On May 21, Seattle-area Tea Party Patriots heeded the call of the national office in Atlanta and turned out for a hastily arranged protest against the Internal Revenue Service. Despite grey skies and the group sending to members a notice with the wrong location, twenty-two Tea Partiers showed up outside the Federal Building on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle at noon. They waved signs at passing cars and posed for the television news crews on the scene.
Similar Tea Party rallies against the IRS took place in dozens of cities around the country, including Cincinnati, Louisville, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Providence, and several other cities.
The Seattle group of Tea Partiers took over a spot that has been used continually by local peace activists to campaign against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Tea Party occupation of the peace demonstration spot created a sharp sidewalk juxtaposition. Tea Partiers loudly yelled “Revolution!” and “Abolish the IRS!” while nearby peace activists solemnly chimed a bell one time for each name of a soldier killed in combat read aloud.
Talking points prepared by the faction’s national office encouraged signs at the rally tried to conflate the IRS issue with the Tea Party attack on immigration reform. As a result, one sign claimed, “Amnesty + ObamaCare = Bankruptcy,” while another read, “ObamAmnesty. Adios Trust Fund.”
The bright red and yellow anti-immigrant sign “Keep it Legal” was held by a Craig Keller, a leader of the nativist group, Respect Washington. In addition to protesting the IRS, Keller was also there to collect signatures for I-1277, a 2013 anti-immigrant initiative which fuses Voter ID, E-Verify and other nativist favorites. Anti-immigrant initiatives have been filed in Washington going back to 2006, but none have gathered the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the ballot. Signatures for I-1277 are due July 1.
The same day as the street protest, Keller and two other nativist colleagues visited the Seattle offices of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. They were part of the “Remember 1986” Coalition rallies against “amnesty” sponsored by NumbersUSA, the national nativist group. Keller claimed he delivered copies of 5800 NumbersUSA petitions to aides of the two Washington Senators.
The nativist group Respect Washington is also led by Martin Ringhofer, in addition to Keller. Ringhofer, from Soap Lake, Washington, was not at the Seattle Tea Party protest. But his anti-immigrant activism goes back to 2006, when he formed the group Protect Washington Now, which tried but failed to get a clone of Arizona’s Proposition 200 on the ballot in Washington.
Ringhofer has his own history of voter suppression. In 2005, he asked Washington state election officials to review voting credentials of voters in King, Spokane, Grant, Adams, Yakima and five other counties, because their names "appear to be from outside the United States." Ringhofer targeted voters with names that were Hispanic, Asian, Russian and Ukrainian. He claimed that "The challenge of voters who may not be citizens is based on listing individuals whose first, middle and last name have no basis in the English language." Ringhofer’s foreign sounding name method for targeting voters for disqualification is similar to the 2011 efforts of the voter suppression group, the North Carolina Voter Integrity Project.
When not singling out voters with foreign sounding names, or coming up new ballot measures, Ringhofer has been busy suing for the release of “non-juror information” from King County and the other 38 Washington counties. He has claimed that the attributes that disqualify a person from serving on a jury likely mean they shouldn’t legally be able to vote in the state either. However, court administrators and the Secretary of State’s Office have indicated that such juror information is not a public record, nor is it kept on hand for more than the period a person is ordered to serve jury duty. Ringhofer has been assisted in the lawsuit by the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Immigration Reform Law Institute.
This cluster of anti-immigrant activists and Tea Partiers are sure to try and continue their campaign through the summer and fall, or until the policy issues are resolved.