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Much has been written about the Tea Parties’ legislative impact in North Carolina, with discussion of regressive changes in everything from education, environmental and tax policy, to the rolling back of civil rights legislation. Often left out of that discussion is how Tea Party groups – both nationally and locally – seeded the ground for these changes by re-injecting the politics of racial animus into the state policy debates.

One instance perfectly captures the outsized influence of North Carolina Tea Partiers. The early summer of 2012 was the height of the second attempt by the North Carolina Legislature to pass a new voter suppression bill.  Thom Tillis, North Carolina Speaker of the House, anxiously tried to garner support for a Voter ID bill that might survive a veto from Governor Bev Perdue.

In the midst of this fight, on May 24, North Carolina NAACP president, Rev. William Barber II, and other Civil Rights leaders gathered in the House gallery to ask Speaker Tillis to meet with Civil Rights leaders. The response: Rev. Barber and six other supporters were arrested.[20]

In a move that harkened back to previous struggles over voting rights, at a press conference the following day, Tillis went so far as to demand that Rev. Barber apologize. Tillis also used the arrest as a way to duck any future meeting with civil rights leaders, “As I understand it there’s a police investigation associated with what happened yesterday. Until that police investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate for me to meet with somebody who’s the subject of a police investigation, I would think.”[21]

While Speaker Tillis kept throwing obstacles in the way of meeting with civil rights leaders, he did take time to meet with Tea Partiers and anti-immigrant leaders.  At a June 13, 2012, meeting in Tillis’ office, the following were some of those in attendance:

David DeGerolamo is a leader of the Tea Party group, NC Freedom. DeGerolamo is active in the national faction, Tea Party Nation. He was a featured speaker at the big 2010 Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville.[22] He is also a proponent of birther racism and is engaged in far-right militia and so-called Threeper circles.[23]  DeGerolamo has even advocated eliminating the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  In a 2010 interview, DeGerolamo told Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips, “I want the Fourteenth Amendment repealed.”[24] DeGerolamo’s group also promoted the view that the Fourteenth Amendment should be repealed. As noted in Tea Party Nationalism, NC Freedom publicized a series of seminars conducted by a 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 illegitimate. 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.

Donna Yowell is a Tea Party activist with the group, Feet to the Fire (she would go on to be the state coordinator for the True the Vote voter suppression efforts). From the earliest days of the Tea Party, Yowell of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has been a stalwart out to defeat the president. She joined the Tea Party almost right away in 2009, becoming a member of groups like the Haywood County, NC 9-12 Project and Triangle Conservatives Unite.[25] She also became a member of four different national Tea Party factions: FreedomWorks, the Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Nation, and Tea Party Patriots.[26] After the 2010 midterm elections, she formed the Tea Party spin-off group, Feet to the Fire. Through this group she bashed on teachers unions in Wisconsin, supported nativist legislation, promoted the anti-environmental conspiracy theory around “Agenda 21,” and tried to “to insure a conservative platform for NCGOP.”

William Gheen runs the Raleigh-based nativist group ALIPAC. As IREHR documented in Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Established Anti-Immigrant Organizations and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism, Gheen was one of the early advocates of bringing anti-immigrant politics into the core of the Tea Party movement.  He has spoken at many different North Carolina Tea Party events. Gheen has a long history of incendiary racist comments, including suggesting that “illegal and violent” “extra political activities” might be the only way to save “white America” from “Dictator Barack Obama.”[27]

James and Maurine Johnson run the nativist outfit NC FIRE. Like William Gheen, James Johnson, the leader of North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement and NC FIRE, has a penchant for sharing white nationalist materials online, and for distributing photos of himself with his white nationalist friends. On Nov 5, 2011 Johnson shared an article from the white nationalist journal, American Renaissance, criticizing Martin Luther King Jr. because he “denied racial differences” and “wanted to force people to associate with each other.” Johnson’s comment on the article was that the article contained “the hidden truth no one talks about [sic].” Another article Johnson shared from American Renaissance in December 2011 criticized Newt Gingrich’s “pandering to Hispanics,” and also puts forth that “whites would do well to study his record closely before pulling the lever next year.”

