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Even before President Obama entered the East Room of the White House to give his speech outlining a series of executive actions on immigration reform, some, though not all, national Tea Party factions were whipping up a Tea Party nativist frenzy.

“This is by far the most serious communication I have ever sent,” wrote Steve Eichler, executive director of the 1776 Tea Party (aka, in an email to supporters.  “Everything is at stake. Illegals will bankrupt our social, economic and financial systems. Terrorists will just blow it all to pieces. They’ll all be in our backyards in a matter of weeks, even days, if we don’t step up and demand action,” he warned.

That type of feverish nativism shouldn’t be a surprise coming from Eichler, who is also the executive director of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minuteman Project. Eichler’s email went on to predict “open rebellion” and “chaos” if Republicans don’t withhold funding for Obama’s executive order.

Echoing Eichler’s terror hysteria was one of the initial activists who helped shape the Tea Party movement. Eric Odom, who now works for the Tea Party faction, Patriot Action Network, also put forward the notion that executive action on immigration would somehow lead to terrorists destroying America.  

"What makes it so dangerous is that Obama’s announcement says to all of our enemies that now is the time to invade our nation’s borders. We’re no longer talking about innocent women and children riding trains to our borders then crossing with the hopes of gaining access to our welfare system. We’re talking about ISIS and other evil groups who want to embed individuals here with the plan of doing harm.

Essentially, our President just made a proclamation that puts American lives, and the security of our nation, directly at risk. Obama said to the world that if they can get across our borders, we will not send them home. We will not enforce our immigration laws.”

Grassfire, the parent company of the Patriot Action Network, added “with his amnesty announcement in just a few hours, Obama will unilaterally defy the will of the people and congress –becoming a threat to liberty.

Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation, went even further in his animus towards President Obama, arguing that the immigration actions were part of a diabolical plot. In a prebuttal to Obama’s speech, Phillips told Tea Party Nation members that, “Today, Barack Obama is going to announce his long cherished goal of destroying America.”

Phillips, a birther racist and advocate of limiting voting to property owners, isn’t new to nativism. In 2011, his group mourned the falling birthrate of native-born Americans, and warned that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction.”

Eichler, Odom and Phillips weren’t the only Tea Partiers to take such an inflammatory stand. Their sentiments echoed those of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a favorite among Tea Party nativists, who warned that President Obama’s executive actions and general "lawlessness" on immigration could lead to "ethnic cleansing."

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) also joined the fray, contending that President Obama’s immigration executive order is “declaring war on the American people and our democracy.”

Tea Party Nativist Battle Plans

“This is truly an emergency. There’s not a moment to lose,” wrote Tea Party Patriots co-founder, Jenny Beth Martin, to members on Wednesday. While other Tea Party groups are busy inflaming nativism sentiment, Tea Party Patriots are crafting a plan to scuttle any immigration reforms.

Having already primed their members with the October release of the gruesome anti-immigrant video, “The Border States of America,” Tea Party Patriots are focused now on organizing opposition.

The first step: Tea Party Patriots plan to “melt the phones to stop amnesty” having their members contact Congress to register opposition.

The next step is to flood Congressional offices. According to Martin, the group “must deploy our thousands of local affiliates to Congressional offices all across the country, demanding that they cut off all funding from this order immediately.”

As IREHR uncovered recently, Tea Party Patriots do not have the “thousands of local affiliates” Martin claims, they have around three hundred remaining active local groups.

However, they plan on using those remaining local groups to get the new Congress to defund anything relating to immigration reform. Kevin Broughton, a spokesperson for Tea Party Patriots, noted, “We expect [the new GOP majority] to use the power of the purse to defund amnesty, especially those—and there were many—who ran against it.”

The group is also canvassing their membership base to gauge possible attendance for a noon rally on December 3 in Washington DC called by the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, retiring Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The decision to possibly join Rep. Bachmann’s rally came after she declared on Wednesday that executive action on immigration will lead to a flood of “illiterate” voters.

Previous Tea Party Patriots anti-immigration rallies in Washington DC, such as the muddled Immigration / IRS rally on June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill have not been well attended, so a larger attendance at a December rally would be an indicator of how successful efforts to bring nativism to the fore have come inside one of the largest Tea Party factions.

Nativism Divides Tea Party

Not all national Tea Party factions are in agreement with the Tea Party Patriots plan. Obama’s move on immigration has further revealed a growing fissure in the Tea Party movement over the centrality of nativism. Curiously, while Tea Party Patriots, Patriot Action Network, and the 1776 Tea Party were rushing to be more xenophobic than the next faction (and fundraising off the issue), some Tea Party factions tried to dance around the issue, while others stayed conspicuously silent.

Though many members of the FreedomWorks social network were outraged by the president’s announcement on immigration, the organization chose to duck the issue.
FreedomWorks completely sidestepped the topic of immigration, choosing instead to concentrate the organization’s message on tried-and-true Obama-bashing.  In a pre-speech press release, FreedomWorks president, Matt Kibbe, took a page from the GOP establishment playbook, sticking to the line about the president being an “emperor” and railing against the “expansion of executive power.”

Kibbe added, “The president’s announcements tonight have nothing to do with immigration. This fight has to do with whether or not we are a country with laws and a separation of powers designed to protect the will of the American people from the arbitrary actions of Washington insiders.”

As other Tea Party groups have dug in for a massive fight around immigration, FreedomWorks appears fixated on getting Congress to let the Export-Import Bank expire. As IREHR noted in Tea Party Nationalism, many in the Tea Party movement have been suspicious of FreedomWorks because of their unwillingness to wholeheartedly embrace nativism.

Unlike all the other factions, Tea Party Express hasn’t made a peep about the issue. That could be because the group is hoping not to call attention to the pro-immigration reform stance that Tea Party Express co-founder, Sal Russo, took in a piece for Roll Call this spring.  

Russo’s commentary piece, “Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken U.S. Immigration System,” called for an approach remarkably similar to the one proposed by the president. “We need to make the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows. We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty,” he wrote.

In the past, these disagreements have caused strain between various organizations in the network that makes up the Tea Party movement. This is the first major test of these policy differences in years, and Tea Party organizations should be held to account for their positions.

Expect the quiet caution initially expressed by Republican leadership to vanish if the Tea Party successfully mobilizes anti-immigrant sentiment. Given the vitriolic nativist tone already circulating in Tea Party circles, and the fusion of nativism with hatred of the first African-American president, mobilization by Tea Party nativists could make the ugly rancor and racism expressed during the passage of Obamacare look polite by comparison. At the same time, if supporters of human rights stand strong for immigration reform and actively combat Tea Party nativism, it could protect immigration reform gains for the long-term and split the Tea Party.

For more on the origins of Tea Party nativism, see the 2012 IREHR special report, Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Anti-Immigrant Establishment and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism.

Devin Burghart

Author Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

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