant County Tea Party Patriots sponsored Mack’s appearance in Silver City, New Mexico on March 1, 2010.[230] In Tyler, Texas on May 29, he spoke at event organized by the Tyler Tea Party and the East Texas Constitutional Alliance.[231] Among other Tea Party-related events this summer, Mack also visited Sarasota, Florida.[232]

Bigotry and the health care reform vote

Health care reform legislation had been a flashpoint for Tea Party protests, beginning with a concerted effort to shout down Congressional Democrats at their “town hall” meetings during August 2009. The following November, at a Tea Party protest aimed at health care legislation, ten people were arrested for unlawful entry when they tried to force their way into the offices of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. As the bill moved closer to passage in March 2010, strident voices called for violence. One 1990s-era militiaman from Alabama, Mike Vanderboegh, urged whoever was reading his blog to break the windows of Democrats. “Break them NOW...Break them with rocks...”[233] In the aftermath of this call, the office windows of several members of the House of Representatives were shattered with bricks. In Washington State, a man charged with making repeated death threats to Senator Patty Murray, had attended at least one Tea Party event that April 1, although he did not describe himself as a Tea Partier.[234]

On March 20, 2010 a Tea Party protest grew ugly as a small group of congressmen walked through them to the Capitol to vote on health care reform. Chants of “Kill the Bill” turned to racist slurs and name calling. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was called a “faggot.” Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) was called a “n...er,” and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D. Mo.) was spit upon. Cleaver described the name calling as a “chorus.”[235] The meanness and racism of that particular event was compounded later by Tea Party leaders and others who claimed no such racist and bigoted name calling occurred. Among those denying the obvious was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who has since founded the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.

Response to NAACP resolution

During the NAACP’s national convention during July 2010, the organization’s plenary body passed a resolution that called upon all people of good will to repudiate any racism that manifested itself in Tea Party ranks. While the resolution noted the differences in opinions about racial justice issues between the general population and Tea Partiers, it did not attempt to categorize all Tea Partiers as consciously racist.

The resolution was met immediately with anonymous death threats directed at the NAACP generally and to units around the country, and a barrage of verbal abuse sent to the NAACP's website. The reaction by the various Tea Parties to this resolution provided a useful window on the way that the various Tea Parties respond to challenges of any kind. In a number of instances the resolution was misunderstood, perhaps deliberately so, as a broad-brush “attack” on all Tea Partiers. In many instances, the response was to deny that any racists were within Tea Party ranks. Several claimed that the NAACP was itself racist, or that the term “racism” had lost all real meaning.

For his part, Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams used the opportunity to post one more obnoxious and racist statement on his blog. It should be noted that Williams already had a history of remarks such as his claim that President Obama was an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.” His so-called satire, written after the NAACP resolution, belittling black people generally and the NAACP in particular, was not a new departure. Nevertheless, as noted elsewhere in this report, his “satire” eventually resulted in his removal from the Tea Party Express leadership. Nevertheless, a later comment by Amy Kremer muddied the situation: “...Mark Williams may speak on behalf of us in some circumstances and in some situations...”[236]

Tea Party Nation, by contrast, issued a statement that read: “The Tea Party Movement is not racist. Tea Party Nation and many other groups have repudiated racism and racists.”[237] Although it also described Mark Williams’ remarks as a “a controversial blog that many took to be racist,” it left unanswered the question as to whether or not Tea Party Nation leaders believed that Williams’ comment were, in fact, racist. Perhaps the hesitancy to describe the Tea Party Express’ leaders remarks in a straight forward manner stemmed from the fact that the two organizations had been intertwined as recently as the previous May, when Tea Party Nation issued the following statement: “The folks over at Tea Party Express are our friends. They were kind enough to invite Tea Party Nation to join them at the huge event in Searchlight, NV and we believe their hearts are in the right place, just not their strategy.”[238]

Tea Party Patriots’ spokesperson Jenny Beth Martin promptly issued a statement that declared, “A few offensive posters or obnoxious remarks of one person DO NOT represent the feelings or behavior of the Tea Party movement.” In fact, Martin herself is not one of the birthers that populate so much of the Tea Party Patriots ranks. Nevertheless, when her statement argued that the “NAACP has a long history of racism,” she joined the ranks of those that count as inherently racist any advocacy on behalf of people of color. And her claim that, “all these attacks,” apparently meaning the NAACP resolution, “are untrue,” simply denied obvious facts long in evidence.[239]