On November 6, Johnson shared an article from the white nationalist website VDARE entitled, “Stupid is as Stupid Does—Black Politicians Training Their Replacements.” The article concludes, “And, in fact, black people are going. They are being replaced by Hispanics, either by hook or by crook. And blacks are co-conspirators in the sunseting [sic] of their political power. And no one deserves it more for the damage they did to this country. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” On his Facebook page, Johnson also shared a photo of himself with Roan Garcia-Quintana, a South Carolina Tea Party leader and national board member of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), the lineal descendant of the old white Citizens Councils. During a CofCC event, Garcia-Quintana, once proclaimed “there are three types of people in the world: Negroids, Mongroids, and Caucasians.”

Ron Woodard is the president of NC LISTEN, the Cary, North Carolina anti-immigrant group. NC Listen is listed as a local affiliate of the nativist group, Federation for American Immigration Reform. Woodward has appeared at anti-immigrant, Tea Party and Threeper events.

Randy Dye is a retired trauma nurse living in Pittsboro and a blogger from the far-right websites:  Randy’s Right and NC Renegadge (a project with David DeGerolamo). Dye is the perpetrator of a particularly racially incendiary outburst onstage at a Raleigh, North Carolina Tea Party rally in April 15, 2011, organized by Triangle Conservatives Unite!  Dye created a stir when he symbolically water-boarded an effigy of President Obama by pouring bottled water over a plastic head of Obama in the midst of rant against the President, then he kicked the head across the stage. William Gheen, who calls Dye a “friend” had this to say about the event, “I want to say on the record that I thought Randy Dye’s expression of his contempt for that elected dictator in the White House with the forged birth certificate was completely appropriate.”

This assemblage of activists, gathered in Tillis’ office, captures many of the core themes expressed on-the-ground by local Tea Party groups: voter suppression, racism, nativism, and the militia impulse.

Despite this push by Tea Party and nativist groups, enough votes to override a veto threat could not be wrangled before the end of the session.  HKonJ played a significant role in these events, providing the political energy to protect voting rights. Nevertheless, efforts to protect voting rights faced new dangers.

Tea Party Racialized Voter Suppression

Even as the efforts of Speaker Tillis to muster support for a veto-proof voter ID bill fizzled, North Carolina became a priority target for voter suppression activists. Two statewide voter suppression networks developed in the state: True the Vote North Carolina and the Voter Integrity Project. Both groups sprang out of a Texas Tea Party effort. These groups created a county by county, precinct by precinct, apparatus in North Carolina that served as an anti-democratic force intent on obstructing free and fair elections.

Both the Voter Integrity Project and True the Voter North Carolina interfaced with dozens of local Tea Party groups. As IREHR documented in the 2012 special report, Abridging the Vote: True the Vote in North Carolina, these groups had nearly 300 True the Vote volunteers in North Carolina during the 2012 elections, including 71 in Wake County alone. The highest concentration of North Carolina True the Vote activists were in the counties with the highest African American and Latino populations in the state. Thirty percent of those volunteers were members of at least one Tea Party national faction and more than half were active in local Tea Party activity.

With Tea Parties’ support in 2012, a Republican majority was elected in both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly as well as a Republican governor.   Not surprisingly, a sweeping, draconian voter suppression bill was soon to follow.

HB 589, the so-called Voter Information Verification Act, was passed in August 2013. The law’s provisions will:

  • Shorten the Early Voting period by a full week,
  • Eliminate same-day voter registration during the Early Voting period,
  • Eliminate flexibility in opening Early Voting sites at different hours within a county,
  • Eliminate straight party ticket voting,
  • Repeal pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, and repeals mandate for election officials to conduct high school registration drives,
  • Authorize poll observers with an expanded range of interference,
  • Expand the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters,
  • Repeal out-of-precinct voting,
  • Make it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities,
  • Change the official ballot, particularly for direct-recording electronic voting machines,
  • Limit who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court,
  • Repeal three public financing programs,
  • Raise contribution limits to $5,000; and the limit increases every two years with inflation,
  • Repeal disclosure requirements of outside money under Candidate Specific Communications,
  • Reduces disclosure of electioneering communications in legislative, state and federal elections and increases influence of “dark money,”
  • Study rather than require electronic filing,
  • Change the presidential primary to first Tuesday after South Carolina, if South Carolina holds its primary before March 15.[28]

Post HB 589 Voter Suppression Efforts

Getting the legislature to institute sweeping voter suppression legislation was apparently not enough for Tea Party groups and their allies in the important battleground state of North Carolina.

