At a Glance
Headquarters: Woodstock, Georgia.
Online Membership: 115,311 | 74,779 (social networking site)
The Tea Party Patriots website was registered on March 10, 2009. Its credo contains a statement of faith in the Founding Fathers and private property. “The Tea Party Patriots stand with our founders, as heirs to the republic, to claim our rights and duties which preserve their legacy and our own. We hold, as did the founders, that there exists an inherent benefit to our country when private property and prosperity are secured by natural law and the rights of the individual.” In June 2009, Tea Party Patriots incorporated as a 501(c)4 non-profit organization. In January 2010, Tea Party Patriots Inc. PAC, registered with the Federal Election Commission. As this report went to press, however, the PAC had neither raised nor spent any significant amount of money.
Of all the Tea Party factions, Tea Party Patriots can rightly make the claim that it is the most grassroots. As of August 2010, there are just over 2200 different local Tea Party Patriot chapters listed on its website, more than all the other national factions combined. There are 115,311 online members on its main website and 74,779 registered to its social networking website, as of August 1, 2010. Tea Party Patriots online membership is dispersed throughout the country, in every region, with the top ten cities being: New York, New York; Houston, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Beverly Hills, California. Tea Party Patriots membership is also heavily weighted towards men, with 63% identifying as male, 31% female, and 6% choosing not to self-identify.
Despite its size, Tea Party Patriots budget is considerably smaller than FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express, and ResistNet. Tea Party Patriots financial information for fiscal year ending May 31, 2010 showed total contributions of $538,009 and total expenses of $400,596 ($342, 559 to program service, $58,037 to administration and management).
Tea Party Patriots Founders
The original Tea Party Patriots national coordinators, as listed on the group’s Facebook page, were Jenny Beth Martin, Mark Meckler, and Amy Kremer.
Jenny Beth Martin, a 39 year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, once worked as a Republican consultant. Her route to the Tea Parties includes a bumpy collision with tax collectors. According to court documents, Martin and her husband owed over $680,000 in tax debt, including over half a million dollars to the Internal Revenue Service, when the pair filed for bankruptcy in August of 2008. Though the Martin’s financial woes occurred entirely under the administration of Republican George W. Bush, the Tea Party Patriots vitriol is targeted squarely at President Obama. Now Martin is pulling down around $6000 a month working as CEO of Tea Party Patriots. She also serves as co-chair of the local Tea Party group in her hometown.
Mark Meckler, 48, a punk rock DJ turned business attorney, lives in southern California. In 2007, Meckler developed an internet firm, Opt-In Movement, which aimed to build email lists on behalf of political candidates. The firm aspired to work for GOP candidates and causes, including FreedomWorks. Meckler was also paid by a California Republican business group to gather petition signatures for an anti-public employee union ballot initiative. He served as a coordinator for the Sacramento Tea Party group, then as the California coordinator, before co-founding Tea Party Patriots.
Amy Kremer, of Roswell, Georgia, was the third original Tea Party Patriot national coordinator. Kremer organized Georgia Tea Partiers, as well as helping to coordinate with other local groups across the country during the first round of nationwide protests. Kremer worked as Tea Party Patriots organizer until she became Director of Grassroots & Coalitions at Tea Party Express. (see discussion below).
Tea Party Patriots national coordinating group grew to include Debbie Dooley, Mike Gaske, Kellen Giuda, Ryan Hecker, Sally Oljar, Diana Reimer, Billie Tucker, and Dawn Wildman.
The budding organizational network received a boost in April 2009 when Eric Odom posted a statement on the Tax Day Tea Party website declaring that the “place to shift the momentum to” was Tea Party Patriots. “Tea Party Patriots is being organized by a selfless group of grassroots minded individuals who have been a part of this since day one, and I think they are the best equipped to provide a collaborative environment for what we built here…,” Odom wrote. “So, if you’re asking ‘who do I join up with for July 4th and beyond in 2009?’, Tea Party Patriots should be your answer.”
As new local groups continued to pop up, they gravitated to Tea Party Patriots. The national network grew rapidly.
After successfully working with the other Tea Party factions on the September 2009 march in Washington, D.C., Tea Party Patriots had its first significant conflict with another national group when Kremer jumped over to Tea Party Express. Tea Party Patriots formally removed her from its leadership with a letter from its board on October 15, then filed a lawsuit against Kremer, and on November 10 was granted an injunction against her using the Patriots name. At that point, the two organizations stopped cooperating with each other.
