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Wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers and North Carolina’s Art Pope have been extensively examined.  National groups with an impact on North Carolina, such as Americans for Prosperity, have been similarly investigated and exposed.  Nevertheless, significant indicators suggest that the current political conjuncture is a result of more than just money or outside groups.

Both the Koch-endowed Americans for Prosperity as well as FreedomWorks have had a presence in North Carolina (NC) for several years before 2009.  Art Pope’s money and the network of organizations he built up were also active in the state.  The John William Pope Civitas Institute, for example, was incorporated back in 2005. Despite their presence and their investment in building a far-right state infrastructure, the politics and civic engagement in the state were moving against them prior to 2008.

Since President Obama’s election, campaign contributions, ad dollars, and the gravitas of well-heeled conservative think-tanks have helped transform the political landscape in North Carolina.  So too, have the people that make up the Tea Party movement.

As IREHR has noted repeatedly, Tea Partiers are more than minions for millionaires, or the sum of ballots cast on Election Day. They are not illusions created by public relations magicians. Over the last five years, real people have been involved in real activities aimed at impacting politics, culture, and civil society.

In this section, we examine Tea Party membership in North Carolina, look at where membership is geographically situated, and discuss some of the movement’s demographic characteristics.

IREHR has been tracking membership in the national Tea Party factions since 2010. This includes membership data for five national Tea Party factions:  1776 Tea Party (also known as, FreedomWorks, Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Nation, and Tea Party Patriots, along with donor data for the Tea Party Express (Our Country Deserves Better PAC).[16] While the unaffiliated local Tea Party chapters will be discussed in more detail later in this report, the overwhelming bulk of Tea Party membership is associated with one or another of these national groupings. All of these groups have a presence in North Carolina.

On the ground, membership matters. Membership numbers give power and cache` to movement organizations. More importantly, the act of membership expresses a deeper level of participation. Membership is a declaration of allegiance and identity. Becoming a member is a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture.

Tea Party members put the “move” in movement. Members add their voices, their concerns, their sweat, and their financial support to the organizations that gird the movement. Members do “the work”– they make calls, knock on doors, organize meetings, recruit new members, become leaders, and more. Their impact in North Carolina has been profound.

The core members of this movement have created, and recreated, a diverse set of organizations. They have competed with each other as well as collaborated to form a movement that is both self-conscious and capable of re-invention.

It is important to note that many of the groups that now constitute the core of the Tea Party movement were on-the-ground in North Carolina before the Tea Party ignited. Half of the national factions active in North Carolina existed well before the movement emerged in early 2009. Those membership organizations aided the movement’s takeoff and accelerated its growth.

It is the actual membership of Tea Party organizations that allows them to make decisions and carry out their programmatic initiatives. Its impact, made stronger by concerted action, has been undeniable. Tea Partiers have rallied across the state, met regularly to discuss what they believe are important issues, socialized with each other, and organized themselves into a relatively strong voting bloc.

Unfortunately, the hard-core membership in the Tea Party movement has been the least examined level of movement participation. In part, this is because accurate data is hard to come by. Like other far-right movements, national Tea Party organizations have been less than transparent when it comes to membership figures. Groups have also notoriously exaggerated their numbers, inflating the size to enhance their status with politicians and the general public.  Nonetheless, the number of members in the Tea Party movement has been measurable.
As of June 2014, North Carolina Tea Party membership stood at 18,463.

Tea Party Membership in North Carolina

Tea Party membership in North Carolina continues to grow faster than than the national average. While overall national trends point to slowing membership growth, North Carolina Tea Party membership continued to grow by 16 percent between June 2013 and June 2014. This continued a steady trend upward since Tea Parties membership started in the state.  Nationally, Tea Party membership grew by just 4 percent from 2012 to 2013.   In that same year, North Carolina Tea Party membership rose by 15 percent from 13,722 to 15,866 members. Since IREHR began tracking membership, Tea Party membership in North Carolina has nearly tripled – growing from 5,799 in 2010 to 18,463 in 2014.

The following table illuminates core membership growth in North Carolina each year since the Tea Parties founding.

All of these national factions have a membership presence in North Carolina, though the influence of each varies significantly. FreedomWorks dominates the other factions with a state-level office and having established a presence in the state even before the Tea Party took off. FreedomWorks has 9,024 members – nearly one-half of all Tea Party members in North Carolina.

Against IREHR’s expectations, the second largest number of Tea Party members Patriot Action Network had the second largest number, after FreedomWorks, of Tea Party members in North Carolina.  As described in Tea Party Nationalism, Patriot Action Network appeals to the Tea Party movement’s militia impulse and to Islamophobia. Patriot Action Network has 3,032 members.  Tea Party Patriots, the group most closely associated with the grassroots side of the Tea Party in the past, have only 2,916 members.

The next tier of Tea Party membership belongs to the smaller, more militant national factions. Tea Party Nation has the next highest number with just 1,869 members in North Carolina.

A strong tie exists between Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips and NC Freedom leader David DeGerolamo. Phillips had DeGerolamo speak on two panels at the big Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville in 2010.  These two Tea Party Nation leaders have been documented promoting the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.  They both believe that only property owners should have the right to vote.  1776 Tea Party has also been able to attract 1,496 members in North Carolina.  The leadership of this faction came from the Minuteman Project, a nativist vigilante group.  The 1776 Tea Party is focused on anti-immigrant and birther issues.

As of September 24, 2014, Tea Party Express reported contributions from 79 different North Carolina residents for a total of $33,953 in the 2013-2014 reporting period.

NC Tea Party Membership by Faction

On gender, North Carolina Tea Party membership is consistent with national averages.  Just over two-thirds of members listed their sex identification as men (67.2%) and just under one-third (32.8%) identified as female.
Geographically, Tea Parties members are spread across the state.

Cities with the largest number of Tea Party members include Charlotte (1144), Raleigh (1038), Greensboro (474), Fayetteville (391), Cary (349), Wilmington (340), Asheville (320), Durham (279), Concord (248), and High Point (223).

A look at county-level data shows that Tea Parties membership is disbursed fairly similarly across areas generally defined as urban, suburban and rural. Not surprisingly since nearly a third of the state population live in urban areas, the largest number of Tea Party members in North Carolina (6312) is located in areas categorized as urban – i.e. in the 12 counties in metro areas of 1 million population or more. However, when measured as a percentage of the population, a slightly higher percentage live in very rural areas—specifically non-metro counties that are completely rural or that have less than 2,500 urban population and that are not adjacent to a metro area. (see Table for more details).



Table: North Carolina Tea Party Membership – Urban/Rural Continuum




Tea Party Members

% of population

Nonmetro – Completely Rural Or Less Than 2,500 Urban Population, Not Adjacent To A Metro Area





Metro – Counties In Metro Areas Of 1 Million Population Or More





Nonmetro – Urban Population Of 2,500 To 19,999, Not Adjacent To A Metro Area





Metro – Counties In Metro Areas Of Fewer Than 250,000 Population





Metro – Counties In Metro Areas Of 250,000 To 1 Million Population





Nonmetro – Completely Rural Or Less Than 2,500 Urban Population, Adjacent To A Metro Area





Nonmetro – Urban Population Of 20,000 Or More, Adjacent To A Metro Area





Nonmetro – Urban Population Of 20,000 Or More, Not Adjacent To A Metro Area





Nonmetro – Urban Population Of 2,500 To 19,999, Adjacent To A Metro Area






Next: North Carolina Tea Party Chapters

Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

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