In September, Americans for Prosperity mailed an official-looking letter to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents with grossly incorrect voter registration information. The letter included the following misleading and potentially vote-suppressing information:  the wrong deadline for registering to vote, false information about how voters are notified of their precinct after registering, the wrong office for questions on voter registration, and the wrong zip code for turning in a voter registration form.[29]  Joshua Lawson, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections told the News & Observer that “Misinformation about voter registration can be a felony if it is intentionally misleading and is proven to suppress voters.”[30]

North Carolina Tea Party Racism

Embedded in North Carolina Tea Party ideology is a sense of white dispossession At the core of the dispossession theme is the notion that the Tea Party is essential to “take our country back.”  This notion begs the question as to who is the “our,” and who took the country, and where did they take it.

This theme runs throughout local Tea Party groups across North Carolina. For instance, the motto of Conservatives for Guilford County is “In order to take back your country, you must first take back your county.”[31] And the Tar River Tea Party held a “Take Back Our Country” Rally on June 24, 2010.[32]

Beyond the expressions (overt and covert) of white dispossession, racist expressions of hatred of President Obama—ranging from birther racism and racially tinged calls for impeachment, to acts of simulated racial violence against the president have been rampant in North Carolina Tea Party groups.

Birther racism has been with the Tea Party in North Carolina from the beginning. Take, for instance, the July 7, 2009 Tea Party rally of nearly seven hundred supporters in Frankfort where signs were seen by the audience with the caption, “Where’s the birth certificate?”[33]  Then there is the May 2012 Rowan Tea Party Patriots meeting where three different Republican candidates waxed on about the birth certificate issue, even claiming that the one President Obama publicly shared earlier in the spring was a “forgery.”[34] The North Carolina Tea Party featured an article on its website declaring, “Mr. Obama’s Birthplace Still A Mystery.”[35] Diane Rufino of the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party wrote on their website that she wanted to see more discussion of President Obama’s birth certificate in Dinesh D’Souza’s movie, 2016.[36]

In an article entitled “Confessions of a Birther”, David DeGerolamo published on his website, NC Renegade, “I confess to being a sentient man who believes that our president is ineligible to be the ‘commander in chief’. If supporting the laws of our country allows cowards to label me a “birther”, so be it.”[37] He added, “What is even more egregious is the culpability of Congress in a display of incredible cowardice. Not one congressman or congresswoman will stand up and speak the truth in this matter. Whether it is a fear of black Americans rioting if a challenge is made as stated in the article below or another reason, this is another example of the trashing of the Constitution and their oaths of office.”[38]

Even as the birth certificate issue has dimmed, some North Carolina Tea Party leaders continue to openly express the idea that Obama is not an American. Take, for example, the September 17, 2014 Facebook post by Thomas S. Harrington, chairman of the Tea Party group Will of the People – Rockingham County, “Before Obama was ever elected the first time I predicted that he would destroy this country. Ever since I have constantly watched with horror as he has proceeded to do just that. We don’t know who or what this man is, but I will never believe that he is an American.”[39] The Tar River Tea Party Facebook page even referred to President Obama as a “Blood-Sucking Tick.”[40]

Then there are the open acts of rage against the first African-American president. For instance, the previously described effigy actions by Randy Dye at a Tea Party rally. And a member of the 1776 Tea Party from Faison, North Carolina garnered media attention in October 2012 when he drove a trailer containing a hanging effigy of President Obama to New York City.[41]

North Carolina Tea Party Nativism

Three nativist groups were already entrenched in the state well before the Tea Party movement took off in 2009. Thus, it is not surprising to find a high level of anti-immigrant activism by Tea Parties in North Carolina.

As IREHR reported in Tea Party Nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and activism have been part of the Tea Party mix from the beginning. Indeed, the report noted then that one of the six national factions, 1776 Tea Party, had imported its staff leadership directly from the nativist vigilante group, the Minuteman Project.

In Beyond FAIR, IREHR found both an increase in anti-immigrant activism by national and local Tea Party groups, as well as a measurable number of anti-immigrant leaders who had joined the Tea Parties and consequently accelerated the rate of anti-immigrant activism by those Tea Parties.