A second imbroglio developed in February 2010 with Tea Party Nation (discussed in Tea Party Nation section). Tea Party Patriots followed up in May as one of the sponsors for the “Tennessee Tea Party Coalition Convention Inaugural Convention” in Gatlinburg.
Coalition Convention in Gatlinburg May 2010
This gathering stood in marked contrast to the Tea Party Nation event. The entry fee was $35, considerably less expensive and more accessible than the Nashville event. The big name keynote speaker was Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who generated considerably less media buzz than Sarah Palin. More than twenty local Tea Party groups in Tennessee sponsored the gathering. The sponsors claimed to have pre-sold 1,000 tickets to the event, and told the press they expected more to attend. To the casual observer, however, there never appeared to be more than 300 people attending at any one time.
Notable among the workshops were presentations by Pam Geller, an anti-Islam agitator; and a set by the Oath Keepers, a quasi-militia group that focuses on recruiting law enforcement officers and military personnel, and defending their version of the Constitution. A similar workshop with Spike Constitution Defenders, mixed a bit of Posse Comitatus-style rhetoric into their propaganda. Another workshop presenter, Samuel Duck, conducted a workshop advocating repeal of both the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendment. The Sixteenth Amendment, which gave congress power to levy the income tax, has long been a target of the far right. Making a target of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provides for the direct election of United States Senators, however, is less widely discussed. Among proponents of its repeal are Rep. Ron Paul (R. Tex.) and Tony Blankley, a conservative columnist. They consider repeal an extension of states’ rights. By any other measure, repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment has to be one of the most anti-democratic proposals floating around inside the Tea Party milieu.
Tea Party Patriots was listed as a Gold Sponsor (a $2500 payment). It was the only national faction among the Gatlinburg convention sponsors, and it is precisely this kind of broad-based, locally sponsored event that has been the hallmark of its growth. In fact, the real power of the Tea Party Patriots lies in its network of allied state and local Tea Party chapters. These local chapters are its greatest strength. The militia members, racists and sympathizers in its ranks, however, present it with its greatest political vulnerability.
Consider the Wood County Tea Party (formerly known as the Winnsboro, Texas Tea Party). Located almost midway between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana, this group formed in 2009 and launched its website in January 2010. Its stated principles include: “The Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land, Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, Free Market Society.” While the group claims alliances with both Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, they also declare that they are not “affilitated [sic] with TP Nation or The National Tea Party Federation.” From the beginning the group has held local meetings, BBQs, and co-sponsored events.
Wood County Tea Party is lead by Karen Pack, who describes herself as a “A Christian, a Tea Party Member, a Constitutionalist and a Patriot." Missing from that description, however, is Karen Pack’s history with the Ku Klux Klan. Documents obtained by IREHR show that Karen Pack of Winnsboro, subscribed to the “White Patriot” tabloid, and that Thom Robb's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan listed her as an "official supporter." Founded by David Duke in the mid-1970s, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan fell into Robb’s hands after a series of factional disputes, and he positioned and repositioned the organization over the decades. By the 1990s, Robb attempted to steer his Klan closer to a more mid-stream “Christian patriot” position. It was still a Klan, however, an inheritor of the violent tradition associated with white supremacist organizations of that type. Pack’s association with Robb’s Klan in 1996 should not be read as an indication that the entire Tea Party movement is like the KKK. It does indicate, however, that a certain amount of overlap exists between the upfront racism of the Klan and the “we are not racists” denials of the Tea Parties.
In an essay entitled “Texas…Silent No Longer,” Pack declared that, “Those of us who work hard every day and are the backbone of this country all had one reaction to these power hungry mongrels. My professor used to tell me that people who curse lack the english [sic] language to express themselves but I hope here, he will make an exception to his rule. Our reaction was simple and it was not polically [sic] correct or socially nice.”
In another essay entitled “An Ardent Plea,” Pack wrote, “There is no seperation [sic] of church and state. There never has been. Only the historically ignorant or purposefully distructive [sic] will claim that there is. There are people at work today who hate our God, despise our Country and will stop at nothing to destroy both Christianity and the United States of America.”
