Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Racist Is the Tea Party Movement?

Just How Racist Is the Tea Party Movement?


By Bill Berkowitz, IPS News


Posted on December 28, 2009


OAKLAND, California, 22 Dec (IPS) - It began with Apr.

15 Tax Day protests as thousands rallied in a number of

cities across the country.


It continued on into the summer with raucous town hall

meetings and gun-toting anti-Barack Obama

demonstrators, and appeared to reach its apex with a

Sep. 12 march on Washington, which drew nearly 100,000



Now, however, some in the so-called Tea Party movement

are turning their attention toward becoming a force

during the 2010 congressional elections.


Several reports on the Sep. 12 event noted it was a

nearly all-white crowd and some demonstrators carried

an assortment of "homemade" anti-Obama posters,

declaring that "The Anti-Christ Is Living in the White

House", and calling the president an "Oppressive

Bloodsucking Arrogant Muslim Alien".


Despite the fact that it doesn't have a clear identity,

and serious questions about the movement's character

remain to be answered, the Tea Party movement has been

one of the most intriguing political developments of

the past year.


Is it a grassroots movement, or has it been organized

and funded by Washington-based conservative groups?

Could it be both? Is it mainly concerned with economic

issues (government spending, taxes, deficits) or are

the Christian Right's traditional social issues

(abortion, same-sex marriage) of interest to tea



Are there several -- possibly competing -- ideological

tendencies within the movement?


While tea partiers made a lot of noise this past

summer, doing their best to put the kybosh on health

care reform, is there a future for the movement?


A recent Rasmussen Poll suggests that there very well

might be.


In theoretical three-way congressional races between a

Democrat, Republican and Tea Party candidate, the Tea

Party candidate outpolled the Republican. Democrats

attracted 36 percent of the vote; the Tea Party

candidate received 23 percent, and the Republican

finished third at 18 percent, with 22 percent



(According to the Rasmussen Reports website,

"survey...respondents were asked to assume that the Tea

Party movement organized as a new political party. In

practical terms, it is unlikely that a true third-party

option would perform as well as the polling data

indicates. The rules of the election process - written

by Republicans and Democrats - provide substantial

advantages for the two established major parties.)


Interestingly enough, in an effort to build the

movement, some Tea Party organizers have taken to

"studying the grassroots training methods of the late

Saul Alinsky, the community organizer known for campus

protests in the 1960s and who inspired the structure of

Obama's presidential campaign," the San Francisco

Chronicle recently reported.


Tea Party groups are also using "Tea Party: The

Documentary Film" as an organising tool. In a pre-

premiere press release, the filmmakers claimed that the

film would deal with the "allegations of racism".


And that indeed appears to be the issue that could

stymie the movement's growth.


While Tea Party events have become a safe haven for

people carrying racist anti-Obama signs, people of

color have stayed away in droves. Members of white

nationalist organizations openly participate in Tea

Party events and view the movement as a fertile

recruiting ground.


Questions about the overlap between tea partiers and

anti-immigration activists might be answered when an

immigration reform bill is taken up next year.


Are the openly-racist elements within the Tea Party

movement an aberration scorned by most Tea Party

participants as John Hawkins, who runs a website called

RightWingNews, insists, or are they more firmly

entrenched than tea partiers would care to admit?


"The tea parties themselves are made up of a diverse

bloc of different political elements, and white

nationalists have chosen to make a stand inside the tea

parties," one expert, Devin Burghart, told IPS.


For the past 17 years, Burghart has researched and

written on virtually all facets of contemporary white

nationalism. He is currently vice president of the

Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights,

which monitors and publishes on the activities of white

nationalist groups.


"The exact extent of the racist element inside the Tea

Parties is difficult to quantify, because they are not

a static phenomena, and it depends on who shows up," he

explained. "That said, it's enough of a factor to

attract the attention of a significant portion of the

white nationalist movement."


"It's not a matter of how many African-American or

Latino/a folks show up at these tea parties, it's about

the content and character of the arguments made at

them," Burghart added.


Not only have "tea partiers have turned up with overtly

racist signs and slogans" at rallies from coast to

coast, he said, but also many participants "cling to

the belief that our first African-American president is

not only un-American, he was not even born in the country".


Unfortunately, Burghart noted, "There's little evidence

to indicate that tea party leaders are doing anything

to address the racism in their ranks."


Burghart said that he was not surprised that "tea party

activists would deny their racism". After all, "racists

have been denying their racism even before pro-

secessionist bigots couched their arguments in bogus

claims about states' rights".


However, he added, "To anyone with any degree of

sensitivity to the issue, the tea parties have clearly

shown themselves to be racist, in the lineage of George

Wallace - who when he campaigned up North eschewed talk

of racial segregation in favor ranting against 'elites.'"


In an article at the Institute for Research and

Education on Human Rights' website, Leonard Zeskind,

the organisation's president and author of the recently

published "Blood and Politics: The History of White

Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream",

pointed out that the anti-Obama "opposition" contains

"many different political elements".


These include "ultra-conservative Republicans of both

the Pat Buchanan and free market variety; anti-tax Tea

Party libertarians from the Ron Paul camp; Christian

right activists intent on re-molding the country into

their kind of Kingdom; birth certificate conspiracy

theorists, anti-immigrant nativists of the armed

Minuteman and the policy wonk variety; third party

'constitutionalists'; and white nationalists of both

the citizens councils and the Stormfront national

socialist variety."


If Tea Party activists can ferret out racists and white

nationalists from their ranks - and not become a

mouthpiece for Christian Right ideologues - it could

become a legitimate force on the U.S. political landscape.


Meanwhile, a host of groups, operating under assorted

Tea Party banners, are working to influence the 2010

mid-term elections.


Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-

wing groups and movements.

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