However, Tea Party nativism flourished on-the-ground in North Carolina well before national Tea Party factions, like the Tea Party Patriots, took on anti-immigrant politics as a top-tier issue.[42]

As the June 2012 meeting with Speaker Tillis highlighted, there is significant cross-pollination between nativist groups and Tea Party organizations in the state. Nativist leaders, including William Gheen of ALIPAC, James Johnson of NC FIRE, and Ron Woodard of NC LISTEN have all spoken at Tea Party rallies. Gheen, in particular, was influential early on in encouraging anti-immigrant activists to jump into the Tea Party movement when it took off in early 2009. IREHR has also documented multiple instances of North Carolina Tea Party members who are also active in the nativist vigilante group, the Minuteman Project.

As a result, today it is virtually impossible to tell where the nativist movement stops and the Tea Party begins in North Carolina. Successful organizing by both Tea Party and nativist groups helped transform efforts in the legislature.  For example, an immigrant rights-supported bill meant to allow undocumented immigrant to obtain drivers licenses became HB 786, became a law which contains anti-immigrant “papers please” style legislation reminiscent of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.

Tea Party nativism in North Carolina is linked to racially charged language about the “Reconquista” and the flood of immigrants from Mexico.  It has also been infused with Islamophobia. The term “Islamophobia” has been defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” Among the characteristic elements of Islamophobia: Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities; Islam does not share common values with other major faiths; Islam as a religion is inferior to the West; it is archaic, barbaric, and irrational; Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism; and Islam is a violent political ideology.[43]

Tea Party leaders and members have employed anti-Muslim language. Also, North Carolina Tea Party and nativist groups have at times formed common cause with Islamophobic groups. For example, on November 22, 2013, the Fayetteville chapter of the Islamophobic group ACT! For America held a screening of the nativist film, “They Come to America.” The event also included a panel discussion featuring James Johnson of NC FIRE and Ron Woodard of NC LISTEN. The event was advertised by groups like the Moore Tea Citizens, and by leaders like David DeGerolamo.[44]

Some North Carolina Tea Party groups do not limit their bigotry to Muslims or Hispanics. Anti-Semitism also has a place in the Tea Parties of North Carolina. For instance, the front page of the Orange County (North Carolina) Tea Party tells readers, “To develop an understanding of our true present state of affairs, below are links to some AWAKENING very harsh reality video that must be seen by all to understand what we’re up against and how corrupt the system really is.”[45] The exhortation is followed by a link to the anti-Semitic 9-11 Truther conspiracy video called, “The New World Order- Secret Societies and Biblical Prophecy.”[46]

Guns and Militia Madness

The issue of guns isn’t new to the Tea Party. As IREHR detailed in the 2010 special report, Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions, there has been a “militia impulse” in the movement from the very beginning. A number of data points suggest that the militia impulse is strong among North Carolina Tea Partiers.

Look no further than the Asheville Tea Party PAC who gained notoriety for their “Great Gun Giveaway” in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. The gun raffle to raise money for Tea Party candidates gave the winner one of two custom built AR-15 assault rifles. The PAC is now engaged in the Great Gun Giveaway 3.0 and has added the SAR ST10 9mm Tactical Pistol as a prize.

Asheville’s success spawned a slew of imitators. The Tarheel Tea Party LLC is holding a “Take Down” Rifle Raffle for THE CAUSE, which provides the winner with a limited edition NRA Ruger 10/22 awarded on election night.[47] The Randolph Tea Party raffled off a Mossberg International 715T rifle.[48] And the 9-12 Project serving Cherokee, Clay and surrounding counties held a gun raffle at their April 12 preparedness seminar.
Beyond guns as a fundraising vehicle, North Carolina Tea Partiers also turned out in force for a “Day of Resistance” gunapalooza organized nationally by the relatively new Tea Party group,   Joined by gun groups, militia outfits and John Birch Society members, local Tea Party Chapters hastily organized events nationwide for February 23, 2013 – or .223, a symbolic nod to the far-right’s favorite ammo.  Turnout was high at North Carolina ‘gunapalooza’ events in Asheville, Charlotte, Lenoir, Marion, and Burke County.
Gun talk is not about hunting or self-defense in some North Carolina Tea Party circles, but rather about militia madness.