Park’s vision of the country sees a violent conflict looming in the future: “Morality, Christianity and God given rights are being massacred in front of us today and Christians are doing nothing to stop it. The evil running rampant today will inevitably lead to tyranny. History proves it. If the Christians of this nation continue to sit on their church pews and turn a blind eye to what is happening, is this not a denial of Christ and all the foundations of Christianity? Are we such cowards that we can’t proudly proclaim our allegence [sic] to the fundemental [sic] Christian principles that founded and built this nation? How long will Christians wait? How long will they be silent? How much of the Constitution must the enemy shred before they figure out that the Constitution is the only law left in the world that garantees [sic] their religious freedom? Will they wait until they outlaw Christianity like they outlawed prayer in school? By then, my friend, it will be too late to preserve our nation without bloodshed.”
In May, the Wood County Tea Party joined the Tyler Tea Party and the East Texas Constitution Alliance to sponsor a speaking engagement of militia favorite, Sheriff Richard Mack of Oath Keepers. Other Tea Party Patriot chapters sponsored Mack, including groups in Prattville, Alabama, Amarillo, Texas, Silver City, New Mexico, Prineville, Oregon, and Bloomington, Minnesota.
Militia infestation of Tea Party Patriots extends beyond the presence of a militia figure like Richard Mack. Several Tea Party Patriot groups officially call themselves militia groups or actively promoted militia formation.
Tea Party Patriot local chapters have also been the scene of exhortations to political violence similar to those of the Posse Comitatus. At a February 13, 2010 Lewis and Clark Tea Party Patriots event in Asotin, Washington, one unidentified female podium speaker asked the crowd, “How many of you have watched the movie Lonesome Dove?... What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd? What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd. He got hung. And that’s what I want to do with Patty Murray." The response to the call for hanging Sen. Patty Murray was applause.
Other Tea Party Patriots local chapters have appealed to a variety of strains of Christian Patriot ideas. They have held workshops on topics such as “Republic vs Democracy,” citizenship, and the Tenth Amendment that were staples of the militia movement of the 1990s.
In one instance, a statewide network known as the North Carolina Freedom Project (or NC Freedom) is listed with Tea Party Patriots. NC Freedom leaders also work closely with Tea Party Nation. Presenters from NC Freedom’s were popular workshop presenters at the February 2010 Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville. They are also scheduled to speak at the Tea Party Nation convention in Las Vegas in October.
NC Freedom also publicized a series of seminars conducted by a third group, calling itself the North-Carolina American Republic. These workshops, entitled “Restore our Republics,” promoted the notion that individuals can declare themselves citizens of the North-Carolina Republic--the “real government” that was taken away by the Reconstruction Acts after the Civil War. By these lights, the Fourteenth Amendment is considered unconstitutional. These ideas are derived from the warped constitutionalism of the Posse Comitatus in the 1980s, and groups such as the Freemen and Republic of Texas in the 1990s, In any case, such propaganda is far closer to the world of white nationalism than its is to simple concerns about budgets and taxes.
The fact that these workshops are on the periphery of the Tea Party Patriots tells us something about the significance of the fact that NC Freedom has also promoted the idea of secession. In February 2010, it emailed a newsletter to members which contained an article entitled by “Solutions to the tyranny of National government.” The article outlines two solutions. The “incremental” approach is to adopt a 10th Amendment position of state’s rights and state sovereignty to stave off an overreaching federal government. The second solution, secession, is described as a “quantum leap” that is “probably beyond the comfort of most citizens, but still bears serious consideration.”
Just as some Tea Party Patriots local groups have latched onto armed militias and Christian Patriotism, other local chapters are promoting nativism and vitriolic anti-immigrant politics. The local Tea Party Patriots chapter, Help Save Maryland, has been holding protests outside the state headquarters of CASA, an immigrant rights group. Help Save Maryland was founded in 2005 as an explicitly anti-immigrant organization, now it is a Tea Party group.
In Washington State, Tea Party Patriot groups urged supporters in Covington, Kent, and Renton to gather signatures for Initiative 1056, a measure similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, that would require state and local agencies to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws. It would also require all private and public employers to “E-verify” immigration status of employees, and require verification of immigration status of applicants for many public benefits. Nonprofit organizations would be prohibited from offering employment services without proof of immigration status. Issuance of driver’s licenses would be prohibited without proof of immigration status.
The Columbus, Georgia Tea Party held a rally to support Arizona, after the state passed the draconian SB1070 anti-immigrant law. Many other local Tea Party Patriot groups have also supported the Arizona anti-immigrant law, as has the national leadership.
The nativist side of the Tea Party movement will be discussed further in the “Who Is An American” section.
Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Devin Burghart is IREHR vice president.