The St. Louis Tea Party passed a resolution which included language that: “The very term ‘racist’ has diminished meaning due to its overuse by political partisans including members of the NAACP.”[240]

Taking much the same tack as the St. Louis Tea Party, the Council of Conservative Citizens, responded to the controversy by republishing parts of an essay by James Edwards entitled, “Racism, Schmacism.” Edwards, an AM radio talk show host from the Memphis area, has been a denizen of the white nationalist movement, frequently providing a platform for David Duke and others. Edwards claimed that the term “racist” simply “means white person.” Specifically to the charge of racism, he wrote, that Tea Partiers should respond, “‘So what?’ or ‘Of Course we’re racists - we’re white people.’”[241] Here, Edwards and the Council of Conservative Citizens were re-articulating the entire white nationalist approach inside the Tea Parties: to push this budding movement ever further toward a self-conscious white racism.

On July 14, The Tea Party Federation, of which Mark Williams and Tea Party Express had been members, issued an immediate rebuff to the NAACP resolution. “The Tea Party Federation (NTPF) today flatly rejected the NAACP’s unfounded accusations that condemn ‘racist elements’ in the tea party movement.”[242] Just three days later, after the Tea Party Express had refused to expel Mark Williams from its leadership, the Tea Party Federation issued a second statement. This one expelled Tea Party Express from its membership.[243] Notably, this second statement did not reference the NAACP resolution, or mention the word “racism.” Nor did it mention the fact that the July 14 statement was wrong-headed. Nevertheless, the Tea Party Federation took the appropriate corrective action.

Black conservatives active in the Tea Parties staged their own rejoinder to the NAACP resolution, at an August 4, 2010 rally in D.C. sponsored by Tea Party Express. Most of the speakers at this event were conservatives who were black and had long-standing ties to either the Republican Party or the conservative movement or both. In any case, attacking the NAACP was nothing new to these speakers. The event, however, signaled that two seemingly contradictory things (at least) were happening at once: For some Tea Partiers race was less important than ideology. At the same time--as amply documented in this report--race and religion are powerful determinants of national identity for many Tea Partiers, marking the border between “self” and “other.”

Despite this obvious pattern, Tea Party leaders insist that their movement is not infested with racists or racist beliefs. Add opinion poll data to the evidence that a problem with racism and racial issues exists in Tea Party ranks.

Opinion Poll Data

Both polling data and observable evidence point to the fact that Tea Party attendees and their supporters are mostly white. Significantly, these white Tea Partiers show noticeably different attitudes than those of white people generally, particularly in regards to racially charged issues. 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%.[244]

A striking difference over positive attitudes towards black people showed up in a multi-state poll, conducted in March 2010, by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality. 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.” This 24-point difference pointed at Tea Party supporters as more likely to have negative feelings about the work ethic of black people. In fact, 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.[245]

Further, almost three-quarters of Tea Party supporters (73%), told pollsters that government programs aimed at providing a social safety net for poor people actually encourages them to remain poor.[246] In fact, more than a bit of anecdotal evidence shows hostility and resentment towards the poor and the programs designed to help them. Hence, the signs such as one at an early St. Louis Tea Party that read: “Honk if I am paying your mortgage.” Not every Tea party supporter exhibited such feelings, certainly, but enough of it showed up in opinion polls to give credence to the description of Tea Parties as mean-spirited.

Similarly, both anecdotal evidence and poll data point to an irreconcilable gap between the president and Tea Partiers. More is at issue here than a simple disagreement of social policy and legislation. Indeed, a quarter of Tea Party supporters polled on the question admit that they think that the Obama “administration favors black people over whites.”[247] When asked whether or not Barack Obama understood the “needs and problems of people like you,” almost three-fourths of Tea Partiers (73%) said “no.” A similar number (75%) said he did not “share the values most Americans try to live by.”

These numbers indicate racial and cultural differences that morph directly into opposing beliefs about immigration, national identity and a question that haunts this Tea Party movement: Who is an American?

Last modified on Friday, 09 September 2011 22:27
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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