Two of the Tea Party chapters in North Carolina continue to promote efforts aimed at overthrowing the government. There’s the Alamance Tea Party, a group which has advertised more than a dozen so-called “Common Law Grand Jury” meetings by a group called the National Liberty Alliance.

The North Carolina Liberty Alliance is the other local Tea Party group connected with the National Liberty Alliance, but also listed as a local chapter on FreedomWorks website.  Both groups are run by Howard Beatty, head of Alamance Tea Party. The North Carolina Liberty Alliance is a common law court group affiliated with the National Liberty Alliance, a group that wants to return the country to a period in which slavery was legally enshrined.

Founded in 2011 by Pough­keep­sie, New York sovereign citizen leader John Darash, the National Lib­erty Alliance is an effort to create so-called Common Law Grand Juries. The group claims to have sowed more than one hundred Common Law Grand Juries across the country. Like the Common Law Courts of the 1990s, the National Liberty Alliance contends that they don’t have to obey the current laws or institutions. Similar to the Freeman in the early-1990s and the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s-1980s, this latest iteration of the bogus Common Law Grand Jury scheme threatens to “arrest” and try local officials, judges, etc. for treason and other high crimes.

The National Liberty Alliance preaches that with just twenty-five Common Law Grand Jury activists in each county “we can turn back the ‘political and judicial clock’ to 1789, we can indict criminals including judges and politicians, we can reinstate the real duties of the Sheriff, we can reinstate the ‘Elected Committeemen’, we can get our armories and militia back, we can force compliance of the Third Continental congress’s (2009) Articles of Freedom, we can stop Agenda 21” and more.[49]

In addition to Tea Party groups promoting bogus legal theories and treasonous efforts to form their own judicial system, another group popular in North Carolina Tea Party circles is an outfit that has created its own government-in-exile.

The group, called the North-Carolina American Republic, believes that “their state” was stolen from them by the “unconstitutional” Fourteenth Amendment.[50] Railing against the Reconstruction Acts, the group claims that “We the people of North-Carolina have re-established the state that was taken from us and are breathing new life into our original Constitution.”  The group further claims that, “In 1997, on behalf of the inhabitants of North-Carolina which were present, a small body gathered and legally re-established the de jure (lawful) state of North Carolina that was taken on July 1st, 1868.” The group encourages people to declare themselves “state citizens”—to renounce their voter registration in the “de facto state” and participate in the government of the North-Carolina Republic.

Founder of the North-Carolina American Republic, John Ainsworth, has expanded his efforts to additional states with his group, America’s Remedy. According to the group’s website, “Our primary goal, through education, is to ignite a peaceful Counter-Revolution among the American people; and to reclaim our lawful states (body politics) which were annulled by the second American revolution, also known as the Reconstruction Acts.”[51]

Normally, a group that wants to overthrow the current government wouldn’t be welcome in mainstream political circles. But these are anything but normal times. From the Tea Party movement’s earliest days, Tea Partier groups across North Carolina have been hospitable to the North-Carolina American Republic, America’s Remedy, and their founder John Ainsworth.

NC Freedom, at one time a significant statewide Tea Party group, publicized a series of seminars by the North-Carolina American Republic.[52] An NC Freedom leader who met with Thom Tillis on the 2012 voter IDA law, David DeGerolamo, has not only publicized these seminars, he has also called for a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.

America’s Remedy had a booth at Surry County Tea Party Patriots “NC 5th District Constitution Day Tea Party Rally” on September 18, 2011.[53]  America’s Remedy was also at the Raleigh Capital Tax Day Tea Party Rally in April 2011, organized by Triangle Conservatives Unite.[54]

John Ainsworth spoke at the April 14, 2012 “ProsperiTea Party Rally” organized by Conservatives for Guilford County in Greensboro.[55] When not speaking at Tea Party events, Ainsworth is busy speaking at other far-right gatherings, such as the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans and the twice-yearly hardcore militia and “threeper” confab known as PatCon.[56]

Under one roof, Tea Party gatherings in North Carolina have brought together those who run the state and individuals who want to overthrow it.


Next: North Carolina General Assembly Tea Party Support and Opposition

Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

Author Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

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